10 Very Specific Places I Want to Visit

What’s on your list?

A Lighthouse in Maine
A Lighthouse in Maine, an enjoyable place that is not on my spreadsheet

I keep a travel spreadsheet. I’m orderly like that and I enjoy recording interesting places that I learn about in the hope that I can get there someday. Fundamentally, it feels optimistic, which is nice.

Some of my entries are on the vague side, “Morocco” for instance, while others specify an exact museum, restaurant, or some other locale.

Here are some of my favorite, most highly anticipated, and specific choices.

Do you keep a spreadsheet? If so, what’s on it?

1. Hobbiton Set – New Zealand

Why:

I love Tolkien. I’ve read nearly everything published from Smith of Wooten Major to the The Book of Unfinished Tales to The Silmarillion, and of course The Hobbit and the trilogy. The trilogy movies had some good moments (let’s not even talk about The Hobbit films), and getting to see the Hobbiton set would be some serious childhood wish fulfillment.

2. The Literary Man Hotel – Obidos, Portugal

Why:

I love to read and this place doubles as a bookstore, with books lining the walls throughout. They also offer some literary-themed programs and a bar with drinks named after authors. It’s just an environment I know I will like.

3. The Mountain Hostel – Gimmelwald, Switzerland

Why?

Just look at the pictures and video. I can’t fathom not wanting to be there. In truth, I could easily made a list of 10 places in Switzerland alone, but decided to spread it out.

4. The Isle of Skye – Scotland

Why?

Another spectacular setting full of adventure and photographic opportunities. Mountain biking, axe throwing, hiking, and kayaking? Yes, please.

5. H.R. Giger Museum Bar – Gruyeres, Switzerland

Why?

Fundamentally because it seems a neat place to have a drink. Giger is probably most well known for his work on Alien and the look of this bar has a similar feel. I want to visit Switzerland for the mountains and stunning vistas, so why not have a beer here as well.

6. Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory – Japan

Why?

I love sweets and the work of Hiyao Miyazaki. It’s hard to resist a cream filled Totoro.

7. Giant’s Causeway – Northern Ireland

Why?

It just looks really neat and I want to get a closer look. I’m a sucker for natural beauty, especially when it’s as unique as this.

8. The Mobil – Lee Vining, CA

Why?

Why, indeed. This is a gas station in California, but by all reports, it’s as much gathering place for outdoor adventurers as it is gas station. There’s also live music and a deli, making it much more than your average gas station.

9. West Highland Way – Scotland

Why?

I love traveling in non-motorized ways, so the notion of backpacking through Scotland is exactly my type of thing. Plus, it looks at though there are options to stay under a roof certain nights, which will appeal to my husband. In general, I need to explore Europe’s hut-to-hut backpacking system more. I’m happy to start here.

10. Anne Frank Museum – Amsterdam

Why?

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it and I’m pretty concerned that a repeat may be imminent. For all I know, it’s being repeated in my own country as I type this. The situation is sobering.

So, that’s my current 10. It’s a list I’m sure will change.

Scotland and Switzerland are repeated, so I guess that means one of those places needs to be our next destination. It also means that I need to research some other areas more thoroughly.

Suggestions?

Fitness Motivation and Methods

A snowshoe track through Colorado snow.
I can snowshoe on the same trails that I run on.

Motivation is a tricky thing and fitness motivation specifically so. Society always exerts pressure, to have a certain shape or to be able to wear a certain thing, but some motivations are from within. When I am playing a sport, there is motivation to do well in said sport (and not get injured in the process). When I am experiencing health issues, there is motivation to make them end. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to just feel generally better.

I don’t have kids, just lots of projects and work and, until recently, a super long commute. That combined with the fact that my house is in a rural area means that I’ve had to get creative with my workout schedule. There is a county rec center with a gym, but it doesn’t have real gym hours (it doesn’t open until 8 AM…), so it’s not an option most of the time.

I’m fortunate to have an acre of land around my house, so I’ve taken to working out in my yard with some affordable and sometimes homemade equipment. I’ve setup mini obstacle courses, jumped rope, done shoulder presses with some bricks behind my shed (came with the property!) and made something called a “Champion Block” out of a cinder block (also came with the property!).

If you don’t want to watch the video in that link, just wrap a cinder block with duct tape. That’s a “Champion Block.” I mostly do front squats with it, by holding it to my chest. It weighs about 36#.

Water bottle, snack, jump rope, bricks, and a cinder block wrapped in duct tape
Some cheap or homemade fitness equipment. Just wrap a cinder block with duct tape!

There’s also forest service land behind my neighborhood where I can run, albeit very slowly at this point, given my erratic schedule and the fact that my home is at 9000 feet above sea level. It looks like Skyrim back there, but I’ve spotted no errant wolves or bandits, thus far.

A water bottle on a dirt road covered with pinecones.
A forest service road that I run on. There are trails off of it.

In the winter, I’ve snowshoed those same trails, with varying degrees of success as it’s a lot harder to see the trail when it’s covered in snow. There’s been at least one moment of trepidation in which I really didn’t know where I was, but I worked it out. If you do go out into a rural area, do take caution to know where you are.

Snowshoes being worn in a snowfall
That same road during a curiously snowy May

I’ve also managed to build a small home gym from fitness equipment that I acquired for free on the internet. I used a local Facebook group, but you could probably find stuff on Craigslist, Nextdoor, or other similar sites. Fitness equipment is often heavy and bulky and there’s a tendency for people to give up on using it and then give it away. I’ve managed a free Total Gym, elliptical, stationary bike, and even a tiny treadmill. 

A small home gym
Our tiny home gym, the elliptical is in a different room.

When I was doing my worst commute, I was driving 9 miles into town, catching a bus down the mountain, and then switching to another bus down there. It was 50 miles each way, 100 total per day. When my car died and I couldn’t make that 9 mile drive, I had to switch to my bike for a little while and learned the hard way that it takes me an hour to bike into town and 2 hours to bike home (there are longer uphill portions on the ride home).

I did this for the better part of a summer, and it sucked, but at least it was a good workout. I did eventually get the car fixed, because there’s no way this would work in the winter up here and also because I needed that time back.

A bike parked on the side of a road, a lake and mountains in the distance
Los Lagos Reservoir and the Continental Divide – my bike commute did have a stunning view.

So, what about you? Lots of people have a hard time getting to the gym due to work, commute, kids, or a simple lack of motivation. If your problem isn’t lack of motivation, then set something up at home, because anything is better than nothing. I’m no fitness expert, but I know two things.

  1. I feel better when I move
  2. We did not evolve to sit on our asses all day long.

So, go wrap a cinder block in duct tape or jump rope in your yard (yes, this is embarrassing – jump rope is hard – do it anyway) or grab a free stationary bike off of the internet (seriously, worth searching for) and just do something.  Maybe it’s possible for you to bike to work, maybe not. The point is to get creative with solutions to the problem.

Certain things about my workout are more specific to the mountains (no one in Florida is doing any snowshoeing anytime soon), but you can tailor things to your area. Rollerblading? Surfing? Anyone can run or at least walk, depending where your fitness level currently is. When I lived in the city, I would go to city parks and do HIIT workouts. Certain playground equipment can double as fitness equipment and anyone can do bodyweight exercises, virtually anywhere.

It’s easy to fall into an all-or-none proposition such as “I can’t work out enough, so I won’t work out at all”. I went from going to the gym 5-6 days a week, to struggling to get just 2 days in and psychologically it was really hard. I am coming back from being in the worst shape of my life, but… it could have been worse. I refused to give up and stop completely. I still ended up getting a YMCA membership even though I couldn’t really afford it, it wasn’t nearby, and I could only go a couple of times a week. I did the aforementioned home workouts and scrounged up that free equipment and wrapped a goddamn cinder block in duct tape and jumped fucking rope. I hate jump rope. Like, a lot. It sucks.

What is my point here?

  1. Examine your motivations
  2. Determine your goals based off of those motivations
  3. Honestly assess the excuses you are making to prevent you from hitting those goals
  4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Maybe your life truly doesn’t logistically allow you to do everything you want, but don’t let that be an excuse to do nothing.
  5. Get creative
  6. Wrap a cinder block in some goddamn duct tape

Yes, I’m kidding about #6. I mean, unless you want to do that. I do use mine.

What creative solutions have you come up with?

 

Obligatory legal note: I am not a health or fitness professional. Contact a doctor if you have actual health questions.

 

 

Tips for New Coloradans

Practical Advice for Noobs

So, you’re new to Colorado. Regardless of where you came from, there are likely to be some quirks to your new home that you could stand to be warned of. Since most people who move to Colorado arrive in the Denver metro area, I’m making the assumption that you are around there.

If you moved to somewhere else in the state, some of these things will still be applicable.

  1. Steam rooms are your new buddy. Colorado is dry. Get a gym membership and use the damn steam room. Make sure you join a gym that actually has a steam room. I personally prefer the YMCA as if you join one of them, you can visit all of the area YMCA branches via the Away Program. However, not all branches have steam, so see what your local one has before you decide. When I lived in Louisville, KY I could not have imagined doing this as that entire town is a steam room. Colorado is dry. Steam is your friend.
  2. Snow tires are a fun new expense that you’ll want to have at your disposal, especially if you plan on venturing into the mountains to sit in traffic on the way to a ski area. Actually, they are required as “Under a Traction Law, motorists will need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle — all tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.”That’s not even completely correct as the law has just (and I mean just, as of this posting) changed to require that tread be 3/16 of an inch instead of 1/8 and those traction laws are now in effect for a full 9 months and not just during inclement weather. You really want an all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive vehicle, too. I live in the mountains. I mean that.
  3. Street Sweeping will be your nemesis if you live in the City and County of Denver and don’t have your own parking space. It happens once a month, April through November, though the day varies depending on your neighborhood (actually read the signs on your street). If you forget, it’s a $50 fine. That shit adds up and Denver is the town in which the boot was invented, so you don’t want to push it. You can sign up for alerts on the city website.
  4. Yes, Casa Bonita is real. Yes, the food is terrible. The cliff diving is legit, though. You pretty much have to go at least once.
  5. Accessorize with a water bottle. I carry one everywhere I go and I’m not the only one. Did I mention that Colorado is dry? Also, we’re solidly environmentally conscious and getting better. You can refill that shit. Carry a bottle. Refill it. Be a Coloradan.
  6. Consider RTD. I realize that this is not much of a recommendation. RTD is not great. Also, RTD could be worse. Like, they exist and can take you a fair amount of places. Sure, their schedules are often a fantasy and they like to drop routes without communicating that to their riders (i.e. scheduled buses get cancelled with no warning), but… you can take RTD to the mountains in certain instances and, if you have a flexible job that understands the limitations of public transport, you can save a lot on gas and do an environmentally friendly thing. Check to see if your job provides an Eco Pass benefit. That’s the best way to use RTD.
  7. License Plates. Colorado requires you have front license plates on your car. It’s the first state that I’ve lived in that does. If you are like me and your front plate holder is unusable due to rusted and unremovable screws, you will still get a ticket. Challenge that ticket (they make a lot of mistakes, it’s always worth trying – I got my plate ticket reduced) and then figure out another way to attach that plate. Colorado is very big brother. All of the toll roads are photo enforced, so you’ll end up getting a bill in the mail if you take them. This is probably why they are into having front plates.
  8. Need a Colorado ID? You can’t get it the same day. You will get it in the mail in 10-14 days. Every other state I’ve lived in, you get it the same day, but not in Colorado. It seems it’s a Real ID recommendation, so perhaps all states will be moving towards this, but if you come from a state that has not implemented the change, be aware: the DMV will punch a hole in your ID invalidating it and then give you a piece of paper as a temporary ID. Not everyone accepts this paper as valid ID (caution at bars), so you’ll have 10-14 days of ID issues. One great thing is that you can renew your ID online for up to 10 years (if it’s not a CDL ID), which is awesome. That means, if you lose your ID, you can just order a new one online. Huzzah for this.
  9. Unless your vehicle is 7 model years old or less, you’ll be required to get an emissions test to register your car. The type of test varies according to the age and type of vehicle and certain counties are exempt (holla, Gilpin!), but it does cost $25. Maybe this is more common than I realize, but coming from the Midwest and Appalachia, it was news to me.
  10. Sunblock is also your friend. Unless you are blessed with protective melanin, you’re going to want to stock up. I’m pretty sure my ancestors lived in caves, so my daily morning lotion contains SPF 15 and I use SPF 50 for days I’m actively spending time outdoors. The entire state is pretty damn high up (the elevation of Denver is officially 5280 feet above sea level, I live at 9000 feet up), so you will be exposed to more UV than you would at lower elevations. Make sunblock a habit and wear it year round.
  11. Colorado is a great place to vote. It’s easier than anywhere I’ve lived as ballots are mailed to you and you can just mail them back or drop them off. In an era where certain states have made voting way more difficult than it should be, Colorado is a breath of fresh air (just not literally).
  12. Natives. Sometimes natives are a bit petulant about people moving into their state. To be fair, there are a lot of us. Most people are fine and most of that petulance is exhibitied online and is easily ignored. Just be a good citizen and mostly you will be ok. Oh, and if you are a crappy driver and you know it, maybe work on that.

