Running south on CO 71 with Pikes Peak on the western horizon, Tess drove into flocks of -- starlings, possibly? moving too fast for me to be sure -- who apparently thought that leaping up from the road and dodging cars at the last minute was a great game. Several startled from their perch on the northbound roadway to race across the path of the Subaru, and a few even dodged under the car at the last second. The winners on style, we agreed, were two that charged straight at the oncoming demon beast, pulling up and spinning over the windshield with less than a foot to spare.
Foolish mating season display, or bravely defending the flock -- or is there a difference? Tess and I agreed that somewhere back in the dawn times, a leader must have found it useful to encourage self-destructive behavior that benefited the tribe, such as jabbing a mammoth with a sharp stick until it either crushed him and his compatriots or blundered back into its death pit.
To keep clear the difference between this and life-risking acts like, say, stealing magic mushrooms from the shaman and trying to fly off the nearest cliff, the leader must have declared that acts of the first kind showed bravery and -- if the anointed survived the experience -- worthy of praise, parades, promotions, extra shares of the mammoth gleaning, and of course medals. Absolutely necessary, medals, so that everyone can tell without asking the difference between crazy loons who have no sense of self-preservation and brave selfless servants who risk their lives for the good of the tribe.
It may seem a fine, almost invisible distinction, yet a very necessary one for civilization. Or at least that's what we crazy loons keep telling ourselves.
No one, shaman or loon, had told Amy our GPS navigator about a closed bridge, so our travel plan was delayed. We had to redirect her through Pueblo and over a couple of the lower mountain passes to reach the Great Sand Dunes.
Double serendipity! On the way in to a park that Tess had only added to break up what would have been an overly long driving day and then forced to detour around the intended direct route, we passed a small mountain (compared with its neighbors) whose peak and upper half were bare of foliage or snow. Massive landslides, possibly? I have never seen anything like it. Then, nestled in the shelter of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and fed with sand by a combination of prevailing winds and by a creek that recycles sand blown off the dunes back to the front, we found the Great Sand Dune National Park.
Nothing at all like the dunes on the Outer Banks -- the Sahara-like crested ridge dunes contrast sharply with the snowcapped peaks behind them. Park visitors enjoy the creek at the dunes' base as a freshwater beach experience with a bonus sand mountain climbing experience and some interesting sandboarding slopes.
Of course we had to try to climb to the peak! Sean and I took the first attempt, but he elected to roll down the slope with others of his age rather than keep climbing with his huffing and wheezing grandfather (it is a few thousand feet higher here). We returned to the creek and took charge of Cocoa while Tess ascended considerably higher. She did stop short of the summit and turn around -- wrong shoes, clock running down on the afternoon, and ominous thunderstorms moving down the valley.
Quiet rest time for all this evening, reading, tending bug bites, fending off gnats and mosquitoes, enjoying the soft fresh wind blowing through the pines, watching the thunderstorms march down the valley. The young adventurer plans to spend the night in his hammock, flying (snoring?) in the face of reports of scorpions, snakes, and bears.
Photos for this post should be added by weeks' end.