I’m glad I picked Great Sand Dunes as my first stop.  It wasn’t one that had been on my bucket list.  I’m a Florida girl… Sand dunes?  Meh. But I’d heard it was “one to see” so I figured what the hell.

I’m glad I did.  If I’d been somewhere I really wanted to explore, I’d have been terribly disappointed.  I slept poorly, and woke up with the kind of headache I’d normally call a migraine, a fierce thirst, no appetite, muzzy-headed, and feeling unusually lethargic.  It was a struggle to do much of anything energetic, my heart raced just doing yoga, and I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath.  A little research told me my first thought was correct: Mild Altitude Sickness.

At around 9000 feet, I was far above the altitude I’m used to, and I was feeling it.  So I did what the articles I read said, light activity, lots of water, breathe deeply, take some ibuprofen, wait it out but don’t just sleep.  Great Sand Dunes was perfect for that.


Folks from the area come here like we go to the beach.  Coolers, flip-flops, sun tan lotion, umbrellas, bathing suits, and radios.  Kids bring boogie boards in hopes of catching deep IMG_2207enough water in the creek to zip down a way. There are kites and dogs and little old ladies in sunhats.  I didn’t look out of place at all as I ambled up the creek, enjoying the sunshine and cool water, then eventually planted my butt in the moist sand and stretched out to soak up a little mountain sunshine. IMG_2208

Later in the afternoon, once I’d eaten a little lunch and cooled off, I headed up the trail IMG_2213from my campsite to the Zapata Falls.  The hike was rocky and mostly up, but the incline was slight, and I stopped to catch my breath and let my poor, racing heart figure out that there really was enough oxygen in the air.  20 yards from the stream, the temperature dropped drastically, and I realized I had goose bumps.

IMG_2218That water was COLD!  Too cold, honestly, for me to be able to take the “easy” up-the-creek walk to the actual falls. I tried the rock wall route, but realized half way that the rock and air were so cold my fingers were going numb… which guaranteed I’d fall into the creek, or worse.  50 degree water is not my cup of tea, so I turned back, and spent a little while just sitting and enjoying the sound of a rushing mountain stream.


I slept better, and woke up with much less of a headache the next morning.  I’d still be taking it easy for a day or two, but I knew I was acclimating.