Colorado - Welcome to Denver

Destinations: Valle Nevado in Chile

Take a ski trip to Valle Nevado in Chile for gorgeous scenery and excellent skiing.

As the ski season comes to a close in the northern hemisphere, it’s just getting ready to begin for our neighbors to the south. The ski season at Valle Nevado typically runs from approximately June to October, depending on snowfall. Located in the Andes, east of Santiago, the resort is pretty accessible from the airport via one of the many transport services available. I got a great deal through Turistik, a company I would highly recommend over the much more expensive Ski Total.

The road to the resort is narrow and twisting and is limited to one-way traffic at certain times, so be prepared. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for livestock because they can access the road, so watch your speed lest you hit a stray cow or horse.

The road from Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago Chile is long, windy, narrow, and stunning.
The road connecting Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago is a Class VI drive.

Why Valle Nevado?

In my case, it’s easy – I won my trip. As in, I filled out a form on the internet, and the contest was actually real and not just data mining. Yeah, I was shocked, too. The prize did not include airfare, but it did include 6 days of hotel, breakfast & dinner, and lift tickets, all for two people. It was pretty sweet.

The prize was only for late season – I went in September – and the conditions were appropriately slick for late season skiing. However, I had a lot of the mountain to myself. There were days that I was pretty much the only person skiing the backside and all of the lifts back there were open. It was like having my own private mountain.

I do think I was lucky to have the coverage I did. Even though it was icy, the vast majority of the runs were open. One worker I talked to told me that the prior year there had been almost no snow left that late. If you plan a late season trip to Valle Nevado:

  1. Don’t count on powder
  2. Don’t even count on snow.

Just research conditions before you book anything.

The balconies of the Hotel Puerta del Sol have a stunning view of the Andes
View from the balconies of the Puerta del Sol looking out over the frontside of the ski runs in the Andes.

Where to stay?

There are three hotels of varying price range at the resort. The Hotel Valle Nevado is the most expensive, followed by the Puerta del Sol, and then the Tres Puntas. There are also condos (the Mirador del Inca being one), that our driver told us can sometimes be rented. A quick search on Airbnb brought up some possibilities, so I’d consider trying there and comparing prices to the hotels. My prize included lodging at the mid-range hotel – the Puerta del Sol. The view from the room was stellar, with a little patio overlooking the Andes, but the room was average. It was older and a bit small, with two little twin beds and not very many outlets. The hotel did provide a little set of outlet adaptors, but you’ll likely want to bring your own so that you have more than one.

In short, you might do better in an Airbnb. I wasn’t overly concerned, I was simply excited to get to ski, but it’s worth noting and likely worth a bit of research.

Two of the three hotels at Valle Nevado Ski Resort - Hotel Valle Nevado and Puerta del Sol
The Hotel Valle Nevado on the left and the Puerta del Sol in the back to the right.

The Tres Valles System

Valle Nevado is part of the Tres Valles system of Chilean ski resorts, which also include La Parva and El Colorado to the north and west. Both of those other resorts are visible from various parts of the mountain and are accessible by skis if you can afford the lift tickets to them. Actually, in the case of La Parva, it’s possible to accidentally ski down the mountain to it. In this case, you would be stuck buying a lift ticket to get back to Valle Nevado on skis. Caution is advised in this regard. I caught myself just time – take note that any unmarked lifts on your Valle Nevado map may not be Valle Nevado lifts at all.

The resort is situated in a high mountain bowl and is known for its excellent powder in peak season, but spring visitors to all resorts in the area should be prepared to ski ice and crud. The mountain groomers did an excellent job with what was available and only one of the six days I skied was icy enough that I quit the mountain early for the bar. However, spring conditions are spring conditions, and visitors should be prepared for them.

Visitors should also be prepared to get to watch an incredible array of ski racers train in the mornings. One of my favorite activities was to sit on the patio outside the gondola unloading area and admire the skills of the racers after I had myself completed my morning runs.

A view of El Colorado from Valle Nevado during a stunning pink sunset.
The sunsets at Valle Nevado are stunning

Off-Piste

Skiing aside, the resort has other offerings for non-skiers or skiers taking a break from the slopes. There’s a hot tub, outdoor fire place, and several shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s best to purchase a food package, as it’s particularly expensive to eat if you don’t. One can save a bit of money by filling up on soup and hot cocoa at the daily apres ski event before dinner. Also, there’s a little grocery a short walk from the Puerta del Sol and Tres Puntas which can be used for food to save you from having to eat at the expensive restaurants. If you do visit the restaurants, tipping is expected and will be added to your bill at the end of your stay if you don’t tip along the way. When we visited, there were three restaurant options – Chilean, French, and Italian. They were all excellent, but the Italian place offered a free glass of wine if you booked early.

We ate Italian all but two nights.

The treacherous class VI drive up the mountain is far enough from Santiago that transport will need to be arranged in advance and if you choose to not rent a car, it can be difficult to get to other areas. A shuttle is available from the hotel area to the base of the gondola and non-skiers are allowed to ride that gondola up to its end at mid mountain if they have a lift ticket. Some other shops are available at the gondola base, and food and drink are available mid mountain for skiers who do not pack snacks.

The hot tub at Valle Nevado as viewed from above.
The view down onto the hot tub makes it look a bit like human soup.

A Note on the Lifts

The majority of the lifts at Valle Nevado are surface lifts, which is to say they are mostly J-bars (Poma lifts) with at least one T-bar. There is a gondola and a high speed 6 pack up front as well as few others chairs, but every lift on the backside is a surface lift except one. That includes the Tres Puntas Poma which is like riding a bucking bronco. It throws you up into the air at the start, so be ready. It’s fun once you get used to it, but it handed me my only fall of the trip. Beware of Tres Puntas lift.

This is all fine, really. It just gets a little tiring, so it’s good to know. I’m told it can get pretty windy, so this is probably part of the reason for the abundance of surface lifts.

