- Mileage: 8.4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 1,971 feet
- Altitude: 10, 283 feet
- To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Area of RMNP. Park at the Sandbeach Lake trail head, which is right by the entrance station.
We are hiking on top of a snow bank, steps away from a sandy beach. I wonder if there are any other places where sand and snow share the same space, other than high alpine lakes. Later, after coming home, I read that Sandbeach Lake used to be dammed up and when the dam was removed, the lake waters dropped to their natural levels and revealed the sandy beach. The trail drops us on the northwest side of the lake and we shuffle through the sand to a more eastern vantage point. There, we are watching the movement of lingering dark clouds. There are still plenty of hours of daylight, and I wanted to swim, splay out on the beach, and read a book. Instead, I am putting on more layers and trying to decide if the most recent rumble in the sky was closer to us or further away than the last.
Soon, we are moving quickly down the trail, back to Hunter’s Creek campsite a mile away. We are staying there for the night and are happy not to be embarking on the 4.2 mile journey back to our car instead. Big raindrops are plopping onto our hoods.
“It sounds like a bowling alley out here,” our friend Victoria says about the thunder.
Steps later, lightning lights up all the space between the trees.
“Whoa,” Alex’s brother says. “It’s like we’re in a room where someone turned the light on.”
Our senses are alive in the storm, working with our brains to put us somewhere more comfortable, perhaps, like a bowling alley or a room in a house. But none of us mind the storm, the sky’s show is exhilarating.
Later that evening, after the storm, a few card games, and dinner, we head up to Sandbeach Lake again. Up the rocks and over the snow we go, catching all the post-storm clouds hanging out around the lake. We walk east again and out on to a peninsula. Sandbeach Lake sits close to some of the biggest guys in this park: Long’s Peak and neighboring Meeker. Meeker is in the forefront here, exposed to us fully. We can see a hint of Long’s Peak poking up in the background. The Piano of the Winds, on a ridge next to Long’s, is what impresses me most here. Looking up at it, I can imagine the way high-mountain winds would sound blowing between these rock spires. They are craggy and dramatic as far as mountain features go. To the east of Sandbeach Lake we see some of the more subtle mountains of the park, less dramatic because of their distance from us.
As dusk settles in, we get to relax on the cool, sandy beach. I contemplate swimming, but can’t help but be hyper-aware of the chilly air left behind by the storm. After a short time at the lake we are heading back to Hunter’s Creek again, our feet thumping over the unusually hollow-sounding ground of Wild Basin that Victoria points out to us.
Source: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen