Sand Dunes/Santa Fe/Albuquerque Trip Report – Day 2

I was awake early, 6:20 or so, and let Ken sleep until 7:00, and then we got packed and rounded up and headed back to the Great Sand Dunes. The Great Sand Dunes are kind of a freak of nature, the weather and geological conditions were just right in this little corner of the valley for sand to be washed down by mountain streams and collect, and be shaped into dunes by the wind. They are the highest sand dunes on the North American continent. They are 700 feet tall, at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, despite USA Today calling them 7,000 feet tall in a story about “Best Beaches In Every State.” (Story does not appear to be online.)

It was a bit of a drive from Monte Vista, but like I said, you have to stay at the Movie Manor at least once in your life. It was much less windy compared to the day before, but there was still a little breeze.

We were also a little more prepared today, and had debated on which shoes were best for the dunes, especially since you start out hiking across the very wide Medano Creek.

We thought about wearing jeans, but decided that since we would be hiking, we would warm up and want our shorts. Ken wore his hiking tennis shoes, and I wore my generic Crocs. I am not sure it matters what kind of shoe you wear, you are going to get them full of sand. Neither one of us wore socks.

And off we went, up the dunes. The highest one is 700 feet, high, which doesn’t sound like much, but look at those people up there who look like ants. Plus you are at altitude already, about 8,000 feet, plus you are walking in SAND, and the surface is up and down and up and down and up and down. Little kids, dogs, and people who are really in shape seemed to do really well on them.

I was lucky in that Ken had brought a golf ball and pitching wedge along to get some pictures of him getting out of “Colorado’s Biggest Sand Trap.”

So that would cause him to pause and pose for a picture, which I exacerbated even more by having difficulties with the display on my camera and fiddling with that endlessly. I finally got that figured out on top of one of the dunes.

When we felt that we had climbed to a reasonable height, and had taken enough pictures, we hiked along one of the long ridges to head back a slightly different way than we had come up. And I discovered another phobia spot – back when were were in San Francisco on the cliffs above the ocean, I wasn’t really wild about getting too close to the edge of the cliff.

Well, I wasn’t really wild about walking along this really narrow ridge at the top of this tall, steep dune, either. Being in tall buildings doesn’t bother me, it must just be certain heights in nature. So I didn’t want to dilly dally around there. See that dune the people are walking on, high in the picture? Really narrow and steep at the top.

Looking back toward Medano Creek and the visitor’s center and parking area.

We had both slapped on sunscreen but I still managed to get more color than I wanted on my nose and cheeks.

We headed out from the Sand Dunes, stopping to take a few more pictures in the distance, and debated what to do for lunch. It was about 3 hours to Santa Fe, and it was about 11 when we left. Neither of us was hungry yet, so we by-passed Alamosa and headed south toward New Mexico. It doesn’t take long once you are past Alamosa to be in New Mexico. I had taken over driving because Ken needed a nap, but of course he was foolish enough to point out a roadside sign for “Oldest Church in Colorado” and I had to slam on the brakes (well, not quite, but decelerate quickly) and drive the 1/4 mile to take pictures.

And then we were in a lunch desert. Ken napped, and I drove and searched for radio stations as we moved through northern New Mexico. The scenery turned from dry, desert flatlands to hilly National Forest with trees and interesting rocks. We were just about starving when we came upon the town of Ojo Caliente, (which means hot eye in Spanish, I am sure there is an interesting story there) (Ken says someone was cutting up chile peppers and then touched their eye).

There were not one, but two cafes, and I, of course, chose the one that looked like it had the most character. Of course, it also had A CHARACTER in it. Apparently the gentleman who owns the store next door feels free to sit in the cafe (maybe only while he is having lunch) and chat up the patrons. Ken whispers to me: “We are not going in his store, he will talk our ear off.” I can’t remember what the name of the cafe was, and we paid with cash, so no receipt.

I had the Tewa taco, which is what we would call an Indian Taco in SD. It was fry bread or sopapilla with taco meat, pinto peans, lettuce, cheese, tomato and green chile on it.

Ken had the hardshell tacos, he said they were good.

Ken also pointed out to me they had an old-fashioned Sno Cone machine, so you know I was going to have one of those (Sno Cones are few and far between, especially ones made with the old school machine.) And with that, we were back on the road again, trying to find a radio station that would stay with us for a few miles.

