Amidst the rhythmic and chaotic circulation that we all sometimes find ourselves in, it eventually becomes essential to throw it all away, jump in a car and hit the road for a good old-fashioned road trip. This is exactly what I did with one tent, two friends and three days in the most beautiful state that I call home, Colorado. There is something about getting away from the city and moving into nature that allows time to slow and down and deeply moving and meaningful experiences to be felt. While I absolutely love the city life, there is nothing like being in the great outdoors. With minimum planning, we settled on a three day trip that would take us from Denver to Buena Vista, Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado Springs and back. It’s fair to say that we returned back to Denver wanting more of life on the road and inspired for the next adventure.
Day One. Armed with homemade muffins and a carefully selected playlist, we bid my family in Denver farewell, stepped on the gas and drove onward to our first stop, Buena Vista. My roommate from college got a summer job working for a rafting company, so we decided there was no better way to start the road trip than by visiting her and plunging into freezing cold water in a plastic boat. After two hours of some of the most beautiful scenery including an epic sunrise, we arrived in Buena Vista at the company Wilderness Aware where we had signed up for the half-day Browns Canyon trip.
After completing the systematic paperwork, slapping some helmets on our coconuts, strapping lifejackets onto our bodies and listening attentively to the safety talk, we headed out like a heard of turtles to the river. Our guide, BJ, was a gem and the other two people on our raft were troopers as well for putting up with our inability to follow what seems like simple commands of left and right. Turns out no matter how many times you have rafted and hear the protocol, the combination of being freezing cold on an inflatable piece of plastic will cause massive confusion. We had a fantastic time on the river and would recommend the company Wilderness Aware to anyone looking for a great time in Buena Vista. They offer a variety of tours at all different levels and lengths.
After bidding farewell to a great morning, we headed to our campsite outside of Buena Vista at Cottonwood Lake. Our pre-trip planning had concluded that this was the spot to be and even though the place doesn’t take reservations, it was the place to be. We were absolutely right, especially given our desire to be secluded. We found a campsite immedietly, paid our twenty bucks for the night, set up camp and wandered around the stunning lake and surrounding area.
Cottonwood Lake is a great campsite, fishing spot, relaxing oasis and we couldn’t have been happier to have a spot there for the night. We decided to go to the Cottonwood hot springs to delve deeper into our relaxed vibes, however were super disappointed and let down by the experience. We each paid twenty dollars to experience four different pools of varying water temperature and while it was nice to swim around, the facilities absolutely don’t match the cost. However, we did get a bit cleaner and headed back to our campsite nearby to enjoy the rest of the day and chow down on some campfire marshmallows.
Day Two. What I love about camping is that sleep typically comes easily and is pass out exhaustion, in a deep REM cycle deep. We were so exhausted from our first day shenanigans that we all cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags and passed out for the evening until we woke to the sound of birds chirping and the sun spilling into our tent. What a beautiful experience. After taking out site down and bidding farewell to the lake, we headed into town and had some morning drinks at the coffee house, The Roastary. Highly recommended for the drinks, vibes and great communal atmosphere. Another two hours on fairly desolate, but beautiful roads, we arrived at Sand Dunes National Park and claimed our reserved spot inside the park at Pinyon campsite. The best decision we made the entire trip was to reserve a camping site here as it is almost always completely full, especially during the summer high season. We pitched our tent, visited the beautifully maintained visitor center and sent some postcards before heading back into Alamosa (about thirty minutes). In my pre-trip research, I had come across sand boarding and immediately wanted to do it. Not because I have snowboarded in the past, but because I logically deducted that walking through miles of dunes would eventually get old and I wanted to add some adrenaline and pizazz into our experience. We rented our boards and a sled from Kristi Mountain Sport which had great customer service and we left fully confident that would do it.
With our boards and sleds in tow, we hit the dunes hard and had a blast for a few hours trekking up the hills and boarding down. It gets exhausting fast, but is super fun once you get the hang of it. I wouldn’t say its as like snowboarding as it seems like it would be, but there is a sharp learning curve that leaves mouthfuls of sand behind in the process. You also have to wax the board each time to create optimum smooth sliding. Sledding is also fun, but you have less control going down. The best part about being there is that the dunes are so big and expansive that it feels like you are the only ones there, even on fully crowded afternoons. I will say it is so so important to bring massive amounts of water and this fact cannot be emphasized enough! By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated, so please follow the parks advice and bring way more water than you think you will need.
We also took a short hike up to Zapata Falls that was heavily crowded, but had a beautiful waterfall at the end. The drive up to the falls was super long, windy, bumpy and we were thankful for the four wheel drive! The hike itself only took about ten minutes and anyone could and can do it.
We had a great night of camping out, sitting by the fire, watching the beautiful sun cascade down the dunes and enjoying the few dear that passed by our campsite. The next morning we woke up at five in the morning to do some sunrise sand boarding. That’s the great thing about camping; the idea of waking up ridiculously early seems like the only option, while I feel like its much easier to hit the snooze button and sleep in back in the city.
After returning our boards back in Alamosa, we hit the road again and drove to Colorado Springs for a stop at the highly populated Garden of the Gods and lunch at a quant french restaurant in town. We were going to stop at Cave of the Winds, but decided against it with the wait and the fact that we were all exhausted and ready to go home.
We arrived back in Denver with sand everywhere, but memories of a wonderful road trip that was made all the better with beyond lovely company. Somehow, we also managed to have energy to do a sunrise hike the following day back in Boulder. Being on the road and in nature is contagious and was must needed before the rhythm of college comes beating down on all of us once again.