The Tres Puntas lift is mildly treacherous, so beware.
View from Tres Puntas Lift

The Verdict

If you can afford to ski Valle Nevado, do it. It’s a beautiful place with excellent skiing, even in late season. I will say that if you are into steeps or trees, this isn’t your mountain. The runs labeled as steep here really aren’t and everything is above tree line. There is some nice looking skiing out of bounds here so, if it’s a good snow year, consider the resort’s heli skiing services or a reputable backcountry guide service such as Powderquest. If you want powder, don’t come late season, though that goes without saying. The reason I enjoyed myself was:

  1. I got to ski. Anytime I get to ski, I’m a happy human.
  2. There were almost no lines. This is likely the best perk of skiing late season here.
  3. It was free, or nearly so (I bought snacks, plane tickets, transport via Turistik, and I tipped).
  4. I got to ski.
  5. The Andes are spectacularly beautiful.
  6. I love to travel.
  7. I got to ski.

If you want a cheaper way to ski in Chile, I’ve heard that it is more affordable to stay in Farrelones. This is a small mountain village from which El Colorado can be accessed. Since Valle Nevado is accessible via El Colorado, this is one way to ski that resort without staying there. Unfortunately, this option would require lift tickets for both El Colorado and Valle Nevado since, to the best of my knowledge, the resorts do not co-operate in an fashion in regards to lift tickets.

Regardless of all of this, Valle Nevado is worth your time if you can manage it. Not only because the skiing is excellent, but the staff are lovely and very forgiving of those with poor Spanish language skills, as personal experience attests.

100 Favorite Things

Not all that long ago, Brendan Leonard over at Semi-Rad published a list of 100 Favorite Things. Writing my own list was surprisingly satisfying, so I’m sharing it. Given how negative life can be, spending the time to come up with 100 positive things was a nice exercise that I recommend.

  1. Frank Herbert’s Dune books. That’s only the Frank Herbert books and explicitly not the ones by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
  2. Fruit. Specifically, mangoes, raspberries, cherries, pineapple, and peaches. I hear India has the best mangoes and I kinda want to visit just to taste them.
  3. Summer nights
  4. Odd 13’s Humulus Kalecumber beer
  5. Sherlock
  6. James S.A. Corey’s Expanse book series and the associated television show
  7. Picking up heavy objects and putting them down again
  8. Photography – even when my only camera is my phone, I’ll never stop thinking like a photographer
  9. This video about making things
  10. This YouTube channel in general
  11. Galloping a horse across an open field
  12. Skiing – all the time, all types. I’m also a beginner snowboarder and I think I’ll like that too, once I’m better at it.
  13. The Legend of Zelda. Specifically, the original The Legend of Zelda NES game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Wind Waker, Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Breath of the Wild. I never played any of the old Gameboy Zeldas.
  14. Learning to cook Indian Food
  15. Skyrim – yes, it’s old and buggy as hell, but I still love it. I also like to run to the soundtrack.
  16. You Must Remember This
  17. Disgraceland
  18. Freakonomics – both the book and the podcast
  19. The X- Files – the first five seasons in particular
  20. The love-hate relationship that I have with the incredible-terrible phenomena that is running.
  21. The very similar feelings that I have toward writing.
  22. The very similar feelings that I have toward swimming whitewater
  23. Brain Pickings
  24. The Left Hand of Darkness
  25. Giant snow storms. I want enough snow to have to dig tunnels.
  26. This specific chocolate
  27. All Miyazaki films, but especially Nausicaa
  28. This short film
  29. Kurt Vonnegut in general, though God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is my favorite
  30. Asimov’s Foundation Series
  31. Drinking beer with my brothers
  32. Gentlemen Broncos
  33. Noisli – my favorite productivity site
  34. Kanopy – all you need is a library card from a participating library
  35. Also, the literary equivalents, Overdrive or Libby
  36. Khan Academy
  37. The Venture Bros is so good that it hurts.
  38. Silflay hraka u embleer rah – the best book you’ll ever read about rabbits
  39. I used to play a lot of Everquest II and I still kinda miss Norrath
  40. I still have dreams of breaking through the pack and I quit roller derby in 2013
  41. What’s better? Star Trek or Star Wars? The correct answer is Babylon 5
  42. Whitewater rafting on the Gauley River
  43. This podcast keeps me motivated to not give up on filmmaking
  44. And this guy keeps me motivated in general
  45. Castlevania on Netflix is amazing.
  46. It’s been years since we moved away from Kentucky, but Dragon King’s Daughter is still one of my favorite places.
  47. Shish Kabob Grill in Denver still has the best hummus I’ve ever had.
  48. Rioja is my favorite for a fancy pants meal.
  49. The trout amandine at Steuben’s in Uptown is so good that I never order anything else.
  50. Strange Planet has me hooked
  51. Best of the Worst has filled the void that MST3K used to occupy (no, I haven’t seen the new MST3K yet)
  52. Watching bad movies with my husband
  53. Star Trek Timelines – I tried deleting it from my phone. I failed.
  54. This subreddit
  55. Fooducate
  56. 10 Barrel’s Cucumber Crush – I dig sours
  57. DiNK Denver
  58. Learning to cook Mediterranean Food
  59. This is my favorite cook book, though
  60. Pod Save America
  61. iNaturalist
  62. My favorite Star Trek TNG episode
  63. WiFMCO
  64. This class
  65. The Best Thing on Facebook
  66. The Oatmeal
  67. XKCD
  68. After years of dealing with white gas, I finally got a Jetboil and I’m a total convert
  69. I like the Aqua Teen Hunger Force so much that I named one of my cats after it
  70. Sealab 2021 was an underrated gem
  71. Adding places to my travel spreadsheet even though I can’t afford to go anywhere yet. I like how optimistic it feels.
  72. My friends sci fi synth band
  73. Andy Serkis as Theresa May
  74. The Colorado Sun
  75. Obvious Plant
  76. The Eric Andre Show
  77. Reductress
  78. Seed&Spark
  79. Raspberry/Lemon/Strawberry Fruit Frenzy Popsicles from Trader Joes
  80. NPRs podcasts. Basically, all of them, but especially Hidden Brain.
  81. Nightvale Presents Podcasts – Alice Isn’t Dead, Welcome to Nighvale, and Within the Wires are my favorites so far. Pretty sure I’m going to like Start With This, too.
  82. We’re Alive
  83. Semi-Rad – gotta give a shout out to the inspiration
  84. This video about faking a model
  85. The Sagan Series
  86. By the Book
  87. Wild Ideas Worth Living
  88. The happy hour specials here
  89. My favorite bookstore in Denver
  90. My other favorite bookstore in Denver
  91. My favorite breakfast spot in Denver
  92. My favorite bar in Denver
  93. My favorite bar in Denver that has live music
  94. Classical Art Memes
  95. and then we’ll be ok..
  96. This shirt
  97. The fact that Final Fantasy VII is on switch
  98. This shuttle
  99. This cozy little bookstore/coffee shop/ice cream parlour in Nederland

So You Want to Learn to Ski?

