A Travellerspoint blog

July 2012

A Four Month Reflection

Unanswered Questions, Interactive Sunsets, and A Celebration of Summer

sunny 75 °F

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
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It is nearing nine thirty in the evening when the sun finally sets over Lake Superior. In a moment of inspiration, I put on my flip-flops and walk up the old pebbled driveway surrounded by ripening thimbleberry bushes. I cross the old highway bridge that spans the Eagle River some eighty feet below. I walk behind the old white schoolhouse, and I climb to the top of the metal slide that is one of the four best pieces of playground equipment in the U.S.

From this perch, I have a panoramic view of the village of Eagle River and Lake Superior beyond. Panning from left to right, I can see the sunset glimmering over the flatness of the lake. I see rooftops, treetops, tennis court, ball field, swing set and the county court house off in the distance. I don’t know how many sunsets I’ve watched from here-too many to count. It’s a good spot.

This is one of my thinking spots. It is one of the oldest I have, perhaps, and it has been a long time since I’ve come here. Tonight, I’m thinking a lot about my current situation. I’m thinking about my future- what do I want to do, and where do I want to go. In short, “What’s next?” This is the age-old question that we all ask ourselves from time to time. I ask it aloud, and only hear the soft rustle of the trees on the hillside not far away. Fair enough, that’s a good answer.

I think back to the last four months, and get lost in my memories for a while. I smile, and take it from the top. In April, I drove four thousand miles across the US with my trusty (and rusty) van Marvin. I think of the pleasures of spring: the hot springs, sand dunes, and endless miles of road. I think of the people I reconnected with. I found my family, my friends, and myself. I went white water rafting, slack lining, hiking, long boarding, and rock climbing. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin. I flew to Sitka and got my ass kicked by a fever. There, I walked through a living museum of memories from where I had my heart broken. It was an odd experience, but I felt only peace. I flew on to Anchorage and I hitchhiked 240 miles to Denali National Park. I hung out with my nephew and lived in a shack. I danced my Denali mountain dance on a mountain top and the sun came out. I hitchhiked 460 miles in 11 and a half hours. In Homer, I ate the best seafood of my life. I floated to Haines, and slept on the sidewalk in Juneau. I backpacked on Isle Royale-getting drenched in three inches of rain. I flew to Colorado. I saw my first wildfire, and drove to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I followed a bear, swam in an alpine lake, and watched the sun rise from the highest sand dune in North America. I grew weary, and rediscovered Nebraska. I felt the irresistible urge to return to my roots. I came “home.”
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So, what’s next? I’m really not sure. In the immediate future, I’m going back to work for three months. This will take me back to Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. I don’t have any plans after that. In Nebraska, I traveled without a map. It was a pleasure to travel by instinct and allure. I think I’m going to do more of that. I’m tired of having a plan. The trouble with a plan is sometimes I feel like I become a slave to the plan. However, I’m fortunate to realize when it does not feel right and have no problems changing things up. You can’t force the trip.

From my perch, I watch the sun ease into the water. Lake Superior can be frigid, and I’m certain I heard the sun gasp a little as it sunk up to its middle. I’m at ease too. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have any plans. I’m going to travel without a map for a little while, and see how it goes. The one word I try to remind myself of everyday is FLOW. Everything flows. With that certainty, I’ve set down my paddle and I’m content to let the river of life, energy, and creativity take my craft as it will.

INTERACTIVE SUNSETS
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I’ve been watching many sunsets lately. However, I’ve taken them to a completely new level by wading deep into Lake Superior just as the sun nears the horizon. I love the swirl of colors in the water. I love the tingle of energy from the cold water rising slowly up my body. I love the serenity of the lake when I‘m up to my neck in cold water watching the day fade away. I love being a part of the sunset, rather than just a witness.
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Please don’t take my word for it. Try it. It is amazing.
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SUMMER
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For the last three weeks, I’ve been content to take it easy. I’m unwinding from three months on the road and I’ve enjoyed settling down - for the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time with my brothers, enjoying their peculiarities and good humor. I’ve been puttering around “the camp” (my family’s vacation home) on self imposed projects, and I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made here. I’ve been eating well, and have happily spent many hours in the kitchen serving up fresh bread, rolls, Swedish blueberry pancakes, pizza, gumbo, burgers, green salsa, pineapple upside down cake among other dishes.
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I picked blueberries-summer’s best fruit- at a small patch back at the farm. The crop is good this year, and I’m going to pick some more this week. I transplanted some maple trees here at the camp. I’m optimistic that they will make it, and I’m hoping to slack line between them in a decade or so.

