Last week I took a few days to head to southern Colorado to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park located in Mosca, Colorado. The rainy season here in the Vail Valley can be really crappy sometimes we experience all seasons in one day during our Spring. I have seen so many extraordinary images from the Great Sand Dunes National Park (for short we will call the park G.S.D.N.P.) it was time for me to go witness this wonder for myself...
I wanted to leave early-early Monday AM to ensure a quality campsite for myself well it was a nice thought - the weather had other plans for me. As Lil_E head to Denver Airport for her trip and I head east and south for my camping trip we were both slowed significantly with a massive snow storm. A common thing for us in the high rockies during Spring but this snow storm was dangerous - Lil_E mentioned seeing numerous cars off the road - I even had to stop near Copper Mountain until the sun came up so I could see what I was doing in the snow storm. Driving was questionable, a difficult start to an early season camping trip here in Colorado but that's how it goes here sometimes living in snowy paradise. Here's an image from my drive out of the Vail Pass and the drive to Leadville, Colorado
The first campsite recommend to me was Zapata Falls Campground (click thru to see more) although the beauty and views of this campsite were outstanding I had to make a smart decision. For starters I drive a Subaru WRX a vehicle pretty decent for off roading (they were built for this but to an extent) the road to Zapata Falls was rough, service forest road that tossed me and my breakfast around. I wouldn't recommend going to camp up here unless you have an AWD car or more specifically SUV - even my Subaru got bounced around pretty good driving up the 3 mile road (I'll say this you can make it in almost any car - but you'll risk damaging your vehicle pretty far from a busy road). Arriving at the top of Zapata unleashed it's talked about views and sweeping ranges I knew this would be a stellar place to setup camp but the 5'' of snow laying on every camp site and camp table did not seem so inviting to me. I abandoned this camp site at Zapata knowing the amount of work and effort it would take for me to get a fire started, clear an area for my tent, dry off the snow - when your out camping by yourself you need to make calculated decisions. Disappointed I hopped back in my car for the 35 minutes drive back down to the main road to head to a warmer, less-snowy campsite closer to the dunes called Pinyon Flats Campground located right inside the National Park. Driving up to Pinyon there was a little bit of snow on the ground but not as much as Zapata's accumulation I then select a sunny campsite, that was drying up rapidly with a stellar view of the dunes and the mountain ranges that accompany this campground.
Check out this photo of my campsite here
Before setting up any camp gear I made myself a simple breakfast and let the campsite dry out further while I walked around the campground on foot learning my surroundings. At $20 a night ($$$$ which I think is expensive) this campground is very well maintained, with clean bathroom facilities and an additional kitchen sink for cleaning your camping pots and pans out. You get what you pay for, outstanding 360 degree views, a metal fire pit, metal camp table, perfect place for a tent setup, bear locker and these camp grounds are located inside the G.S.D.N.P. which means you can setup camp and walk right to the dunes in the distance of my photo. I highly recommend camping here, I had a great experience but when I return a second time I do hope to experience the higher campground of Zapata falls. After paying my camper fee I quickly set my tent up organized my gear for a cold night ahead and loaded up for a photography session and sunset down at the dunes.
Exploring alone is fun but can also be dangerous just make sure to understand your surroundings before you go jumping right into them. I didn't go charging up the dunes first thing as its' a 3+ mile hike and after waking up at 3AM to get to the dunes early I made the decision to hike the dunes the following day not to mention the dunes were completely covered in snow when I first pulled up to them. After catching an epic sunset I head back to my camp for a camp fire meal and to rest until the stars came out for some astrophotography. Be sure to rest early evening and set time aside for star gazing because the galaxies, planets and stars glow extremely bright out here - there's no going to bed early in the dunes. Load the fire pit, grab a blanket (or two) and roast some smores' under these beautiful skies... 🌌🌌🌌 check back for Part II soon!