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The Treasures and Pleasures of Penitente Canyon

The Treasures and Pleasures of Penitente Canyon

If mountain biking, rock climbing, bouldering, hiking, trail running, geology, panoramic views, relaxing around a campfire, star gazing, seeing wildlife, photography, or any combination of these are desired pleasures – then Penitente Canyon turns them all into treasures!

One nice pleasure in the San Luis Valley (SLV) is that the highways and side roads are all easy to travel, mostly flat and straight. All the roads go somewhere! However, the distant views are deceiving because they look two dimensional. The mountains cannot hide, but only by being in them can the true treasures of their hidden, and seemingly desolate canyons, be found. Penitente Canyon could be discovered accidentally but it is best to plan your excursion to this natural geologic amusement park!

Additional information – About 27 million years ago a volcano, now known as the La Garita Caldera, went KABLAM! Since that time Mother Nature has used her tools of snow and rain and wind and water to creatively sculpt some of the resulting rock piles tossed around after that monstrous explosion. Known as Fish Canyon Tuft, the rock has formed into perfect walls for all levels of climbers and bouldering specialists. There are bolts in place for over 300 climbs. No waiting lines! With routes named 'Nature of the Beast,' Squidbelly Phlemfoot' to 'What the Hey' and 'Passion Play' how could someone not have fun in this canyon? No equipment no problem. There are places to climb that are low to the ground (known as bouldering).

Trails through the canyon are for climbers to get to their routes but these trails also lead up and out of the canyon. Above the canyon is a maze of interconnecting trails for hiking, trail running, mountain biking and exploring. With a bit of trail courtesy, everyone gets along!

Driving to Penitente Canyon – Off of US Highway 285 18 miles North of Monte Vista, 17 miles South of Saguache take signs for La Garita and brown sign for Penitente Canyon – follow signs, the pavement will end but the dirt roads are generally in good shape, sometimes dusty, occasionally wet.

Find a designated parking place and prepare for fun.

Pleasures – The expansive views across the valley from Penitente Canyon to the East are the Sangre De Cristo Mountains nearly 50 miles away! Scenery changes from season to season and hour to hour as the sun, clouds, and light play upon the deep bluish gray rocky peaks and their steep dark green forested hillsides that bottom out on the valley floor. In the evening the peaks (if still covered in snow) begin to glow and turn colors from french vanilla, to tangerine, to a darker orange to a blood red, for which they are named. (Sangre de Cristos = blood of Christ). The weather at 8,000 feet can be pleasantly warm in the intense sun but there is plenty of shade in the cool shadows of the rock formations and the aspen and pine trees.

What better treasures in life are there than enjoying Mother Nature's playgrounds? Pursuits of passion in natural surroundings add a comfort to life that only nature can truly provide. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Imagine having a base camp with family and friends. Walk the canyon and watch climbers on their routes up a rock face. May give you the desire to try it. Meet new friends. Cruise the trails on foot or on mountain bikes. Lots of new trails and loops and it is difficult to get lost! Do a few laps and come back to camp. Spend the day or several. NOTE: - There is a small store in La Garita but if you plan on being there for camping, you will need to stock up your ice chests, food containers, and gear in Alamosa or another town beforehand.

Perils – Rock climbing has inherent dangers but with the right climbing partners it is a safe sport. Climb within your abilities. Bouldering keeps you low to the ground but make sure you know what the surface is like below where you are climbing as even a few feet of coming off a rock wall can result in ankle sprains and knee twists on uneven ground. Deserts are known for things that can stick, stab, or bite. Rattlesnakes do live in the area and can easily hide among the rocks and vegetation. They blend in well so watch closely. High deserts have low humidity (You have heard this suggestion before – drink water!! = hydrate!) Weather is often perfect but can be windy and dusty in the spring. During the monsoon season of summer, thunderstorms can move in rapidly. What may look like an innocent dark cloud miles away may be growing quickly into a large storm and getting ready to toss lightning bolts, brief heavy rain, and painful hail right where you happen to be! (How do you think we know this?)

The trails are not groomed and there are a few technical places that are steep, rocky, and rooty. There are yucca and cactus lurking on the edges of the trails – that's where the stick and stab comes in! And don't forget ticks, mosquitoes and other biting insects may be wandering about. Be wary of all these possible perils, proceed with excitement and caution, and you will soon discover why Penitente Canyon is one more treasure in the San Luis Valley.

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