Adventures summiting the highest dune in North America

Visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve has been on my bucket list but if I’m being honest, it’s closer to the bottom for two reasons.

1) It is located in the middle of nowhere 4 hours southwest of Denver.
2) If you will recall, I hate sand.

So, how exactly does a sand-adverse gal fall in love with a sandbox-on-steroids that is approximately 30 square miles while chaperoning 20 squirrelly fourth graders?

Simply stated: This delicate and complex dune system is breathtakingly wild, remote and awe-inspiring. The 150,000-acre dunes rise 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Range. I’ve never explored anything quite like it.

Hadley’s class spent the morning at the park’s Visitor Center watching a 20-minute movie about the formation of the dunes and then testing out the interactive exhibits like the video microscope, rock/mineral table and lightning tube.

Following lunch, we began our adventure with the intention to climb to the top of High Dune, the tallest in North America. Prior to reaching the dunes, we needed to cross Medano Creek. The length and time that Medano Creek flows depends on the amount of winter snowmelt.  Typically, the creek starts to flow in late March or April, with peak flow in late May but in drought years it dries up much earlier. The water was only a few inches at its deepest but judging from the beach party, I could have sworn we landed in California.

Our creek traverse to the dunes. My favorite picture of the trip

The kids had the time of their lives running, jumping, rolling and flipping in their sandy playground. I was exhausted just watching them (sounding like the old woman that I am).

Jump! (Hadley in blue)

I’ve hiked in numerous circumstances–paved, dirt, shale, boulder fields but never steep and deep sand.  For every two steps we took, we sank and slid back one.

That’s a nice way of saying some people thought they were going to die.

But not Hadley. She went barefoot (not recommended in the summer because the sand gets hot) and I’m telling you that girl of mine was a beast climbing those peaks. She completely blew the other girls (and me) away and after an hour, she was the second person to arrive at the first peak just after J.D., the class athlete.



Steeeeep Part 2

“She’s like a gazelle,” observed Hadley’s teacher Mrs. Price who, at 7 months pregnant, was quite impressive herself.

First kids to the first ridge–Hadley, J.D., Noel and Terran

Most of the kids from the class made it to that first ridge.

The wind was howling, sand was whipping and we were about to turn back when we had a momentary reprieve from the conditions–just long enough for a handful of the crazies to keep hiking another half-hour and summit High Dune, the tallest in North America.

High Dune Summit Group with Mrs. Price

Dunes for miles

My favorite part of the day was watching Hadley kick butt. My second favorite was going down. On our ascent, we never hiked straight up but instead took indirect zig-zag routes along the ridge lines. Our descent was a straight shot down steep slopes and I’ll be darned if it didn’t feel like I was a kid again as I barreled down a powder playground.

I got a kick out of how competitive the kids were. After we separated from the main group to climb High Dune I surged ahead, knowing full well the kids would be passing me up on the steeps. I overheard J.D. telling everyone, “OK, if Hadley’s mom is first, she won’t count. Does everyone agree?”


For the record, I came in fourth.

Not that I was counting.

Colorado Family Travel: Breckenridge’s Ice Castles, Skiing and Dog Sledding are an Adventure of a Lifetime!

My husband and I dream of owning a cabin someday and Breckenridge has long been at the top of our list.  Only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver (I-70 traffic snares notwithstanding) this authentic mining town has everything I love: a world-class ski resort, the Blue River (a tributary of the raging Colorado River), an idyllic Main Street, gourmet dining, glittering boutiques, endless hiking possibilities and it is part of an 80-mile network of paved, motorized bike paths that connect other Summit County resorts like Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail.

We have spent long, languid summer and fall days in Breck but here’s my confession: we have never been there once the snow flies. And if you love winter like I do, you know that Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s best family vacations.

When you have young kids, no vacation is perfect but we were fortunate to have a nearly perfect trip with huge winds (the downside), huge snow totals (the upside) and knocking off an activity has been on my bucket list since I was born. Maybe I started dreaming about it in the

Dog sledding in Breckenridge, Colorado

womb because this trip was what dreams are made of.

If you’re looking for a fantastic getaway in Colorado’s mountains, these are my top recommended activities.

