Having turned our Thanksgiving meal this year into a late lunch instead of dinner, we had the rest of the afternoon to either hang out in a ‘food coma,’ or get outside and do something! With temperatures in the mid-fifties coupled with virtually no wind, there were no excuses. Time to go, do what I am now referring to, as ‘Thanksduning,’ at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This would be a good day to hike in the sand and reflect upon all the wonderful Thanksgivings from years past. There were family traditions with grandparents, traveling occasionally hundreds of miles to Minneapolis where we did have wintery holidays on occasion, to being home with friends and doing all the cooking and entertaining while helping out mom and dad. Goofy gimmicky kitchen tools were being sold in those days to aid the average person with all the tasks! I remember those first Sunbeam electric knives being introduced for easily carving the turkey at the table. Ahh, the smells of turkey fresh out of the oven, stuﬃng and gravy, homemade dinner rolls, fresh pies and everything else that made Thanksgiving special while growing up.
Later, post College, it became good times with friends and their new families and even an occasional holiday that was not so great. I experienced one solitary Thanksgiving. I was housesitting in one of my early years in Colorado. It snowed 16 inches overnight, another 8 during the day, the plows could not keep up and the roads were drifted impassable. I was housebound. I ate a peanut butter sandwich, drank a half a bottle of Cabernet that I was going to take to the house to which I had been invited, and went for a silent snowy walk in the neighborhood, returned to the house and watched football. A nice day overall but Thanksgiving solitude is not something I would recommend! I vowed to avoid another.
Letting our meal digest for a bit gave me time to look up the traditional Thanksgiving song we sang in grade school. I had no idea its origins or author. Turned out to be a Massachusetts woman named Lydia Maria Child, who penned “Over the River and Through the Wood,” in 1844, as a poem. Lyrics were tweaked a little when it was later put to music and ‘Wood’ was turned to ‘Woods’ and ‘Grandfather’s’ became ‘Grandmother’s House,’ and the song was converted to somewhat of a romantic and cheery adventurous Holiday tune for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Lydia wrote this during a mini ice age when winters in the Northeast US were apparently snowy early and often and winter ‘oﬃcially’ began for a number of years in early November. As the song continued in my head - ‘Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go, the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow...’ I could not remember much past that!
A few miles before reaching the Park, the late afternoon sun cast long dark shadows across the dunes. The Crestone Peaks looked ominous and sharp lit up by the sun. Many types of clouds graced the skies above. Lenticulars hovered over the mountains like flying saucers, high cirrus clouds remained motionless in the highest skies and were surrounded with jet contrails crisscrossing the horizons. Thicker stratus layers hung lower over the dunes and also to the far west.
To my surprise, there were over 50 cars in the main dune parking lot. Numerous people, solitary and in groups were all over the dunes. I ‘donned’ my sand shoes, old running shoes that I keep for getting wet, muddy or at the dunes, full of sand! I began watching and listening to the people who were enjoying the day. I heard German, French, Japanese, Hindi, Spanish and Chinese, many of whom may not know our Thanksgiving Holiday but surely were enjoying a day of Thanksduning! They were taking photos, hiking across the wide expanse of Medano Creek, which was also surprising to me as water was still flowing steadily past the main dune entrance. It is often dry by July! My twisted mind rewrote Lydia’s lyrics for site specific at the Sand Dunes this day. “Over the wet sand and through the creek, to the Top of High Dune we go...”
As I climbed the mile and half toward the top of High Dune, I people watched while the sky came live with fire! The underbellies of the battleship gray clouds began to go from a bright yellow flame, to ember reds and oranges. The sky continued its symphony of colors as people snapped family photos against the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat that is the 7,000 square miles of movie screen that is the sky in the San Luis Valley. Darkness closed quickly, the symphony was over, and we all piled into our cars and began leaving the park with the feeling, not unlike leaving the best performance many of us had witnessed. Dunes in the winter - worth a visit!
NOTE: I ran into a couple on Friday who had just returned from the dunes. They said it was beautiful but the wind had kicked up blowing sand around to the point of discomfort. Know that any planned trip to the dunes may include inhospitable conditions. Mother Nature goes back to work all times of day or night to reshape her sandbox.
ANOTHER NOTE: As I was getting holiday songs going in my head, it caused me to look up the word ‘don’ - merely another verb for putting on clothing or a hat. Do not forget to don appropriate clothing on winter trips to the dunes. After sunset the temperature will tank 20 degrees in the first hour.