The Ups and Downs of Vacation: Cruising to Colorado – Day Four and Five

The overwhelming beauty of the Molas Lake Campground didn’t hit us until the next morning after we had arrived. The sky was cloudy and foggy, but it didn’t diminish the amazing mountain views.

(Click on the following days to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day One, Day Two, Day Three)

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Molas Lake

Below is a rundown on Molas Lake Campground:

  • Close to Silverton
  • Elevation of 10,515 feet (very high elevation for a campground)
  • Stocked lake, perfect for fishing
  • Clean showers (they do require tokens, $5/token, and it is timed!)
  • Vault restrooms
  • No swimming in the lake, but we saw several people on canoes/kayaks
  • Camp store features several useful camping items
  • Firewood is available to buy at the campground
  • Spacious, private spots
  • Pet friendly!
  • Campsites include fire ring and picnic table

 

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View of Molas Lake from our campsite

Cody and I were pretty shocked at how cold it got during the night. We packed for Oklahoma camping weather, not true Colorado camping! Continue reading

The Long and Winding Road to Silverton: Cruising to Colorado – Day Three

The morning light made its way through the flannel curtains in the camper shell. A new day had begun and we were ready to take on the hike to Zapata Falls bright and early.

Before making the trek, I made myself a cup of French press coffee and warmed some honey buns for Cody and I to enjoy in the cool morning air. For some reason food always seems to taste better when you’re in the great outdoors.

(Click on the following days to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day OneDay Two)

The Hike to the Falls

After breakfast, we dressed for the hike and drove the short distance to the Zapata Falls parking area. It must’ve been our day because the parking lot was almost empty (this could be the fact that it was a Monday morning). I think being able to hike a trail that is not congested with people makes the experience so much more special. It feels like it is just you and nature.

The hike to Zapata Falls is a little under 1 mile there and back, making it ideal for those who want a quick, scenic hike. Dogs are also allowed on this trail as long as they are on a leash. Someday, Cody and I want to bring our black lab, Coleman, with us and experience Colorado with our dog!

Starting on the trail the views of the sand dunes were at our back and Juniper trees surrounded the view in front of us. We occasionally stopped so we could look back and take in the amazing views. As we rose in elevation, Cody and I could feel how it affected us during the hike. We are both in our twenties and in good health, but when you are used to the low elevation in Oklahoma something like this can take you by surprise!

As we got closer to the falls, a creek was the only thing standing in the way of us and the prize. Not to mention several slippery rocks that had to be stepped on to cross the water. We were at the falls in early July so the water was bone-chilling cold. I won’t lie and say I’m a coordinated person; several times I felt like I was four times my age carefully walking through the water and on the rocks.

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Continue reading

Colorado or Bust!: Cruising to Colorado – Day Two

After a peaceful night of sleep, Cody and I woke up refreshed and ready to hit the road once again. Before breakfast could happen, I first had to make sure the Ford Courier didn’t roll away during the night since it didn’t have a working parking brake. This was a constant fear of mine throughout the trip, I imagined the truck rolling off a mountain never to be seen again. Thankfully, the truck was still in the hotel parking lot, safe and sound.

(Click on the following day to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day One)

Breakfast consisted of waffles in the shape of Texas–you can only imagine how big they were. We packed our bags, said “Adios!” and went on our merry way.

Next stop—Cadillac Ranch.

Cadillac Ranch is an iconic pit stop off the side of the Interstate on Route 66 in Amarillo. Free and open to the public, the stop is a popular destination. With 10 Cadillacs buried in the ground, front first, the tail end of the vehicles sticks out of the ground. Visitors are encouraged to bring a can of spray paint, or pick up one of the many leftover cans, and leave your mark on your choice of “Caddie.”

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As we pulled up, we could see the cars in the distance eagerly awaiting for us to come and enjoy their eccentricity. Even though it was the beginning of July, the air was cool that morning. Cody and I along with a lone biker were the only visitors at the time.

