West of 105 Magazine - - Destinations -

COLORADO has four in­cred­i­ble and unique na­tional parks, all of which hap­pen to be West of 105. For au­tumn, the tem­per­a­ture drops and all four open them­selves up to slightly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences than in the sum­mer. Leaf peep­ers will be happy to be able to see a whole spec­trum of col­ors while wildlife en­thu­si­asts will flock to the parks to try to catch, among other things, the mat­ing call of the bull elk.


One of the youngest na­tional parks in the sys­tem hav­ing been es­tab­lished in 2004 (although it was orig­i­nally des­ig­nated as a Na­tional Mon­u­ment back in 1932), Great Sand Dunes Na­tional Park and Pre­serve is one of the most unique parks in the en­tire coun­try thanks to its 30 square miles of sand dunes, in­clud­ing the high­est dunes in North Amer­ica.

Formed by de­posits from the an­cient Rio Grande

River in the San Luis Val­ley, the park at­tracts a tenth of the num­ber of vis­i­tors as Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park (with num­bers drop­ping from around 50,000 in Septem­ber to just over 10,000 in Novem­ber). It is also fairly mod­est in terms of size at 107,341.87 acres (rank­ing 38th out of 60 parks; the pre­serve pro­tects an ad­di­tional 41,686 acres). Ea­gle-eyed read­ers will have no­ticed that the dune field makes up less than one fifth of the park and pre­serve. So what takes up the rest? Grass­lands, wet­lands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and six 13,000foot moun­tains, that's what.

It is the dunes, how­ever, that at­tract a great many peo­ple to the park to see, climb and sled down them. For a real work­out (and a beau­ti­ful pay­off), wake be­fore dawn and head for High Dune on the first ridge. A round trip hike is around 2.5 miles. For a longer and more thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of your car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem, head for Star Dune, the tallest in the dune­field at 755 feet. It will ab­so­lutely take it out of you but leave you with a fan­tas­tic feel­ing of ac­com­plish­ment. Oh, and don't for­get your sled to make the re­turn jour­ney much faster!

There is a phrase that aims to bring at­ten­tion to the other face of the park - Half the Park is af­ter Dark. And it's true. Hik­ing the dunes at night, par­tic­u­larly with a full moon, is an ex­pe­ri­ence you are un­likely to ex­pe­ri­ence any­where else in the coun­try.

In fact, the park, which is in the process of be­com­ing Night Skies cer­ti­fied, of­ten hosts events to cel­e­brate the park af­ter dark in­clud­ing am­a­teur as­tron­omy nights.

An­other au­tumn spec­ta­cle at Sand Dunes is the sand­hill crane mi­gra­tion. One of 250 bird species found in the park and pre­serve, 20,000 of them spend part of au­tumn in the val­ley. While the park and pre­serve are al­ways open, Piñon Flats Camp­ground in­side the park closes at the end of Oc­to­ber. Back­pack­ers, how­ever, have the run of the dune­field as camp­ing is per­mit­ted any­where (out­side of the day use area). There is a limit of 20 par­ties in the dune­field per night; per­mits are free and are is­sued on a first­come-first-served ba­sis. Free ranger-led pro­grams are of­fered through Oc­to­ber.



The fourth most vis­ited Na­tional Park in the coun­try with al­most four and a half mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2017, Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park is also Colorado's big­gest (it's about 40 per­cent big­ger than Great Sand Dunes Na­tional Park).

Es­tab­lished in 1915 with the Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park Act, the park was rec­og­nized by UN­ESCO in 1976 by des­ig­nat­ing it as one of the first World Bio­sphere Re­serves - a des­ig­na­tion that demon­strates a bal­anced re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and na­ture.

Au­tumn is a good time to visit, par­tic­u­larly late au­tumn. Vis­i­tor num­bers peak in July with a stag­ger­ing 885,478 vis­i­tors and start to tail off as the tem­per­a­ture and the leaves drop. Septem­ber last year saw al­most 700,000 vis­i­tors but that was cut al­most in half in Oc­to­ber and half again in Novem­ber with just over 140,000 vis­i­tors.

