What do you do when your best friend turns twenty-one? Duh. You take a road trip to Denver.
After twelve long hours across four states in a Nissan Altima Coupe, we finally arrived in the Centennial State. It was my turn to drive when we crossed the New Mexico/Colorado border and I had never seen something so beautiful. We were surrounded by flat planes, with no trees in sight; occasionally we would see giant rock figures like the ones in Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, but in the distance were little peaks of white, just barely visible against the grey clouds. As we got closer, the mountains became more defined and it was as if I had entered another realm. I couldn’t believe something so majestic existed on this earth, nor how I had been oblivious to it for so long.
My two friends and I were running on a few hours of sleep, a quick breakfast from the nearest IHOP, and pure excitement for the adventures that awaited us upon arrival. Our first destination was, of course, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve located in Mosca, Colorado.
When my friends originally told me that we were going “sand boarding,” I was very confused on where we were going to find sand in a state known for its large amount of snow. Well, surprise! There is, in fact, a desert in the middle of Colorado – a desert surrounded by snow-capped mountains that is. But, don’t worry, it wasn’t as cold as it sounds, and the only issue we had with the weather was the wind.
For someone who has never been sand boarding, don’t knock it until you try it. It was definitely worth the small amount we paid to rent the boards for the day. Although, I would recommend getting everyone a board, because to our disappointment, sharing was a lot more difficult than we originally thought due to the steep, treacherous dunes that gave in under each step. Once you came down, there was no way anyone was going back up. And when I say up, I mean the very top. Climbing to the top was a battle that seemed to have no end, and after the second large hill, we lost a member of the party.
Not literally, but she couldn’t continue so she retreated back down the dune on foot. Which, honestly, I considered doing after every ten steps or so. I had never been to such high elevations, and the wind was causing the sand to pellet us in the face so the temptation of sliding down the sand was very hard to fight. Luckily, we were prepared with bandannas tied around our faces and sunglasses to protect our eyes, so we managed to make it to the peak.
It felt as if we were on top of the world. Looking down at the people who were standing where we started was unbelievable. They were smaller than ants, and there were only two other men at the top and they looked experienced in this activity, so, as we rested, we had a moment of pride for making it that far.
In every direction I could only see two things: mountains and down. I began having second thoughts about how in the world I was going to get down that sand dune, and I no longer trusted my newly developed sand boarding skills. So, what did I do? I rode that board like my life depended on it…on my butt. It may sound lame, but it seemed a lot more fun knowing if I started rolling, I would have a less chance of injuring myself. I did try a few times to stand up, but I either ended up flat on my back or with a mouthful of sand, and I already had sand in too many places sand shouldn’t be.
We arrived in Denver Friday night after our little escapade in the desert, and we rested up for our adventurous day to come.
If I would have known the strenuous activities that would occur on that lovely Saturday morning, I would have hit the gym months before our trip. What happens when three Arkansans try to take a hike in the Middle of Nowhere, Colorado? You accidentally take a 7-mile hike up a mountain in Estes Park, into a snowstorm, and become surrounded by questionably large animal tracks.
When we started at the bottom of the mountain, we stopped to read the sign at the trail head. It was few hiking tips, trail maps, and just your average what to do if you encounter a bear or mountain lion poster. The only thing going through my mind at that point was, abort mission. However, I was outvoted, and we began anyways. Within the first half-mile my pores were oozing with pure regret. I was freezing, scared and I couldn’t breathe! But, I wasn’t going to be the baby of the group so I trudged behind the others.
Once we began going up, we started noticing patches of snow crunching beneath our boots. That’s cool, I thought. We don’t see very much snow in Arkansas, so it was nice to see some in April. After what seemed like forever, we arrived at our destination, Bear Lake. It was magnificent. It didn’t take long for us to see where it got it’s name. On the far side of the lake we could see very large footprints leading down the water’s edge, and the back up the hill. Needless to say, I was ready to move on. And this is where the fun started. What we had originally thought was a 3 1/2-mile hike, was really only 3 1/2 miles to Bear Lake, and then 3 1/2 miles back. In utter defeat, we had some protein bars, and continued on the trail. We continued to gain altitude and the snow became deeper, fresher, and more dangerous. We were all sliding all of the place as the heavy wind began to blow the snow in from the mountains. It was eerie, but oddly peaceful.
The trail back down the mountain was much more enjoyable as the temperatures warmed and it was a much faster pace. Although, we did accidentally stumble up a heard of wild Elk. We were so close to them, we could have touched them with our hands if we took a few steps forward. I was in awe of the enormous, noble creatures. It was a feeling I will never forget.
After and exhausting night of driving, climbing a mountain of sand and a mountain of snow, day three was going to be a day of relaxation.
Botanic Garden, check! Aquarium, check! Chicano Batman, double check!
We spent the morning strolling through the Denver Botanic Gardens. The sun was shining, we were surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees, and plants of every other family, and there was a soft, sweet song being sang by the birds from all directions. It was a very tranquil environment that had a wide variety of venues ranging from tulips, to Japanese Cherry Blossoms, to an entire rain forest under one roof.
I had never been to a botanic garden, so I was able to add another “first” to my list on that weekend full of “firsts.” But, it didn’t stop there! Next we went to my first ever aquarium at the Denver Aquarium. It was so exciting seeing all of the little life forms swimming and dancing in their artificial habitats. I was like a kid in a candy store with all of the petting I was allowed to do. I was able to pet starfish, little stick figures that lived in the ocean and would move their limbs around your fingers like chopsticks, and I even got to run my fingers along the back of a stingray!
At one of the exhibits, there were striped fish that would shoot water at insects, or in our case, a wad of fishing line designed to look like a fly. Wherever our hands moved, the shooting streams of water would follow. It was incredible being exposed to so many aspects of nature in such a small amount of time.
Before driving home that night, we made one more stop at the Bluebird Theater for a hell of a show put on by Chicano Batman. We sang our hearts out, and then we were homeward bound.
P.s. Check my Facebook and Instagram for the videos of us surfing down the dunes! Buttons are at the top of the page.