A pair of eagles has nested just across the river from my front porch. This is the first time I have ever seen eagles on the Eagle River. Not only that, but they are raising young eagles in their nest. They haven’t flown yet, but I can hear their shrill cries from the nest when one of the parents brings home a fish.

A pair of Kingfishers has also made the river their home this year. I’ve been watching them fly by throughout the day. One evening, as I was skipping rocks by the bend in the river. One of them flew to a nearby stump and landed. I held still. After a minute, it took off, hovered above the river for a second, and then dove down into the water to snatch a minnow. It was awesome! This was the first time I’ve seen kingfishers in action.
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I think I’ve made the most of my summer vacation. I’ve eaten ice cream cones, stared into bonfires at dusk, and have ridden my long board down to the beach to swim three times a day. These actions are good for the soul.

~RECONNECTIONS~
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ImKAGn7gUU.]
I will leave you this week with a short movie I’ve put together from clips I shot on my road trip back in April. I think it came out ok, but please realize I’m not using top of the line equipment. My cameras have a movie feature on them, and I decided to see if I could come up with anything cool. I’ve also come to realize that editing movie clips takes up far too much time, especially if you are a perfectionist. I finally had to give up, realizing this is just an experiment, and not going to Sundance. Enjoy.

Posted by Rhombus 12:55 Archived in USA Tagged beaches sunsets summer photography michigan philosophy roadtrips Comments (0)

The Sangre De Cristo Mountains and Nebraska

To North Crestone Lake, Colorado Wildflowers, The End of the Adventure and the Best of Nebraska

sunny 91 °F

To North Crestone Lake
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I had been following North Crestone Creek since I left my campsite at seven in the morning. It was now nearing ten o’clock, and I had hiked four miles while rising well over three thousand feet. Across the grassy meadow to my right was a skinny waterfall that dropped one hundred feet or more. I figured that North Crestone Lake had to be hiding somewhere above the waterfall.
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Up here, the air was noticeably thinner. My breath came in small gasps as I followed the steep switchbacks that wound through the loose rock of the ridge wall. When I paused to rest, I caught my breath within a minute, and my heart slowed to a normal rhythm. I smiled. I was in shape. The last three months of vagabonding has treated me well. I am in the best shape of my adult life, and this five mile hike into the high country of the Sangre De Cristo (SDC) mountains of Colorado was a piece of cake (POC).
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During my hike, I passed through four noticeable zones of vegetation. I started out in a narrow canyon of the creek in a thick pine forest. I gradually rose into healthy groves of aspen. Their lime green trunks were smooth to the touch, and their quaking leaves offered a shimmering shadow on the path I followed. The aspen groves gave way to open high mountain meadows. They were full of lush green grasses and bursting with wildflowers. Finally, when I neared the lake I found an alpine meadow. The soil was thin, but it still provided enough nutrients for an entire meadow of wildflowers. I unfocused my eyes and saw a carpet of purple, mays, white and blue dotting a lush green background. This could have been a dreamscape.
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The scenery was spectacular. I have had visions of Colorado high mountain meadows in my head for as long as I could remember. The landscape I walked through was reminiscent of these daydreams, and the higher I climbed the more I realized I was living my dream.
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I counted twelve different varieties of wild flowers. I’m certain this number is a conservative count, as I hadn’t been keeping track for most of the hike. Flitting among the pockets of flowers was an equally diverse population of butterflies. I wondered if the thin air affected a butterfly in any way, but they seemed normal to my eye. This Swallowtail posed beautifully for me and allowed me to get very close to its perch. Perhaps mountain butterflies are more tolerant of humans, then their low elevation cousins.
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I felt small. The rocky mountain peaks of the SDC towered all around me. Sheer walls of rock protected their high points, and by the effort it would take to scale them. To me, they looked inviting. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I’m certain I could unlock the puzzle of climbing those walls safely. However, this was just a warm up hike, and I decided against the extra strain of mountaineering on this hike.
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Finally, I gained the top of the ridge and below me lay the crystal clear lake tucked neatly beneath four peaks. I laughed. I whooped, and I let out a yodel. It’s true, I can yodel. But I don’t do it very often. It’s bad enough I roam around without contributing much to society for months on end, why would I make the populace listen to my yodeling too? My soaring voice ricocheted off the first mountain and back to the wall behind me, before making its way higher up the walls of the distant mounts and escaping into the stratosphere. I was satisfied with my insignificance. Once in awhile, you might notice a cricket chirp too.