As for au­tumn specif­i­cally, the park has sev­eral var­i­ous types of ter­rain at al­ti­tude, so wear­ing sev­eral lay­ers of warm cloth­ing is highly rec­om­mended - a light wa­ter­proof jacket might not be a bad idea ei­ther. Tem­per­a­tures in MIDSEPTEM­BER at the park's lower el­e­va­tions (around 8,000 feet) have been known to range from freez­ing to 80 de­grees Fahren­heit, which can pro­duce ev­ery­thing from hail and snow to beau­ti­ful au­tumn days.

At the Alpine Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, at al­most 12,000 feet, it isn't un­com­mon to see snow and hail in au­tumn - it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that roads can be closed for safety pur­poses if snow and or hail is sig­nif­i­cant.

Be sure to bring your cam­era, as au­tumn here is spec­tac­u­lar with the land­scape turn­ing into a patch­work of yel­lows, golds, and browns as the as­pens change. The sight of the nowchanged as­pens “quak­ing” in the wind is some­thing to be­hold. You may also see elk as they herd, with the bull call­ing to en­tice cows, and mi­gra­tory birds as they flock in prepa­ra­tion for their jour­ney south.

RMNP has plenty of camp­ing (five camp­grounds and over 500 sites), but the three that can be re­served in ad­vance usu­ally are, how­ever there is still some avail­abil­ity for au­tumn at the time of writ­ing - visit recre­ to check and book. The park also has two first-come-first-served camp­grounds. Longs Peak Camp­ground and Tim­ber Creek Camp­ground are open un­til Septem­ber 10 and Oc­to­ber 1 re­spec­tively.

As for what to do, there are 355 miles of hik­ing trails, scenic drives, 50 lakes and many streams for fish­ing, ranger-led pro­grams, and horse­back rid­ing at Mo­raine Park Sta­bles un­til Septem­ber 24.




An­other fan­tas­ti­cally unique na­tional park West of 105, Mesa Verde Na­tional Park was es­tab­lished in 1906 to pre­serve and in­ter­pret the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal her­itage of the An­ces­tral Pue­blo peo­ple who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE.

The 52,485-acre park is a UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site that is home to nearly 5,000 sites of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ter­est in­clud­ing 600 in­cred­i­ble cliff dwellings.

Spruce Tree House, the third largest and best pre­served cliff dwelling in the park, is un­for­tu­nately closed to the pub­lic for the fore­see­able fu­ture af­ter a 2015 rock fall, but it can still be en­joyed from an over­look near the mu­seum.

Bal­cony House, a medi­um­sized cliff dwelling with 40 rooms and a 32-foot en­trance lad­der, can be seen on by ranger-guided tours only. Tick­ets for the one-hour tour are avail­able at the Mesa Verde Vis­i­tor and Re­search Cen­ter un­til Oc­to­ber 21. Else­where is Cliff Palace. Said to have con­tained 150 rooms and 23 ki­vas with a pop­u­la­tion of around 100 peo­ple, Cliff Palace is a ex­cep­tion­ally large dwelling that is thought to have been a so­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tive site that was prob­a­bly used for spe­cial cer­e­monies.

There is camp­ing in­side the park at More­field Camp­ground. The camp­ground has 267 sites and rarely fills. A nice bonus is that sev­eral of the park's best hikes leave from More­field. More­field also has a full ser­vice “vil­lage” that has a café, a gas sta­tion, an RV dump­ing sta­tion, coin-op­er­ated laun­dry, com­pli­men­tary show­ers, a gift shop, and a gro­cery store. The camp­ground and vil­lage are fully open un­til Oc­to­ber 17, while lim­ited off-sea­son camp­ing is avail­able from Oc­to­ber 18 to Novem­ber 2.

For slightly more up­mar­ket lodg­ing there is Far View Lodge. Rooms of­fer amaz­ing and un­ob­structed views of the park and are per­fect for wildlife watch­ing and stargaz­ing. Far View Lodge closes on Oc­to­ber 24.

