Day Twelve: Great Sand Dunes National Park and an Overnight in Alamosa, Colorado

Yesterday was Father’s Day and Will loves to watch the sunrise. Seeing as it was “his” day he walked around the area of our VRBO as the sun was rising and drove to get a picture of the sign of the town we were staying in as we didn’t catch it the day before. The pictures he took were really pretty!

Entrance to the cemetery
There was a cemetery right by our VRBO (if you turned left)
A cross at the cemetery
To the right of our VRBO was this church
Church sign
Will’s sunrise drive
Town sign
This was my sunrise picture from the kitchen window (lol). We could see the church from the house.

Will also wanted an earlier departure knowing we had to take the rental car back and I wanted to make a stop along the way to the Great Sand Dunes. We have decided I will be the designated rental car driver to give Will a break from driving. Since we are not towing a car (I was not comfortable with this seeing as simply driving an RV for the first time was going to take some time to get used to), we made reservations for cars in various cities and towns. Driving a rental car to explore is much easier than an RV. But more importantly, in the towns we are staying in for more than one night, it would mean we would have to disconnect all hook ups every time we wanted to go out exploring. Plus, since we have Pawley, if we didn’t want to take him with us we could leave him in the RV in his crate (since the RV is not ours) as he would have air conditioning and be comfortable. It has been an aspect of the trip I would highly recommend for any future RVers.

There goes the RV!
Eli was with me in the rental car so we could get these pictures.

After we dropped off the car, we headed to Chimayo, New Mexico which was about a 30 minute drive, but in the direction we were headed anyway. My “RV” friend, Eileen, recommended this town for us to stop in to see El Santuario De Chimayo. When I explored the church online before our trip, I knew without a doubt we would be making a stop! Chimayo is often referred to as the Lourdes of North America, like the famous shrine in France, as it attracts those who are seeking healing of the body and soul.

Town sign
Official Historic Marker

In order for you to truly understand the importance of this church, I have to give you the history from their website. One tradition recalls that on the night of Good Friday 1810, Bernardo Abeyta, while doing penance on a hill of El Potrero, saw a light springing from a spot near the Santa Cruz river. Coming to the light, Bernardo found a crucifix. He left it there and called his neighbors to venerate the find. Later they brought the crucifix to Fr. Sebastian Alvarez, pastor at Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz de la Cañada. The Crucifix was placed in the niche of the main altar of the church. The next morning, the Crucifix was gone, only to be found in its original location. The people then understood that El Señor de Esquipulas wanted to remain in Chimayo, and so, a small chapel was built.

There is another tradition concerning the origin of the crucifix. A priest came with the first settlers to Chimayo. He preached to the Indians in surrounding pueblos and carried with him a large crucifix. When the priest died the settlers buried him at El Potrero. In 1810 the Santa Cruz River flooded and both the crucifix and the body of the priest were uncovered by the water. Some elders who had known the priest while alive shouted, “Look, the Father from Esquipulas”, and so the crucifix came to be called Our Lord of Esquipulas, named after the village where the priest came from.

Bernardo Abeyta wrote a letter to the Bishop of Durango, Mexico, dated November 15, 1813, requesting permission to built a church to host the crucifix and where they could celebrate Mass. On February 8, 1814, Francisco Fernandez Valentino, Vicar General of the Diocese of Durango, Mexico, granted the necessary faculties for the construction of the Church. The Church was a privately owned chapel until 1929. At that time, several people from Santa Fe bought it from the Chavez family. Architect John Gaw Meem restored it, and then turned it over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

​Each year it is reported that during Holy Week, pilgrims walk the 30 miles from Santa Fe to the sanctuary; some even walk as far as Albuquerque about 90 miles away. Pilgrimages frequently involve a journey (or search) of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.

The church was gorgeous! We all walked in and immediately to your right there is a private prayer room. If you continued straight you would walk directly into the sanctuary. At the back of sanctuary and at the front by the nave there were candles you could light. Anna Cate and Betsie held hands to light a candle together saying a prayer. To the left of the nave, there was a door that opened to another prayer room which was filled with crutches hanging from the wall and pictures and letters of people who have either been healed or who are asking for healing. Rosary beads hung from crosses as well. It was pretty powerful and moving. At the back of the prayer room was what caught my eye when I was reading about this church, the el pocito. El pocito means, a tiny well. This room was about the size of a walk-in closet and in the center is the el pocito dug into the ground and holds fine soil.

The road up to the church
Historic Marker
Second marker
El Santuario Chimayo
The walkway in
How gorgeous is this!
Chavez’s Headstone
Betsie, Anna Cate and Eli in front of the church. No inside pictures were allowed.
The crosses leaving the church
A cross I loved on the path to the church

The el pocito isn’t a bottomless pit. It is refilled each day by church workers who collect the dirt from the nearby hillsides in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is estimated that visitors haul away 25 to 30 tons each year. You may be asking, did we bring home a bag of the healing dirt? YES, YES, YES! There are instructions on how the Holy dirt is to be applied. It suggests some silent prayers to say as your rub the dirt over the part of your body in need of healing while invoking the name of Jesus. Here is what their website says about the Holy dirt. “The Well” in a small room. The entrance door also is small and almost everyone has to bow so as not to hit his head. To reach to touch the holy dirt you have to kneel as Bernardo Abeyta did when he found here the crucifix of the Christ of Esquipulas on Good Friday of 1810. For many people this place is blessed with the gift of physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Testimonies of pilgrims go back to 1816. Many people rub the holy dirt of the well to the areas of their body in need of healing. Other visitors bring holy dirt to a sick person back home. Upon leaving the Well, another room is accessed with photos, prayers and testimonies of the pilgrims.

