WALKING ON WATER
one of the most surprising, beautiful and surreal places that we’ve visited on this endless trip is right here , tucked into the southern edge of colorado, right where the rockies begin to descend into new mexico. the first time we laid eyes upon this bizarre landscape was in june of 2009, relatively early on in our journey. by that time we had logged a lot of road miles, but because of a lingering rocky mountain winter and a couple of long-ish house sitting gigs, we hadn’t yet done a lot of actual camping. as we pulled off of US160, heading north towards the great sand dunes, we somewhat naively believed that the place would be mostly empty and that we would have our pick of the park’s campsites. i mean, we’re talking about an extremely isolated, sparsely populated stretch of high plains desert…the veritable middle of nowhere.
and yet, as we pulled in, we couldn’t help but notice the line of heavily laden suvs, pickup trucks, and rvs. the place was a madhouse! when we finally reached the entry gate, we were greeted by a sign — campground full — and a speech that the park ranger seemed to be reciting from memory: “i’m sorry folks, but our campground is all full up. you might try san luis lakes state park, about 10 miles away, but i’m not sure if there’s any space there either. there’s also a privately owned campground just outside the park boundary…don’t bother asking about tomorrow, because we’re going to be all full up then too.”
the dunes themselves are magnificent. this is one of the few national parks that allow dogs anywhere past the parking lot and so the three of us dragged our way up a series of undulating, collapsing ridge lines, attempting to get a glimpse of the vast interior of the the dune field. every time we crested another dune, some subtle magic lured us onward, promising us a greater revelation if we managed to reach the next peak, the next vista. we hiked until all we could see, from horizon to horizon, were dunes. it felt like we were on another planet, like we could have walked on forever.
as remarkable as the dunes were, it was the medano creek and the surge flow that captured my imagination. there was something so entrancing, so completely compelling about the endless combinations of wind, sand, water and sunlight, that i fell into a post of fugue state, utterly transfixed. patterns emerged and retreated in the water’s surface; a strange and half remembered calligraphy. within the space of a few windswept minutes, the water would take the form of delicate herringbone lace, a single standing wave, a string of tiny suns.
my communion with this place brought one of the first and most persistent revelations of our journey. standing ankle deep in snowmelt, held in the distant embrace of sun, sky, mountain, dune, forest and cloud, the connection between all of these physical forms became manifest and wholly evident. the only thing separating smoke and creek, sand dune and pine tree were the relative scale of time and size. beyond that, there is no distinction. everything exists only for a moment, every form is transient. all that holds us together is vibration; we are simply standing waves in the profound medium of universal energy. we arise and subside as quickly as a pattern in sand, as unexpectedly as a tree growing on the shoulder of a mountain, as beautifully as a forest fire. all is one.
words are as inadequate a tool as a cell phone camera in the attempt to capture the depth and reach of a landscape like this. better not to dwell too long on these ineffable concerns. better to simply surrender to the call of whimsy, of play, released from the bounds of eternity. let the mountains grind themselves to bits, let the sand scatter, let the snow dissolve into the desert. the sun is shining, the breeze is cool, and the whole world, even the forest exploding into flame, trembles with beauty.