While Colorado is most often associated with her beautiful mountains, there is a small section in southern Colorado that has enormous sand dunes. Formed millions of years ago, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range where blowing sand against the mountain has created the largest sand dunes in North America. The tallest, Star Dune rises 750 feet from the creek bed. Looking from the distance, Great Sand Dunes offers an amazing juxtaposition of sand dunes landscape next to the majestic Rocky Mountains.
While Alex and I had an adventure here some 10 years earlier when we took a first place ribbon at the annual sand building competition, our purpose for this adventure was much different. We were here to get in some vertical climbing in preparation for our June trip to Mt. Rainier. As such, we decide to go with full packs on. Our course was to climb the High Dune on the east side and then walk right through the middle of the dunes over to Star Dune. We could then easily descend down to the valley floor and follow the creek bed back to our starting point.
If you’ve ever walked through dry sand, you know how much it gives way underneath you. What makes this hike so challenging is that you are sinking in while doing some major vertical climbing. Many a time it felt like one step up and two steps back. To make matters more difficult, the wind howls constantly and the higher you get the more ferocious the sand storms become. After reaching the top of High Dune, and enjoying watching the many sand boarders who ride down the dune), we headed out across the middle. After descending the back side of High, we were treated to an awe inspiring scene of nothing but sand. Every direction we looked, nothing but sand and the blue sky above. To feel like you could get lost in here is an understatement. While hundreds of tourists were at play just a quarter-mile away, it felt like Alex and I were the only two people on earth.
The climb across the dunes was extremely enjoyable. The climb up Star Dune however was a huge challenge. Between the loose footing, the steep slope, and brutal wind gusts, I was down to counting 20 steps before needing to take a rest break. When getting to the top, you quickly get to the back side of the ridge to avoid being sand blasted by the wind. Inspired at the top, we decided to go back the same way rather than going to the creek bed. While a much more difficult traverse, we couldn’t resist the temptation to play in the sand again. For me, having trained in the pool for the past three months, I finally felt I had reached a level of fitness that made it fun to pack and I was encouraged about our upcoming climb up Mt. Rainier. This memorable hike stayed with us for days as we continued to wash sand out of our hair and ears!
Deep in Southern Utah’s remote desert landscape sits the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Protecting 1.8 million acres, it’s an ideal location for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. A place where one can easily find solitude as well as easily get lost in the deep slot canyon creek beds.
For our first adventure into this massive wilderness, we selected the Bull Valley Gorge loop based on the Las Vegas REI team member’s suggestion and the two days we had for accomplishing the weekend trip. Seeing a photo of the deep canyon on the cover of a Utah climbing book further increased our excitement for exploring our first slot canyon.
You sit up on a rugged, scraggly plateau as you drive south into the Grand Staircase. What you don’t realize, however, are the deep creek beds that weave throughout the landscape. When starting out with Alex and my brother John, we only had to hike a 1/8 mile down a trail to gain access to the stream bed. It wasn’t too long after that when the gorge got deeper and narrower. The site of the water worn sand walls going straight up for 50-75 feet inspires awe as well as a bit of fear. Some of the passageways were only 3-4 feet wide and the thought of a flash flood is always present. (Check the weather forecast ahead of time!) While not too terribly technical, you do need some rope and the ability to use them for lowering gear and bodies down some of the 15-20 foot drops. Fortunately, for us, Alex has developed a passion for the latest robe techniques!
As you’ll see in the video, we had a lot of laughs and a few falls weaving our way through the long, dark passageways. At 17 miles, the two day loop was a fairly strenuous trek. The second half day was particularly tiring as the creek bed opened up and exposed us to the afternoon desert heat and sun. To say, “bring plenty of water” would be an understatement as we found our jugs bone dry by the time we returned to the vehicle. Oh yes, you’ll need to bring a map with you as navigating in desert landscape and deep canyons can be very tricky. N, S, E or W has a whole new meaning when you are 100 feet down. For a unique and memorable adventure, you won’t be disappointed!
The Social Brain Is Here!!