There is something special about exploring a neat attraction like this without the hustle and bustle of a crowd. We perused through the row of Cadillacs, taking in all of the pieces of art spray painted onto them. We made conversation with the only other visitor there–a biker who had been riding his motorcycle cross-country. That’s another great thing about vacations; when you travel away from your hometown you become more open to meeting new people (even if it’s only for five minutes) and seeing a snippet of where they come from and who they are.

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Back on the road again, we left the vastness of Texas and entered into New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment.” With no big stops in mind we pushed on through New Mexico, only stopping to get a picture by the state sign and to eat our delicious turkey and cheese sandwiches on the back of the tailgate again.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Late afternoon, we made it to Blanca, Colorado, closer than ever to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The road to the park is long and straight with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and valley on the other.

From a distance, the Great Sand Dunes don’t look so “great,” but the closer you get the more the dunes grow. What looked like small sand mounds a few miles away, suddenly evolve into the phenomenal wonder they are known for. Entering the park and preserve cost a fee of $15; they charge by the vehicle and number of occupants.

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It’s humbling to be surrounded by massive sand dunes in one direction and beautiful, green mountains in another. I’ve found that traveling makes you realize how small you are and how big and beautiful the world is. There is so much to see and do!

When we first got to the Great Sand Dunes and passed through the toll booth, we made a stop at the visitor’s center and gift shop to learn more about how the sand dunes were created. I have an ongoing collection of magnets from places Cody and I have traveled to, so I of course bought a magnet to document our time there.

After visiting the center, we drove down the road and parked in the parking lot that is located by the entrance to the dunes. Walking through a little opening in the trees, we saw the full view of the dunes and how amazing they truly are.

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Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes

 

It was almost like being at the beach; people had towels and umbrellas set up near Medano Creek. To reach the dunes, we had to walk through Medano Creek while the cool water splashed onto our legs.

As we trudged through the warm sand, I felt like we had been transported to a desert. People who were on the very top of the dunes looked like ants from where Cody and I were standing. The atmosphere at the Great Sand Dunes was so welcoming; families were spending time near the creek, adventurers were making their way to the top in hopes of sliding down in their sled at full-speed and others were just taking in the overall beauty of the place.

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If you have fur babies, they are welcome at the Great Sand Dunes! We saw a couple with their big dog having a blast on the dunes.

Zapata Falls

A trip to the Great Sand Dunes wouldn’t be complete without camping at Zapata Falls. The road up to this campsite isn’t for the weary. A patient driver or a 4-wheel drive vehicle makes the ride go a lot smoother.

The Zapata Falls Campground doesn’t take reservations so on busy weekends it is best to go early and stake out the best spot. Luckily, since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon plenty of spots were open. We picked an isolated spot near the restrooms with an absolutely breathtaking view.

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The gorgeous view!

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Our campsite at the Zapata Falls Campground

Since we had entered Colorado it had gotten colder as we rose in elevation and only got chillier as we climbed up even further to get to the Zapata Falls campsite. The campground is 9,000 feet in elevation and is at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The $11 fee to camp at this particularly campsite is cheap especially for the views you get to enjoy. Along with the views, an abundance of chipmunks roam around the campground, running around the trees and rocks.

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We set up camp in the back of the truck and snacked on trail mix before dinner. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Through the entire trip and all of the places we ended up visiting, this campsite stuck with us as one of our favorites.

We ended the night with the best camp dessert known to anyone–s’mores. I had my share of one three s’mores before we headed into the cozy camper shell and got a good night’s rest. The next day we had plans to hike to Zapata Falls, quite a feat for two people who weren’t experts at hiking.

Wide Open Spaces: Cruising to Colorado – Day One

Sunshine poured into the cab of the 1979 Ford Courier as Cody and I traveled down the road on the Fourth of July, making the trek from Oklahoma to Colorado. Unforgettable memories were made on this road trip—some funny, some scary. One thing is certain, Cody and I will never forget the time we rode to Colorado in a newly restored truck he had just finished the week before we left.

