Saturday, June 12, 2021
A day trip to the North Sand Hills near Walden Colorado

With some paperwork complete I'm making a last minute trek to the North Sand Hills (sand dunes) north of Walden Colorado. I'll join a few others that are planning to camp but I'm only day-tripping it. Doors and top off for the wonderful weather today!

I found the group near the entrance of the area and joined in. None of the three had been to the area and they were curious as to some camping areas so we traveled through some of those areas first. There are somewhat two groups who camp - RV areas and tent / small camper areas. The whole area is dispersed camping - a first come first served setup.

Once we took a peek at one tent area we headed out to the first open sand area, the northern area. It has the largest hill (for full size vehicles we are in). After running the large hill a time or two I lead the group for a quick "what's here". Between the northern play area and the southern play area is a bit of a valley - a dip down and a climb out. Not overy big - but a separation with trees. Crossing over the southern area we went to the south end. There used to be a dead-end trail into the trees - but no longer. From my past visit in 2014 the ruling body looks to have put up copious fencing, closing off several areas to motorized travel. You'll see the fencing in several photos.

After the quick tour of the area I was following the fence to a smaller hill to toy with. On the way we came across a four place side-by-side with a tire off of the bead. This would be the start to a bit of nice deviation to the day - helping others. While I was able to spend time with the group for a fair bit of the day, I was able to help three groups that had mechanical issues. Dad would often comment - things come in threes. Today was such a day.

1) Pop'd outside bead on a 4-place side by side (SxS)
We came across a 4-place side by side that had a tire off of the bead. The guys said they had help on the way (a buddy with an air pump). If they called a paid recovery service I'd have taken second seat so as not take a paying job from someone. I mentioned jacking it up - they commented - oh no, we'll just lift it up (they had many strong bodies in the group - it was an easy task for them). One guy had a lighter - I had starting fluid (it's been in the jeep perhaps 8 years, this is perhaps the first use). One guy handled the tire to align it, many hoisted, I sprayed and clicked the lighter - poof - mostly done. It didn't fully seat (perhaps 80%). The portable inflator didn't look to be doing anything so I pulled the jeep's air hose and finished it for them. Hindsight - I should have removed the valve core and sprayed uniformly around the tire. When it seated, it wasn't proper. I called it out to them and they said they'd take care of it later. A happy group. Mark, one of the guys in the group, posted video - YouTube Link.

2) Toyota Tacoma - blown front suspension
While we were playing with a small, steep hill I was sitting up top trying to stay in the breeze to keep mosquitos blown away. I watched a 4-place SxS and a full size pickup heading to a rise. This rise / small hill had a bit of an abrupt transition from flat to incline. The black truck hit it with enough speed to make the climb but the result was a loud BAM sound - that's no good. I didn't see any deployed air bags through the windows (good). The right front tire looked on the bead (good). I assumed the left front tire blew off of the bead - no worries - we can get that fixed. Then I notice the truck where it stopped up top / on the flat - the right front tire is stuffed into the wheel well. We drove over to them for a look. The left front tire was also stuffed into the wheel well. Looking at the underside - both shocks were blown. The driver said this vehicle has coil over shock suspension. The interface at the lower end of the coil spring broke - on both sides. This means that the springs that hold the truck up were not functioning as designed - the truck's front suspension is bottomed out. With the suspension bottomed out, the issue of the top of the tire rubbing against the wheel well / body was a concern. The truck would roll with minor rubbing of tire / wheel well - in the straight. Turning would likely be worse.

They had a trailer that could haul it (that the 4-place SxS came on) but didn't have a vehicle to get it back to camp. I volunteered. We drove to their camp, grabbed the trailer and headed back to the truck. I was quite curious how the light jeep would handle this heavy task. At one spot, heading uphill with the empty trailer, the jeep was having a struggle. Mark, one of the guys in the group, kindly stayed nearby to be a helping hand (I told the group to split off and have fun - this was their planned trip and I was an un-announced drop in and could join up with them later). The jeep got the trailer up to the pickup and from that point it was mostly downhill. The jeep did well enough until one small uphill section. Mark lined up in front of me with the elastic rope and that was the trick - out and moving in only two or three tugs. We stayed connected until the hard-er packed downhill then disconnected.