I skipped down the trail to the edge of the lake, pausing to admire the sunny meadow full of flowers, bees, grasses, birds, butterflies and me. There wasn’t anyone else around for miles. I stripped down to my underwear, and eased myself into the cold water. As I slipped deeper and deeper into the water, my skin tingled with chill. It was like dipping yourself into an icy energy field that took your breath away, yet left you feeling more alive than you have ever felt, at least for this week. It was awesome.
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I drip-dried among the flowers, content to take in some sun, and sip water while the world buzzed around me. I think it’s safe to say I was buzzing too, but it is hard to notice your own buzz that you emit and share with the world.

End Game
When I reached the trailhead, I was melting. As a candle slowly shrinks, my wax was dripping out of me in the form of sweat. It felt like ninety degrees, at least. I popped open my car, and dodging the rolling ball of heat trapped within. I opened my cooler, and found lukewarm water instead of the ice I placed there yesterday. I sighed, grabbed my cheese, a tomato, cranberry juice, and a hunk of French bread.
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I sat in the shade of a giant boulder and ate my lunch. It was good, and tasted great. In the heat, I tend to eat lightly, opting for easy to prepare non-cooking foods. It was in that moment that I grew weary of this adventure. I was tired of trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night. I was tired of the heat. And I was just plain tired. I had been on the road for three months, and I had reached my limit.
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I packed up my gear, and put on my flip-flops. I drove out of the campground, and stopped briefly in Crestone to call my brother. The conversation was quite short. “Hey man, I’m headed your way. “ I informed him. “Ok, dude, I’ll see you when you get here.” My brother understands me. He didn’t even question me. With that, I was off. I drove south and east to escape the mountains. From Walsenburg, I started traveling northeast.
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As I passed from the mountains and into the eastern plains of Colorado, I felt my soul ease into contentment. On the western edge of the vast emptiness, I found peace. There is something soothing to the open grasslands that speaks to my soul like nothing else I know. As I drove northward, the sun set into the smoky air over Colorado Springs, turning the sun into a bright fiery ball of orange. To the east, a shaft of a rainbow grew bright for an instant, then eased from my sight as if it had never been there. Colorado was saying farewell.

I rolled on into the night.

Nebraska
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I was cruising north on a skinny black asphalt road somewhere in western Nebraska. I was too lazy to stop and buy a map, so I wasn‘t sure where I was. It was very liberating to travel without a map. I chose my directions by dead reckoning and by the allure of the surrounding scenery. If I passed a road that caught my eye and it was heading in the right direction (north or east), I took it. It’s the only way to travel the plains.
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I was thinking a lot about a cup of coffee. I love the taste of coffee as I drive my morning roads. As luck would have it, a small roadside picnic area appeared just up the highway, and I slowed to pull over. I laughed. It consisted of a small picnic table in the shade of two giant cottonwood trees at the intersection of two lonely highways. It was very modest, but it was perfect. I happily pulled out my Jetboil stove and heated up some water for my French press. I ate an orange, and a Clif bar, while sipping hot black coffee. I was in breakfast heaven.
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Nebraska makes me appreciate trees. There aren’t many trees out here, so when I see one, I take a good look. You might not see another one for another hundred miles. I look to see what type of tree it is, how much shade it produces, and can I set up my slack line or hammock. In western Nebraska, Cottonwoods are the most plentiful. Where Cottonwoods grow, you can usually find a good source of water (though it may be underground). That’s why they are so plentiful around the rivers and canyons of the west.
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The sand hills region of Nebraska is very beautiful, but so very lonesome. It is so forlorn and empty; it could make a coyote cry. There isn’t much out here but undulating grass covered hills, wild prairie flowers, the relentless wind, and assorted prairie animals. Most Americans and travelers miss this unique place. With time on my side, I pulled over to admire some prairie sunflowers bobbing in the hot wind. I also stopped to use the local rest stop. Believe it or not, this was one of the cleaner rest rooms I’ve seen in my journeys. It had a small population of hornets living inside, but they minded their own business, and I minded mine.
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I love driving through the small towns of the plains. If you are driving through Nebraska, get off the major highways. Go and visit towns like Arthur, Tryon (population 157), Amelia, Winnetoon, Verdigre (The Kolach Capital of the World) and Orchard. Not only are these towns charming, but they help break up the monotony of the drive. The big question I ask myself is, “Why do people live here?”
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I love the fact Nebraska is a waving state. Eight out of ten cars will wave at you when you pass them on the highways. Not every state waves, but Nebraska does.

