The scenery during our several-hour drive through the Texas panhandle was fairly monotonous, with lots of heavy machinery emblazoned with the Halliburton logo, dirt, scrub brush, more dirt, and jack pumps sprinkled throughout. Our favorite Texas memory was witnessing the world’s fattest prairie dog run for his life across a freeway on ramp. He barely escaped death by rubber, and as soon as he crossed safely he collapsed flat on his big belly and tried to catch his breath. It was adorable, and much better than witnessing a fresh road kill!
We passed through Texas without stopping, and entered New Mexico where we stopped for lunch along a random dirt road in an open ranch area. We drove over several large bumps, and though we were careful to make sure Gertie was secure, we managed to knock off the license plate on our trailer. Of course we didn’t notice this until we were long gone, and I imagine some cattleman on his horse finding a California license plate out in the middle of nowhere and thinking how crazy Californians must truly be.
In Santa Fe we hit up our two favorite stores: REI and Trader Joe’s. We tried to get some ideas for Halloween fun, but most of the young people we talked to said that Santa Fe is more of a quiet, retiree town so we decided to head up the mountain to Los Alamos for some camping and sightseeing. We drove up the mountain pass at night and twice we had to hit our brakes hard as large bull elk bounded across the road in front of the truck. We have seen plenty of elk on this trip, but when they are that close to you their size and antlers are nothing short of breathtaking.
At this point I hadn’t had a hot shower since leaving Hot Springs several days ago, but we opted to camp out in the National Forest without any amenities. It was a very cold night with a brilliant full moon, and the next morning we were a little grumpy when we discovered that the regulator on our stove was shot, and we would have to go without our coffee. We drove through the area admiring the geological sights, including a giant caldera that looked like a huge dry grassland, complete with a massive elk party. We thanked New Mexico for her hospitality and beauty, and then headed into southern Colorado to check out Great Sand Dunes National Park.
By the time we arrived at Great Sand Dunes it was late in the day, and since it was Halloween we put on the masks we bought in New Orleans and set up camp. There were several other campers in the campground, although we were the only ones silly enough to dress up. I was tempted to go trick or treating, but Andrew convinced me that it was very unlikely the elderly couple in the trailer next door had a surplus of candy and/or alcohol, so I was contented to sit by the fire with my husband and dog (who was decidedly perplexed by my newly acquired cat face).
I was still desperate for a shower, so before the sun set completely Andrew set up one of his famous “bucket showers.” We have two galvanized buckets, one of which has holes poked into the bottom. We stack them together, and heat up water on the fire. Then Andrew places them up high on a tree branch and when I’m ready he pulls the outer bucket off and I have a shower! We try to place the extra bucket down below in a way to catch some runoff, and this way he can refill my shower for me a couple of times before the water runs out. It wasn’t as nice as a real shower, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m grateful that my husband is so clever and handy!
The next day we hiked up the sand dunes with Zephyr, who is a pro at sand dune hiking since we took him on a similar hike in the Mojave Preserve last year. Hiking to the top is excruciatingly slow and difficult, and requires lots of resting. As you climb up it’s basically two steps forward, one step back, but the views at the top and the satisfaction of completing your goal are well worth it. Even better is the fun of sliding, running, rolling, and skating down the sand dunes once you’re done! This is also Zephyr’s favorite part, and the three of us yelping, running, and streaming down the dunes must have been a sight to behold!
That night we headed west to Durango, a small fun Colorado town I had previously visited as a child. We found a replacement regulator (hallelujah!), did some laundry, and hit up Durango Joe’s coffee shop for some chai tea lattes and free Wi-Fi. Andrew took Zephyr on a walk and made friends with some locals, who advised us to take the drive up to Telluride, which would add about five hours to our trip but is supposedly well-worth it, with a crazy mountain pass and beautiful vistas.
That night we found a campground next to a lake, and picked a spot that costs $34 in the summer season. Fortunately for us it was off-season, and with our inter-agency annual pass we only needed to pay $4.75. Thank goodness too, because even the bathrooms were locked and we were required to dig our own holes, hoping all along that the resident black bears were already dormant for the winter. We went to bed early shivering in the cold, ready for our next Colorado adventure.