Click to keep reading about our fabulous adventures dog sledding, Ice Castle-ing, shopping and skiing!

The Glorious Broadmoor: In Pictures

Sometimes I’m way too verbose for my own good so here’s a pictorial glimpse at our Labor Day weekend at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs’ AAA Five-Diamond resort.  I was on-assignment to write about their new Ranch at Emerald Valley through a child’s eyes (read about it here). It was one trip that would’ve made me wish I could be a kid again…if I wasn’t having the time of my life.

Hands down, our favorite activity at The Broadmoor is hanging out at the glorious infinity pool.

Usually we paddleboat around pristine Cheyenne Lake but this time we took the electric boats for a spin.
Apparently it was a very serious matter for the Boy Captains.

Sometimes you just need a break from the water for some Magic Treehouse moments.

We usually spend at least an hour in The Broadmoor Children’s Shop.

Everything is bigger and better there.

We also did some very serious gaming.

And we just had a wonderful time hanging out together.

Did I mention The Broadmoor’s coffee shop Expresso’s has wisely replicated the cronut craze (think: half-donut, half-croissant) that is sweeping New York City? This was their basic cinnamon-sugar Broadmoor Donut, which was melt-in-your-mouth amazing. I may-or-may-not have almost started weeping when, on the drive home, they announced their new flavors for fall: Pumpkin Spice & Apple Broadmoor Donuts.

We first took the kids to The Broadmoor when they were 3 and 1 and one of their favorite things to do is play on the elevators.

I love this shot. Doesn’t it look like it could have been taken out of their archives?

One afternoon while Jamie got a massage and I hiked the Upper Columbine Trail (details on that tomorrow), the kiddos went to the resort’s Bee Bunch kid’s club.

They had a great time. I think. This picture could go either way.

We can’t go to The Broadmoor without partaking in their legendary brunch.

Bonus: no children threw tantrums during this photo shoot (unlike last time in Tearing Families Apart and Bringing Them Back Together).

And why would they freak out when they have a spread like this?

Lest you think our trip to The Broadmoor is all about food, you would be correct. Cases in point: room service.

And we instituted a new family tradition at PLAY, The Broadmoor’s luxury retro six-lane bowling alley, game room and eatery: we started with desserts first, followed by the main course topped off by appetizers.
Upon returning home, I spent hours and hours writing about our experiences and was relieved when their magazine editor loved it. As payment for their writers, they give us a return trip so we can stay and play at our leisure.

Because we didn’t do enough of that during our latest visit.

June Travels: Our Crazy Life According to Instagram

My work-life balance has been nil with waaaaay too much playtime with the kids. I’m hoping to write about all our hiking adventures (and believe me, there are MANY) but until that time, my iPhone tells the story of our first month of summer break.

Chautauqua in Boulder

Our month-long party started with a glorious getaway to Chautauqua in Boulder complete with a charming cottage, emerald hikes bursting with jeweled wildflowers, a gourmet meal at the Dining Hall and Snow White reenacted by Theatre-Hikes Colorado.

Chautauqua in Boulder

Chautauqua meadow outside of our cottage

Snow White Theatre Hike!

With a kickoff to summer like that, it’s hard to go wrong. And we haven’t.

Giving Back

One day, we did a tour of the Food Bank of the Rockies where we learned about their kid’s program Kung Food Fighters to teach kids how to help fight child hunger.

Food Bank of the Rockies

But obviously not how to do Kung Foo moves.

Kicking It

Then there was the Colorado Rapids, our first-ever professional soccer game.

Colorado Rapids

We expect greater things from our soccer-playing son now.

Cave of the Winds

OK, technically our trip to Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor was late-May but I need to fit in our awe-inspiring cave tour of the 500-million-year-old Cave of the Winds, which was discovered in 1881.

Cave of the Winds

An exciting new addition to the already-cool caves is the Wind Walker Challenge Course. This three-story obstacle course is located on the rim of a 600-foot drop into Williams Canyon and has a challenging maze of steel beams, swinging ropes and ladders. Bode barely met the height requirement and I was proud of him for trying.

