This is a part of Rocky Mountain series. Check out the previous post:
Camping in the Great Sand Dunes was very cold. I woke up around 6 AM with my feed and hands almost frozen. Sleeping in was not an option. Not if I wanted to be left without fingers 🥶 I went hiking immediately, trying to get to the sun as soon as I could. The Sangro de Cristo mountains hid the sun selfishly as I was shaking. Luckily, the wind was not blowing 🙏 I would learn later that winds are calm during the early morning and night at this time of year in the San Luis valley.
I started my hike as soon as I got up and got to snap a couple of photos you see here. The sun was shining as hard as it could and it made the pics look fantastic. One of my favorite photos from the trip is the one that depicts a tree and dunes behind. There are no marked trails to explore the sand dunes, but there are some signs of getting you there. Unfortunately, the creek between the foothills and the dunes almost grew into a small river. I was satisfied with some of the small dunes I saw until the river.
At some point, you're faced with a sign that was supposed to keep you humble and grounded. It says, "Great Sand Dunes Wilderness - where man himself is a visitor who does not remain". Oh boy, that made me aware that if I get lost there, nobody will probably know where the hell I am 😂 Especially because there's terrible cellular reception in the wilderness in general (as opposed to Europe, where you can check Instagram almost anywhere).
The great thing about the dunes is that you can rent a snowboard of sorts and slide down the sand if you want. But it wasn't the time of the year for that. Also, I didn't meet many hikers that day (maybe because it was 6-7 AM), but I saw many folks riding their horses in the distance. That's the thing that surprised me - at almost all parks, you can bring your pet horses (or even rent one) to go on dedicated trails with them. For a moment, I followed them as they got lost in the distance. I bet it was much easier for them to cross the "small" creek with their horses. The wind started blowing, signaling me to return to the campsite and leave. I had to see the famous Colorado Gators next 🐊
I made a stop at the visitors center to kill some time. That's where I learned a lot about the dunes and how they formed and are still there. I described that a bit in the last post. To me, it's still a rare sight to see, a vast plateau with sand piles and a large mountain range behind it. And I wasn't the only one to think that. Tomorrow, you'll see who else finds San Luis valley attractive 👽
After the visitors center, I headed to the Colorado Gators - a reptile rescue center that I had to see. Alligators in Colorado? That was crazy as I read a flier that introduced me to it. But it was true, and not only alligators but many other animals, birds, and fishes live there. The whole place is home to these animals that were at some point left, seized, or their owners couldn't handle them. They have lizards 🦎, iguanas, parrots 🦜, turtles 🐢, giant snakes 🐍, cats 🐈, plants 🌿, and gators 🐊. You get a free bucket of gator food if you bring a flier, so I did that.
Of course, I fed the alligators. What else would I do? They looked asleep and unbothered, but as soon as that piece of food hit the water - it was on. They weren't aggressive but pretty quick, for what I imagined. The whole place was founded in the geothermal waters of the valley as a fish breeding ground. Eventually, they got some baby alligators to eat the dead fish. But, the alligators grew quickly in the warm geothermal waters, and the public wanted to see them. So the fishing business turned into an alligator-viewing business 🍿
I really liked the place and bought myself a "Colorado Gators" hat I have today. The guy working at the gift shop told me I had a free entrance with that hat. I nodded and promised I'll return once more there. Pleased with how I fed all of those gators, I had to get something for myself as well before the next stop - the UFO watchtower 🛸
Keep following, tomorrow I will share the next camping spot and whether or not I got obducted 👽 😱