A view of the Rocky Mountains from the top of a ski run at Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado
The View from the top of La Belle Dame at Eldora in Colorado

As has been the case with so many others, I moved to Colorado in part for the skiing. I love it, it’s long been one of my favorite sports, but it’s expensive as Hell and not getting cheaper. I’m a PSIA certified ski instructor because I love the sport and enjoy teaching, but also because it’s how I get a ski pass. For most of my life, I’ve been unable to ski due to the expense, and I’m done with that.

In my opinion, the giant white elephant in the room of the ski industry is increasing lift ticket costs, especially for single day passes. Most of us can’t afford to front the cost of a multi-resort pass (e.g. Ikon or Epic) and many people who are new to the sport and aren’t sure if they like it yet are justifiably not yet willing to pay that much. Since the situation is not likely to change anytime soon, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the topic. I will say that if you have a friend who has a multi-resort season pass, you might be able to buy a discounted “buddy ticket” if you ski with that person. Check out Liftopia, too. They don’t have discounts for every resort, but they might have what you want.

So, here you are. You want to try skiing, but it’s expensive, traffic to get to the ski area is terrible and the place is distant, and what’s up with the gear?

A view of the gondola at Keystone ski resort from the base.
Looking up at the Gondola from the base at Keystone – ski areas can get very crowded.

Where do I go?

Obviously, it depends very much on where you live and how much you are willing or able to spend. However, if you are new, also consider going to a place with a lot of beginner terrain. If you look up the terrain map on a resort’s website, you’ll find that the runs are organized by color – green for beginner, blue for intermediate, and black (and sometimes double or triple black) for advanced. These ratings do not necessarily transfer between resorts. In other words, a black diamond run in Indiana is not necessarily the same difficulty as a black diamond run in Colorado. At a minimum, the Colorado run is highly likely to be much longer, but also more difficult in other ways.

The author on skis with her friend Sukhinder at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia.
Skiing with my friend Sukhinder at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia – the first place I ever skied. Do as I say, not as I do – wear a helmet. Photo credit: Yad Deol

What do I wear?

Synthetics or wool, never cotton, and definitely not jeans. Snow pants over top of long underwear are best, along with a winter coat and a balaclava that fits under a helmet and/or a neck gaiter. If you don’t have a helmet, rent one. Most resorts offer that service. On top, you’ll want a synthetic base layer with a fleece over it. Also, you want only one pair of synthetic or wool socks and you don’t want them to be very thick. Ski boots fit tightly and bulky socks interfere. Bring gloves.

If it’s spring or if conditions are uncharacteristically warm, you’ll want to be able to shed layers. Either store your things in your vehicle (presuming you drove) or rent a locker. If it’s an especially cold day, consider keeping some chemical hand warmers in your pockets in case you need them. Also, if you are fair skinned, sunblock is essential. The sun will reflect off of the snow and you will burn badly.

A ski helmet and goggles with a water bottle and snack.
Wear a helmet and pack water and snacks.

What about gear?

Basic ski gear consists of ski boots, skis with bindings, poles, and a helmet with goggles. The fit of the ski boots is incredibly important. They should fit firmly, but without pain. Your toes should not be jammed against the front of the boot, and your heel should not move around. You definitely want to have someone help fit you properly.

The bindings will be adjusted by the rental tech to fit the sole length of your boots and will be tightened according to your ski ability. If you are a newer skier, they will be set to a lower DIN number than they would for an advanced skier. This is so the ski will release in the event of a fall to prevent injury.

The length of the ski is dictated by your height and ability, but generally they will come to around your chin when stood on end, particularly if you are a new skier. Adult skiers are often provided with poles, but don’t be surprised if your instructor takes them away if you take a lesson. Often new skiers focus too strongly on the poles instead of using their lower body to stop and turn. Children are often not provided poles when they are learning. In general, they are a distraction when you are new, but can be useful to help take your skis off and get up after a fall.

A helmet may not be required, but you absolutely should wear one. It’s a safely issue of course, but they keep you warm and you’ll look more professional. Goggles basically serve as sunglasses and/or a wind block. They are more essential than most people realize. You’ll probably have to buy a pair as most resorts don’t rent them. It’ll be more affordable to do this before you go to the mountain.

Take note that if you rent your gear off mountain, say from an independent rental shop, the tech shop that is at the ski area may not be able to adjust it for you. For that reason, it’s often better to rent from the ski area if you are going to rent. Additionally, I’ve personally found that lots of gear rented off mountain badly needs waxed. That’s not always true, but it has been often enough to notice.

A view of the Andes Mountains from the top of a ski run known as Shake at Valle Nevado in Chile.
Never underestimate the beauty of a bluebird day at a ski area. This is a view of the Andes from the top of Shake run at Valle Nevado in Chile.

So now what?

  1. Should I take a lesson? – In short, yes. I know it seems biased because I am an instructor, but I’ve seen so much struggle from people who try to teach themselves or who try to have a friend teach them. Friends mean well, but tend to forget how difficult it can be when you are new. Having a significant other try to teach you is a great way to end an relationship. I’m not going to say that it never works, but the odds are not in your favor. At least consider a lesson.
  2. How do I get there? – It’s the nature of skiing that resorts tend to be in remote areas, so most people drive. Obviously it depends where you are, but some resorts offer special parking or other benefits if you carpool. I recommend checking out the website of your intended destination. At least one mountain in Colorado is accessible via city bus (Eldora – full disclosure: I work there). Also, there are ski buses that will take you to some resorts off of I70. Services vary depending on where you are coming from (e.g. DIA vs. somewhere else in town), but it’s worth looking into. If you are going to Winter Park, the ski train may also be an option. This is all for Colorado. If you are in a different state, you’ll need to do some research on your own.
  3. What about food? – It’s expensive to eat and drink at a ski area. Period. As with amusement parks, you are a captive audience and are treated as such. Some are worse than others (I’m looking at you Vail Resorts), but they are pretty much all more expensive than is ok. Some places have microwaves available (at Eldora it’s in the West Wing) and some don’t. I like to pack a day pack with a camelback of water, food, and a couple of cans of beer for apres ski. If you do wear a pack, be very careful that it does not get caught on the lift when you ride.
Black Mountain Lodge at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Colorado.
Arapahoe Basin is a beautiful place.

