Heading south from Salida, we climbed up over Poncha Pass and descended into the broad San Luis Valley. The pass is fairly easy to climb and cross over at 9,010 ft. The San Luis Valley is bordered on the east by the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. This valley is so different from the eastern side valley that was lush and green. The San Luis Valley is desert like with sand, sage brush, and low juniper bushes. There’s little activity on the eastern edge of the valley.
This leg of our journey was short – about 90 miles to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Once in the valley, we drove 40 miles south in a straight line on Route 17 to the intersection at Mosca. Our overnight stop was San Luis Lakes State Park, just 15 miles west of the Great Sand Dunes.
San Luis Lakes State Park
While there is a small run-off lake there, this state park is in a desert setting with great views of the Great Sand Dunes. There are three loops of campsites, most having electric hookups. There are shade shelters at each site, water spigots in each loop, toilet facilities, and a bath house.
Given the location (out in the middle of no where), I figured it would be fairly easy to get a campsite for a couple of nights. I figured wrong. When we arrive on a Thursday, there were a few sites available for one night, but all sites were reserved for Friday and the weekend. Camping in the National Park is fairly limited and there is a small private RV park just outside the National Park entrance. So, it appears that San Luis Lakes gets a lot of camping traffic from National Park visitors.
Its’ not a bad place to camp in the spring and fall, but it must be broiling in the summer. The camping fee is $24 per day plus the Colorado State Park daily vehicle fee of $7 per day. Since I was planning to stay at several Colorado State Parks on this trip, I bought an annual pass for $70 that lets me avoid paying the daily fee.
One nice thing about the location, is that it’s a big sky / dark sky type of place. We hung around outside until 10 pm just looking at the sunset and then the stars. Here are some pictures.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Last year we visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park and I did a blog post about it – Great Sand Dunes – A Hugh Pile of Sand. It’s a very unique place and one of my sons favorite National Parks. So we did a quick visit over to the park just to re-experience the
huge gigantic pile of sand.
HavIng hIked into the dune field last year, I was content to just wade in the warm surging waters of Medano Creek. My son, just had to get up onto the dunes. We spent about 2 hrs in the park. It’s a cool place.
One thing I learned this time, is that you can hike all over the dune field. I can attest that hiking in the soft sand trying to go up hill is a challenge. For the more adventurous looking for a true desert experience, you can also back pack in and camp anywhere in the dune field above the first line of dunes.
One highlight of our visit to the park was getting my National Park Senior Pass (aka Geezer Pass). For $10, that little card gets me lifetime free entry into all National Parks, National Monuments, and National Wildlife Refuges! It’s a great deal and perk once you attain geezer status at age 62.
The next day we went due west and crossed over the valley. It would be another short driving day. There’s some agriculture (wheat and potato farming) in the western side of the valley. We went through the little towns of Hooper, Center, Del Norte, and then South Fork. Not much to report on this drive other than crossing over the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass on Route 160.
We did this pass a couple of years ago. The pass is fairly high at 10,857 ft. The climb up is about 5 miles on a 6-7% grade. Coming down is the hardest part. It’s a 7 mile descent with a 7-8% grade. Tough on the brakes. I had the rig in 2nd gear most of the way going down. The brakes heated up a little, but no damage was done.
Here’s a video of going up and over the pass.
We did an overnight at Pagosa Springs just to check out the town. It’s a nice friendly place. It has a small town feel (much smaller than Durango) with it’s own unique character. Pagosa Springs isn’t just a tourist town, but a place like Salida that attracts permanent residents looking for a small town.
It seems to have some good things going on through out the year. There’s a spring and fall bluegrass festival, a car show, and a fall rodeo. There’s seems to be several venues for live music. While we were there, the spring bluegrass festival was going on.
There’s also a large hot springs resort right in the center of town along the river
We overnighted at the Pagosa Riverside RV Park. It’s located about a mile outside of town right on the San Juan River. A typical RV park set up, with full hook ups, laundry, showers, and wifi.
Our next destination is Durango to resupply before we head up into the San Juans.