While on the trip, I became quite familiar with the interior of the old truck and even to this day getting inside it brings back the wave of memories. Since the seats were leather and the truck had NO A/C we made sure to drape a “vintage” Coca-Cola beach towel over the seat, because if you live in Oklahoma during the summer leather seats and no A/C are like oil and water—they don’t mix.

The trip had been in the making for months. Many nights were spent planning our route and activities.

Our “general” route:

Oklahoma ⇒ Amarillo, TX ⇒ Alamosa, CO ⇒ Silverton, CO ⇒ Ouray, CO ⇒ Home

Of course, as with any trip, plans are never set in stone but our major goal was to make it to the Alpine Loop in Colorado near Silverton and Ouray.
The Alpine Loop boasts of majestic views of mountains, ghost towns, wildlife and much more. Those who travel on the loop usually have the goal of reaching Engineer Pass, a popular pass at an elevation of 12,800 feet.

Starting the trip we decided we wanted to put off driving on the Interstate for as long as we could. Driving on quiet highways or the backroads allows you to see more of the countryside and neat attractions that you wouldn’t normally see on the Interstate.

So, while driving on US-62 in Oklahoma we passed through small towns and enjoyed the drive to our first destination–Amarillo. Cody enjoys searching for classic cars and I like the general sightseeing from town to town.

The best part about taking the road less traveled are the neat places you didn’t expect to find! Cody grew up watching “The Dukes of Hazzard” and the show grew on me when we started dating. Passing through Duke, OK we saw a restaurant called The Boar’s Nest. It’s ironic that a restaurant in the town of Duke shares the same name as the famous bar and restaurant in The Dukes of Hazzard. Sadly, the restaurant was closed when we stopped so we took a snapshot and went on our way.

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We didn’t see Bo and Luke, but still enjoyed our visit at The Boar’s Nest!

 

Another “blink and you miss it” town in Oklahoma is Hollis. Driving through this town we figured it wouldn’t contain much, but on the corner of a street is an old gas station with tons of character called “Busy Corner.” If you’re into vintage auto and gas memorabilia it is worth a quick stop to look around!

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We stopped for lunch at a gas station where we put the tailgate down and made a couple sandwiches. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The memory is vivid in my mind as we sat there drinking our pops and watching the traffic go by.

After being on the road all day, we finally made it to Amarillo. We first checked into our hotel for the night, Country Inn & Suites, and then hurried to go get some grub!

My dad mentioned the restaurant Blue Sky to us before we left, he had heard the burgers were amazing. Well, we are both burger fanatics so we took his word for it and gave it a shot.

The Blue Sky we went to was right off of I-40 making it convenient to get to. The décor was fun with neon signs throughout the restaurant. Most importantly though, the food was amazing! The burgers were huge, juicy and hit the spot after a long day of driving. A side of crunchy and meaty fries went along with our burgers perfectly and we finished it off with a cold, fizzy pop.

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Delicious burgers and fries from Blue Sky in Amarillo!

Although there were several Fourth of July celebrations happening that night we decided to return to the hotel and soak in their pool and hot tub. You know the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas?” It’s not a lie! The hot tub at this hotel was almost as big as the pool itself.

The best surprise was being able to lounge in the hot tub while watching all of the firework shows happening in and around Amarillo. It was an amazing way to end the first day of our vacation! Unbeknownst to us, our adventure was just beginning.

 

It’s Been A While…

Two years! Two, long years since my last post.

In 2014, I originally started this blog for a school assignment. My professor gave me free reign to choose the topic and stories to write about. I absolutely loved having the freedom to write about whatever I wanted!

Life got busy (as it usually does), after that particular class ended I fell away from posting. Since then I’ve traveled and experienced a roller coaster of adventures on my trips.

The picture below is a teaser of what’s to come now that I’ve returned to the “blogosphere.”

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My boyfriend and travel companion, Cody, and I in Colorado.