Finally…

There are a few things that ski noobies tend to not know that are useful.

  1. How are moguls made? – Moguls are what happens naturally when snow falls and people ski on it. The runs that don’t have moguls are that way because they have been groomed. If a run has moguls, it’s because the run has not been groomed, allowing them to stay for the enjoyment of advanced skiers. Try not to ski or ride over the tops of them and this will flatten them out. Take a lesson!
  2. What’s powder and where do I find it? – Powder is a type of snow. Specifically, it’s fresh snow (preferably deep and light). It’s a lot of fun to ski and if you come up to the mountain on a powder day, you’ll likely find the traffic and lift lines to prove it. People are unlikely to share the location of their powder stashes with you unless they are a good friend (and even then, “No friends on a powder day” is a thing). You should know that the technique for skiing powder is different from the technique for skiing groomers (i.e. packed, flat snow), so if you’ve not done it, consider a well-timed powder day lesson.
  3. Learn the responsibility code. It’s pretty common sense, but not everyone knows it. Be safe and courteous and don’t be a jerk. Normal shit. Also, in Colorado it’s actually the law. Check it out.

 

Skiing is one of my favorite things to do in the world and I want everyone to love it, so prepare, plan ahead, and have a great time.

Destinations: Nederland, CO

The eclectic little town of Nederland is a great addition to your Colorado vacation.

 

The sunset over Barker Reservoir in Nederland lights the sky aflame
Sunset over Barker Reservoir

Tucked into the mountains above Boulder, at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and in the shadow of the Continental Divide, is the little town of Nederland. It’s an eclectic place, having evolved from mining town to hippie enclave to it’s modern state. In the 70’s, it was known for it’s vibrant music scene, enhanced by its location near the now defunct recording studio at Caribou Ranch. The town continues to evolve, but has maintained some of its unique character in the face of changing demographics.

Gateway to Adventure

The town is easily accessible from Boulder via Boulder Canyon. Although the distance is only about 16.7 miles, there is an elevation gain of 2900 feet (883.92 meters), so the temperature and weather differences are often significant. Dress and choose your vehicle accordingly. It’s actually possible to take the RTD city bus from Boulder to Ned, which is a great option if you aren’t sure about driving. The bus makes stops throughout the canyon, including at Boulder Falls. This short hike can be crowded, but is quick and pleasant. If you do choose to get off here, know the bus schedule ahead of time so you aren’t stuck there for a long period.

Once you do get to Nederland, you have several options depending on your adventure of choice and the time of year.

Keep Busing

If it’s winter and you love to ski, Eldora Mountain Resort is just west of Nederland and it is the only Colorado ski resort that is serviced by the city bus system. The buses have plenty of room for your ski gear and can save you the drive and parking-related headaches. Gear is available to rent and ski and snowboard lessons are offered.

Looking up a ski run named Windmill on a beautiful day at Eldora Mountain Resort.
Looking up Windmill run on a bluebird day at Eldora.

In the summer, the Nederland RTD Park & Ride lot is the pickup location for the Hessie Trailhead shuttle. You can drive or take the RTD city bus up and then catch the shuttle in for a hike. If you don’t take the shuttle, be aware that parking is limited and fills up early, so be prepared. There’s a reason the shuttle exists, so take advantage of it. The shuttle only services the Hessie Trailhead, so if it’s the Fourth of July Trailhead that interests you, you’ll have to drive to that. Leave early so you can get a parking space. The shuttle is seasonal, so check out the website to make sure it is running if you plan on using it.

Jasper Lake, a high alpine lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, during a period of low water.
Jasper Lake during a time of low water.

Stay in Town

The little town of Nederland is worth exploring. The Barker Reservoir allows fishing (no swimming or boating, however!) and there is a little trail than runs along the northern bank that offers nice views of the town and reservoir.

Pedestrian Trail sign and view of Barker Reservoir in Nederland, Colorado
The start of the Pedestrian Trail near the eastern end of the reservoir.

If you need information or gear, stop by the Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store for maps and information or by The Mountain Man outdoor outfitter store, for an even bigger selection of equipment. Also in town are the Carousel of Happiness, the Mining Museum and several neat little shops such as Blue Owl Books and Boutique and Nature’s Own rock shop. If you are hungry or have a thirst, there’s the Pioneer Inn, a relic of the old Caribou Ranch days, as well as Crosscut Pizza, The Branding Iron, and The Very Nice Brewery, among others.

The event that the town is most well known for, Frozen Dead Guy Days, occurs annually in March. Winter is also a good time of the year to check out the local ice rink or rent some snowshoes from Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center.

A Charles Bukowski quote on the wall inside the Very Nice Brewery in Nederland, CO.
The Very Nice Brewery

Head North

There are several great trails and wilderness areas north of town. Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch Open Space (closed April 1st to June 30th seasonally) are both pretty close, whereas Rainbow Lakes Trailhead and the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area both require a bit more of a drive. The Peak to Peak scenic highway that you take to get to these places is a treat in of itself and if you take it far enough, you’ll end up in Estes Park, the home of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A view of an old ranch building at Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County Colorado.
Caribou Ranch Open Space

Head South

If you head south on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, you’ll pass by West Magnolia, a popular mountain biking area. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one in town at Tin Shed. These trails can also be hiked.

Continuing on past West Magnolia, you’ll hit the town of Rollinsville wherein, if you take the Tolland Road to the west, you can reach the East Portal Trailhead. If you are headed here, you’ll pass Rollins Pass Road, a popular place for ATV riders and mountain bikers. Due to the collapse of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel, you can no longer drive over the continental divide at this point, so don’t plan on it. I am told that it is possible to port your bike around the collapse, but the bike ride up is strenuous. Do not try to drive this road without the appropriate skill and vehicle.

Hiking up from the East Portal Trailhead to S. Boulder Creek trail, you can reach several lovely high alpine lakes and the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass. If you are fit and prepared, you can also access James Peak from this point.

A view of Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness with the Continental Divide in the distance.
Heart Lake and the Continental Divide

Stay Safe!

It’s important to plan ahead for your safety and others. Fire risk is high in these areas, so look up the current conditions and obey all fire bans. This frequently means that NO CAMPFIREs are allowed, so plan ahead with a legal camp stove if you are staying overnight. If you head south of Nederland to trails at the East Portal, you’ll be in Gilpin County, an area that has separate fire ban information from the trails in Boulder County.

