To read a brief 2016 update post, see this link.
Camping at the Sand Dunes is one of my most favorite things in the universe. It is so beautiful and interesting, I’d rather be there than a warm tropical beach. (People generally don’t agree with me on this sentiment, so don’t expect to love it as much as I do…but try real hard. Cause it’s the best.) This year was our third trip, and the second trip where we took additional family members along (making good use of that extra room in our Kingdom 6 tent)! There are some backpacking options within the park that we might try in future years, but for now we’ve stayed in the Pinyon Flats campground in the park.
Pros: Ummm…everything? Seriously, I just love this place so it’s hard for me to write a review because I mostly just want to draw stick figures of me in the campground with hearts around it. The way the girl in that “I love cats” video feels about cats is how I feel about the sand dunes. I just want to hug all of it on a rainbow. But…in the interest of a review…here are some pros. VIEWS FOR DAYS. There’s the creek, the dunes, the mountains…snow, sand, water…pretty much if you like looking at a particular thing, you can find it here. The kids can play in the creek and sled on the dunes (renting one of the $20 a day (!!!!!!) sleds at the general store near the park entrance is worth the cost–we tried sleds from home and they suck). If you go early in the season (particularly arriving on a Friday) and use the beach access from the campground instead of the main parking lot, you can have the dunes to yourselves and it feels absolutely ridiculous to enjoy that kind of beauty all by yourself.
Cons: (Written defensively and grudgingly. THIS IS MY FAVORITE PLACE, PEOPLE.) It’s a National Park campground versus a State Park campground, so the facilities aren’t as fancy as you’ll find at a State Park–no showers, for example. The reservation campsite loop is shaded, but the sites in general don’t have the sweeping views of the first-come-first-serve loop. These are mixed campsites, so expect plenty of RVs for neighbors. (Paradoxically we’ve actually noticed that the better the weather and later in May we’ve visited, the more the RVs–the worse the weather, the more tent campers.) If you’re there in the summer or later spring than we visit, expect it to be hot. The exposed campsites get a little roasty on a nice day, which is why the ranger told me the shady loop is the reservation loop. If you don’t like a hot tent, grab a shady site. It’s a high altitude desert, so expect it to be chilly. The first year we camped there the first night had a low of 17 degrees. This year it snowed while we had breakfast. It happens. If you’re not really adventure people, you might not love that. Packing is tricky because you’re packing for both warm beach and cold-as-snow-temps. Well worth it, though!
Campsite recommendations: The best views are in the first-come-first serve loop, so we show up early and take the best site we can find. The last two years we’ve been lucky to stay in site 22, which juts out away from the campground for spectacular views. They put up a fence around it this year to prevent you from putting tent/chairs into the brush surrounding the site which makes it a bit less picturesque, but it’s still a great site. On my list of sites to stay at in the reservation loop, 53 and 54 are sheltered by trees and near some beautiful aspen (54 had a really pretty stream running next to it [though this might be unique to all the rain we had this year]), and 66 and 67 have nice views of the dunes (with my personal preference being for 67).
- Zapata Falls is a really fun hike that is on your drive into/out of the park, and if you visit in the beginning of the season you’ll be traveling to a see a frozen waterfall! (Hiking review here.)
- The alligator farm is a reasonable detour (but we’ve never been)
- Hiking the dunes is a must. Even if you don’t go up to the high dune and see into the larger field of dunes, just walking along one of the ridges is a unique experience!
- Sledding on the dunes
- Playing in the sand (don’t forget sand/water toys for the kids!)
- Junior Ranger activities for the kids
Our campsite last year.
The same campsite, but fenced in this year.
On the right is a view of our campsite from another campsite. 🙂
Cold mornings, but worth it!
Getting great speed for the first time–whether it’s the wooden sled itself or just the wax they supply for you to rub over the bottom, these things fly!
This year we saw a little tributary flowing into the creek for the first time. It was eroding its banks as we watched–such a wonderful opportunity for the kids to really see in fast forward the things I’ve been telling them about!
