Sunday, May 31, 2015

Southwestern Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park

I have years of national park visits to write about. I thought about putting them in order of how much I liked them, but then I decided reverse chronological order was easiest since choosing a favorite national park is difficult! Read on to learn about my last national park trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colorado.

Getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is no easy feat from New York. The closest major airport is in Montrose, but there are no direct flights from New York. Friends of ours flew from New York to Dallas to Montrose. Our trip was mainly based in Telluride, Colorado, with only a day trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Since Telluride is roughly equidistant between Montrose and Durango, Colorado, we flew into Durango (via Denver). Our flight into Durango got in late so we spent the night in Durango then drove to Telluride the next morning.

A couple of tips if you also fly into Durango. First, Durango is a really cool town. I spent a week there at The Lodge at Tamarron in 2001. Accordingly, if you have time, spend a couple of days in Durango. Second, make sure your car rental company is at the airport itself. We got a very cheap car rental but it ended up being so cheap because it was quite far from the airport. We were exhausted, having gotten into Durango late (and due to the two hour time change) so spending two hours getting a rental car was not pleasant. (Also, make sure to remember to turn off your car rental lights! We made that mistake too and had to get the car jumped the next morning.)

On our first full day in Colorado, we drove approximately two hours from Durango to Telluride, where we checked into The Peaks Resort in Telluride. What a great resort! We came for a ski weekend, and the resort could not have made skiing easier or more pleasant. The resort is ski-in, ski-out, and there is a ski valet so no lugging of skis or boots is necessary. Instead, simply take your skis off at the door where the valet will put them away until you're ready to ski again. (Leave your boots with the indoor valet.) In addition, if you need to rent skis like we did, you can do that right next to the ski valet. The quality of the skis, boots, and helmets was high and the entire process could not have been easier.

Although we were probably in Telluride during one of the worst snow weekends of the year (the snow started as we were leaving, of course), the skiing was great. The resort is huge with a lot of options - we had beginners and black diamond skiiers in our group, and everyone had fun. There are a lot of restaurants interspersed throughout the resort, many with outdoor campfires and live music so ski breaks are a lot of fun too. The apres ski at The Peaks was great and the dinner options in the town of Telluride were good. Getting to the town of Telluride from The Peaks is a lot of fun, as you have to take a gondola down the mountain. When it's not snowing, the views are incredible.
Skiing in Telluride
The culinary highlight of our trip to Telluride was eating Detroit style pizza at Brown Dog Pizza. I had never even heard of Detroit style pizza before trying this restaurant that was recommended to us by a local, but I am glad I learned of it, as it is one of the most delicious foods that exist. Basically Detroit style pizza is a pizza with an incredibly thick crust (and cut rectangularly). Unfortunately our meal at Brown Dog Pizza was our last meal of the trip. If it had been our first dinner, I think we would have eaten there every night.

Now onto Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Unfortunately we chose the worst day of our trip to visit the park, as we went the only day it was snowing. (We should have gone on one of the days without snow for an easier drive and better views.) It is about two hours from Telluride to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The drive is scenic, though there isn't much to stop at along the way. We chose to go to a ranger program at the park. The program was supposed to be a snowshoeing program, but unfortunately there wasn't enough snow on the ground for us to snowshoe so we ended up doing a ranger-led hike.
Learning about animals on our ranger-led hike. (Note the pelt came from an animal that was sadly hit by a car; it did not come from a hunted animal).
The rangers at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park were great. They could not have been friendlier. I usually like all national park rangers I meet, but these guys definitely take the cake as some of the best. We learned a lot about local animal life during the hike - and saw some fleeting views of the canyon when the show clouds parted. Unfortunately due to the weather we didn't experience the vast views that most probably do when they visit the park. I'll have to go back and visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park again in the summer for comparison.
View of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison obstructed by snow
Unfortunately our drive back from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to Telluride was treacherous due to the snow storm. We made it back though and had time to enjoy the amazing spa at The Peaks, which includes an outdoor pool where you can swim under the stars and snowflakes, an outdoor hot tub, several indoor hot tubs, a water slide, a lap pool, and a myriad of saunas and steam rooms. We headed back to NY after two days of skiing and one day of national parking (though that trip ended up taking much longer than anticipated due to the snow - instead of flying from Durango to Denver to NY, we had to fly from Durango to Denver to Baltimore, with a overnight stay in the Baltimore airport, then to NY). We made it though, and all in all, it was a great trip!
Snow greeting us on our last day in Telluride; this is just the snow in the morning. It continued snowing for the entire day, making our trip home difficult. Unlike the Telluride schools which closed so the kids could ski (and unlike many businesses in Telluride which allow employees to come in late on days with great powder), we had to return to NY to get back to work.
Travel tip - if you visit Telluride and/or Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, you can also take a trip to Mesa Verde National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park. I visited both of those parks, as day trips from Durango during my trip to southwestern Colorado in 2001. Mesa Verde National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Mesa Verde National Park is home to thousands of archaeological sites and hundreds of ancient cliff dwellings. Seeing how ancient people lived - and the abodes they built - is fascinating.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the coolest national parks I have been to. It is a huge compilation of sand dunes that seemingly arise out of nowhere in Colorado. The landscape near the sand dunes is nothing like the sand dunes themselves. Unfortunately, when I visited Great Sand Dunes National Park, I did not go sandboarding or sand sledding. Hopefully I can partake in those activities during a future trip to the park! Interestingly, Great Sand Dunes National Park advertises splashing in Medano Creek as an activity in the park. I remember seeing people sitting in the creek and thinking it looked completely unappealing (think a small, muddy trickle), but maybe I was just there on a dry day. I'll have to investigate during a future trip to the park.

