Sand to Alpine: Great Sand Dunes to Ellingwood

My friend Cam Honan had a hike planned that would walk the length of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (aka The Sangres)  from their start just outside of Salida to their end near Glorieta Pass.

The trip had to be scaled down for one very prominent reason: Just south of US Highway 160 in Colorado and until about the Latir Peak Wilderness of New Mexico is almost all private land along and through the Sangres.  Much of this private land is legacy of the Spanish Land Grants going back two-hundred or even three-hundred years in many cases.

Rather than road walk, Cam decided to end his trek on Blanca Peak: The highest peak in the Sangres Range.

An appropriate ending to an ~120 mile walk with 40,000 feet elevation gain!

My portion started after a hectic Friday and then driving to Salida. The holiday traffic was as busy as expected. I gratefully took my friends offer up on letting me stay at their home a little over an hour from the Sand Dunes.

The following day, I joined Cam at the Great Sand Dunes National Park  on a busy Saturday afternoon.

We managed to time it well and met up just as we both arrived at the visitor center.

We procured our parking pass and then made our way to Mosca Pass.

Just below the pass proper we found our selves at a mountain meadow with a well-worn social trail.

Later research indicated a small town that once had a post office and serviced the stagecoach stop at the top of Mosca Pass.

A 1911 flood eliminated this town.

All that is left are a few remnants such as the cabins. A dirt road is on the other side of the pass.

The social trail ended up going along the Sangres ridge proper to just at treeline below California Peak. 

The views along this ridge to our final destination were quite spectacular.

And the views to the sand dunes below were equally lovely.

We managed to make a camp on the ridge.

The wind picked up at 6PM and did not stop for the rest of the trip.

The following day we made it just at the cusp of tree line when a hailstorm moved in out of nowhere in a matter of minutes.

I’ll save the boring details, but we ended up waiting for hours for the break in the storm.

We ended up using lots of day light waiting.

But we finally made our way up the ridge again.


We were now in the high Sangres proper.

The wind did not abate.

After many false summits, we made it to the top of California Peak.

Though it was getting late, and too windy to linger long, the views of this lonely and seldom visited 13er were fantastic.

.As mentioned, the hour was getting late. There was knife-edge to cross.

We decided to drop into a valley.

The scree and talus fields were difficult to hike but we made our way down.

A moderately worn and cairned social trail lead the way down the valley. Debris from 1965 DC-10 crash was strewn about. A faded plaque marked the area.

We continued to follow the use trail… losing it at times in the dark.

I don’t think Cam appreciated my observations about the stars as we were hiking along. 😀

A site was found just before the trail proper. Camp was made.

We made our way up Zapata Valley and met our first 14er hikers for the day.

Some class three scrambling brought us up a colouir.

We made our way up Ellingwood Point and had fine views of the valley below and where we scrambled up from as well.

After more scrambling, the top of Ellingwood Point was reached.


PCO The Hiking Life

We could see Little Bear and Blanca.  Blanca is the highest point in the Sangres and make a logical ending for a Colorado Sangres traverse.

In the distance, I could see where I was last weekend.

And all the private ranch land in between, too!

Cam decided he wanted to do Blanca as well. As mentioned, a perfect place to end the trip. A literal high point.  Me? I had enough wind for the day!  🙂

At the saddle between the two peaks, I wished my friend good luck as I made my way down to the trailhead.

The descent started on well-worn and obvious social trails and then down an old jeep (ATV really) track to Como Lake.

A popular staging area for the Blanca group. Even at the end of the weekend the area had quite a few tents. A great place to look back and enjoy some last views of where we were all weekend.

The view from the lake was pretty.

The rest of the road down?  Well… A  long, steep, rutted and boulder strewn ATV track exposed to the sun is not my favorite hiking trail. 🙂 I saw some ATVs parked up only part of the way. The road is that rough.  Most stock 4WD vehicles only get perhaps five miles up the road. And slowly at that, too.

I was lucky enough to chat up some backpackers who agreed to give me a ride to the Sand Dunes only 11 miles away by car.

Just as were about to leave, Mr. Honan shows up. He was cooking!  Great timing.

We made it back to the Dunes and thanked our new friends for the ride.

We enjoyed one last look at the Dunes in the early evening light. A much quieter place now than Saturday.

We made our way to Salida, joined our friends for a late dinner and I dropped off Cam with another friend in Pine Junction. And then I made my way back to Boulder.

A very late night, and I am still playing catch up, but well worth it.

A wonderful trip and a chance to join a good friend on a unique walk.

Worse ways to spend a weekend.

All the photos...

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Steve Thompson
Steve Thompson
7 years ago

Thank you so much for taking time to write this. And for including all of the links to additional information. Sounds like a great, out of the way place to visit.