Sunflowers on the dunes

Prepping for Grad School by Camping

CSU Rams logoIt’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything. With school starting back for most of Colorado, I’ve been busy preparing for the first semester of graduate school as part of Colorado State University’s Master of Communication and Media Management (M.C.M.M.) program through the journalism department (Go Rams!) as well as an increased workload at my workplace, the University of Northern Colorado (Go Bears!).

Originally, I was going to start on a master’s degree program last fall; however, due to my husband’s unexpected health concerns that are now resolved, I dropped out of the program. It’s been over a YEAR since his cancer diagnosis and almost a year since his first of two surgeries. I am amazed at how much he has recovered both physically and mentally, and it was an experience that led me to truly understand just how much he means to me. Life is short, so best to live it up as much as possible as you never know!

Needless to say, I am excited for the challenge of going back to school and hope I can smoothly balance working full-time and on school this semester. In the end, I’m sure this experience will be worth the added stress and result in the academic stimulation I’ve been craving for the past few years.

To mentally prepare, we took a short but thrilling camping venture across southwest Colorado/Utah the week before. Here’s what we experienced:

Arches National Park, Utah

When we entered Arches, it was over 100° and dry enough to make our throats somewhat sore. On the way in, we saw Balance Rock, set to eventually fall and something that would be cool to see, I think!

We set up our tent in the Devils Garden Campground in the northern end of the park in the shade of a Utah Juniper bush. After hydrating ourselves and filling up our camel backs, we hiked around five miles in the Devils Garden loop trails and saw the Skyline (first image below), Pine Tree and Tunnel (third image below) arches.

Mark and I standing under Pine Tree Arch.

We returned to the campground and saw a family of mule deer, chipmunks and lots of mice tracks. On the way out of the park, we hiked to one of the viewpoints of Delicate Arch and then made our way to Mesa Verde park to see the cliff dwellings!

View of Delicate Arch on our way out of the park.

Mesa Verda National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verda offers a chance to view and/or walk around ancient cliff houses, temples and other structures built by ancestral Pueblo people thousands of years ago. We were awestruck by the beautiful and preserved buildings literally made into cliff walls, known as cliff dwellings. Here’s some of what we saw:

Durango, Colorado

Durango is a hip and friendly town nestled in southwest Colorado. Our Airbnb was right off of Main Street, and we got to enjoy some great, local breweries as well as a great breakfast place, Durango Diner, which was amazing, especially the green chili.

Word of advice: parking downtown is nearly impossible if you don’t have a ton of change for the coin-only meters. It was quite frustrating at times. Park in the nearby Kroger parking lot and walk a block or two to downtown as a get-around!

UFO Watchtower and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

For the second time, we got to enjoy the Sand Dunes outside of Alamosa and this time with friends! Before going to the Piñon Flats Campground, we made a pit stop to a road-side attraction that’s out of this world … literally: the UFO Watchtower!

From alien-conspiracy theorists to photographed sightings, a garden filled with personal items left by visitors and a funky gift shop and artwork, it was definitely worth the experience. I left a half-sand dollar I found years ago on my hometown of Oak Island, N.C., that conveniently was in my car!

This place is the ultimate roadside attraction full of funky personalities!

Afterwards, we met up with friends at the Great Sand Dunes‘ Piñon Flats Campground and explored seven miles of the dunes and nearby landscape. We heard coyotes howling and yipping multiple times each night that we stayed there, which was utterly surreal! We also saw mule deer and tracks of those coyotes during our exploration.

In the midst of the sand dunes with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background and prairie sunflowers up front.
The gang including me (up front) then from left to right: Mark, Jessica, Sarah and Lee.

On our way back home, we stopped by an amazing southwestern restaurant, Salado, in Fairplay, one of our favorite towns (I recommend the Butter Burger).

Outside of the extreme heat in Arches and lack of parking in Durango, the only other issue I had to deal with was a constant leak in my mattress pad where I basically slept on the hard ground for three nights, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected but it sure did make me grateful for mattresses!

Now onward to achieving one of my life’s goals: attaining a master’s degree!

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