Colorado


After visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park, we tried to find the best way to head up toward Nebraska on a Colorado state map. When we travel, we usually like to take side roads as opposed to major interstate highways unless we are pressing for time. When we saw Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument on the map, instead of cutting across on 160 and taking 25 straight up, we decided to take 285 then cut across on 24 to 25. We have never heard of Florissant Fossil Beds but the name ‘fossil’ intrigued us; we decided to explore it and maybe we could find some fossils.

We got to the Visitor Center and saw some fossils and petrified wood on displays. We thought we may have hit a jackpot with both rare forms of rocks. However soon we were disappointed as there weren’t any fossils to be found and there were only a few petrified stumps scattered across a one-mile trail. Later I discovered that most of petrified wood were taken from the area back in late 19 century when they were first discovered. People carted them off by wagons. What a tragedy.
Petrified Forest Painted DesertPetrified Wood Instead, if you want to see petrified wood (see right), go to Petrified Forest NP in Arizona. We were there a few years back and it was a wonderful place to visit with many different types of petrified wood and lots of hiking trails through many different and beautiful landscapes (see above left). Please don’t collect them though.

And if you want to look for fossils, then you can go to Craigleith State Park, Ontario, Canada. We had never heard of Craigleith until we were at Markham visiting our friends, Harry and Jennifer and their family. They told us that they camped at Craigleith many times and had a lot of fun looking for fossils on the beach there. After the experience with Florissant Fossil Beds, we didn’t have any high hope but went there nevertheless as it was on the way to Bruce Peninsula.

FossilCraigleith State Park is on the south end of Georgian Bay, a part of Lake Huron. We arrived there on a Thursday afternoon and were lucky to get a campsite. Evidently, it was a popular spot to camp and soon we knew why. The rocky shoreline was beautiful and the water was warm.
FossilInstead of sand, it has a flat rock beach comprised of shale plates that contain invertebrate fossils around 450 million years old. Shale is a sedimentary rock comprised mostly of mud and clay. We strolled along this rock beach teemed with shale fragments, thus many opportunites for great discoveries. We, with our adventurous spirits, took to this task as if we were pioneers out for a fossils hunt for the 1st time carefully combed the beach looking for fossils and shouted with excitement when we discovered them. It was a wonderful time, especially for Kadia as water and rocks were two of her favorite things just like most kids. Soon it was getting late so we sat and watched a spectacular sunset, a favorite hobby of ours when we are on a trip.
Sunset at Craigleith State Park

Believe it or not but the tallest sand dunes in America is in Colorado, a place not known to be a desert environment. We have always found deserts fascinating: the simple beauty of sand dunes and its abundance of life when you expect none. We have gone to Death Valley to see spring blossom, to Saguaro NP to see the majestic cacti, and to Joshua Tree NP for its unique yuccas. I remember one time we were in a sand storm while hiking on a Death Valley sand dune; the sand formed a layer of sand cloud suspended about one foot off the ground, flowing around our feet as if we were walking on heaven. Here at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, we saw the tallest sand dunes.

The dunes were formed as eroding sand from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains were trapped in the San Luis Valley. Over the millennia, sand slowly piled up to where they are today: sanddunes without a desert. It was a popular place and we were lucky to find a campsite on late Wednesday afternoon. The next afternoon around the same time, the whole campsite were full. By early Friday morning around 6, new campers were lined up to take any vacant spots. Arrive early and get a campsite overlooking the sand dunes; it is worth it.

Sand Ripples and Animal FootprintsIn the morning, we loved to head out to the dunes when the sand was still cool and the ripple marks on sand dunes were still undisturbed. We usually would catch a few animal footprints as well. Also it was safer. By the afternoon, the sand would get too hot to walk on it barefooted and there was also the risk of lightning. On a sand dune, any person would be a likely candidate of lightning. We saw a sample of fulgurites (crystallized sand due to lightning) and we didn’t want to challenge the power of the nature. The wind usually picked up in the afternoon as well and may holler all night, wiping out all the marks of daily doodles and returning it to its natural beauty again the next morning.

Kadia big smile with sandKids love to play in sand; Kadia was no exception. She raced around sand dunes, slid down them, fell into them, buried herself in sand and tossed sand around as if it was magical dust. She ran down this one sand hill but fell face down into the sand. We were expecting her to cry but she got up with this big smile, her face, teeth, eyelashes all covered in sand. It also brought out the child in us as we run around and laughed our heads off. Kadia liked it so much that she did her junior ranger activity book and got a junior ranger badge.

Hiking on sand was tough though. A 700-foot sand dune may equal to a 3000-foot mountain as each step we took, we slid back down to the exact same spot we started with if not further. With a baby on my back (see the photo below), I soon gave up the idea of scaling the tallest sand dunes, maybe next time. If you ever are in Colorado, stop by this park and have a blast.

Hiking at Grand Sand Dunes

We camped next to this Dutch couple with their one-year-old daughter, Julia. They were on 3 weeks tour and were camping as well. We saw a lot of CruiseAmerican RVs on this trip and quite a number of them were Europeans. They indicated that they loved outdoors and wouldn’t think of staying in a RV. We would like to take a camping trip to europe sometimes like they did here. That would be another great experience.

Bryden and JuliaDutch Family