Tag Archives: Colorado

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Like John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon, this area in central Colorado protects a geologically significant window into the past.  Here the fossils are 34-million years old, buried by volcanic debris and lake sediments, with species that do not look that different from plants and animals we see today. 

Highlights

Museum, Ponderosa Loop, Petrified Forest Loop, Big Stump, Hornbek Homestead

Must-Do Activity

A variety of butterflies, birds, leaves, and flowers are nicely displayed in the visitor center.  Our favorite was the bloom of Florissantia speirii, an extinct member of the cocoa family that grew at this site when the climate was much warmer and wetter.  After exploring the museum, head outside on the wheelchair-accessible Ponderosa Loop or hike some of the monument’s 14 miles of trails.

Best Trail

Take a walk on the Ponderosa or Petrified Forest Loops to see excavated stumps of massive redwood trees, fossilized in place with beautifully colored minerals replacing the original organic compounds.  You can even see annual growth rings preserved in the petrified wood.  If you have not experienced the massive dimensions of coast redwoods in California, these stumps will make you want to visit those living trees in person.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On your walk through the ponderosa pine forest, you may spot an Abert’s squirrel, a species known for its long ear tufts.  Also watch for elk.

Peak Season

Summer due to high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/flfo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per adult or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but Upper Twin Rock Road is not.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but there are several campgrounds in the surrounding Pike National Forest, as well as dispersed camping opportunities.

Explore More – At the bottom of Ancient Lake Florissant, the microlayers of fine volcanic ash and clay formed what type of sedimentary rock?

Mesa Verde National Park

Overview

The impressive and numerous (around 600) cliff dwellings here were built by Ancestral Puebloans 600 to 800 years ago before their abandonment.  After a day or two at Mesa Verde, you will understand why since 1906 it has remained the only “National Park” dedicated to preserving an archaeological site.

Highlights

Chapin Museum, Spruce Tree House, Petroglyph Point Trail, Cliff Palace, Step House, annual open house with luminaria

Must-Do Activity

Purchase tickets for guided tours of the ruins at the shiny new visitor center off Highway 160 before driving 20 miles to Long House, Cliff Palace, or Balcony House (the best tour for families).   Leave time to explore Chapin Mesa Museum first, where a high-quality film introduces the history of the region.  When it finally reopens years after a rock fall, you can then take a quick but steep hike to Spruce Tree House, accessible without a paid tour, where you have the opportunity to climb down a ladder into the dim interior of a reconstructed kiva. 

Best Trail

After driving to the less-trafficked Weatherill Mesa, bike or walk the paved road to Nordenskold No. 16 Trailhead, numerous pit-houses, and Step House Loop Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

We think Square Tower House is the most photogenic ruins in the park and can be viewed from an overlook off Mesa Top Loop Road.  In summer 2018, we made reservations for a special guided tour of only 10 people to enter these ruins.

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get hot with little shade atop the mesas.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but some are closed in winter when tours are not offered.

Camping

Morefield Campground has more than 400 campsites atop the mesa; 15 with full RV hookups.  No backcountry camping is allowed.


This design we created to celebrate Mesa Verde National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What month does the NPS host an evening open house with thousands of candle luminaria, free food, and live music?

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Overview

Usually sand dunes are associated with deserts, but in southern Colorado they sit at 8,200 feet and are surrounded by snowy mountains, pine trees, and Medano Creek where kids splash and make sandcastles.  These dunes are the tallest in North America, up to 750 feet in height, blown in grain by grain from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west.

Dunes

Highlights

Medano Creek, High Dune, Medano Pass Primitive Road

Must-Do Activity

The height and steepness of the dunes makes them a great place to try sandboarding or sand sledding, which works best when the sand is wet.  If you don’t have a homemade sandboard, you can rent one in the nearby town of Alamosa or bring a plastic snow sled (round saucers seem to work well).

Best Trail

Blaze your own trail to the top of 650-foot tall High Dune.  The 2.3-mile roundtrip climb is quite a workout at this elevation while sliding backwards in the sand, but bounding downhill makes up for it.  This park is unique because it allows dogs on the dunes, but bring foot protection for your canine on sunny days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stay in the dune field at sunset for long shadows on the dunes.  A major bonus if you visit in the spring or fall for a backdrop of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Peak Season

Due to its high elevation (8,200 feet), summer is the best time to spend the night, otherwise it can be very cold.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass, but it is typically not collected in winter months.

Road Conditions

Other than the four-wheel drive road over Medano Pass, passenger vehicles can access all trailheads.  The park provides specialized wheelchairs are available for crossing Medano Creek and exploring the sand dunes.

Camping

Pinyon Flats Campground (fee) has two 44-site loops frequented by mule deer.  Backpacking permits are free to overnight on the dunes where the stars shine brightest.  First-come, first-served campsites are available along the high-clearance Medano Pass Primitive Road.  Dispersed camping is allowed in the neighboring Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.

June 2013 Colorado Trip 360

June 2013 Colorado Trip 274

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Pronghorns at the dunes
Pronghorns grazing in front of the sand dunes in December.

 

Tiff with the mountains
Tiff sledding down a wet (i.e. fast) dune in October

 

Tiff heading to the parking lot
October brings fall colors to the cottonwoods

 

arch GRSA LR2
Our original logo is for sale on a variety of products on Amazon and Cafe Press

Explore More – What time of year can visitors “boogie board” the waves in Medano Creek?

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WONDON WAS HERE

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