Guess what?! I made a dress for me, that’s what! The good news is, it’s a dress, and it more or less fits. The bad news is, Anne Shirley would love this dress (puffy sleeves for days) and it doesn’t really do anything for my figure. I’ll wear it a couple of times to feel like I got my money’s worth out of it, and then I’ll hopefully re-purpose the fabric for something else. 🙂
I bought the pattern at Fancy Tiger without researching it–just saw the pattern cover and thought it would be a fun easy first dress. If I had done more research I probably would have skipped it due to the very low arm holes. Lesson learned–no impulse pattern purchases!
In terms of construction and directions, it was awesome. I made a medium and wish I had cut a small–I ended up taking off an inch on both sides and it’s still very large, even with a belt to cinch it in. The chambray has more body than the pictured rayon, so the sleeves have more shape to them than I’d like. Especially because the seam seam sits higher on your shoulder, it really pops out the sleeve which then needs to bend 90 degrees before coming back down (I think in general that my shoulders are wide and I should start doing a wide shoulder adjustment on patterns, but I notice that on the model the seams sit in a very similar place).
The only difficulty I had with the construction was with the neckline–I actually sewed it twice trying to get rid of the wavering that’s going on around the curve. The first time I placed the bias strip toward the inside of the dress per the pattern, but I thought it looked weird so I ripped it out and sewed to to the outside, taking care to pin and avoid stretching…and the neckline still won’t lie flat. Since it’s one of several complaints I have about this dress, I opted not to try a third time (the thin chambray doesn’t seem to handle having seams ripped out well).
I have opposite instincts about what to do with this pattern–whether to try it again with a more drapey fabric, a smaller size, and widen the shoulder, or whether it’s time to accept that this may just not be a dress shape for me and sell it on instagram destash. I love the dress on the model, but she clearly eats less jelly beans than me. It might be time to move on, anyway–this is just #2 of my 7 summer patterns! I really enjoyed the instructions (she walks you through each French seam step by step), so I’d love to try April’s popular Staple Dress pattern some day and see if that might be a better fit for me.
We went to Ridgway State Park after our stay in Mirror Lake (though Mirror Lake added such a long detour to the trip that it would have been just as fast to drive directly to Ridgway). The heavy mosquito level put a damper on the trip–we’re usually spoiled when it comes to bugs here in Colorado!
Pros: Access to the reservoir, boating and swimming areas, and relative proximity to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. If you like to fish, there are plenty of opportunities. The tent only area in the trees gets you away from the RVs (but sadly closer to the bugs) and the carts placed at the parking area make the longer-than-at-Mueller walk to the campsites completely manageable with all of your car camping gear. The Uncompahgre River flowing through the park is beautiful.
Cons: The ponds that have been created by diverting part of the river have made for heavy mosquito coverage–it actually made for a very miserable camping experience because we were constantly itching and swatting, even with the emergency store run for bug spray and a citronella candle. The campsites are shady and private, but lack interesting views. As a Seattle native, I always find reservoirs and man-made beaches a little depressing. Like a face lift on a 70 year old. We know you’re a wrinkly old desert–stop trying to convince us otherwise!
Facilities: All the usual niceties of a state park–vault toilets outside the tent only area, but full shower house a reasonable walk away. Also had a fish cleaning area for the fishermen.
Campsite Recommendations: We stayed at the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground’s tent only area. There is a site with great views of the river, but it’s a handicap site, so 282 is your best bet at a partial view depending on how dense the foliage is. We stayed at 283–no view, but private. The biggest downside to 283 was the odd placement of the bear locker–in full sun and at an awkward angle to the campsite. (Critical beverage tip: Nic took our beer down to the river and put it in for 10 minutes, and we went from tea warm beer to delightfully cool beer. Win.)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument
- Swimming/playing in the sand at the ‘beach’ on the reservoir. There’s play equipment there with a cute slide that runs down to the beach, too. Bring sand toys!!
- This is definitely fishing country. Nic’s not big on the idea of fishing, but I grew up fishing and wished we’d brought poles. (Some day I will fly fish. Mostly because I think it is one of the most picturesque activities in the world. And because waders look amazing.)
The swimming beach at the reservoir, 6pm on the Fourth of July.
The raised tent pad was a little bit of a concern with Ellie, but I think she only fell off it once. 😛
We enjoyed lunch and beer at the Gunnison Brewery both on the way into and out of the park. A fun stop, even though the artwork wasn’t exactly kid friendly.
