Colorado Roadtrip : Great Sand Dunes

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Earlier this month, we went on a five-day road trip to south west Colorado. It’s a part of the state we haven’t explored, but had heard great things about. We set out excited to experience the beautiful San Juan mountain range. Let me spill the beans right now: this trip was awesome (I’m writing this about a week after the trip, and we’re still talking about it). We loved the scenery, the hot springs, and the towns we visited.

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This is going to be a two-post report. In this post I’m going to share photos and from the first bit of our trip that was spent in Great Sand Dunes National Park, and in the second post I’ll share photos from our visits to Pagosa Springs and Ouray.

We left after work on Tuesday and drove until we reached Great Sand Dunes (it was sometime after midnight). Rather than head straight to the park, we took the rocky and bUMpY 20 minute ride to Zapata Falls, camping there for the night. When we woke up in the morning, the view was breathtaking! From high on the hill, you could look down and see the sand dunes with the mountains in the background. Don’t you love waking up to a surprise like that? roadtrip2

We were so excited to get to the dunes that we had breakfast, stretched our legs, and then got back in the car and headed into the park. Sadly, we didn’t take the time to hike to the actual falls at Zapata Falls. That’ll have to wait for our next visit!

Campground

But, our timing was perfect, because we drove into the park, took a quick stop at the visitor’s center, and then took a drive through the unreserved campground and were able to snag a spot as someone was checking out! I definitely think timing was on our side, there seemed to be daily-turnover in the park midweek, but then as we were checking out Thursday morning, it seemed like everyone coming in had plans to stay through the weekend.
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The Dunes

After securing the spot, we drove straight over to the sand dunes. We knew we wanted to hike on them, and everyone warns that it’s best done either earlier in the morning or later in the evening – times when the sun isn’t shining as bright and the dunes are cooler.

As you can see in the photo above, we came early enough in the season so that the water (from snowmelt) was still flowing through the park. This creek dries up by late June, and I’m sure that would create a much different (hotter/dryer/dustier) visit. I’ll share a few more pics of our time near the water later in the post. First, we just crossed it on our way to the dunes.

And those dunes are spectacular. It’s such a mind-bending experience to see these large (largest in North America!) dunes at the base of the granite mountains. From some angles you could see the mountains, and from others you just saw sand and blue skies.

If you look closely in the photo below, you can see people hiking off in the distance, and it helps to give you some perspective of the size of the dunes. roadtrip5 roadtrip6 roadtrip7 roadtrip8

We set out on our walk not having high expectations for how far we’d get (that’s the best mindset you can have with two little guys in two)… but I secretly think that both Calder and I were hoping we’d make it to the top!

We were prepared with both a larger hiking pack to hold the big kid and the ergo to hold the smaller kid. There were times when the boys were in their packs and there were times when they were out, and step by step we made progress until we made it to the top!

It was hard work, guys. About 2 hours of hard work. Every step you took involved some sinking into the sand and sliding slightly backwards.  roadtrip9 roadtrip10 roadtrip11

As you can see in the photo above, we carried along cardboard in the hopes of sledding down the dunes. Many friends told us that this worked for them. It definitely didn’t work for us. I’m not sure what went wrong, but we had the most success just sitting on our bums and doing a slow slide down the steeper sides of the dunes.

Dune Shoes : And, as mentioned above, the dunes do get hot. I wore sneakers, while Alex and Calder both had slip-on summer shoes. I saw lots of other hikers with sandals and flipflops. Honestly, I’m not sure what kind of shoe is best. The boys had trouble with sand getting into their shoes, and so did I! I didn’t expect it with my sneakers, but sand was sneaking in through the mesh fabric of the shoes. It even got stuck between the layers of fabric, and for about a week, it would slowly weasel its way out as I wore the shoes. But the sandals and flipflops also seem like don’t offer enough protection from the hot sand. Who knows, you just have to pick your poison. roadtrip12

After our hike, we were worn out and starving, so we headed back to the campsite for an easy ramen and eggs lunch, and then naps (for everyone!).

The Water

Post naps, we headed back over to the dunes, and spent a couple of hours near the water. The boys had a great time play in the sand and wading in the water while C and I had a chance to relax and enjoy the view.

Can you spot the deer in the photo below?! roadtrip13 roadtrip14 roadtrip15

Then it was back to the campsite for marshmallows, stories, and an early bedtime.
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Etc.