Craig Knippenberg has successfully combined his years of experience from working with children, teens and adolescents with an extensive knowledge of the brain to create a series of promotional videos for his upcoming book, Will You Be My Friend? Understanding Your Child’s Social Brain Through Childhood. This set of five vignettes details the contents of his future book, as well as works to explain his mission in educating parents and teachers on their children’s brains.
Will You Be My Friend? Understanding Your Child’s Social Brain Videos:
For additional information: Will You Be My Friend flyer.
It was parent’s weekend for my freshmen year of college and my dad came all the way from Colorado to visit me in Oregon. Instead of engaging in the customary parent weekend activities at the college we ditched the crowd and went off on our own adventure, a hike in the Mt. Hood National Forest. I had been deeply missing many things in Colorado including the Rocky Mountains and was in need of some time in nature.
We set off on a hike near Mt. Hood and visited Tamanawas Falls. The view of the waterfall was spectacular and the trail winded through a lush forest with trees changing their color for fall. We also visited the historic Timberline Lodge and got to experience a Pacific Northwest blizzard!
After not having seen my father for nearly two and a half months, I could not have imagined a better way of spending the weekend than on a scenic Saturday hike. We talked about college and my new adult life and the resulting trials and triumphs I had experienced over the past months. It had seemed that almost everything in my life had changed. Our hike in the Mt. Hood National Forest reminded me one thing that hadn’t changed: I am a Colorado girl who is in love with the truth and beauty of nature.
I just needed my dad to remind me of that.
Fifteen years ago, there were only a few Alpine Slides in Colorado; today they are an international sensation. What is an alpine slide? Picture this: a three foot diameter PVC pipe split in half that snakes its way down a mountainside. You drive a sort of snow sled on wheels down the track with a handle to brake and gravity to accelerate. An alpine slide is the summer version of a luge. With average speeds of 20 miles per hour, the half mile track provides a great ride that is far from quick.
While alpine slides have exploded in popularity and locations, our favorite is the one where I first experienced the thrill, located in the beautiful mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge Mountain, a member of Vali Resorts, is home to a summer fun park at the base of its Peak 8 were there are many summertime activities including the Alpine SuperSlide, mini golf, and rock climbing. This is a great location for a one day getaway or a mid-summer vacation. They have three tracks which run side by side. One is for those who want to go slower, and the other two offer the opportunity to go faster as well as race your kid. (Dads with younger kids can place a child in between your legs to experience the thrill together.) While somewhat expensive, one or two rides usually pack more than enough excitement for most patrons, and leave you wanting to come back for more.
In this clip, you’ll see some GoPro action shots as well as see Alex take a page from his Dad’s playbook. Ten years ago, I flipped my cart in a turn as I was trying to beat my brother. This time, it was Alex who took the flip while we were racing each other. Make sure to watch the camera picture turn upside down as he flies through the air. Paralleling my experience ten years ago, we had to visit the medical center to remove the chards of fiberglass in his wound. That part’s not much fun but gives you even more to reminisce about with this adventure. Unfortunately for Alex, he will have to wait until next year to beat his Dad down the mountain!
To experience an alpine slide yourself check out the Breck Summer Fun Park at http://www.breckenridge.com/info/summer.aspx#activities#top.
Breckenridge not in your area? Here’s a list of alpine slides in other states and even other countries!
Every summer, for the past 5 years, Alex and I have tried to make it out to Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado. In addition to being a race track for high speed dragsters, they offer one of the best high speed Go-Kart tracks in the metro area. Action Karting, while not inexpensive, offers a great experience every time we have go. Their 6.5 HP Go-Karts produce speeds of 55MPH on a half mile track. Nothing brings out your competitive nature like putting on a racing suit and helmet. You can almost fantasize about being a NASCAR driver!
While we discovered this sport when Alex was 13 years old, there are plenty of dads taking their younger children out. They have smaller kid’s carts and they do a great job trying to separate groups with younger kids from the teens and adults who are looking for maximum speed.
