Shaking Down The White Buffalo

We have a sort of tradition of incorporating a run down to The Great Sand Dunes National Park into our string of annual spring desert trips. The pull of Utah was strong but with only a standard weekend available we decided the dunes would be a perfect first mission in the new truck - The White Buffalo.

 Evening comes to Pinon Flats campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park > Photo: Joanna Nasar

Evening comes to Pinon Flats campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park > Photo: Joanna Nasar

I have had a long string of wonderful relationships with camper shelled Toyota trucks and have spent many a night spooning a wheel well with a bike pedal jabbing me in the back. Loading and exploring the Kestrel felt like poaching the hot tub at some fancy hotel. I kept thinking someone was going to kick me out.

With the white Buffalo loaded and the dog riding in the navigator seat we rolled down the hill to grab the lady. She was out the office door like the building was falling down behind her. With a major wildfire burning near the eastern section of hwy 285 and not wanting to add any unnecessary traffic to the area we opted for the dreaded run down I-25 during Friday rush hour. Surprisingly we made it to the Walsenburg turn before we knew it. The quiet of 160 as it runs out into the airy expanse of the San Louis Valley is always when the trip really feels like it has started with the chaos of the Front Range fading comfortably in the mirrors.
As we neared the turn for the dunes we began the usual game of wondering whether the Pinyon Flats campground would have an empty spot for us. Not likely. Sure enough upon pulling into the loop around 10:00pm we were greeted by a full house. Not to worry. Been here before. Off to the usual very un-secret, secret bivy spot. Now this is where we usually have to pull the bulk of the gear out of the back of the truck and spend a half sleeping night between the wheels with the dog sitting bolt up right on century duty. Not tonight. As we hopped into the Kestrel and popped the top we looked at each other with unbelieving expressions on our faces. Dirtbag nirvana.

 Medano Creek flows seasonally out of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains before soaking back into the dune field.

Medano Creek flows seasonally out of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains before soaking back into the dune field.

We awoke early the next morning to blue skies and warm temps fully rested. Rule one of the very un-secret, secret bivy spot is immediately upon awaking erase all indications that you just spent the night. Top down. Done. We cruised the loop again and found a few open sites and snagged one on the side closest to the dunes with a nice view. After a little bacon cooking and coffee drinking it was off to play.

Our annual dune trip usually happens later in the spring so as a result we had never seen the seasonal Medano Creek flowing around the edge of the dunes. Apparently the creek had just started running a few days earlier. As it flows out of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in spreads out in the sand at the foot of the dune field much like an estuary of a river at it’s meeting with the ocean. We decided to hike up the shallow creek around the edge of the dunes and away form the parking lot crowd syndrome. Miniature waves surged around our feet like a sort of tidal bore. We later learned these little surges are caused when pockets of water trapped in the sand burst. We followed the creek for quite a ways as it skirted along the edge of the sandy Medano Pass Primitive road still closed for the winter just a ways past the campground. Driving this road is on our list and hopefully will happen this fall. The burn area of the 2010 Medano Fire was still highly visible on the ridges above the road adding even more drama to this amazingly sparse and diverse landscape.

After hiking the dunes for a while and running down some steep sections making turns as if on skis trailed by a dog absolutely in her element we decided to call it a day head for camp. We lounged around for a while with some canned Sierra Nevada (still not used to the idea) before getting the fire going and cooking a gourmet dinner: read sausages cooked over burning pine. As usual the setting sun put on an amazing show of shadows and colors over the dunes before giving way a massively starry sky and a waxing half moon.

We awoke the next morning to a stiff breeze out of the south. Breaking camp took on a new speed with the camper and we were soon climbing up to the high dune to give the dog a good romp before heading up to Salida and then on home to boulder. This place truly is a dog paradise and her shear joy while charging up and down the dunes is infectious.

Nothing beats a barefoot dune romp. >Photo: Joanna Nasar

We have driven by Salida many times but have never explored the town and I have yet to explore their touted trail systems. We walked the old down town and soaked up some sun on the bank of the Arkansas. Back on the road we headed back to 285 and up north to 24 where we cut east back towards the Springs to explore this stretch of road we had never experienced. Trout Creek Pass offered up some amazing views of the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges then dropped us down towards Manitou Springs for a quick glimpse of the back side of Pikes Peak before jumping into the swift current of north bound I-25. Returning home from points south through this part of the state always spawns many ideas for future trips and makes it hard to head home. So many possibilities down here.

All and all an awesome first trip with the new rig. We can’t wait to get her out again and start really getting the camper dialed in for our purposes. Step one – figure out how to carry bikes before heading out to Moab weekend after next. A wonderful problem to have. Keep em’ rolling…