I decided to spend my last night and morning in Colorado at a place I’ve wanted to see for a long time but had never managed to get to—Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa. As I descended down from Poncha Springs into the vast San Luis Valley, the storm clouds started building.
By the time I parked at the National Park campground, the rain was pouring, so my plans to do an evening hike on the dunes were scrapped. At least I could catch a little glimpse of them from behind my campsite!
As evening approached, I gambled that perhaps the sun might poke out below the clouds as it set, so I took a quick drive over to the dunes. Sure enough, I did get a few quick glimpses of the sun to end the day!
The next morning was much more pleasant. I was able to squeeze in a quick hike on the dunes before driving to New Mexico.
From a distance, the dune field seems smaller than I thought it would be, but as you begin approaching by foot, the dunes begin to affirm their 750-foot height. Especially as you start realizing those random tiny dots on the sand are people!
I didn’t have the time (or stamina) to do a full climb to the top, but I did get about a third of the way up to check out the view. Someone had left a few boogie boards on the crest of one of the dunes should we tourists wish to enjoy some sand sledding!
A fun and very intriguing natural phenomenon, and quite a good workout too!
After eating some lunch in the RV, it was time to wave goodbye to the dunes and head down to New Mexico. Colorado’s San Luis Valley is a major flyway for migratory cranes and birds. Most flocks coming from the northern Rockies stop here to rest and refuel before following the Rio Grande valley down to Bosque del Apache NWR and points south. It was fun to trace the same route the birds will be taking in a few weeks to see how they’ll be getting to the Refuge!
After a quick overnight stop in Santa Fe to get an RV oil change at the Mercedes dealer, I finally arrived to Bosque del Apache a week ago to hugs and warm greetings. Many familiar faces from last Spring are here again this season, as well as a few new friends too. After getting the rig set up at my campsite, I went to see Chris, the Visitor Services ranger to get my volunteer uniform and confirm my work days. He didn’t think I’d need any re-training, so he just said “see you tomorrow.”
The next morning, I eagerly donned my volunteer vest and headed over to open up the Visitor’s Center bright and early. Usually, there’s a Refuge staff member, a Nature Store employee, and a fellow volunteer at the VC when the day begins, but on this morning, I was the first one there. I thought it was a little odd, but I went ahead and started turning the lights on and getting the place ready to roll. After 10 more minutes though, and still no one else there but me, I started thinking “o.k., something’s just not right here.” As I walked up to the front doors to clean them, I realized the sign on the door said the V.C. opened at 8:00am.
In my excitement, I somehow forgot that our workdays start at 7:30am…not 7:00am! Guess I needed some re-training after all!
Getting back out to tour the Refuge showed quite a difference from last Spring. Now, all the impoundments (ponds) are dry except for 2 small year-round ponds. What an amazing transformation!
Here’s how a view from the North Loop of Little San Pasqual Mountain looked last March--
and then how it looked in April as Spring began to bloom.
So imagine my surprise to see it look like this at the end of September!
Completely bone dry with abundant grasses growing!
The Refuge manages these impoundments to mimic what the untamed Rio Grande river would have done to this valley. After Spring floods, these lowlands would have historically dried out for summer to grow plant foods. This provides the main food source to sustain the returning migratory bird flocks all winter long.
It will be exciting to watch these dry fields become flooded again in the coming weeks as the cranes, geese, and ducks begin to return!
On Sunday night, I got to enjoy a very special treat—the super/harvest moon’s lunar eclipse! I headed down a few miles south of the Refuge to capture the moon as it rose over Little San Pasqual mountain. I wish I also could have captured the vivid Milky Way that was arching overhead at the same time! Just love these big New Mexico skies. It sure feels great to be back home to Bosque and the “Land of Enchantment!”