Ac­tiv­i­ties in­side the park in­clude ob­serv­ing wildlife - deer, coy­otes, cot­ton­tail rab­bits, and jackrab­bits (your chances of spot­ting these an­i­mals are higher be­tween Far View and the head­quar­ters area. If you do get lucky enough to spot a moun­tain lion or bear be sure to fill out a wildlife sight­ing card.

Min­i­mal light pol­lu­tion in the area al­lows for vir­tu­ally un­ob­structed view­ing of the night skies. The lo­ca­tions rec­om­mended for stargaz­ing in the park in­clude Far

View Lodge, More­field Camp­ground and Mon­tezuma or Man­cos Over­looks.

(See page 24 for more on stargaz­ing West of 105.)



Black Canyon of the Gun­ni­son Na­tional Park is, rel­a­tively speak­ing, prac­ti­cally un­vis­ited, with just over 300,000 vis­i­tors in 2017. How­ever, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that at just 30,780.76 acres, it is also one of the small­est parks in the sys­tem (there are just six smaller), so it may not feel as quiet as the num­bers sug­gest. It is also a rel­a­tively young park hav­ing been re­des­ig­nated from a na­tional mon­u­ment (first es­tab­lished in 1933) to a na­tional park in 1999.

The park, so named be­cause the steep canyon walls al­low, in parts, a scant amount of sun­light in, con­tains the deep­est and most dra­matic sec­tion of the canyon, but it con­tin­ues up­stream into Cure­canti Na­tional Recre­ation Area and down­stream into Gun­ni­son Gorge Na­tional Con­ser­va­tion Area - both won­der­ful ar­eas in their own right.

Aside from just star­ing in awe, there are over 200 ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites to ex­plore in the park, many of which show ev­i­dence of Ute Na­tive Amer­i­can pres­ence. The park also at­tracts rock clim­bers and kayak­ers, but both the climbs and the rapids are dif­fi­cult and are best left to those with the tech­ni­cal savvy to make it in and out safely. On top of the South Rim, how­ever, there's a small boul­der­ing play­ground called Mar­mot Rocks.

Na­tional parks pre­serve some of the dark­est skies in the coun­try, but the Black Canyon isn't most parks. Des­ig­nated, nay or­dained, as an In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Park in Septem­ber 2015, the park does ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make it is dark as pos­si­ble in­clud­ing us­ing only ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing nec­es­sary for safety, us­ing mo­tion de­tec­tors to limit the light needed within re­strooms and other ar­eas, and en­sur­ing all out­door light­ing de­vices use low-en­ergy, low-im­pact bulbs with shields that di­rect light to the ground. The des­ig­na­tion means it of­fers un­ri­valed night sky view­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties (see page 24 for more de­tails on stargaz­ing West of 105).

Open to vis­i­tors year round, sum­mer has his­tor­i­cally been the most pop­u­lar time to visit but cooler tem­per­a­tures make early au­tumn the best time of year to visit.

When mak­ing plans to visit the park, you'll need to de­cide which side you would like to see as the park has two en­trances which are not con­nected to each other. The North Rim (clos­est to the town of Craw­ford) ap­peals to those look­ing for smaller crowds, how­ever the South Rim (clos­est to the town of Mon­trose), sees the most vis­i­tors (and for good rea­son) and this is where the vis­i­tor cen­ter is lo­cated.

The paved road lead­ing from High­way 50 to the South

Rim en­trance to the park is widely pop­u­lar among road cy­clists and now is the per­fect time to take on the five-mile ride to the top (be pre­pared for a tough time as you gain al­most 1,000 feet in those five miles). Once you make it to the en­trance it's a rel­a­tively easy ride to High Point - the ter­mi­nus of Rim Drive Road.

Pho­tos (this page): Matthew In­den / Miles; (op­po­site page): Cole Davis

Pho­tos (this page): Brit­tany Pan­ter / Pe­riod Comms; (op­po­site page): Sky­line Drone Ser­vices LLC / Mesa Park Vine­yards

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.