Weather can change quickly and is usually much colder at altitude than down below. Wear proper footwear, carry a fleece, rain gear, snacks, and plenty of water. It’s best to understand how to use a map and compass, but at a minimum, stay on the trails. If you see bad weather rolling in, get below tree line. If you plan on camping overnight, permits are required for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. They can be purchased the day of your trip at Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store. Remember to keep your pets on leashes and obey Leave-No-Trace principles. Be aware that it’s always wise to treat your water before you drink it due to the high traffic these areas experience.

Finally, if you are visiting the Nederland area from a low altitude location, be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and act accordingly if needed. Be sure to consult a medical professional if you experience issues. Some people will experience sickness even if they are coming from somewhere relatively high like Denver, so keep that in mind.

The Continental Divide still has some snow, even in the summer.
A view of the Continental Divide from the trail.

Have fun!

This area is spectacular and I’ve only covered the basics of what is available. I feel like I could spend my entire life exploring Colorado and I still haven’t even explored all the trails near Nederland. The town itself and the surrounding natural resources are well worth your time. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun.

A memorial for "Red the Cat Legend of First Street" in Nederland, Colorado.
The Memorial of Red the Cat in from of Town Hall in Nederland

New Years Travel Resolutions for the Fiscally Disadvantaged

I like making lists, so I like the idea of resolutions. My personal “19 for 2019” is already complete, but I’ve decided to make a separate list of travel resolutions to help move me in the direction of actually being able to go places.

To be clear, “Fiscally Disadvantaged” is relative. Overall, I’m pretty lucky and I’m much less poor than I used to be, I just live in a relatively expensive area and don’t quite make enough to travel. I don’t mean to demean the struggle of those suffering through actual impoverishment. Travel is a luxury that I struggle to obtain, but it’s still a luxury. Perspective matters.

With that being said, here are some things that I think will help me move forward.

1. Renew passport before it expires. It’s good to have it handy just in case, and it’s cheaper this way.

2. Curate a travel wishlist via Google docs. I’ve already started this, but it needs some work. I find that the act of creating the list inspires me to work harder at getting my shit together. I like Google Docs because I can easily share the list with my husband and he can edit it, but use what works for you.

3. Deposit something from each pay check into savings and do not touch it. I’m starting out with $10 for now.

4. Seek out alternative means of income. Bonus points if these methods are location independent. In my case, I’m working on blogging, film production, ski instruction, and learning to code.

5. Simultaneously, seek more lucrative employment in your field. My day job is academic scientific research. I either need a better paying academic lab or I need to move to industry.

Anyone out there have their own list? What’s on it? Any tips or suggestions?

Cheers and a belated Happy New Year to all!

Sunshine and show blowing on a ski run
Looking uphill from Muleshoe run at Eldora Mountain Resort, the ski area where I teach.

Anti-Destinations: Weirton, WV

 

My little hometown is an old steel town turned decaying industrial wasteland nestled in the northern sliver of West Virginia and tucked in between Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1984, Weirton Steel was the largest employee owned company in the nation, but that ended with public stock sales in 1989 and 1994. The company entered into bankruptcy in 2003. Portions of the old mill are still functional as a tin manufacturing plant under new ownership and other portions are being torn down for development, which is something. Hopefully it’s something positive, but it’s a little tough to know at this point. One thing that isn’t tough to know is that the area is not what you would call a vacation destination. I visit about once a year for the holidays, so I figured this year I would take the time to assess the areas travel-related “virtues”.

Looking down upon the old mill from Weir Avenue
Looking down upon the old mill from Weir Avenue

The Weirton Chamber of Commerce has a “Recreation and Visitor Attractions” section to it’s website that largely consists of youth sports facilities and the local community center. The continued existence of the town swimming pool is noted as is a vague mention of there being “several parks located in various neighborhoods.” I’m not entirely sure I know what they are talking about there.

A picture of a desolate park with a Christmas tree and a child
This is the park near my dad’s house, complete with my little sister. Not pictured: park benches. That’s it. The holiday decor is decidedly temporary.

The other places that are mentioned, Oglebay Park and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack, & Resort, are not in town. I recall Oglebay being nice enough. It’s the home of the only zoo in West Virginia, a place I interned at years ago. They also have a pretty extensive christmas light display during the holidays. I largely recall that event as being a traffic jam through the park but, hey – people seem to like it.

An intern and a red panda at the Oglebay Park Good Zoo.
Me as an intern hanging out with one of the red pandas.

I’m also somewhat familiar with the track as I spent a summer there walking hots back in the late 90’s. I can’t speak for the current state of affairs, but at the time, the horses running there weren’t exactly known for their speed. It was the sort of track where horses that couldn’t win other places ran. I strongly suspect the establishment’s primary income comes from the casino. The website does list several musicians that are unknown to me as entertainment, so that’s a thing visitors ostensibly could do.

One fun memory from then is when we would, as a form of low impact exercise, take the horses to swim in the scummy pond next to the strip club that was across the street. It was called Filly’s. I do not have a current report on that establishment and my attempts to learn anything have defiled my search history.

So, that’s all the Weirton chamber lists and it’s pretty weak. I decided to see if anyone else had anything to say and found this site “dedicated to promoting tourism at the top of West Virginia.” Huzzah! What mysteries await us? I clicked on “download brochure” and was met with three categories:

  1. Rural Retreats
  2. Gaming Excitement
  3. Proximity to Pittsburgh

Ok, so the casino and getting out of dodge. Gotcha.

“Rural Retreats” was more of a mystery, so I persisted and found that the brochure wasn’t terribly clear on the concept. There’s a section for “fairs, festivals, and events” that lacks specific dates, a list of hotels, a bit on the aforementioned casino, and then an attractions section. Bingo.

A black and white photo of a crumbling structure with snow falling through the broken roof
This bit of blight and decay is not an attraction.

I recognize a few of these places as field trip locations from my youth. We definitely went to the Peter Tarr furnace and the Homer Laughlin China Company. The gem that is the World’s Largest Teapot is a thing we occasionally drove by to get to and from youth sporting events. The furnace is an old ruin adjacent to a Weirton neighborhood and the China Company is a pottery factory. We also took field trips to Domino’s Pizza and the local newspaper, so these places were all par for the course.