We drove by Espanole, which is where Ken was planning on golfing on Friday. That was something we started to recondsider when we got to our hotel and discovered it was a good hour from the hotel to that golf course, because I wanted to do things while he was golfing, and I didn’t want to drive to Espanola, drive an hour back to Santa Fe, then drive an hour back to Espanole, etc. And he didn’t really want to go to the yarn store and the Georgia O’Keefe museum with me, but he did want to see the Loretto Chapel and the Basilica and have some time for shopping in the Plaza area. So we compromised and decided he would try to find a decent golf course closer to Santa Fe.

We are staying at the Hampton Inn in Santa Fe, I had some points that I could use for one of the nights.

It is fine, the bed is firmer than the one in Monte Vista. It is just quite a distance from downtown, but nothing too bad. We got checked into the hotel and went down to the Plaza area of old downtown to wander around. We checked in at The Shed, the restaurant I had investigated, and they had a 45-minute wait, so we put our names on the list and went to look around for 1/2 hour.

We checked out a few gift shops, made mental notes for what we would get tomorrow if we didn’t find anything we liked better, and walked by the Santa Fe Basilica. A huge line of people was waiting to get in, apparently there was a symphony concert that evening.

We returned to the restaurant and got our buzzer, which went off in about 10 minutes.

The Shed is in an old downtown adobe building, and it is like a maze with extremely low doorways. The hostess said the doorways were short partly because people were shorter then, but also because it helped with insulation (??) (I would think it would make the walls more stable too), and it prevented people on horseback from riding into the building, when they were attacking during the early, unsettled days.

We had New Mexican for lunch, so I was looking for something slightly different, and I had seen the soups on the menu, and that was what I had in mind. Ken decided the adobo-marinated chicken would be too spicy for him, so he had the chicken ceasar salad, which he said was quite lemony but good.

We also had an order of the chips and salsa, the chips were much fresher than the ones the previous evening, and the salsa was excellent.

I asked for a small cup of their red chile sauce, just to try. I think I like red chile better as an ingredient than as a straight sauce. I had the St. – something margarita, which had elderberry liqueur in it and should have come with a warning label – wow! Strong! And then I had three different soups – the mushroom, which had blended mushrooms in the broth, the posole, and the corn chowder which had roast chicken, green chile, corn, carrots topped with blue corn tortilla strips.

They were all good, but the mushroom was the best. I am going to have to try making something like that. And then since I only had soup for dinner, I had dessert (Ken didn’t see anything he was interested in). I had the lemon souffle, which also was excellent, very light and refreshing.

And then we came back to the hotel, and I worked on my blog from the day before, and we crashed. We watched the local news, and found out that it is a good thing Ken is golfing on Sunday in Albuquerque, because they are going to have 50 mph wind on Saturday, so that should be fun. The news also said there would be more smoke the next day from fires burning to the west.

Sand Dunes/Santa Fe/Albuquerque Trip Report Day 1

Highlights of the Day: Eating at Broadway Hot Dog in Bailey, seeing the South Park  valley for the 1st time, seeing the Great Sand Dunes for the 1st time

Warning: Long entry and picture-heavy.

Despite having arrived home from a work trip at 12:20 the night before, I was awake at 4:30 a.m., managed to go back to sleep until 6:00, and finally gave up and got up at 6:30. I caught up on Facebook, going through the feed from the day before because there were several articles/links I wanted to bookmark, and I had them all open on my phone, but then I had to turn my phone off because it wasn’t receiving emails in the middle of Eastern Colorado, and it lost them all. So I think I found most of them again.

I tried to pack quietly and let Ken sleep. MaryAnne was not helpful, she had come to bed at about 5:30 to snuggle in crook of my arm and then gave me a chirp meow in rebuke every time I moved. She was very chatty all morning, I think she knew something was up. They know when they see the big black boxes on the bed, they are going to get cat-sat for a few days.

After Ken got up and ready, we had a debate on which way we were going to go to the Great Sand Dunes. He had been intending on going down I-25, which would probably have been faster, not because of the road necessarily, but because there were less distractions to cause me to want to stop. But I thought we should go down 285 through the mountains so I could see some scenery I had never seen before. I always believe in traveling the road I haven’t traveled before.

So off we went, after a stop at the library to get fresh library books for me and Walgreens to get Sudafed since my allergies have been going nuts. I had originally hoped to get out of town by 8:00, but that was before I knew I would be getting home at midnight the night before.  So my new plan was 10:00, and we were pretty close to that.

Off we went into the mountains, with Ken providing narration about all the reasons he had been to these small towns in the mountains for news stories when he still worked for the news station, pointing out the gas stations they had eaten at and the restaurants they would have eaten at if they would have had more time.

