Friday, October 4, 2013

Our Colorado Driving Trip - Great Sand Dunes National Park - 9/9/2013

We learned of a photo workshop being held in Estes Park, CO and decided it would be fun to pick up some new ideas for our travel photography as well as forcing ourselves into more of an artistic mode of looking at the things we saw.  The work shop was offered by a local advanced amateur photographer who teaches creative photography and Adobe Photo Shop classes at our community college from time to time.  He also runs a photo club in Blue Springs, MO.

Since we had family in CO that we hadn't seen for a few years and there were parts of CO that we had always wanted to visit, we decided to expand the trip to cover those bases as well.  Then, Sigrid got to thinking about my upcoming 66th birthday and decided that we should take the scenic way back home via old Route 66.  She envisioned all kinds of photos with me standing next to Route 66 road signs.  So, the photo workshop was becoming just one of the many goals for the trip.  As it turned out, the instructor had emergency surgery and cancelled the workshop so the original purpose for going to CO was gone.  Ultimately, the floods in CO would have caused a cancellation anyway since it was impossible to get to Estes Park.  Oh well.

This is the first of a series of posts on the trip which covered 12 days.  As always, the posts stack on each other so the most recent post is the newest and you have to go to the oldest post first and move forward if you want to see them in chronological order.

We started driving on September 9, 2013.  We followed I-70 through most of Kansas until we had to turn south to get to La Junta, CO.  We passed through Great Bend, KS and had lunch at Braum's as we always do, then on to Garden City, and finally La Junta.  We have been this way a number of times in the past.  In my working life, my company had a power plant in Great Bend and I visited it several times along with Sigrid.

As we approached La Junta, we ran into some road repaving that stretched for about 10 miles.  It was ugly.  They were using rock and tar paving (el cheapo) and as we drove through it the car became caked with the sticky tar and gravel on the underside.  Even after we got past the work area, we could hear the rocks falling off the car for miles as we drove.  This incident will haunt us on the next days drive.

The next day, we drove towards Durango, CO.  On the way, we stopped at a small cemetery along the road.  It looked like a left over from the old Santa Fe Trail days.

The old van is now almost 8 years old and has over 150,000 miles on it.  It has been all over the US in that time.  We have no concerns about a rusted out bottom because it is completely coated with rocks and tar.

The CO prairie is vast.

On our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, we began hearing strange noises coming from the car.  It sounded like a wheel bearing was going bad.  It wasn't a squeak....more like a scraping noise and it got louder as we drove.  We were in nowhere land with few farms along the road...not the place for a breakdown.  We agonized over going back to the last town large enough to have a garage with a car lift.  Ultimately, we decided to go to the park first since we were close to it and worry about the wheel afterwards.  I did get out of the car and try to shake the wheel to see if the bearing was gone.  No indication of movement or looseness on the wheel.  I jumped up and down on the door sill to make the suspension move and there was no noise.  I was baffled although I still had the previous days rock and tar in the back of my mind.

We were so glad we decided to visit the dunes.  They are spectacular.  I won't go into a detailed description of how they were formed.  If you are interested, you can Google it.

There was a surprisingly nice visitors center in the park.  We watched a movie about the dunes and the park.  The back patio of the enter was also a good place to take photos of the dunes.  To really enjoy the dunes, you have to have time to hike the trails and maybe even climb the dunes.  Our photos don't do justice to the beauty and enormous size of the dunes.

As we left the park, it was again time to focus on the car issue.  Where do we go now to have the car looked at?  Do we back track to a nearby town or head towards our destination of Durango?  There isn't much between the park and Durango so if the wheel falls off, we are SOL.....we headed for Durango.  Amazingly, we never heard another noise from the car the rest of the trip.  My only guess is that a rock became lodged in the brakes or wheel and caused the noise as we drove.  It then fell off as a result of me tugging and jumping on the car or it just fell of on its own.  In any case, it was gone.  I was uneasy the rest of the trip and continued to listen for the noise to return.  As I write this nearly a month later, the car is still fine.  Damn CO DOT.

Tomorrow is Durango and the narrow gauge railroad to Silverton.

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