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  • Writer's pictureAdrea Tilford

Adventures in the Great Sand Dunes: A Photo Essay

Every great trip starts with getting loaded up in the car. A long time ago, I found myself super carsick as I tried to be screen free on our road trip adventures. We have since let that go and embrace letting our kids indulge in their downloaded shows while we hang out and catch up too. #limitscreentimeexceptonroadtrips

Our first view, driving through the desert of the San Luis Valley. We could see the dunes from far away.

We'd been traveling for 6.5 hours when we arrived at the Zapata Falls road. Much to our chagrin, the road was getting some work done and we while we waited for that stop sign to flip around, our children proceeded to melt like popsicles in the sun. As we drove by the slow sign, I yelled to the man that he must have heard the raucous rivalry coming from our backseat and that's why he was letting us go. My girls' smacked palms to heads to ensure I understood just how embarrassing I was, and it gave me the opportune opening to reinforce that embarrassment may continue with the continuation of backseat bickering. #weareembarrassingparents #stopfighting

Setting up camp at Zapata falls. On top of the world and incredible sunsets.

Alicia and Casey rolled in just in time to set up at sunset.

Day 1: Sand Dunes and Tree Forts

Face tattoos and breakfast with the cousins started the first full day. We like to meal share. That means each family takes their fair share of meals, and you don't have to cook every single meal. It's lovely.

After breakfast, we loaded up and drove the 3.5 miles to the Great National Sand Dunes.

They couldn't stop themselves from throwing their bodies onto the soft sand.

There wasn't quite enough water for tubing this year. The tube didn't work too well on the sand either.

Hot hiking in the dunes. We spotted the kids and Casey from a distance. Then watched them race down the dunes. We tried it ourselves next. The sand was so hot it burned our feet as it cascaded down onto our sandals. Boots might be the best choice for sand dune hiking.

When the wind blew, it showered us with sand. The kids didn't seem to mind and returned to the dunes time and time again.

After the climb to the top is the fun part. Running down!

Thank goodness for the creek. During the few weeks of snowmelt, the water from the Sangre de Cristo mountain range creates a creek that runs at the base of the sand dunes. Though this year the water level is one quarter the typical runoff, we still found hours of refreshing play and relaxation.

Then, back to the campsite for imaginative play in the woods for the children and cool beverages in the shade for the grown ups. We did have the children do a short "down time" to help with regulation. Even so, part of the adventures we go on include helping children learn to regulate as they experience new stressors on all of their systems.

The more Sam and I embrace understanding that dysregulation is part of the human experience, the easier we find it to help our girls calm and reset their nervous systems in these out of the normal adventure experiences.

We finished the evening with a campfire and s'mores. We don't get nearly as many campfire nights anymore due to fire danger in the west. Dry conditions have changed how we camp for sure.

And Ian on the guitar allowed for three nights of music at the campfire.

The dogs waited for a morsel to drop.

The sun went down.

The cousins had a sleepover. Three bigs with us and three smalls with Alicia.

Day 2: Photo Shoot in the tree houses designed the night before, Hiking Zapata Falls and Colorado Gators

Zapata Falls

We hiked a short distance to arrive at the Zapata Falls trail head, and then made our way up to the falls.

Butterflies to catch flew nearby.

Practicing a tip I'd learned about increasing our window of tolerance by submerging our feet into ice cold water and letting ourselves really feel it. So cold. So numb. Giant window of tolerance? #worthit

Colorado Gators is a reptile (and other animal) refuge near the Sand Dunes. We decided to give it a try. Snakes and gators were held, tortoises were fed and all fingers remained intact - phew. Photos taken. And memories made. I may have jumped and or thrown a package of trick rattlesnake eggs. Once again #embarrasingparent.

The gator tried to escape when Mia held him. She was beyond brave and did not drop him!

Another sunset. Some more s'mores.

Day 3: One more day in the dunes.

Alicia required a sign photo stop. Just to prove that we were actually there.

Three Kuhns kids in a backseat. Like old times.

Britt and Alicia went on an adventure.

Back to camp for one more night. We stopped for ice cream, but I left the camera in the truck - for most of the night. Everyone felt like Paisley...

And then we headed home. This was our longest and one of our best camping trips to date. Staying and playing three full days allowed for a lot more time and space between set up and take down.

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