Wind Walker Challenge Course

Though it may take him a few years to recover from it. #Scary

Utah Fun

While Hadley was at Camp Chief Ouray for a week, Bode took his first solo flight to Utah. But then I crashed his party on the last day by scheduling a business trip in Park City where I also crammed in a quick hike to the Living Room, roller-bladed the Jordan River Parkway for the first time in 10 years (we’ve both changed!), had a cousin sleepover with the edible twinnies and storytime with Grandma.


Talk about a memorable trip!

Carnivores Unite

Then, Bode and I headed straight up to YMCA of the Rockies near Winter Park where we got a tour of Hadley’s camp and had some fun adventures of our own. Sane people would have turned around after picking her up but not us. We headed further west into the mountains for our Father’s Day tradition: the Frisco BBQ Challenge where we met up with carnivore-loving Jamie.

Golden Breckenridge

But the fun didn’t stop there during that masochistic week (I crammed in four trips, but who’s counting?) Breckenridge is just a 15-minute drive away from Frisco and if we were to have a cabin anywhere, it would be there. It was like coming home as we spent the morning at Peak 8 Fun Park, which boasts the most awesome line-up of summer activities of any of Colorado’s ski resorts with an alpine coaster AND slide, gold panning, a maze, bungee trampoline, miniature golf and a bounce house.

Breckenridge Peak 8 Fun Park

We were thrilled to be in Breckenridge during Kingdom Days, which celebrates the town’s colorful history.

Or rather, lack of color as you can see from this old-fashioned photo. Note to self: Next time stay and watch Kingdom Days’ uproarious Outhouse Races.

Breckenridge was founded back in the 1860s thanks to the many gold discoveries. I have always wanted to go on a mine tour and was thrilled when Country Boy Mine Tour was a part of our itinerary.

Country Boy Mine Tours

There is still gold in them thar hills but it costs more money to extract it than it is worth. Following the tour, we panned for gold and Hadley unearthed a real sliver of gold, which I then proceeded to lose.

So much for our chance at millions.

Breckenridge is part of an extensive paved trail system that connects to mountain towns Frisco, Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail. That evening, Hadley was exhausted after her week at camp so Jamie stayed behind while Bode and I took to the trail. I had an epiphany: almost exactly two years ago, Hadley took her first solo flight to Utah (like Bode) and she first tested out her new mountain bike on Breckenridge’s trail system, just as Bode and I did that evening on his newly-minted mountain bike.

New bikes on the Breckenridge bike path: Hadley (2011) and Bode (2013)

His ride went smashingly on the dirt trails…until he ended up slowly smashing into the bridge. Luckily he made a quick recovery.

Party Boy

For the past few years, we have been in Canada for Bode’s July birthday, which has resulted in a number of “pretend birthdays” leading up to the real deal. He wanted to celebrate with his buddies at Big Time Fun Trampoline Center and it was the cheapest, easiest party I’ve ever thrown: Invite friends, buy cake, show up.

Big Time Partiers

Why have I been killing myself all these years with parties, food and entertainment at my house?

Finally a Fish

For the third year in a row, I organized summer swim lessons for some of my good friends from our ward. It is a two-week pool party for the kiddos and a lot of fun to hang out with the Real Housewives of Jefferson County.

And most noteworthy? Bode has finally figured out how to swim and graduated from Squids, which is the first time he has ever passed a swim class. There may be hope yet.

Camping Disasters

I was looking forward to our camping trip yesterday to Camp Dick in the Roosevelt National Forest. Like so many of our adventures, it started well with blue skies, beautiful hikes, creek-playing and boulder-scaling.

Camp Dick

But then ended so very, very badly. Details tomorrow.

Lyons Soda Fountain

But I suggest you drown your sorrows with ice cream sodas, floats, freezes, phosphates and classy sundaes at Lyons Soda Fountain, one of the state’s best preserved and oldest soda fountains in Lyons, Colo. Because ice cream makes everyone feel better.

A Little Bit of Magic

Lest you think we haven’t had any downtime in June, think again. Every chance we got, whether we were at the park, in the car driving 14,265 feet to Mount Evans’ summit or in the basement, I was reading the kids their newest obsession: Time well spent in what turned out to be a magical month.