The Curecanti Recreation Area is beautiful–we saw it on the drive in.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument is only about 30-45 minutes from the campground and well worth a stop.
I don’t know if I really recommend the National Park Junior Ranger program for kids Will’s age. They get pretty intense with the requirements after the preschool grouping, and though you do end up learning a lot, it tends to take all the fun out of the trip. His badges are like little mementos from the times when we took him to National Parks and fussed at him all day. The rangers at the end that quiz the kids on their work can be like old school terrifying nun teachers who don’t like children and are just waiting to whack your knuckles with a ruler. Making sure he and his booklet are prepared for that is not a vacation.
Because we were driving from Mirror Lake (and because on the way out I wasn’t paying attention and sent us back the same way–UGH!), we drove through Taylor Canyon, which I found to be just stunning. Like I spent the entire stretch of road constantly saying how beautiful it was in a way obnoxious to everyone else in the family, stunning. I would absolutely love to camp there were it not for (a) the long drive and (b) the fact that the campgrounds are all practically on the highway. It’s beautiful, though, and perhaps we’ll make our way to the Rosy Lane campground some day for fishing, rafting, or kayaking!
We visited Mirror Lake last year as part of a longer road trip. Though the setting was beautiful, the rough road to the campground combined with the ATV noise well into the night means this was a one visit campground for us!
Pros: The beauty of Mirror Lake and the fun historic ‘living ghost town’ of Tin Cup were what brought us to the campground.
Cons: The road up to the campground is very rough. Our Subaru was loaded down low with camping supplies, which made the rough road that much more stressful. The long rough road meant Nic was too cranky to want to stop in Tin Cup on the way out, so overall it was a bust for us. My main complaint was the ATV noise. I got the info about this campground from The Best Tent Camping in Colorado, which is a book I will be selling or just lighting on fire. It has been a total disappointment for me–the point of tent camping is to get away from noise, and the authors routinely recommend sites overrun by RVs or ATVs. I get the feeling they haven’t actually stayed in many of the campgrounds. Be warned also that google maps may try to send you the theoretically fastest way…over ATV only roads. You’ll need to go the long way to get to the campground (coming around the north through Tin Cup) which makes it about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Colorado Springs. With the long drive and the rough road and the ATV noise the view just wasn’t worth it. If you’re coming from closer and have a high clearance vehicle and only had the ATV noise to contend with, it might be worth considering.
Campsite recommendations: You can’t reserve any of these spots, so it’s a ‘get what you get’ type of situation. There are two sites with great views of the lake, but you’ll need to arrive before the weekend and have good luck to grab them! We were there on a Thursday before 4th of July weekend and didn’t stand a chance.
Facilities: You’ll find vault toilets, a picnic table and grate at every campsite, but no water.
- Tin Cup is a ‘living ghost town’
- Fishing in Mirror Lake
- Hiking near the campground (We didn’t actually do any hiking there, as we only stayed one night and our first afternoon a rainstorm rolled through and ended up lasting for over three hours. I took the best nap of my life that day as we holed up in the tent!)
Ellie and I went on a mother-daughter hike today, something we are used to doing but that will come to an end now that Will is off for the summer and Ellie will be off to kindergarten in the fall. It’s crazy to think that the ‘just the two of us’ time that has filled so many of our days since she was born is over. (I think it’s really only just hitting me as I type that!) For such a momentous day, at least we had a momentous adventure!
Pulpit Rock Park is a wonderfully accessible trail head conveniently a block away from the Trader Joes I am forever making up excuses to be nearby so I can pick up a few things. I didn’t do much research about the hike ahead of time, just noticed that no one seemed willing to say how long it was (which I understood once we were there). I had walked the first half a mile of the trail at a senior portrait photoshoot several years ago, so I remembered the well groomed trail and thought it would be a simple matter of following it to the top. Once actually hiking, though, I realized that the park has many different trails and forks and that following a single obvious path to the top might not happen. I asked several people on the way and once at the top about THE trail, and all said versions of “well, I follow this trail, but it disappears on you so you just have to keep going up and eventually you get to the top.” On the way down I thought for sure I had found The Way, but it disappeared on us and we ended up picking our way back to the trail we’d used on the way up. This afternoon I found this post that suggests that there is an obvious route if you go up the northeast face of the rock, (the other hikers we saw were all hiking toward the north side of the formation) so I might have to investigate that some day.
