4×4-ing at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We spent Columbus Day weekend (or Native American Day as it’s called in South Dakota) in Saguache, Colorado, nestled among the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains.  If you recall, in a previous post regarding our epic road trip this summer, I mentioned we cancelled plans in the Great Sand Dunes due to me falling ill.  I had originally intended this adventure as a present for Mr. Trekker for achieving Tenure, but, since our plans got changed this summer, it ended up being an anniversary trip instead.  We were able to reschedule for the fall (which consequently is a much prettier time to visit that area due to leaf colors.  It’s also less busy and much cooler, all pluses in the Trekker book!)

We woke up the first morning surrounded by a 360-degree view of the rounded peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  Gorgeous pictures painted the walls of the rental house, reflecting the spectacular views of the surrounding area.  It was a simple, rustic old farmhouse that has been renovated.  The kitchen was well-stocked with the cooking equipment/utensils you might need and beautiful cabinetry adorned the walls.  The home offered plenty of room for a family to sleep and is centrally located in the San Luis Valley, making an ideal base camp for day treks to the Great Sand Dunes or any hiking, 4×4-ing or winter sports you want to engage in within the surrounding area.

We rented a jeep for the weekend and spent Saturday in a hands-on 4×4 driving class, learning tire placement, how to navigate various routes (picking the correct line, sticking to the high ground), as well as acquiring safety tips and learning how to get ourselves out of sticky situations (such as fashioning a winch using a hi-lift jack to get a vehicle out of a bind).  We then spent Sunday trekking around Great Sand Dunes National Park, driving the Medano Pass Primitive Road and getting sandblasted on the dunes (it was windy that day!)  Medano Creek, which you cross numerous times when driving the Primitive Road,  runs fairly low this time of year which made for easier crossings for us novices.  If you want the challenge of higher water crossings early June through summer would be a better time to visit (though there are times in spring when the road is closed due to extremely high water from snow melt.)  Also, as the road is 2-way but is only one lane wide, there were times we found it complicated to navigate while leaving room for others to pass.  I can’t imagine how this challenge may be exacerbated in the crowded, summer months.

We rented the jeep through Pathfinders 4×4 and it’s proprietor, Cam Benton, taught the class.  The company offers jeeps for rent as well as jeep tours and 4×4 driving classes.  You can find out more at Pathfinders 4×4.  I cannot say enough about Cam, he was incredible!  He was friendly, personable, and a wonderful teacher. Not only did he allow us to cancel our original reservations this summer inside the 5 day “no cancellations” window, he also gave us an almost total refund (with the exception of our initial deposit which he then credited us when we rescheduled).  Cam also owns several Air B&B properties.  We had originally reserved a room in his home for that weekend but the week prior to our arrival he suggested we could use a nearby rental house he also owned if we preferred.  It provided more privacy, more space for us and was actually more centrally located to our planned activities for that weekend.  The cost of the home was close to double the cost of the room we actually paid for but he offered it to us for no extra charge.

**To be clear, Cam has not reimbursed me in any way for giving him this glowing review, I just firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due.

As is often true for mountain weather, we were able to experience multiple seasons in just a few days.  The weekend was full of clear blue skies and warm temperatures in southern Colorado, and we had intended to stay through Sunday night.  However, with impending Winter Storm warnings for the Denver area on Monday (Denver was between us and home) we opted to leave Sunday afternoon instead.  Not all was lost though.  This change in travel plans allowed us to enjoy a leisurely, beautiful fall drive on scenic US 285 through the South Park area and Trout Creek Pass back to Denver, and Monday we were able to enjoy our first snow of the season!

Below are some pictures from our weekend of fun.  Thanks as usual to Mr. Trekker for several of these!

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The adorable kitchen in the rental house
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Sunset over the Great Sand Dunes and Medano Creek
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Fall at Great Sand Dunes!
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Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo range
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Snow in Denver!

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