I knew that Colorado had a hot-dog shaped restaurant at one time. It was once on Colfax Avenue in Denver, and then it got moved to Aspen Park, and I had heard on a news story that they had lost their location there and were moving again, but I thought the last thing I heard was that it was no longer open. Well, imagine my surprise when we drove by it! I made Ken turn around. If I have a chance to eat in a giant hot dog-shaped restaurant, I am going to take it.

We both had brats but I had onions and peppers and mustard on mine. They were good but I wish they would have cooked them a little longer, we like a little snap to the skin. We got there just in time at 11:30 because then people started streaming in.

They also had a hummingbird feeder outside, and two hummingbirds cheeping angrily at each other as they fought for position. They apparently don’t know how to share. I did not get a picture of the flashy blue one, which was probably the male. They get really upset and territorial – Hummingbirds: The Original Angry Birds.

There was still snow on some of the mountain peaks. It was a pretty cool and cloudy day, although it got sunnier as we got away from Denver. The drive into the South Park Valley was pretty incredible, just like the NY times writer says in this article, it is mind blowing to come out of the mountains over Kenosha pass, and see this huge valley as far as the eye can see,  surrounded by mountains.

Saw a coyote run across the road while were were in the valley, also goats and alpacas (not wild) and many hawks.

As we got further south in the valley, there were lots of farms under circle irrigation, and the wind kept blowing harder and harder. Saw at least four giant dust devils form and some of them stayed intact for quite a while. Saw Colorado Gators attraction but decided to save that for another trip.

We got to the Great Sand Dunes around 3:30 in the afternoon, and  the wind was blowing like crazy. I think the lady said they had a 42 mile an hour gust. That is something when you are surrounded by sand. We looked around the visitor center, and then did venture out onto the flats before the dunes, but we were just getting sand blasted, and discussed that it might be a good option to come back in the morning when it was still. There were some people up hiking on the dunes, but I am pretty sure they weren’t having a fabulous time.

And no one is up on the very tops.

Ken had sand in his ears, hair and shoes. I had it mostly in my shoes, but still some in my hair and ears. We were really hoping that it would be nicer in the morning. The weather was really strange, cloudy but not rain clouds, and hazy, which we found out was probably caused by fires in NM and/or AZ. We didn’t even get to see the sunset, it was too cloudy.
We got to the Best Western Movie Manor in Monte Vista at around 5:30 or so and checked in. This hotel was a little bit out of our way but when you have a chance to stay at the Movie Manor, you better take it. We were in the Jodie Foster room. This is an older hotel but has been updated throughout the years.

Except for the fan/light switches in the bathroom which they have kept intact, which I find quite charming.

The rooms and the whole place are decorated in a movie theme (pictures, wallpaper border), because the rooms look out on the drive-in movie theatre next door. We emptied most of the sand out of our shoes and went to the Mountain View Restaurant for dinner – we asked the front desk clerk for a steak recommendation and that was her recommendation – OR the restaurant next door owned by the same family that owns the hotel. We thought we would spread our tourism dollars around and went to the one across town.

Kenny ordered the 8 oz sirloin and I got the sirloin steak sandwich, because I knew I would get the smallest piece of meat with that and I didn’t want a huge steak. We also ordered the chips and salsa. The chips were not real fresh but the salsa was good.

We both liked our steaks. I went with the add-on onions and mushrooms, of course. They came with a dollop of seasoned butter on top and Ken frowned and scooped his off.

We both had dinner salads, not bad, mostly iceberg. Ken also got vegetables with his, of course he didn’t eat the zucchini and I got that. Was thinking about pie for dessert but when the waitress said it wasn’t homemade I decided to pass.

Of course, being the Nosy Parker that I am, I overheard our waitress describing Shock Top beer to the table next to us, and she didn’t mention that it was a wheat beer, so I had to throw my two cents worth in on that. We then visited with the two guys at the table on our way out, one of the was wearing a CSU hat so I asked if he had gone to school there. Nice guys. They did ask if we had gone to Gatorland and said it was worthwhile, so I will have to check that out for next time.

Got back to the hotel in plenty of time to watch “The Lorax” on the drive-in screen, but neither one of us had any desire to actually watch it, so we did for long enough to say we did it, and closed the curtains and turned on the TV.

Their beds are very, very soft.  Some people might like that, but I was glad we only had sleep on that bed for one night.

Did not get any embroidery or knitting done as we drove today. Way too much to look at, almost all areas I have never been to before. Great day.