I look forward to sharing tips for traveling, delicious camping recipes, information on national and state parks and all of the quirky pit stops that can’t be missed. Lace up your hiking boots, because it’s going to be one fun journey!

A Peaceful Weekend Retreat

There are a majority of people who live in other states that believe Oklahoma is just filled with a bunch of country folk and dusty plains. In reality, yes we have country folk, but we also have city people. Yes, we have dusty plains, but more than that we have so many beautiful state parks, recreation areas and wildlife refuges that make Oklahoma the gorgeous, unique state it is.

 

In particular, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is something that can’t be missed. The wildlife refuge is located near Lawton, Okla., and offers stunning views from Mt. Scott and the chance to see all types of wildlife unique to Oklahoma making it perfect for a refreshing weekend getaway! According to the Medicine Park website, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the second most visited wildlife refuge in the country.

View of Mount Scott.

View of Mount Scott.

 

Cody, who spoke in my post 10 Tips for Camping at a National or State Park, has visited the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

 

“When I visited the Wichita Mountains I drove up onto this hill near Medicine Park. It was directly facing Mount Scott. The views were incredible, you could see an all-around view of the lake with Mount Scott in the background,” says Cody.

 

Be prepared to see hundreds of little prairie dogs popping up out of the ground. Bison and Texas longhorns are sure to be seen. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer, river otters, wild turkey and many more all reside in the wildlife refuge.

 

While visiting the wildlife refuge there are many activities to enjoy during your stay.

According to Travel Oklahoma, some activities available for your enjoyment are:

  • Mountain biking
  • Rock climbing
  • Rappelling
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing

Furthermore, Travel Oklahoma also lists additional attractions to visit:

  • The Holy City of the Wichitas
  • Mount Scott
  • Quanah Parker Lake
  • The Parallel Forest
  • The Forty-Foot Hole

After seeing Mount Scott from afar Cody wanted to get an even better view from the top of the mountain rather than just looking at it.

 

“I drove my standard Honda Civic hatchback up the narrow road leading to the top of Mount Scott, it was an interesting ride especially because I was following a couple on a motorcycle making some sharp turns,” says Cody. “Once I finally reached the top I could tell how the air was thinner, but the views were amazing. You could see for miles and miles.”

On top of Mt. Scott. The view is breathtaking!

On top of Mt. Scott. The view is breathtaking!

 

Also, if you’re planning a trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, you’ve got to make a pit stop at Medicine Park located outside the entrance to the wildlife refuge. Medicine Park is a quaint town with cobblestone buildings and cute shops. According to the Medicine Park website there are five music festivals in the town each year. The town also has art galleries, restaurants, an ice cream and candy store and the swimming hole that many visitors enjoy. There are plenty of places to stay from the popular resort to charming bed and breakfasts.

 

You can enjoy the picturesque Medicine Park and then visit the beautiful Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for a refreshing nature trip with some luxury added in by staying in town.

The Castle Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka State Park

During the fall, I visited a small, beautiful state park called Ha Ha Tonka State Park located near the town of Camdenton, MO. I had never heard such a strange name for a park, so I knew I had to check it out.

View from an overlook at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

View from an overlook at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

 

It turns out there are castle ruins located in the park. According to Missouri State Parks, Robert Snyder began building his castle, or mansion, in 1905. He died tragically in a car accident in 1906 before his castle was finished being built. His sons finished building the castle, but in 1942 a fire began inside the house and left only ruins behind.

The castle ruins.

The castle ruins.

I was so intrigued by the ruins. You could tell how much thought was put into building the castle. I can only imagine how beautiful it was when it was completely built. I recommend visiting during the fall. The weather was perfect and the trees have all begun to change from green to beautiful oranges, yellows and browns.

ha ha tonka 3The hiking trails leading to the castle ruins are also easily accessible for anyone. Parking is limited near the ruins, but down the road is another parking lot that you can take and either walk up the road or take a trail to the castle.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park may be small, but the beautiful views and interesting history the park contains makes it well worth a trip. If I ever am back in the area I will definitely be stopping by again!