The jeep was able to get the trailer and truck to their campsite. It likely exceeded the jeeps rated towing capacity - by a wide margin. Looking up specs - the jeep is perhaps 3100 pounds and the truck/trailer looks to be about 6500 pounds. In a couple turns on the sand (all of 5mph) I noticed the trailer pushing the rear of the jeep outward - not a feeling one would want at speed on a highway. Trent, on of the guys in the group, posted video - YouTube link.

3) Bad chain dirt bike (broken master link, no spare)
The day's mostly complete and the group was splitting up. Mark and I were making one last pass through the dunes and at the valley between the north and south areas we saw a guy waving his arms at us. Driving over he was emphatically asking for help. The master link failed on his dirt bike chain and he had no replacement. With no chain, he was pushing the bike through the sand. We were in the little valley between the north and south areas and he was looking at one gnarly up-hill to get out - pushing a bike uphill in deep sand - ugh.

I figured - we can just set it in the back of the jeep (the back of the jeep has a big steel trunk, giving a fairly flat open surface). He and his buddy hoisted the front tire up to the jeep and I held it in place as they lifted the back tire up. We pushed it across until the front tire dropped out the passenger side. This left the back tire in the jeep and the bottom of the engine sat in the jeep. He jumped up with the bike to hold it and we headed back to their camp - though on the way visiting the big hill one more time (Mark wanted to tackle it once more). The biker and I only rode down the big hill - with no issue. We had the bike unloaded and then it struck me to get a picture - that would have been a fun picture to have. He was very appreciative for the hand. He was looking at a hard task getting the bike out of there.

Out from the sand hills I headed home via the northern route - up to Laramie WY and down to Fort Collins. I brought a winter coat as I knew the evening could be cold. I was happy to wear it from Laramie to about twenty miles north of home the temps were cool (higher elevation). Getting close to town, lower elevation, temps were just right for no coat.

Map of the full route. Fort Collins to Walden via the Poudre Canyon / CO Hwy 14 - the black line on the map. On a late morning most of the traffic heading into the mountains had settled down and the road was mostly clear. The river is turned on and nicely flowing. The red line is the off road of the sand hills. For the way home, the blue line via Laramie was easy, straight, driving.

Elevation profile for the complete trip

Elevation profile for the offroad section - the Sand Hills

Shortly after entering the Poudre River canyon. Nice views!

Up to the hard rock tunnel.

Into the burn area

Two trees - one looks to be killed off from the fire while the other might survive

Up higher for the first view of snow capped peaks.

Joe Wright reseervoir (which did have some ice on it)

Some snow along the road remains.

Lake Agnes just beyond the pine trees at the base of these snow covered mountains. I think the ridge line - beyond it - is the northern border of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the moisture coming down these slopes will get diverted into the Upper Michigan Ditch and into the Poudre River for use in farm irrigation east of Fort Collins.

We're in North Park heading towards Walden.

The mountains at the western edge of North Park. The town of Steamboat Springs is just beyond those mountains.

Mark at the dunes

And now for a cleaner look

Playing at the smaller hill.

Assistance event #1 (tire re-seat) already tended. Assistance event #2 shortly to happen.

Event #2 ongoing. We're back with the trailer to load the pickup to haul it back to their camp area.

In the deep sand, we'll have a nice downhill roll for most of the trip.

Jeep - approx 3100 pounds.
Trailer and full size pickup - approx 6500 pounds.

Both front tires are fully tucked into the wheel well.

Out of the sand hills, one of the jeeps and I ventured up a mountain trail. They were in search of a camp spot that was away from the sand (and people) as the mosquitos were TERRIBLE. They were terrible whereever we were. In the end - none of the group camped overnight and everyone went home.

Up on the mountain trail looking over the sand hills. The closer open area is the northern area with the green tree line separating the two is the valley I mention (not a big valley, but one nonetheless).

The left powerline set (double lines per phase) heads to Fort Collins while the right set to Cheyenne. Both originate west of here at either the Hayden or Craig (20 miles from each other) power plants.

It looks like the utility vastly cleared the area under the wires since we had the forest fires a year or so back.

Power lines and straight access road heading out west. Much of the sandy area is the camping area.


Click for a larger size

Not many people out this afternoon. Fence visible at the bottom.

Creek crossing
Water level is low.

A fair bit of wildlife
(along with an extreme amount of mosquitos)