In the evening, I pulled into the small town of Orchard. I was getting tired of driving, and I was looking for a place to camp. One great thing about the small towns of the plains is they are very friendly to campers. Most towns have a city park, and most parks offer free camping. Orchard’s city park was perfect. It was dotted with old oak trees and pines. It had some playground equipment for the kids and a covered picnic area for receptions or rainy weather.
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The grass was green and well tended. I parked my little car and got out to stretch. I set up my slack line between two trees and practiced my craft. Then I cracked a sweating Corona from my cooler, and chopped up a cucumber, avocado, onion, and green pepper. I squeezed some lime juice on it, hit it with a dash of pepper and ate it with tortilla chips. My green salsa is always a hit.
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After dinner, I relaxed in my hammock. I popped another beer, and took out my phone. I sent texts out to five random people, just to say, “Hey, how are you?” The sun set, and the stars emerged from the dusky blue sky.
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I think my next American road trip is going to be a tour of the Great Plains. I’m going to start either on the south end in Texas, or on the Canadian shield in northern Saskatoon. I’m going to try and see every backwards old town I can find. I’m going to camp with the coyotes, hike out into those sand hills of Nebraska, and see what is beyond those endless hills. I can’t wait.

Posted by Rhombus 09:28 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers hiking colorado photography trails philosophy meadows nebraska plains Comments (0)

Adventures On The Great Sand Dunes

Visions of Sand, When Adventure Starts, Moonlight Dune Climb

sunny 94 °F

Sand Lands
The View From My First Campsite.
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Velvet Buck.
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Pine Meadow.
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Prairie Sun Flower.
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Self Portrait.
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Sex.
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The Edge of the Dunes.
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Sand and Pine.
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“Ha ha ha…. Wheeeeeeeeeeee! What a Predicament… ha ha ha…”
It was hot. The sun blazed overhead turning the dune landscape into a sandy broiler. I felt like a twice baked potato. Temperatures on the sand of Great Sand Dunes National Park can reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit during midday. The park service warns against walking on the dunes during this time, but there I was, padding along in the deep sand just after noon (a mistake). I began to feel woozy. I stopped to take another swig from my water bottle. I still had enough water, but the next creek was three miles further along the trail. I had long way to go to get there, if I got there.

My pack felt exceptionally heavy. I chose my food and equipment poorly for this trek. The problem was that I had made the plan to hike deep into the mountains after I had gone shopping the day before. Therefore, I was stuck with too many heavy food items. I love my new pack, but the weight dug into my shoulders and drove the load down my legs and into my feet, which sunk into the dune a good four inches. I could feel a moving pocket of sand inside both of my hiking boots. It was annoying, but that was the least of my problems.
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My left leg began to hurt. With each step in the sand, my left hip ached. Then I began to feel an aching knot in my calves as well. I rarely feel any soreness in my body. When I do, I know I am straining my body too hard. I kept going, though I was noticeably slower than when I started this trek. The sand was going to be my downfall. Thinking back to my planning in the Visitor’s Center, I remember the ranger didn’t mention the first ten miles was through sand. He must have assumed I’d know. At the time, I felt good about my chances of hiking ten miles on the first day. Out on the sand, I laughed aloud at my stupidity.
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On the trail in front of me, were fresh footprints of a black bear. The bear seemed to be following the trail. I had first noticed its huge prints in the mud near the last creek I crossed. I had not yet seen the bear, but I sang out once in awhile to avoid a surprise encounter. Bears don’t like surprises, and I don’t like surprising bears. Sure, it’s exciting, but the outcome in never certain.

An ominous roll of thunder sounded off to the west. The hazy bluish clouds of the front were building on the far side of the valley and moving east. The thunder was a subtle reminder of the power of a storm. The park service also warns hikers that “lightning can kill.” They go on to recommend leaving the dunes area immediately upon seeing signs of a storm. I looked at my GPS again. The elevation read just over 9,000 feet, which meant I was nearing the high point of this section of trail. Damn.

I took another twenty steps along the sandy trail before I stopped again. I was panting, and I bent over to rest my hands on my knees. I felt lightheaded. I took another swig of water, and realized that there was no way in hell I was getting to the Sand Creek campground. It was still six miles away, and I was feeling like crap. I had to get out of the sun. Ahead of me were some pine trees that offered a bit of shade. I left the path, and crossed two hundred yards of sage covered flatland to the pines. I dropped my pack in the sand, dug out my other water bottle and sat down in the shade with a plop. I was beat.