El Santuario De Chimayo was the perfect place to start our Sunday on Father’s Day. I left my tears and prayers for Anna Cate in Chimayo.

Leaving Chimayo

After this amazing stop we started our less than three hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park outside of Alamosa, Colorado. The scenery was beautiful driving through the mountains; however, unfortunately the pictures we are taking as we drive do not do the beauty justice.

Driving to Great Sand Dunes National Park
Eli’s amazing picture he took as we started to enter the entrance to the park
Loved the cloud shadow on the Great Sand Dunes

As we were approaching the entrance to the Great Sands National Park we couldn’t believe how big the sand dunes were! Elevations range from 7,500 at the bottom to nearly 14,000 feet at the top. Origins of the Dunes taken National Park Service pamphlet- Wind and water sand, continually forming dunes. Most sand comes from the San Juan Mountains, over 65 miles to the west. Larger, rougher grains and pebbles come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sand and sediments from both ranges washed into a huge lake once covering the valley floor. As the lake reduced, prevailing southwesterly winds bounced the sand grains to be piled up beneath the Sangre de Cristos or washed back toward the valley floor. Northeasterly storm winds blast through mountain passes, piling dunes back on themselves and creating North America’s tallest dunes. The dunes are probably less than 440,000 year old.

We arrived

Side note: When we were at the Carlsbad Caverns their geologic story began 250 million years ago! Within the caverns Bat Cave is older (6 million years) than Lower Cave (4 million years).

While the park was much busier than Carlsbad Caverns, our first National Park, we were able to find a parking spot in the RV lot taking the last one. We laced up our tennis shoes as the sand can be as hot 150 degrees in the summer depending on how high how you go up. Will scoped out the best path for us to take as we did have to walk through a little muddy section which can either be filled with water to wade in or simply just mud. Yesterday, it was only mud!

Once we made it to the flat sand, we took some family photos and then let Eli and Betsie go off to explore on their own. Luckily there was cell service so we could tell them when to come back. Will, Anna Cate, Pawley and I walked as far was we could until the sand kept getting thicker and thicker for her wheelchair. We had her walk some but between the altitude and the long distance to the base of the dunes (it was much further than you realize!) we decided to wheel her as long as we could. Will certainly got Father of the Year award on Father’s Day pulling AC through the sand! Will and I also took turns walking to the base of the dunes and up to the first little peak. From where we camped with Anna Cate and Pawley on the sand to the top of the first “little” peak, it was 500 steps!

Eli and Betsie lead the way on the path Will found for us
Walking the path
The Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes
Our party of five
All the kids
Anna Cate and Betsie while Eli helped dad get AC’s wheelchair
Off they go
Can you spot Betsie and Eli?!?
Anna Cate taking it all in
Mom and Anna Cate
Betsie and Eli
Eli (apparently the sand was not hot!)
Picture Betsie took from their adventures
Will walking back from the first little peak
Emilie standing on the first peak
Emilie walking back
Anna Cate’s tracks in the sand

Even though we spend lots of time at the beach this was the first time Pawley saw sand! Since he was not going to be getting wet, I was fine with him playing with us as the sand would brush off easily (and it did!).

Pawley taking it all in

When Betsie and Eli came back from exploring the dunes, Eli was covered in sand literally from head to toe. And the video below is why! He also experienced a bit of altitude sickness (nausea and headache) taking after his mom as I got sick at Jungfrau in Switzerland. After some rest and hydration he was good as new again!

Eli being Eli
The “after”

The drive to our campsite, the KOA in Alamosa was only 20 minutes and it was only the second time in twelve days we arrived to our campsite early. It was a nice treat to relax and get dinner ready leisurely. It was rather windy, but a beautiful 80 degrees. We decided to eat our homemade hamburgers and fruit salad with coconut cool whip inside and enjoyed s’mores outside after dinner!

The entrance into the KOA
How Eli arrived!
Our campsite and view

Some of us went to bed early, while others had the giggles. Will, Betsie and Eli tried to see if they could see the Milky Way (and if they could, AC and I would go out to look), but unfortunately they could not.

We woke up Monday morning to Pawley’s first birthday, the first day of summer AND 43 degrees! The cool air was refreshing (and maybe a little too refreshing for this warm weather girl!). Will had planned on a projected departure this morning at 8:00 am, however, we pulled away to start the day at 9:00 am. I thought we were on schedule but someplace we lost track of our time. Knowing we had a longer travel day of six hours, Will wanted to get an early start. We tried!

Will’s early morning office hours
Will’s sunrise picture
Emilie freezing as she blogs!

Adventure Awaits!

2 thoughts on “Day Twelve: Great Sand Dunes National Park and an Overnight in Alamosa, Colorado

  1. Oh, Emilie, I am so glad you found the church! Your experience brought tears to my eyes. Yay for taking the Turquoise Trail and for your time in Madrid. What an amazing area, isn’t it? You’ve inspired me to make a trip back to that area.


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