After suiting you up in a fire suit and helmet, course instructors put you through a ten-minute training on the rules of the track and how to keep yourself safe. Unfortunately for Alex, he got distracted with his buddy the first time we went and didn’t listen to the instructions about slowing down for the big turn at the far end of the track. I’ll never forget being behind him and watching him plow straight into the hay bales as he careened off the track. My terror quickly turned to relief and laughter as I saw him give the thumbs up signal. The track manager was not as enthused however as he had to drive down to get him back on the track.
This summer’s experience included Alex and his Uncle John. You’ll get a kick out of John’s dress shoes having just run over from the office. It was also our first use of the GoPro camera for track racing. Unfortunately I had forgotten to charge the battery pack so it didn’t produce any footage but we still got some good shots with the hand held.
You can reach the Action Karting at 303-781-4483 or on the web at http://www.actionkarting.net/. Other tracks in the Denver-metro area include: IMI Motorsports Complex, The Track at Centennial, SpeedRaceway, and Unser Racing. For more information contact Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What takes six hours to ascend and only an hour and a half to descend? Mr. Rainer! All you have to do upon leaving Camp Muir is sit down, lean back and then pick up your feet. Your ice ax or hiking pole serves as a steering wheel and brake, and gravity is the horsepower. The only decision you have to make is if you want to start your own chute or follow in the tracks of the hikers from the day before. Glissading is the optimal way to make a speedy return to Mt. Rainiers Trial Head at Paradise. It is simple, safe when done properly, and insanely fun! The August sun melts the mountain’s top layer of snow during the day, then cold nighttime temperatures refreeze it creating an iced run of Olympic quality and magnitude. For those hikers with younger knees and ankles, you can also glissade by combining techniques of running down the mountain and sliding on your feet. That requires a lot of agility however. In either case, it’s good to have waterproof pants because once the slide has started there is no stopping to shake out your shorts. So, like a roller coaster, just sit back, strap in, keep your arms and feet tucked, and enjoy the ride!
Some of our earliest adventures involved driving up to the mountains for an afternoon of poking around old mining sites. For kids, there is nothing like 4-wheeling and then seeing old structures, finding giant pieces of mining equipment on the side of a mountain, and picking up all sorts of steel parts and gadgets. On one occasion, we came across an old miner’s tobacco pipe which was hand carved from a tree limb.
In addition to the claims dotted throughout Colorado’s mountains, we’ve also enjoyed formal tours of gold and silver mines as well as mill sites (the building where the rock was crushed and processed). While there is a cost involved for these tours, it’s always been fun to descend into dark tunnels with the notion that you are being safe and not breaking any rules. When underground you get the chance to see how the miners worked: the tools they had, the conditions they dealt with, and the potential profits they could make. The established mining museums often reveal historic photos from the mining industry that shed light on a miner’s way of life.
In the last several years, our attention has turned more to hiking and climbing. So, on last summer’s trip to Whistler, Canada, we were happily surprised to find the giant, and fully restored Britannia Mine. As we learned in the new visitor’s center, Britannia was the largest cooper producing mines in the British Commonwealth by the late 1920’s. Some 60,000 workers pulled out 650,000 tons of copper between 1904 and 1974. The tour into the mine was impressive as they demonstrated how the tools worked (the famous widow maker drill was our favorite) and what the average day was like for the miner. You really can’t imagine what dark is until you are down in the mine so learning about the advances in underground lighting tools was extremely meaningful. Also impressive were the number of buildings housing the core samples from years and years of exploration. Imagine giant straws of rock stacked next to each other and housed in sheds for assaying.
