I have been wanting to visit Colorado for years and this desire for pristine wilderness, majestic peaks, and the great outdoors has only been further amplified by our life in the flattest state in the United States. We literally couldn’t be further away from the mountains that we both grew up with at our doorsteps.
The simple way to solve this problem would be to jump on a plane and arrive in Colorado a few hours later. However, we rarely do simple. My plan was to drive the nearly 2,400 km (1,500 miles) to our destination in the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado. My decision to drive was primarily driven by (get it?) our plan to camp, offroad, and explore the more remote regions of Colorado that would require our 4x4 Toyota Tacoma and camping supplies. I say "my decision" because I love to camp but had to convince Bettina to tag along.
We own a Toyota Tacoma and were extremely happy with its performance throughout the trip. This post is not sponsored by Toyota but we can highly recommend them.
We began our drive west early on Friday, beating rush hour out of Chicago and continuing on the 8 or so hours to Lawrence, Kansas where we spent the evening visiting friends.
The next day, we spent hours staring at the rolling hills of Kansas and the endless wind turbines as we made our way to the Colorado state border and eventually to Colorado Springs.
The First Day of Offroading
We started our adventure at the Garden of the Gods park, which was so stunning, I could write an entire blog post about it. If you haven’t been, the park is very close to Colorado Springs and is a great place to walk and hike while exploring the interesting rock formations.
Heading south we had a short 45 minute drive before what we considered the true beginning of our offroading experience when we turned off the paved road. Our first offroading adventure would be to conquer Medano Pass as a test of our rusty 4x4 driving abilities and trial run for the days to come.
We aired down the tires and took in the fresh Colorado air before proceeding up the dusty forestry road. (For the less offroad experienced among you, airing down the tires reduces your risk of punctures to the tires as you drive over sharp rocks. It's crucial though to get the tires back to normal pressure once you get back on the pavement for proper handling and safety.)
We came across a few obstacles that we had to stop and take a second look at before proceeding, but the trail was otherwise perfectly manageable and a lot of fun.
Towards the end of the trail, there were a number of creek crossings which could fill your truck with water if they are deep enough. We didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the water of one particular one until we were smack in the middle of the river with no turning back. The water reached the bottom of the doors of our truck! This is what it looked like on the Jeep that went through just after us.
Arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Our destination goal for the day was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a special place where you can freely explore the 30 square miles (78 square km) of dunes and the tallest sand dune in North America, at 750 feet (229 metres).
Nearing the end of the trail we could see glimpses of the sand dunes in the distance, and the road turned to sand as well, which was a fun challenge to drive on.
Shop Bettina's Look
We decided to hike up the sand dunes but almost didn't make it! Bettina and I weren’t yet used to the higher altitude and hadn't eaten much yet that day, which is mainly a way of saying that we're totally out of shape.
The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the effort.
It was perfectly quiet out on the dunes, and the setting sun cast golden light across the area.
We set up camp for the night in a primitive site nearby, with nobody around.
Tenting in Bear Country
Driving up to our site, we came across a few bear warning signs. Having camped in the Rocky Mountains, we are no beginners at camping in bear country and know to follow the bear rules. The most important of which is to lock all your food items and toiletries in the car and leave nothing at all outside that will attract bears. And yes, bears love toothpaste so make sure you lock it up as well.
Not all travels go exactly as planned. This was our first night camping in our tent in a while, and also one of the worst nights we had.
To start off, it was windy which causes the forest to make a lot of noises that your brain can’t always justify as ‘just the wind.’ Next, it rained a couple times throughout the night. While we stayed completely dry, the noise of the rain did wake us up each time.
Lastly, we had a few visitors to our camp in the early morning. At around 4:00am we were both awake and could hear something moving around our campsite. It was still very dark outside and fairly quiet except for the noises we were hearing. We both held our breath and listened intently for quite some time. Tents provide a false sense of security against anything that may want to ruin your night. I mustered up the courage to see what was out there, and so we very slowly and very quietly prepared our headlamps and flashlights on our phones for a surprise attack on whatever was out there.
Unzipping the tent I quickly flashed the lights all around and found six eyes reflecting sharply back at me, about 20-30 feet away. Three deer were nonchalantly enjoying an early breakfast around our tent and didn’t seem to be bothered by us being there. After shooing them away, we got a bit more sleep but overall had a very restless and sleepless night. A great way to start off almost a week of camping…
Have you had a rough night camping in a tent before? What was your experience?
What about these ones?