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  • Donna

Trip Report: Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes National Parks

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

October 4 – 9, 2017 Elk Creek Campground, Site #50 Great Sand Dunes Oasis, Site #17

Well, this portion of the trip hasn’t exactly worked out as planned. When we left Badlands National Park, we made a quick overnight stop in Nebraska then headed to Rocky Mountain National Park in the morning. The wind was the worst we’ve ever experienced and we came within two gallons of running out of gas. After nine hours of driving, we finally arrived at Timber Creek Campground about 30 minutes before sunset.

Site 50 at Elk Creek Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park
Our site at Elk Creek Campground

Timber Creek doesn’t accept reservations, so we were just happy there was a spot when we arrived. But our relief was short-lived. There was no water available; it had been turned off two days prior due to a snowstorm and was now gone for the season. So as darkness encroached, we drove back the way we had come, looking for a campground. Relief returned when we found Elk Creek—a nearby campground with full hookups.

Since the office was closed, we couldn’t speak to anyone about staying the night. So we drove around, pulled into a site that looked good, and hoped no one had reserved it. As we began setting up, our relief washed away again when I turned the water spigot and nothing came out.

“Wendy, there’s no water,” I said, as though she’d know why or what to do. Fortunately a friendly neighbor had begun chatting with her, so she was able to easily punt the question. He let us know that water was still available at the office and even offered to let us borrow his water hose. We have one though, so we thanked him then undid what we’d started and towed the trailer back down to the office. Then realized our water hose was too short to reach the spigot.

So Wendy dragged out our six-gallon water container, filled it, hefted the 48-pound jug up to the side of the trailer, and poured the water in. Then she did it again. And again. Then two more times. As darkness fell, we backed into our chosen site again and set up camp for the night. We were tired, but at least we had water.

The rest of our Rocky Mountain experience continued in a similar vein. The main road through the park wasn’t open, but at least we could drive 16 miles of it. We couldn’t reach any of the hikes we wanted to do, but at least we could walk a mile-or-so with the kids to Adams Falls. The nearest town (Grand Lake) was overpriced and underpopulated, but the next town over (Granby) was cool and super-friendly. We didn’t get to do what we wanted, but it was still a beautiful place to live for two days.

In a bout of comedic timing, we hitched up during a snowstorm that lasted about 10 minutes. It was still cold afterward, but the sky was clear and by the time we left in the morning only a hint of snowfall remained.

We left for Great Sand Dunes National Park at 9:30am and arrived around 4pm. Pinon Flats is the only campground at the park. We didn’t have reservations but figured there’d be space since it’s October.


Site 17 at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, Great Sand Dunes National Park
Our campsite at Great Sand Dunes Oasis

For the first time during our trip, the CAMPGROUND FULL sign applied to us. As we rolled up to the entrance booth, we asked the attendant if she had any ideas for other places to stay. She was very helpful and directed us a few miles back the way we’d come, out of the park at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis. And that’s where we are now, with full hookups and a great view of the dunes. We had a unique morning—one I doubt I’ll ever repeat. We waded through a shallow river with the kids and CeCe, schlepped a quarter mile through the sand, climbed a dune, then went sand sledding for the next two hours. It was awesome!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Now we’re back in the trailer. The kids are napping, Wendy’s watching a movie on the iPad, it’s a very pleasant 69 F, and the wind is gusting at 20 mph. In the morning, we’ll roll out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We don’t have a reservation, the water may be turned off, and there’s currently a 70% chance of snow.

We’re filling up all of our water jugs this time.

Read the next trip report: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park


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