Tag Archives: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Escape Dunes

This is the ninth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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When driving on the Medano Pass Primitive Road (four-wheel drive), the Escape Dunes and Ghost Forest can be viewed approximately 1/2 mile up the road. Here, shifting sands have crossed Medano Creek to form new dunes. The “escape” dunes create “ghost forests” where trees die through suffocation and starvation.

So I’ve heard that question a lot. “Can you control it?” The short answer is, “sometimes”. Sometimes I can batten the hatches against before the spigot flow starts. But it takes vigilance and conscious effort. Once the flow starts, it can’t be stopped except by moving away from the source. At least I haven’t found another way.

That’s why I keep moving.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

It doesn’t happen with everyone. Some people are closed to me, thankfully. I saw this therapist once. He tried to believe me. He listened and nodded and tapped his pen against his lower lip. When I finished, he leaned forward and said, “Man is the God who shits.”

“Huh?”

“Think about it,” he said.

I’ve certainly thought about it over the years, especially after shitting all over someone or being shat upon by life. But it came up again when I walked up into the mountains, away from the main dune field, and came upon an area of escape dunes and the resulting ghost forest. There was a photographer up here, tripod and all, and I sat in the sand and watched him. He was a restless middle-aged fellow, fidgety with his camera gadgets, worried about the sand getting into his various apertures. He had a remote shutter release and he was setting up for a shot down to the dune field from up here in the escape dunes. It was getting late and soon the dunes would explode into an orange umber blaze as the surrounding foothills grew dark. I’ve seen this happen and it’s captured in my mind, this image of something as close to the divine as anything is likely to get.

I approached the photographer cautiously. No ESP flow from this dude. At least not yet.

“Hello.”

“I was wondering if you would walk over,” he said. “You live out here?”

“For a few days.”

“Well I’m torn about that. I envy you, of course, being out here away from all the…all the…”

“Bullshit?”

“Worse than bullshit,” he said. “Vitriol. Hate.”

“Sounds about right.”

“But then you also must miss a lot. I mean, most people are still good.”

“Hmmm.”

He finished some final adjustment and made sure the cord for the remote shutter release wasn’t tangled and he stood next to me looking out over the dune field. A few minutes maybe until sunset.

“My wife thinks I’m crazy coming out here all over creation to get pictures of beauty. I suppose some people fish or hunt and they feel this way, but I don’t want to hurt any animals. I need to be out here or out there or wherever. I feel like I hunt this natural beauty. It’s always available. And it’s free.”

“For now,” I said.

“We can create so much. We’re freer than we think. We can move around and think and try to love.”

“But we succumb.”

“Yup,” he said. “We succumb. By commission or omission, we still succumb.”

“Man is the God who shits,” I said.

“That’s pretty pungent. But I know what you mean.”

We watched as it grew dark around us up here in the ghost forest. The dune sea blazed into coral and a fine haze in the air gave everything a dreamy feel. He pushed the button and the camera clicked.

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Surge Flow

This is the eighth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I camped in the transition zone, the dune apron, between the dunes and the mountains. A Medano Creek ran along the base of the first tall dunes. I sat on the bank and watched the strange pulsing water move along the sandy bottom. The water has a kind of tidal rhythm as little sand bars are formed upstream then suddenly erode sending a quiet surge of water downstream, every twenty seconds or so, a condensed version of so many cycles. Aren’t we all forming and holding on against the pressure, then breaking down and letting go? Over and over and over again. At least I am.

The suck of the past.

There was a time when I thought I would be someone. A famous writer or thinker or public intellectual. Do public intellectuals even exist anymore? Are they just those dumbasses on tv holding forth on the latest utterings of cruel politicians? Or partisan bull-shitters swimming in some toxic think tank?

Anyway, there was a time when I wanted to be like Emerson, sharing my original personal not-handed-down experience of the world, self-reliant with the knowledge that great men wrote those great books sitting and struggling as I was trying to write a great book. Grandiose? The unrealistic dreams of youth?

Of course!

I wrote a short story in a college writing course about a group of young men, one of whom would die by gunshot. I was very proud of the story. It had a wallup. It was austere. It was a black and white interior photo of some uncluttered room, a good well-balanced photo of young men at a table laden with beer bottles and playing cards that left you wondering about the fate of such young men as these. One of them shows the others a gun which, by the Chekhov rule, means that someone has to get shot by the end of the story. In my story, there is no obvious conflict but, after the card game ends, one of the men, the one who showed the gun, tortured by an unnamed occurrence in his past, parks his car on the way home and shoots himself in the head.

That’s it.

I was very proud of this story. It had flowed out of me after a period of not having any ideas, of losing a girlfriend and hating my roommate’s hippy girlfriend ( and then my roommate), of being confused and alone in the world.

