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  • Great Sand Dunes National Park is my happy spot. You...

    Seth McConnell / The Denver Post

    Great Sand Dunes National Park is my happy spot. You can find happiness there, too, if you don't mind getting sand in tight places.



From tree huggers to deer hunters, Coloradans are a nature-loving lot. And we’re so proud of this gorgeous place, we wear the state flag on our T-shirts and bumper stickers and skivvies. Many people would no doubt contest that bias and argue that ours is not the prettiest state, but they’d be cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

OK, so maybe we don’t have a coastline. (At least not until California quakes itself into the Pacific and sea levels rise. Buy that beachfront property in Grand Junction now while it’s cheap!) But the state’s reputation as a mountain playground is well-earned. It’s only a matter of time before your Instagram account starts filling with shots of fresh powder, prayer-flag-bedecked campsites, jagged sunsets and spectacular views from the summit of your hike du jour. Shh. Just let it happen. This is your life now.

“Blargh,” you may groan at me. “I’m not a hiker. Gimme the great indoors any day.”

I feel ya. I really do. If left to my own devices (a laptop, a phone, a Nintendo 3DS), I am happy to bask in the scenic surroundings of my living room and slay miniature monsters in digital dungeons until carpal tunnel syndrome sets in. But I beseech you to tear yourself away from the cat videos and Snapchat filters. Your very own non-Pokemon adventure awaits.

As a lifelong gamer, let me tell you with the weight of personal experience that you don’t need to be in particularly great shape to enjoy the wealth of canyons, waterfalls and hidden lakes the Rockies have to offer. But your shape may change (as mine did) once you start venturing out to sniff the wildflowers.

It starts innocently enough, with a mild appreciation of a few columbines or a herd of deer. Then you have your first bear sighting or snowshoe outing. You follow a friend’s dog through a ponderosa pine forest that smells like a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Build a sand castle on the shore of Sandbeach Lake, in the shadow of Mt. Meeker. Eventually, you’re halfway up a fourteener in a heavily abused pair of boots, strung out on energy bars, being chased down the mountainside by lightning, shouting curses after each too-loud report of thunder and wondering if you’ll live to drink the day’s victory beer. If you manage to survive (good luck!), it will be the tastiest beer of your life.

But Colorado is more than mountains. To the east, the plains offer endless-horizon views, and the state’s southwest corner is home to ancient cliff dwellings. Or my favorite weekend destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park. Imagine a miles-wide sandbox blown into a corner of the Sangre de Christo Range and encircled by a creek carving a glittering necklace around the base of towering dunes. Now picture yourself on a greased piece of cardboard sliding down those sandy slopes while a meteor shower rains celestial sparks through the night sky.

Go on. Get sand in your cracks.

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