The other places listed are the Weirton Steel Memorial, the VFW Memorial Park, the John F. Kennedy Memorial, and the Weirton Steel Veterans Memorial. I am sure there are certain history buffs that are interested in these places, but I cannot say I’ve every seen anyone hanging out at them. Also, I think the JFK memorial is gone. At least, it was as of December 2017. Maybe they were remodeling? I don’t know.

Some campgrounds, golf courses, and three trails I’ve never heard of are also listed, as are restaurants and two museums that are not in Weirton and one that is.

There is also a list of Brooke County attractions, but Weirton is in Hancock county, so I’m not including them. Drive south if they interest you. They largely consist of some architecture, a scenic drive, and more veteran’s memorials.

So, that’s it for the brochure.

At this point, I’m pretty sure “rural retreats” is just a euphemism for the area in general.

A decaying elementary school playground set for demolition
Here’s a shot of the playground at my elementary school before it was demolished. It looks like Silent Hill.

Personally, when I visit Weirton, I like to drink and play video games with my family, grab some tasty Mexican food from Chico Fiesta, go bowling, and leave Weirton. Robinson Township has a nice Cinemark movie theater and Pittsburgh has a lot to do – there’s the art & natural history museums, the incline, science center, children’s museum, Kennywoodconservatory, aviary, zoo, several theaters, and Carson Street, among other things. This is really where you should go.

Bowling is fun
Bowling is just as fun in Weirton as it is everywhere and more affordable than it often can be in larger cities.

One of the things that amuses me is that, in Weirton, a cafe is not a cafe. Video Lottery gambling is legal, but it isn’t legal for the signage to specifically say that’s what’s inside, so everything is a “Cafe & More.” This means gambling, so tons of places have “more” inside in the form of video lottery machines. Want a coffee shop? We’ve got one, but there’s also “more.” How about a pub? Sure, they exist, but they also have “more.” There’s a lot of variety in the cafes, some of them let you hang out in them and have a beer or a coffee without gambling, but some won’t. I used to love to go into the inappropriately named Fun Cafe for the cheapest meal in town, but Hollywood Hollywood wouldn’t let my brother and I stay for a beer. It really varies.

A restaurant counter and wall with many hand written signs.
The now sadly defunct Fun Cafe sold the cheapest food in town. I miss it.

One Christmas my husband, one of my brothers and I all did a cafe tour where we went to to a bunch of them and tried to order a beer and hangout. The results were mixed, but it was fun, given the available options.

I really should credit this little town for my persistent ventures into the escapist fantasies of literature, film, and video games, because everything there was more interesting than everything at home. Maybe that’s for the best and maybe it’s not, but I’m sure it’s not uncommon among people who grow up in places with limited resources.

Hollywood of Weirton
Hollywood of Weirton, complete with little sister

So, that’s what Weirton has to offer. Take it or leave it. Maybe check out a “cafe” or the still functional and present swimming pool or bowl somewhere you haven’t before.  However, if you decide to go to Pittsburgh instead, I can’t say I blame you.

Destinations: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.” -Frank Herbert, Dune

The Great Sand Dunes Park & Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes Park & Preserve

Colorado has sand dunes. If all that you know of the state is what you have seen in films and tourism materials, this fact may have eluded you. (Half of the state is also reminiscent of Kansas, but that tale is for another day).

If you drive south and a bit west from Denver, the land will become scrubby and drier, and if you happen in the right direction, you’ll suddenly be faced with an expanse of dunes vast enough to leave you looking for Shai Hulud. It’s stunning, really.

The dunes are not close to much of anything, so staying at one of the campgrounds is recommended. There are several, both inside the park itself and in the surrounding areas. Cost and amenities vary widely, but if you choose to stay at the Pinon Flats campground within the park, be aware that in the late season when you are no longer able to reserve a site online, you may still have to fight for one, or stay in your vehicle. We did this the first night and then got up early and snagged a site when someone left. Score one for early arrival.

On the flipside, if you arrive late, you may find the gate to the park unmanned and can then avoid the park fee. I don’t know if this is always the case, but it was for us. Score one for late arrival.

Pick your poison.

Some other potentially useful information:

  1. Plan ahead if you want to build a campfire, especially if you are going off-season. There is a little camp store at Pinon Flats that sells wood, but it closes for the season. If that happens, you will have to leave the park to buy firewood and then, if you managed to get in without paying the fee, you’ll have to pay it to get back in. Be prepared.
  2. Hiking on sand is a real bitch. Be psychologically prepared for an exhausting time. If you don’t want to deal with it, there are sand-free trails. Mosca Pass Trail is especially nice when the aspens are changing.
  3. If you do hike to Mosca Pass, you’ll see that the there is a dirt service road that continues on once the proper trail ends. Take it. When you come to another road, turn right and then quickly turn right again one a third road, Follow that road a short distance to get a lovely view of the Sangre de Christos. There is no view at the natural end of the trail. If you want better directions, ask a park ranger at the vistor’s center.
  4. Consider the possibility of mosquitoes. We went in a very dry year, so Medano Creek was completely dried up and there were none. I have it on report that when that is not the case, the mosquitoes are ungodly. Bring DEET.
  5. The dunes lie within the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and, as such, common national park rules such as dog leash laws apply.
  6. The wind on the dunes can really whip up and blow the sand around. If you are a photographer or if you are a wearer of contact lenses, be prepared to protect both your gear and your eyes.

Anakin hates sand. It gets everywhere.

Things I would do differently:

  1. I’d either go when I could reserve a site or get there early. Personally, I’d rather pay the park fee and not have to sleep in a car.
  2. I would take the time to hike to the top of the dunes. I suspect that view is stunning and I would have liked to have taken some photos.
  3. I’d spend more time there than just a weekend. It’s a bit of a drive and there’s a lot of exploring to do and I’d like to have the time to do so.
  4. Finally, I’d get a backcountry permit and head away from the crowds. The campground is nice if you want to be around people. However, if you prefer solitude, it’s a bit much. Do what you prefer.

Some people will no doubt take issue with my DEET recommendation. I once spent a month backpacking in Alaska during summer and I brought natural insect repellant. It had a pleasant scent and was useful to cover up the sort of increasingly awful body odor that one develops on a month long trip, but it had zero effectiveness against the mosquitoes. I’ll not leave the DEET behind again. That’s me. It just depends how much the mosquitoes bother you.

This is a gorgeous park with stunning vistas and excellent photographic opportunities if you work for them. If you are a Dune fan, it’s hard to not think of Paul and Jessica struggling across the dunes to escape the Harkonnen and Sardaukar. Doing so may well take your mind off of your own struggles and you may need that. Have fun!