Pros: This trail is wonderfully accessible from the northern part of Colorado Springs, you have a great number of lunch options for afterward in the University Village shopping area across the street, and you can combine the hike with your Costco/Trader Joe errands. 😉 Pulpit Rock was very cool up close and the area surrounding it was pretty. We saw lots of birds and more flowers than I expected given that most aren’t blooming yet.
Cons: Because this is right next to I-25, you’ll never get away from the freeway noise. There is no map on site and the trails are not marked, so making your way with the various forks and disappearing trails could be stressful with young children. I found this map online, but it doesn’t seem particularly accurate to our experience–we followed that .05 trail down from the rock, but it didn’t connect in an obvious way to the others. (To be fair, we’ve had a lot of rain in the last few weeks so it’s possible that the trail had eroded away). I also assumed that the most obvious trail simply had to meet up with the car-tracks style path we’d followed on the way up, so on the way down we went east on the path. Instead of meeting up, though, it ended in a housing development. We crossed through the meadow and crossed the stream to head back on the best groomed walkway (which, unless you live in the subdivision it ends at, you would never actually walk on if go from the parking lot to the summit). The route Ellie and I took looked something like this:
Distance/Difficulty: Following the map, this could be a 2 mile hike. It could also be longer if you get lost. 😛 The beginning of the hike is gentle, with a steep push at the end to get to the top. Given the difficulty of finding and following the trails, I would give this a moderate difficulty rating (keeping a Family Hike grading scale in mind).
From I-25 going south, take the Nevada Ave exit and take a left to go south on N Nevada Ave. At the first light take a left (confusingly onto N Nevada Ave) and go north past the Harley-Davidson dealership and Luisa Graff Jewelers. The trailhead parking lot is next to a power station. If you get to Woodmen Rd you’ve gone too far north.
- Changing plantlife along the hike. There are also many birds to identify, particularly once you make it to the top.
- I didn’t look up the geology of Pulpit Rock before we left (I wanted to beat the late morning clouds), but this site has extensive information about the formation.
There was plenty of evidence of our recent rain!
If you don’t take the first right fork and instead stay on the most northern trail, shortly after you cross this bridge there is a small fork to the right (south)–you’ll want to take this as after this the only way to get closer to Pulpit Rock is to cross the creek and possibly lose your wagon, provisions, and one child to the current.
Looking back at the northernmost East-West path:
Finding our own way after our trail disappeared I kept thinking of that scene in Tenth Kingdom where the daughter says “I didn’t know it was a race” and the dad says “I didn’t know that was a trail.”
Bird nests at the top:
Looking back along the ridgetop:
When your mom is usually a “stay on the trail” stickler and then this hike is all “well, I guess if we cut through here we should meet up with that trail over there” your smile gets pretty big:
Almost at the car!
Further Reading: The hike is popular among locals, so there are many summaries online including this one and the summary that suggested that there is an obvious route on the NE face of the rock formation.
This summer is a major respite from the otherwise insanity of trying to work and earn my nursing degree. It will be brief, though, and this fall and spring semesters will likely drop me into the most serious time-juggling challenge of my life. So I’m trying to do as many of the crafty things on my dream list as I can this summer, and that includes making garments from these 7 patterns:
I have made many skirts for myself, and a handful of dresses for Ellie, but this summer I really wanted to tackle making shirts and dresses for myself. I’m 1/7th of the way to my goal with the completion of my Linden, and I think The Date Night Dress will be next. I’m having some second thoughts about the flutter sleeve and the very low cut under the arm, so I hope I’ll be happy with the finished product! I’m planning on using this lightweight chambray from Fancy Tiger:
Currently on the studio floor is this quilt top.
In the interest of finishing abandoned projects, I sewed these strips together and added a border to it, thinking that would be the finished quilt top. I’m unsure of it like this, though, and will probably add some solid shape appliques to the top of it. I’m debating between flowers and animal shapes. I’ll have to see what looks best!