Just a few additional observations and hearsay about Great Sand Dunes :

  • sledding down the dunes : As I mentioned, many people told us to pack cardboard for sledding. That didn’t work at all for us. Maybe it will for you? We also saw people sledding and “surfing” on boards rented in the park. They look like fun, but you have to want to carry them up the dunes.
  • mosquitoes : We had no trouble with mosquitoes, but have heard from others that they can be overwhelming in June.
  • hiking : In addition to the dunes, there are many other hiking trails. We didn’t venture out on any, but would love to on a future visit.
  • campground store : There’s a nice little campground store that carries a wide variety of items. We stopped in one night for ice and firewood and saw that they also carried ice cream and avocados. Great store!
  • shade tents : many families brought shade tents to the water area, and that looked like a great idea if you planned to stay all day (it seemed like many people treated it like a beach day).
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Biking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last weekend we went biking in Rocky Mountain National Park and it was amazing. If you would like to see our previous forays into RMNP (including our awesome winter camping trip!) click here.

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We took this trip on Mother’s Day ~ it was the treat that C planned for me, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I love biking, and I really love biking with C and the boys, but I don’t find it fun or relaxing if we’re biking on roads busy with cars. Fortunately, as I’ll explain, this ride was perfect because it was car-free and the scenery was breathtaking. More pics and tips ahead!

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Sydney Coastal Walk


You’ve spent a few days in Sydney and you’re ready for adventure. The Coastal Walk is the best way to stay close to the city center while enjoying a bit of nature and getting some exercise in. If you go about completing the entire walk from Coogee to Bondi it’s about six km and will take you anywhere from two to three hours, but I recommend packing a little beach backpack, starting in the morning and seeing where your day takes you.  Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities for side quests. You can challenge yourself by scrambling over boulders, refresh yourself by taking a swim in various tidal pools and beaches and of course there are plenty of places to stop and eat and drink throughout your journey. 


Like most of our travel posts on Live Seasoned, we like to give you a general idea for your day or adventure, but leave the details up to you. For that reason, I’ll point out a few of my favorite places to take a dip and grab a bite to eat, but otherwise, the world is your oyster. Pack your bag, slather on some sunscreen and have one of the most beautiful walks of your life. The Coastal Walk is not to be missed. I trotted along this path five days in a row never tiring of the scenery. 



Before I ventured to the coast, I was under the impression that it would take up a full day, which it certainly can, but I didn’t realize you could hop on and off the walk, take a bus to one area and then walk or uber to another, the possibilities really are endless. On my final day in Sydney I decided to walk north from Coogee to Bondi and then turn around and walk all the way back. With ample rest and refresh time throughout it was quite an easy walk and the perfect final day on the eastern coast. This walk is suitable for young and old alike, beginners and uber fit altheletes, it’s really perfect for everyone.


What to pack:

  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle 
  • Sunglasses
  • Sneakers (it can be done in sandals)
  • Camera
  • Turkish towel or sarong




Highlights:

Take a dip in the rock enclosed tidal pool near Coogee. After you cool off, scramble over sandstone boulders, sunbathe by the sea and brave the incoming tidal waves. 

Now it’s time to begin the walk, head north to Gordan’s Bay and enjoy the pristine views. 

Take a seat in the shade at Bundock Park for a little rest while you watch the surf lap along a collection of rocks, fondly referred to at Wedding Cake Point, way out in the ocean, don’t worry, you’ll see them. 

After a little refresh, it’s time to head further north towards Clovelly Beach. If the rough Sydney surf intimidates you, the Clovelly ocean pool is the perfect solution. Swim a few laps, drip dry on the sunbathing deck and then pop into Sea Salt cafe for a little snack. 

After a nibble, prepare yourself for Shark’s Point, a massive rock cliff that is sure to take your breath away. Sit and meditate here for a moment before walking on towards Clovelly Bowling and Recreation Club where you should certainly buy a drink to enjoy in the air conditioned event ballroom that overlooks the ocean. 

Once you’ve had a proper break and you’re all cooled down, walk through Waverly Cemetery towards Nelson’s Bay and Bronte Beach. Bronte baths is another nice seaside salt pool for swimming and lounging or you can head to Bronte Road, the street behind and parallel to the beach and park, for a lunch prepared with fresh ingredients. Over the course of the week, I ate at Jenny’s & Bronte Bela and both were yummy.

The next section of the walk, between Bronte and Tamarama is absolutely gorgeous so really take your time on the cliff and cave section and do some exploring.


 Round Mackenzies Point and  enjoy the final stretch to Bondi Beach. Bondi is a surfer’s paradise and you’ll likely see hundreds in the water at any one time. After strolling past the beautifully painted cement wall that separates the grass and sand at Bondi, stop at Lush Cafe to reward yourself with a snack and libations.

You could easily end the night here by watching a movie in the park or grabbing dinner at one of the dozens of restaurants on Campbell Parade, but if you’re up for it, you could also stroll back once you’re feeling refreshed.


If you decide to walk back, which you should because the sun hasn’t set yet, end your night at Coogee Pavilion. It’s an enormous restaurant with multiple bars and a ton of game and play areas for families downstairs and lots more ocean view seating upstairs for a calmer chill, outdoor garden type of vibe.

After dinner and drinks, you’ll probably have to crawl back to the car, but I know it was worth it.

Pack a bag, tie up those trainers and hop on the coastal walk and remember, jumping off the path occasionally makes the experience last longer and fuels you for that next flight of stairs so take my suggestions and nibble, drink, meditate, swim and play along the way. Enjoy!

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Like Haiyaha Hike

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

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These are photos from a hike that we took a few months ago, and I just happened to find them here in an unpublished post. I was so sure that I wrote about this hike, but a few searches finally convinced me that I’m crazy.

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Mitchell Lake Trail

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

For the past two weekends, we’ve visited Brainard Lake Recreation Area and set out from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. On our first trip, we did a short hike to Mitchell Lake, took a rest to have some hot chocolate, and then turned around. Yesterday we set out with the goal to make it all the way to Blue Lake, and we did!

As in the tradition of our previous hike posts, I wanted to share some photos and a brief overview of the trail. These photos are from both trips and in no particular order, but they give you a great sense of what the trail is like during mid October.

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Trail Location

The trail starts within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but quickly leaves that area and continues on into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is open to vehicles from June – October, but the exact opening and closing dates vary each year based on the weather. The entrance fee is on a sliding scale from $1 if you’re walking to $10/car, BUT you can access this area for free with a Nation Parks annual pass. When the area is closed during the winter, you can still park at a lot near the entrance and then enter the area by foot/ski/bike.

During the summer months, you can drive into the area and park at a number of lots. There’s a day-use lot near the main lake that often has spaces, and then there are two smaller lots near the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, but in our experience, both of these fill up fairly early and remain packed throughout the day.

If possible, park at the Mitchell Lakes Trailhead and you’ll be able to quickly access the trail, if the lot is full, you’ll have to park in one of the other lots and walk over to the trailhead.

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Trail Overview

The hike to Mitchell Lake is just under a mile, and it’s another 1.6 miles to reach Blue Lake. These are both out-and-back destinations, making the round-trip hike to Mitchell approximately 1.8 miles and the hike to Blue Lake five miles. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10,500 ft, with a gradual climb of just 200 ft to Mitchell Lake and then reaching a final altitude of 11,300 ft at Blue Lake.

This is a popular, well-worn trail that is easily visible when there isn’t much snow on the ground. I’m not sure what it’s like when covered with snow, and while there were some markers in the trees, I didn’t pay close enough attention to notice how well-marked it was.

Near the base of the trail, hiking is relatively easy with that slow, gradual climb to Mitchell Lake. There is one large stream crossing over a short wooden bridge, and then another crossing over a wider stream with fall logs used as the bridge. In other segments, planks are used to keep hikers out of boggy areas. There are some steep areas where climbing the rocks is similar to climbing a steep set of stairs, with an increase in the portion of steep climbs as you approach Blue Lake.

During our first visit, there was some snow on the trail that had been tramped down and turned to ice, making some areas slick, but the following weekend this ice had melted, making hiking much easier. It was a nice reminder of how quickly weather and trail can change at that altitude.

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Hiking with Kids

Young kids (4 to 8 year olds) should be able to hike to Mitchell Lake with minimal help but would likely need help making the full trek to Blue Lake. Older kids 8+ should have no trouble with the full hike. *** Having only 3.5 and 1.5 year olds, I may have to go back and revise those numbers as we continue to test the trail, but this is based upon the kids we saw out on the trails as we hiked.

We ended up carrying both of our kids during both hikes. The first weekend it was because they were a bit under the weather, and the second weekend it was because we set out with the goal of the longer hike.

And I don’t know about your kiddos, but anytime we pull out a thermos of hot chocolate during a rest, they are happy hikers and totally oblivious to any chill in the air (pro-tip there)!

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Dressing for the Trail

At this time of year (and almost any time!), it was really helpful to dress in light layers. I wore spandex on my bottom and then a tank, wool thermal, and a light down jacket on top. Calder did something similar. The boys wore lined pants, shirts, and hoodies. They could have been dressed a bit warmer, but we also used our down jackets to bundle around them when they were cold in the packs, which worked out well because it was often when we were hot from hiking and carrying them. We all wore wool hats that we put on and off all day.

It was particularly cold and windy at Blue Lake, but since we weren’t staying there long, it didn’t make sense to carry along extra layers just for that rest stop.

And don’t forget sunscreen! While there are some segments with plenty of shade, there is a lot of sun shining on much of the trail.

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mitchell_lake5By now, Calder and I both know that we live in a beautiful state, but even so, we couldn’t stop gushing about these two weekends spent hiking the same trail. We’re so glad we explored and now we’re anxious to hike it when the wildflowers are at their peak next summer. We’re also excited to have this hike at the ready the next time we have adventurous visitors in town.

If you’re in the Boulder area, this hike and the whole Indian Peaks area is definitely worth your time. Just know that everyone else loves the area too, so try to get there early before the lots fill up. Good luck!
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Five Ways to Have a Better Day

With my recent travel mishap, I’ve been thinking about moods and emotions and the power we have over them. I must say, I have the ability to become gruuuuumpy.  Nine times out of ten it’s because I’m hungry or tired and once I realized this correlation, I was amazed at how easily I could control my mood for the better.  It’s like once I recognized the problem, I was able to address the effects of it even if I couldn’t immediately solve it. Admittedly, some days I have no idea what the problem is. I wake up and wish I were still sleeping. It could be attributed to something in my work life or maybe my student loan bill is due or maybe my personal relationships are troubling me, but whatever it is, an easy solution isn’t always present and I just want to lie under the covers for a few more hours.  Ultimately that makes me feel even worse.  Ignoring the day is no way to go about creating a happy life. It’s important to check in with yourself, acknowledge your pitfalls, but ultimately to shake them off, get out of bed, and get on with your day.  Easier said than done, right? I hoping these five ways to have a better day will have you up and at ‘em before you remember what’s troubling you.

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Take a moment and a mantra – Take a few deep breaths. I’m talking deep, belly breathing, breaths. Choose a mantra for the day and remember to talk to yourself like you would someone you love. If your bestie was having a rough day, what would you say to him or her? Decide on a few wise words or a mini goal for instance: I am compassionate, I will use my actions to help others feel loved today, or whatever you think you need to hear and repeat that three times. I try to think of whatever I’m dreading for the day, maybe it’s completing a project or a deadline, and gear my mantra towards that goal: I’m creative and productive. My work is valuable and appreciated. Whatever you need to hear, say it to yourself, don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge your struggle or congratulate your triumphs.

Call an amigo – Even though I’m not really a phone person, talking to a friend or family member helps immensely.  Sometimes we all fall into a funk and we need a familiar voice to pick us up a little bit. It’s okay to reach out when you’re feeling stuck, chances are the person on the other end of the line has been there or is dealing with something else at that very moment.  You could be doing them more good than you know.

Spend five minutes enjoying nature – It is proven that a few minutes outside will improve your mood. Don’t wait until lunchtime to sneak a moment in the sunshine, go outside right now.  Spend five minutes taking in your surroundings.  Listen for birds, insects and frogs.  Notice the trees that you see.  Can you name any of them? Acknowledge the growth and decay all around you and appreciate both. Enjoy the absolute absurdity that is life on earth.

Drink Michael’s Secret Stuff – Drink a big glass of water, tea, coffee, kombucha, fruit juice, whatever is your favorite go to beverage, gulp it up.  Offer your body a bit of hydration to kick start your day. Water has the amazing ability to improve your mentality and energy levels.  If you’re fueled up, you’ll certainly function better so start with a big glass of h2o. Oh and if you didn’t get the Space Jam reference you need to reevaluate your life and re-watch the movie 😉

Work up a sweat – Get the blood flowing. Even if you start your morning with one sun salutation, your body will thank you. Stretching and sweating releases endorphins, which in turn improve your mood. When we’re feeling bummed, the last thing we want to do is go to the gym, but you don’t even have to take it that far. Simply lie down and do thirty crunches or hold a plank for thirty seconds.  After that try twenty lunges or squats, there is no way you’ll regret slipping in a few seconds of exercise and who knows, it may turn into an hour of sweating and stretching.

If that’s not enough, here’s a valid excuse to watch cat videos, which will definitely cheer you up!

Image by the loveliest lady
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Colorado Hike : Eldorado Canyon State Park

We love to go hiking, and every once in a while we share our adventures on the blog. If you would like to see more hiking posts, click here.

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Last week a friend tipped us of to the awesomeness that is Eldorado Canyon State Park, in particular Fowler Trail. As an active 2.5 year old, Alex is really excited to get outside and do whatever we’re doing. Translating this to hiking, it means that he’s much happier walking along with us than riding in the backpack. Unfortunately, his little legs get tired fairly quickly, so I’m always on the hunt for trails that are not that steep or long. Fortunately, Fowler trail is both short* and relatively flat! As you’ll see in the photos, it also provides outstanding views of canyon walls filled with climbers, making it extra exciting for our little adventurer. One look at the climbers and he exclaimed, “wow, that’s wild!”.

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