Many years ago, a great lake sat between two massive mountain ranges, a lake that fed the river that now serves as much of America’s southern border. Today, that great lake has left behind a unique desert, a field of dunes that almost seem otherworldly. The appearance of these mounds of sand isn’t the only thing odd about this area. When the wind is right, the sand seems to sing out from the valley. However, those who come here in search of singing sands and high desert will find something more than massive mounds of sand and rising temperatures. Grasslands, wetlands, pine and aspen forests, alpine lakes and tundra biomes also rise from this landscape, a quiet reminder that this magical place is actually in south central Colorado. This place is Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The Great Sand Dunes have been inspiring people for ages. Native peoples considered it an important scared landmark, a place of food and medicine. Explorer Zebulon Pike described the moving sands as “exactly that of the sea in a storm.” Settlers came west in order to find gold and attempt to farm this isolated area. Bing Crosby even wrote a song about the singing sands. Established as a national monument in 1932, it would take more than 70 years for this icon of Colorado to attain national park status, making it the second youngest national park in the country.
The youngest and perhaps least known of Colorado’s three national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison has long been seen as a natural obstacle. A national park not for the faint of heart, climbing, boating and even hiking in this park is often considered dangerous and best left to those with plenty of experience. However, this remoteness and inherent danger is what has long attracted the adventurous to the canyon and part of the reason why the area is so well preserved. As opposed to the more famous, 6-million-year-old Grand Canyon, some might consider the Black Canyon young at only around 2 million years old. The story of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is still unfolding.
Located not far from Moab, Utah, this park is divided major districts with names that sound like something out of fiction: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the Rivers. This area was also once home to the ancestral Puebloan peoples who created one of the first major civilizations in this region as well as in other national parks like Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest and the Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. It soon became a place of miners and Mormons, ranchers and researchers. Today, Canyonlands is one of the big five parks in Utah and, along with nearby Arches National Park, has made the small Mormon community of Moab a travel destination for visitors the world over.
It took millions of years to create the Rocky Mountains, but the are has only been a national park for 100 years. Even so, this region has become so entrenched in the American consciousness it has become a symbol of the country's nature, beautiful and wild, serene and challenging. It was created through the cooperation of people from vastly different backgrounds - a former president, a lawyer, a mountainman, a famed naturalist and the head of the U.S. Forestry Service. Their efforts have preserved this area not only as an important landscape but as an American icon.
Work is still being done to unravel the many mysteries at Mesa Verde National Park, most of them centered around the ancient cliff dwellers who once called the area home. Ancestors of many of modern day Native American tribes including the Taos, Acoma, Zuni and Hopi, these Puebloan people are an integral part of American history. The place they left behind has stood for more than a thousand years and continues to be preserved as one of America’s most mysterious national parks.
It was purchased by Thomas Jefferson as part of the Louisiana Purchase and its ownership was guaranteed after the U.S. won battles with Mexico. Eventually, it became a haven for trappers, trackers, mountain men, cowboys, pioneers and settlers. The imposing appearance of the Rocky Mountains led many to settle in the state. It is from these cross sections of diverse people that many cities in Colorado were founded and many eventually disappeared from the map. From mining camps to former state capitols to wild west outposts, discovering these lost cities brings Colorado history to life.
Animas Forks - The Summer City
t may be hard for some to believe, but the structures that poke through the fir and spruce forests of this tundra are a testament to hardy settlers who created what was once considered the jewel of the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway. Today, the loop contains 65 miles of beautiful forests and mountains as part of the Gunnison National Forest and stretches from the ghost town of Animas Forks to the town of Silverton.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.