We are only on day 3 of our road trip, but it feels like we have done weeks’ worth of activities! Below I’ve highlighted our first two days. It includes the last of our Oklahoma adventures and the start of exploring southern Colorado.
Guthrie and Stillwater
After leaving Norman, we set out to Stillwater so Leo could grab some stuff from his OSU office. Along the way, we decided to do a quick stop in Guthrie, the first capital of Oklahoma. Guthrie is a super cute town with lots of antique shops. We first grabbed some refreshments from Rick’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees and then walked around town. At Rick’s, I got a drink called a wurtle. I don’t remember what was in it, but it was delicious. After a bit of a walk around town, we popped into an antique mall. Looking for nothing in particular, we stumbled across a little squirrel statue. We decided to get it to travel with us. His name is porcupine for obvious reasons.
Our next stop was Stillwater. Although our main goal for this detour was for Leo to pick up some stuff and return his office key, we decided to eat a quick lunch at an Oklahoma landmark right next to Oklahoma State’s campus– Eskimo Joes. It was a nice day so we had lunch on the rooftop patio.
Salt Plains and Little Sahara
Next, we headed to the Great Salt Plains State Park near Jet, Oklahoma. It is a fascinating place – a prehistoric ocean has left behind selenite crystals. Oklahoma is unique in that is the only place in the world where these crystals have an hourglass shape. The hourglass shape comes from sand trapped in the crystals. Usually, you can head to the plains and dig up up to 10 pounds. We went once last summer and had some much fun digging that we decided to return. Unfortunately, after a bit of getting lost, we made our way to the digging area only to find it closed due to flooding earlier in the week. There was an observation area where you could look out and see the plains, but we couldn’t go and dig.
Little Sahara State Park was up next. These sand dunes are a premiere destination in the region for ATVs. Our original plan was to rent some ATVs and spend the afternoon riding in the dunes. Again, our best plans were thwarted. The one rental place in the area was closed on Mondays. However, we were able to walk to the top of an observation area here where we could see the dunes and surrounding area. A storm was about to roll in so it was quite a dramatic landscape.
The dunes also proved to be a good spot for bird watching/photographing. Our birding goggles came in most handy!! I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you how long we spent getting this bird picture.
Can anyone tell us what bird this is? We like looking and taking pictures but really know nothing and can rarely identify them ourselves!
After Little Sahara, we drove through the rain to reach Black Mesa State Park, which is truly in the middle of nowhere. The park is in the Oklahoma panhandle. The closest store is in Boise City about a 45 minute drive away. (The history of Boise City is pretty fascinating case of extreme false advertising).
We stopped in Boise City to get some gas and groceries and drove to Black Mesa State Park. We pulled into the tent camping area and were delighted to only see one other group in the space. We picked out our favorite site and set up camp. Behind our campsite, there were some stones leading upwards to a grassy area. So naturally, we went and explored. After a bit of trek to the west, we were able to have a great view of the sunset. On the way back to our campsite, we came across a bunch of bones. Leo, of course, wanted to keep one – they were totally clean so I said ok. Now, we are also travelling with a large bone, we have named Joan. (We like to name our random stuff like normal people).
One of the things Black Mesa is known for is its amazing night sky because there is so little light pollution. We lucked out because there were almost no clouds in the sky so we got an absolutely breathtaking view. We didn’t stay up very late since we had planned to get up at 4:30AM to catch the sunrise atop Black Mesa, which is the highest point in Oklahoma.
We got up bright and early to drive to the Black Mesa trailhead, which was about a half hour from our campsite. We made it a bit after 5AM. Shortly after we started the hike, we looked up at the sky. There were even more stars than when we had gone to sleep. We could even see the milk way – a first for me!
The first two miles of the hike were essentially flat. Then, there was a quick incline up to the top of the mesa. We managed to get at the top of the mesa right before sunrise. We took a break to appreciate the view and tried out the time lapse feature on my iPhone for the first time.
After the sunrise, we finished the trail. It ended at a monument marking the highest point in Oklahoma and how far we were from different states. There was a box at the top filled with notes from people who had completed the hike before. There were also a few snacks – a kind bar and Altoids- in there for any weary hikers. We added our names and a message to a notebook in the box, and left our pen for the next hiker to use. After spending some time wandering around the top, we started to make our descent.
The climb back down was easier than coming up and because we walked the first part of the trail in the dark. We were now able to appreciate all sorts of things we missed coming up like flowers and wildlife. We also passed a few other hikers on the way down.
After all our hard work, we were happy to return to camp where Leo made a delicious egg breakfast. Then, we cleaned up camp quickly to get on the road.
Our next major stop was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Along the way, we made a quick detour to Trinidad, Colorado. After picking up an extra blanket, we stopped by Art Cartopia, which is a free art car museum. Apparently, Trindad has the second largest Art Car festival – the largest is in Houston. The museum was super cool! We would highly recommend it if you ever find yourself near Trinidad. Voted CO’s best new roadside attraction last year!
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Finally, we arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park, home of the tallest sand dune in North America. The landscape with the massive sand dunes in the foreground and snow-covered mountains in the background was striking! After crossing a small stream (the water was freezing cold), we were able to walk all over the dunes.
On our way to the park, we stopped and rented some sleds to ride down the dunes! Leo was far more adventurous than I was and thus ended up a lot more sandy! Below is a video for a taste of what sledding sand dunes is like.
We were planning on backcountry camping in the National Park, but with a chance of thunderstorms and the prospect of hiking 1.5 hours over sand dunes to the campsite after starting our day at 4:30AM, we decided at the last minute to get a hotel in Alamosa, Colorado. I’m sure it was a nice Best Western, but after the long day we had, a bed had never been so comfy!
Before heading to bed, we decided to check out the local brewery for dinner. We headed to the main part of town and got a table outside at San Luis Valley Brewing Company. Leo got a red and I got an amber to accompany our delicious burgers. Downtown Alamosa is super cute and we are so glad we decided to stop here. We would highly recommend it as the place to stay if you are visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park!
OK. So that is our first two days in a nutshell! Hope you enjoyed hearing about them! We look forward to updating you as we go along.