*I have no pictures of Mesa Verde National Park or Great Sand Dunes National Park to post since those trips occurred before digital cameras! If I can dig out actual photos, I will scan them and then post them.

Final travel trip if you go to TellurideThe Peaks is extremely dog friendly. I should have brought my dog!

I should have brought my dog to the Soggy Dog at The Peaks for some beauty treatments while I skiied

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love Nature, Hate Camping: A Manhattanite's Quest To Visit All 59 National Parks

Love Nature, Hate Camping: A Manhattanite's Quest To Visit All 59 National Parks

I'm a 31 year old woman living in Manhattan. Sadly, because of where I live, nature isn't a big part of my daily life (drinks at the Boat Basin, bike riding in Central Park, and tanning at the Jersey Shore don't really count as bouts with nature, as fun as they are...). Despite the lack of nature in my normal life, in fall of 2011, I found myself in Rocky Mountain National Park, celebrating my 28th birthday with one of my closest friends from college and one of my closest friends from high school. During a long hike, I mentioned that I love visiting national parks and that I wish I had visited more while I lived in Los Angeles since so many are more accessible to West Coasters. This lead to a conversation about how many I had visited at that point. The answer was 12 (Acadia, Glacier Bay, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Sand Dunes, Haleakala, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Mesa Verde, Sequoia, Yellowstone, and Yosemite). One of my friends said that must be nearly all of the national parks and suggested I try to visit all of the ones I hadn't been over the next two years - before I turned 30.

Great idea, I agreed, until we did the research and realized that there were 58 national parks (not the 15-20 we had thought). (Note there are currently 59 national parks, the latest, Pinnacles, was added in 2013 after I started my quest.) Due to the voluminous nature of the national parks, my quest became a quest to visit 30 national parks before I turn 30 (which I've accomplished), 40 before I turn 40, and all 59 before I turn 50.

One thing I must add - though I love national parks, I hate camping. I tried camping twice as a child and hated it both times. I have no desire to sleep on the ground with no running water. Accordingly, all of my national park trips involve hotel stays, preferably nice hotels, where available. (I haven't tried glamping yet though; I don't think I'd like it.)

On my quest, a common question I get is "what are the national parks?" Below is a list of our nation's 59 national parks. The parks in red are the ones I have visited (and will be blogging about). The parks in green are the ones I still need to visit.

American Samoa
Big Bend 
Black Canyon of the Gunnison 
Bryce Canyon  
Capitol Reef 
Carlsbad Caverns
Channel Islands 
Crater Lake
Cuyahoga Valley
Death Valley
Dry Tortugas
Gates of the Arctic
Glacier Bay
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton 
Great Basin
Great Sand Dunes 
Great Smoky Mountain
Guadalupe Mountains
Hawai'i' Volcanoes
Hot Springs
Isle Royale
Joshua Tree 
Kenai Fjords 
Kings Canyon
Kobuk Valley
Lake Clark
Lassen Volcanic
Mammoth Cave
Mesa Verde
Mount Rainier
North Cascades 
Petrified Forest 
Rocky Mountain
Theodore Roosevelt
Virgin Islands
Wind Cave 
Wrangell-St. Elias  

I would like to clarify that my quest is only to visit national parks. I am not trying to visit national historic sites, national sea shores, national forests, or national monuments (though many national monuments eventually become national parks). I have nothing against these other national treasures. I simply had to put some boundaries on my quest. 

What's the best part of visiting the national parks? Not only getting into nature, learning about our country and our environment, but also taking fun trips with friends of mine from around the country. My national park trips have been with a wide assortment of friends from all parts of my life (college friends, high school friends, law school friends, NY friends, LA friends, boyfriend, family). Great revelations about boyfriends, fiances, finances, and jobs - as have minor revelations (e.g., that there's a tv show called "Pregnant and Dating") - have been had on these trips. So, follow in my footsteps, jump into nature, and rekindle your connections with your family and friends!

Read on to learn more about my quest to visit all of the national parks. Read on to learn about the national parks, the best (non-camping) places to stay when visiting the parks, and the best activities to do while visiting them. Borrow my itineraries and learn from my mistakes. 

P.S. - my other blog is not going on hiatus. I am simply going to focus that blog on my non-national park adventures and this blog on my national park adventures. (Where to put the international national parks I have visited is another question...)

Finally, if you want to take your own national park trip (which I highly recommend), feel free to retain me to be your personal national park planner! (Send me an email if you would like help planning a trip.)