Now I had to decide what to do. I grabbed some food, and while I munched I took stock of my situation: I was five miles out on the edge of the dunes. I was showing signs of heat exhaustion. My left leg hurt a lot. I was following a bear. The nearest water was a mile and a half back down the trail, or three miles ahead of me. There was a thunderstorm approaching from the west. And I was fairly exposed high on top of the dune. Mulling this, I decided that, “Yes, this was a good one.” I had not been up against adversity in awhile, and this was a pretty good pickle.

Yvon Chouinard once said that, “Adventures start when everything goes wrong.” It was safe to say, this trek wasn’t going according to plan. But what to do? I know my limits, and I’m good at recognizing bad situations (and good ones, too). To continue would be foolish. If I decided to stay where I was to avoid the heat, my water would run out, and I would be exposing myself to the thunderstorm. I knew I was close to a campground, but since it didn’t have water, I couldn’t stay there either. I decided water was the key. I needed water to stay hydrated, and the nearest source was back the way I came. I also decided that though I was very tired, that it would be in my best interest to get off the exposed dune. My leg was sore, but there was nothing to do about that. The bear would show up, or it wouldn’t. I’d deal with it if I had to. Satisfied with my rational thinking, I heaved my pack up on my shoulders and started back down the trail.

As I walked, the thunderstorm passed by me to the north. It rumbled a bit, but it didn’t rain. Nor were there any terrifying lighting bolts to dodge (as if I could). The heavy clouds blocked out the sun, and I relished the cooling change. My trek back to the creek was uneventful. I was still sore, but I would heal. I drank the last of my water before I pumped more into my bottles. I continued on to Little Medora Campground where I set up my camp. Easing into my hammock, I contemplated the day and laughed. I had just enjoyed yet another near life experience.

Starlight Dune Climb
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I looked up at the stars to check my orientation. The North Star was still off to my right, and I could still see one of the two bright stars I had been using as a guide ahead of me. Not that star navigation was necessary, the dune field was directly west of the campground. All I really needed to do was walk toward the giant blob of sand. But I like to practice navigation, and stars are an easy guide to use at night.

I chose to hike the dune at night for several reasons. It is much cooler at night than during the heat of the day. I wanted solitude, and nobody else was getting up at 3:30 in the morning to climb the dune. I wanted to watch the sunrise from the top of the dune. I wanted to photograph the dunes with good light. Finally, I figured it would be an awesome experience to hike the dune at night, then watching the day dawn over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado.
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My feet made a “Hisssssk-Hissssk” sound with each step I took on the cool sand. I couldn’t see the definition of the dune I was climbing due to the almost total darkness. The moon had set two hours ago, and the only light available was starlight. I had a flashlight, but where was the challenge in that? The dune began to climb again, and so did I. I was more or less climbing this dune by brail, only instead of using my hands, I used my feet to sense the changes of the dune.

The dune I was climbing was the highest sand dune in North America. At its highest point, it rose seven hundred and fifty feet above the valley floor. My calves began to throb with the increasing pitch of the pyramid I was climbing. This dune isn’t one giant wall of sand. It has twisting ridges, valleys and pits. Just when I reached the top of one ridge and followed to a peak, I found that I had to descend down into a pit and climb an even higher pyramid. It wasn’t easy, but it was enjoyable.
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The stillness and silence of the desert was complete. I’m not sure I have heard a silence as deep as that anywhere else on earth. It was so quiet, I swear I could almost hear the energy of the sand. It sounded like a very low hum on the lowest frequency that I can hear. Maybe I was imagining things. At any rate, I felt a strong connection to the earth and the dunes.

I started the final climb. I could only take thirty steps before I was gasping with the effort. The dry air parched my throat. After my breath settled, I took another swig of water. Then I would climb another thirty steps. There might have been easier ways to climb the dune, but I couldn’t see them. I had a sure fire way of getting to the top, which was simply to keep climbing up.

Then, with a push, I was on top. I rested my hands on my knees and let my heart and lungs slow down. Then I looked about at the expanse of the sand plateau all about me. It was amazing. I went in search of the perfect spot. My perfect spot needed to meet the following criteria: It needed a view of the dune field below me. It needed to be photographically interesting. It needed to be a good breakfast spot. After wandering another two hundred yards, I found it. Satisfied, I pulled out my breakfast (an orange and a Clif bar), and settled in to enjoy the start of the day.

The Dune Field In Pictures
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"Behold, The Sands of Thom!"
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Posted by Rhombus 11:03 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes parks flowers hiking colorado adventure sunrise sand insects photography dunes Comments (1)

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