Sledding the Great Sand Dunes

Sledding the Great Sand Dunes has been something that has been on my bucket list for quite awhile. I can’t remember where this idea originated, but I knew it was something that was going to happen on this trip.

We woke early and grabbed breakfast on the road. We drove to Alamosa and rented sleds that are set up for sledding on sand at Kristi Mountain Sports. The sales assistant was very helpful and pointed us to a 2 person sled. For $18 we got the sled and a puck of wax for the day.

We headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I was ecstatic to be marking this off my bucket list. There were not a lot of people so we didn’t have to worry about crowds. We stopped by the Visitor Center to get our bearings. I read that the we were at 8000 ft elevation (here we go with altitude again). The dunes can be up to 700 feet tall.

It was super windy but the Medona Creek was dry so we didn’t have to wade through it. I IMG_1913put on my small backpack with water and supplies and carried the sled up to the dunes. The wind blew against me leaving me to fight the sled and wind like I was a ship and the sled was the sail.

Climbing the dunes was intense. For every step forward, the sand sunk under my feet and I felt like I went one step back. Fighting sand, wind, and altitude I had to slow my pace. My kiddo scrambled up the dune like it was just another rock. When I finally reached him patiently waiting for me at the time I had to ask him to wait. I couldn’t catch my breath and then promptly threw up. Talk about a full body workout!

Once I caught  my breath we excitedly hopped on the sled. He sat on the front and I sat on the back as I pushed us over the edge. We flew down the sand dune so fast I could barely hold on. It was exhilarating and all I could do was laugh. When we hit the bottom, the sled stuck in the sand and we both flipped. Fortunately I flipped right over the top of him. We landed in sand so it wasn’t a bad landing. We both had faces full of sand despite the sunglasses. We decided to do it again.

IMG_1914Again we hiked to the top. I paced myself a little more this time trying to keep from getting sick again. Once at the top we jumped on and flew back down. This time Parker face planted into the sand and I again flew over him. I was laughing so hard, but he was not so happy. With our feet out to the side trying to steer as we flew down the side of the sand dune, the sand shot up like water and hit him in the face. His eyes were full of sand.

In an effort to help, I dug through my backpack where I keep saline solution. I attempted to block the blowing sand by putting my jacket around him. After flushing his eyes several times we gave up. He could not do another ride. We had sand in every possible crevice and I could feel it crunch in my teeth.

We headed back to the car to get out of the wind and attempt to flush his eyes again. If I had to do it all over again, I would make sure to bring goggles.

His eyes were irritated and red. He was desperately unhappy and I didn’t know what to do. We watched as the wind blasted our car with sand and the view was blocked by a brown cloud of sand. I pulled over again and flushed his eyes. I begged him not to rub them and explained that he had probably scratched them. I tried to distract him with navigating for me. He promptly found Zapata Falls on the map and asked if we could go there. I said definitely and followed his guidance.

Turning off of the highway I had to guide my car slowly through the massive potholes that covered the road. I secretly wondered if I was making a huge mistake and if I was going to get my station wagon stuck. I continued on.

We got to a parking lot and grabbed our small packs. We headed up a trail. As we IMG_1920climbed we stepped over snow and ice. Soon we were walking on the ice all together. We had came upon a woman and two men. My son, not knowing a stranger, engaged them in conversation. We trekked the rest of the way over the frozen stream through the canyons. Just as my son was telling me we needed walking sticks I fell. I fell hard. I got back up and pursued forward.

When we turned around a canyon wall, there stood a giant frozen waterfall. You could hear water flowing behind it. In the ice that we stood on, a hole had formed revealing the IMG_1919freezing water below. One of the men we met decided to take off his shoes and get in. I could only imagine how painful that kind of cold would be on the bare skin.

After playing awhile at the waterfall I decided to head to Durango, Colorado. About a decade before I had stayed at the Strater Hotel. It was by complete serendipity that I found this hotel a decade earlier. Once in the antique decorated rooms in the century old hotel, I read the journal left in each room. Most pages mentioned a hot tub room. When I asked the front desk, they told me it could be reserved in hour increments. Only you had access to it. Remembering this place, I booked a room in hopes that the hot tub would soothe our sore bodies and help wash out the hiding sand that we couldn’t possibly reach.

After an initial shower which covered our shower and bathroom in sand, we went to the hot tub. I found sand in my ears and various other unmentionable places for at least a week afterwards.

We ended the evening at the restaurant connected to the hotel. A country singer with a guitar sang Merle Haggard songs while we ate. Parker was so tired he nearly fell asleep at the table. I paid the bill and we turned in for the night fully exhausted.

Devil’s Cauldron

From the Amazon we headed back up the Andes. Our first stop was at Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron). This ranks up there with one of the most magnificent waterfalls I 17342968_10154131006901920_4458202785638714581_nhave seen. It is about 260 feet tall.

To me, the most fascinating part of it was how the waterfall received its name. The locals use to sacrifice bodies to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by pushing them over the waterfall. The devil didn’t exist in this culture, so it was named Devil’s Cauldron by the Spanish Jesuits.

The best view of it is from a very long suspension bridge. It’s a bit of a slipper steep hill to get to it. We not only crossed the bridge, but continued to walk the trail that went right up to the waterfall. It was very slippery so good shoes and rain jackets were important. We even managed to get a little wet in the process.

I had planned initially to zipline across the gorge over the waterfall. We were notified when we got there that ziplining was no longer an option. With a little prying I found out that the zipline had actually broke with someone on it about a month before. I was reassured it was only a local (as if that made it better) and that he was at the end of the zipline so he fell into the trees. 17352404_10210366508892199_2304226409322396489_n.jpg

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Waterfalls and llamas

Today we drove down the old Pan-Am Highway. It’s essentially paved with cobblestone. It’s rough on the bladder after a few cups of strong Ecuadorian coffee. The rough ride was totally worth it. We went to Pegucha which is famous for waterfalls.

We walked through a small village where people were cooking on their front porches and stray dogs followed children around. This is the first place I realized the value of carrying wet wipes with me. In attempt to give my full bladder some relief I found a public restroom. It turns out that toilet paper is a precious commodity and very scarce in Ecuador.

We hiked up a steep path to the waterfall. Once again I felt the altitude reeking havoc on my
lungs. We couldn’t get super close to the waterfall, but we did get up to a nice view point.

A local was at the falls with two llamas. A girl asked if I would take a picture of her while she sat on the llama.  As she climbed onto the llama, and reared its head back and spit a green fat ball of phlegm right at me. I managed to dodge most of it and it hit my shoes. After I took her picture, I decided that the llama and I were going to have to be friends. I took a picture with him, but he wanted nothing to do with me.

Giving up on making a new friend, we headed to the market in Otavala. It is one of the largest in South America and run by the local Otavaleños. It covers several large blocks. I’ve never been very good at bartering, but it is expected here. We browsed various stalls for traditional goods such as hand-woven clothes and rugs, jewelry and more. I bought a watercolor painting from a woman who insisted that buying it would give her milk for her baby. She had a small baby wrapped around her. I loved the artwork. Lil’ man found a musical instrument for Lil’ Man. Since this was  my birthday trip,  Lil’ Man felt the need to buy me something. He got a few dollars from Karl and he felt like a rich kid. He quickly learned to ask “Cuantos?” which means how much. The locals seemed quite taken with him. I’m guess some of it had to do with his big blue eyes and big smile.

The heat became pretty intense so we stopped for a fresh coconut being sold from a vendor. We drank all the water then had the seller use her machete to chop it open so we could eat it.