The writing “teacher” and most of the other students were not happy. I was accused of emotional ambush, of treating the reader with disdain, of minimizing suicide. They did not hold back and I was not capable of receiving criticism. I sat there and took it, but on my way back to the dorm I stopped in a little grove of trees and sat down on a bench. I decided that I would not be a writer anymore. There was no fight in me, just resignation. In fact, I resolved to leave college that day and pursue my own education, on my own, future be damned.

Someone had followed me from class to the little grove. A woman from the class. Clara or Clarise or Cherise. I hated her writing but she was kind and sensitive. She was a little heavy, hair dyed black, dressed all in black, and had this way of displaying her cleavage like, “I reject all color and levity!  Now look at my boobs!” I appreciated that.

I wanted to wallow. I DID NOT want to feel what she was feeling. I tried to shut off the valve of the sensing. Too late.

Sadness pulsed toward me. But also firmness, bedrock below the typical sadness and loneliness of most humans. An image of a mountain rising beyond a foggy lake. She was solid. Sad and solid.

“They were pretty harsh,” she said.

“Yeah. Fuck ‘em.”

“Are you coming back?”

“No.”

“So what are you going to do? Wander the earth?”

“Hmmm. Yup.”

“And write about it?”

“I’m done with that.”

She leaned over and put a hand on my arm. She was earnest and really cared and I tried so hard to look at her face and not down her shirt. I think I may have succeeded.

“Don’t stop writing,” she said. “Don’t ever stop no matter what you do.”

Ummm…okay.

But I still left college that night.

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Great Sand Dunes

This is the seventh installment of a series about the Mountain Dude.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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They baffle and challenge the mind. You know they’re real but your mind can’t integrate them with all you thought you knew before.

I’m not talking about the Trumps.

The Great Sand Dunes in the San Luis Valley in Colorado are a true wonder of the world, explained easily by geology and wind, yet unfathomable as a physical expression of beauty and whimsy. They shouldn’t be there, nestled at the feet of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, like some embellished juxtaposition from a scifi novel cover picturing another planet.

But there they are.

Are you tired of me trying to wax poetic? How’s this: The sand dunes are fuckin awesome. Not ironic awesome like a burrito truck serving an awesome brunch (watch those hipsters line up!). But awesome as in inspiring awe- the jaw dropping wonder tinged with fear and realization that, after all, we humans are pretty small and powerless despite our games with money and prestige. I didn’t realize I was in a long grim mood until I saw the dunes and my mood was lifted and shaken like a dusty bedspread. I could see clearer and things smelled better as I soaked it all in.

My hitched ride (yes, people still pick up hitch hikers out here) dropped me at a combo gas station/motor inn where they sold me a shower in a wooden outdoor stall incongruously stocked with Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner and tiny bars of floral scented soap. It took some time to rinse the conditioner from my long scraggly hair and beard. After, the guy who owned the place said, “You’re positively glistening!”

Thanks bro. I think he may have liked me because he offered me a discount on a room and said I could have dinner with him.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’ve lost the ability to sleep indoors.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Suit yourself,” he said.

I intend to.

He did get his Mexican worker to drive me to the ranger station where you need to get a permit to camp in the backcountry of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The permit is free in money but costs in the sense that the word permit implies permission and is contingent on the permittee following certain rules. The cost is the knowledge that permission can be denied, perhaps without reason. This is the federal government after all. They want to count you and know where you are.

These park rangers. Someone ought to write a book. Always affable, never warm. Always official, never mean. Slightly ridiculous in those Smoky the Bear uniforms, less than cops, more like serious mall cops of the wilderness. Those hats weigh heavy on the ranger head. I try sometimes to get them to come out from under the brim.

“How many nights?”

“Not sure,” I said.

“We need to put a time frame on the permit.”

“Can we leave it open ended?”

“No sir.”

“So I put down a certain date and if I want to extend it then I need to come back here and renew?”

“Yes, sir. But you can’t spend more than 10 nights a year in the backcountry.”

“I’ll stay for four nights.”

“Okay.” His keyboard clatters.

“I think it’s kind of remote out here,” I said. “Do you miss anyone back East?”

“Back East, sir?”

“Yeah. Do you miss someone special?” I knew he did. His loneliness came into my mind like an IV drip from his brain bag. Also the gauzy image of a woman in a leafy place reminiscent of a Virginia or maybe New England forest.

He swallowed and looked at a point over my shoulder. “Well sir, I wanted to be out west and put a bid in…”

“It’s okay,” I said and would have put a hand on his shoulder if it didn’t require leaning over the wide government counter. “The story’s still being written.”

“Sir?”

“This isn’t the end,” I said. “This won’t be forever.”

Tears were in his eyes. “Thank you,” he managed. The screen door bumped open behind me and he cleared his throat. “Now let’s go over the rules and regulations. No open fires. Do you have a stove? Dispose of all human waste at least 200 feet from any water source. To dispose of waste, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep…”

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