For younger children, the Britannia mine’s visitor center offered a gold panning area with water chutes allowing the kids to manipulate and play with. This was one of the most all-around comprehensive mine tours we’ve taken. The tour guides at Britannia eloquently presented memorable tidbits of history while maintaining a rustic attitude and operating machinery of the times. What’s more, the old Mill and mine shafts are used in numerous mystery movies and TV shows. We got to see a film crew preparing for a shoot while we were there. The Britannia museum has done a great job reviving mining history and the trip was a great revival of one of our old pastimes. To learn more about the Britannia mine and tours, visit their website at britanniaminemuseum.ca.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad passes through the heart of the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado, and they make a special stop in the middle of their trip. As you’ll see in the video, the train ride has some exciting moments twisting through deep gorges and alongside sheer drop offs. Half way to the town of Silverton (where the train stops and then heads back to Durango), the conductor stops the train, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, to drop off those who want to backpack into Chicago Basin (a large drainage area surrounded by 4 14’ers). It’s a pretty eerie feeling watching the train pull away knowing that it would be a 40 mile hike back to civilization in either direction with no cell service in case of an emergency.
Alex and I hiked the very strenuous 6 miles into the basin. The trail followed along Chicago creek and gained some 4,000 feet in elevation. Packing light, I was more than ready to eat some dehydrated food and crawl into my bivy sack not long after selecting some trees to camp by.
We spent the next two days hiking the 14’er’s. I’d start around 4:30 am with a headlamp while Alex slept in. He would catch me by 10 or so and then we’d come back down by noon so as to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. After a particularly strenuous morning of climbing Alex decided to enjoy the cold and thrill of jumping into a high alpine lake and we both got a great laugh out of the mountain goats who followed us along the would lick the rocks any time we stopped to pee. Apparently, they like the salt left behind by the hikers.
The final thrill of the trip was heading back down to catch the early afternoon train into Silverton. A late chili lunch at one of the town’s diners was perfect for warming us up before taking the train back to Durango. While the smoke and ash can get thick at times, it’s a great ride. If you get there, don’t forget to see the museum and roundhouse back in Silverton. To get more information on the Scenic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad visit their website at durangotrain.com.
At 14,411′, Mt. Rainer is one of the five tallest peaks in the lower 48 states. Even more stunning is its location in an amazing national park with easy access. Our adventure to Mt. Rainier National Park was a last minute decision made partly because of an easy flight from Denver to Seattle. Upon arriving in Seattle we rented an SUV and loaded up on supplies at the original REI store in downtown Seattle before embarking on the two hour drive to Mt. Rainer NP’s southwest entrance.
You know you are in climbing country when you arrive in the small town of Ashford just outside the park. There you will find several climbing outfitters, the biggest being RMI, mountaineering shops, and fellow climbers loaded down with heavy backpacks. To contact RMI visit their website www.rmiguides.com. To summit Rainer you have two options. Either book a guided trip way in advance with an outfitter or climb by yourself. Should you choose the unguided option, proper glacier experience and training is necessary. Training courses are available from the outfitters as well. You may also obtain all permits ahead of time (they are only needed to ascend above the Camp Muir base camp located at 10,000 ft.) or pick them up at the ranger station within the park (reservations are recommended).
In our case, glacier training was a problem. We haven’t been trained to climb alone, but had no reserved spots on a guided trip. We put our names on cancellation list with RMI in hopes that other climbers might not show, giving us a chance at the summit. After camping and hiking in the park for a few days we decided to get permits for the Camp Muir shelter and make the trip on our own since nothing opened up at RMI. It’s an easy drive through the park to the Paradise Visitor Center at 4836′. There is a parking lot for climbers and the ranger station has all the maps you might need for shorter hikes or the hike to Muir. Learn more about MRNP by visiting their website, www.nps.gov/mora.
The hike itself is almost entirely on glaciers and snow so boots with crampons are a great idea. While the hike to Muir is only 4.65 miles, it’s uphill and strenuous. The views are spectacular and you feel like you are on Everest as you watch the hiker’s up above you. There is a staircase of steps in the snow for the steepest parts of the trail, created by the many rope teams of mountaineers walking single file. While Alex made it to camp in five hours, it took me an additional two; most of which was spent taking 50 steps and then stopping for a 50 count breather.
As you’ll see in the video, Camp Muir will give you a taste of what it’s like to climb Denali or Everest. The camp has an air of success and ambition as well as apprehension. Bottom line as adventures go, it’s just plain cool!