First stop: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. GPS tells us it will take 5 hours from Marble climbing over mountains. We ascend slowly up to 10,200 feet and reach the pinnacle of the Rockies on the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway, formerly Camp Hale, Colorado where the American army trained during WWII. The landscape is stark but the views are
unbelievable. Snow in April. We had fallen into the Snow Queen’s lair and couldn’t get out. The drive is slow as we battle even more falling snow.
We climb back down the mountain and pass through small towns and vast lands finally leaving winter behind. I am sorry to see it go. We won’t be treated to views like this until much later in the year. We head in and out of towns named Carbondale, Leadville, Granite. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what industry thrived here. The towns are quaint, picturesque and are a throwback to the days of cowboys and buffaloes.Arriving at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (https://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm) we stop to take photos of the unusual red dunes that rise up among the snowy mountains. We pay the fee and drive on over to the visitors center; here we learn about how the dunes were formed and view kitschy touristy souvenirs – somewhat incongruous to our surroundings. The dunes are the highest in all of North America, made by a series of natural phenomena that resulted in a huge amount of sand being created and pushed together to form the dunes. We are in luck. Medano Creek or ‘the beach’ is filled with water this time of the year. My friends tell me they have never seen ‘the beach’, (and they have been here numerous times). ‘The beach’ is created from the melting snow from the surrounding mountains. The water ebbs and flows, creating waves in the creek. We take off our shoes and dip our toes in laughing, pretending we are in bathing suits and building sand castles. Then the water ends and the dunes begin. We hike up the mountains and feel compelled to take pictures. They are weirdly, strangely beautiful. It isn’t Earth as we know it.
Eventually we tire of hiking up sand and stop walking. We wish we had a sled to slide down. We are too tired to hike further up. We head back to ‘the beach’ when strong winds begin to blow. A storm is coming and dark, foreboding clouds gather behind us. We see the furrows in the sand, wind pushing against the flowing water. It is magical. We stand and watch, entranced, mesmerized. But the storm approaches with a speed we cannot out run and we quickly return to the car to get out of its way.After a quick snack, we continue on with our journey to Texas. Next stop, Amarillo Texas. Specifically, the Big Texan Motel. With another 5 hours in the car, we carry on to Amarillo Texas, briefly entering and exiting New Mexico at its top right corner. We finally arrive in Amarillo tired and in need of a bed. We are booked into the Big Texan Motel (http://bigtexan.com/motel/), basic lodging designed to resemble an old west town with décor from the late 1800s. It doesn’t fail to deliver. The bright pink, blue and yellow exteriors stand out, even in the dark. The rooms are come with shutters made to resemble horse stable doors. Out back, we eye spy a horse hotel where you can stable your horse for the night. At the front, a giant T-Rex stands guard over the motel’s limousines with horns harnessed onto their bonnets. The bed is comfortable enough but I sleep uneasily with the noise from cars coming and going.
In the morning, we cannot avoid the big yellow building adjacent to our motel – The Big Texan Steak Ranch (http://bigtexan.com/), home to the 72oz steak. It is advertised everywhere. Finish the steak within an hour and you get it for free. We are sent to the restaurant for breakfast and are stunned by the interior. There are no words for it. It is a restaurant, carnival shooting range, wax works display, gift shop and trophy room for all the moose and deer shot over the years.A stage sits in the center of the dining room for the contestants of the 72oz steak eating competition and on the wall above it sits a digital stopwatch counting the hour down. We gawk unashamedly. In the restaurant, I order biscuits, steak and eggs for $14, a traditional Texan breakfast I am told. I have never had American biscuits before. The food is passable but we aren’t here for the food. After breakfast, we wander through the attractions, like giddy schoolkids, giggling and staring. We try the shooting range and put in money to open some mystery box revealing an old codger on the toilet seat. Kitsch.
Satisfied by all the weird and wonderful things we had seen, we head out of Amarillo. The hail comes. It is time to leave. Another 5 hours in the car. The land flattens out as we head further into Texas. There is nothing for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. They weren’t kidding when they said that Texas was flat. We arrive at Fort Worth in the early evening and collapse in a heap, concluding our road trip to the weird and wonderful.