Fall Colors along the Conejos River
After reviewing weather.com recently and reading about their 10 best National Parks to visit in the Fall, I discovered several things. I have only been to three of the parks they suggested when leaves are changing but hope to visit the other seven in coming years. They left out the Great Sand Dunes. And, I realized the limitations to human language. The words used in all of the descriptions for each of the National Parks to describe leaves in their golds, yellows,oranges and reds became redundant and lost their meaning for me. Stunning, amazing, spectacular, magical, 'one of the best,' 'one of the most,' became insignificant. Good thing they posted pictures of each park. So, my challenge is to attempt to paint a picture of the beauty of the Conejos River valley in the Fall without using those words!
Warren Miller, famed ski film maker, when asked - "where is your favorite place to ski?" would reply with "wherever I am skiing at the time." I interviewed Nigel Brown, an Englishman in the beer business, and asked him "What is your favorite ale Nigel?" In classic British humor he answered, "My next one!" These statements should help one draw the conclusion that if the season is Fall, and there are leaves changing color somewhere, then that somewhere would be a good place to visit, in contrast to being at a tropical beach in October and wondering, "it's Fall,where are the colors changing?" Head up the Conejos River Valley for a Fall experience!
Edgar Allan Poe wrote to our senses and in his stories occasionally provoked images of absolute sheer terror. Seeing colors in the San Luis Valley on the mountainsides and in the river valleys are made for the opposite, images of absolute sheer joy of contrasting colors of Mother Nature's artwork in three dimensions.
I have not yet been to the Dunes this Fall, but I have seen pictures of the golden cottonwoods on the east side of the dunes as they follow the course of Medano Creek up into the mountains. Worth a visit to hike or jeep up toward Medano Pass.
Now, to the main course of this post, the Conejos River Valley. The drive on Highway 17 from Antonito west toward La Manga Pass parallels the river all the way up the valley. Whether the sun is beaming brightly, or the sky is overcast and perhaps raining, the aspens on the mountainsides and the cottonwoods and willows along the river are plugged into Mother Nature's electrical sockets as they appear to give off their own light. Like most canyons, the light of the lower southern sun angles in the Fall change during the day providing different scenic opportunities. Take pictures with your camera but snap a few in your mind's eye. They will be as equally valuable. Several stops along the way are available on public roads that will take you down to the river where the water runs slow, cold and clear. Cool breezes tickle your skin and mess up your hair, rays of warm sunshine kiss your cheeks and reflect intensely off the river's surface. Stick your hands in the water and feel the temperature as it numbs your fingers. Breathe deep and catch the smells of vegetation along the banks. Collectively, all the plants have a smell that is distinctly Fall. Close your eyes as you take in the odor. These smells remain with you as a good memory. Look upstream, look downstream and see the contrasting light playing off everything! Look for shadowy figures in the water of darting trout as they escape your river bank presence. Check the skies for a variety of birds. Migrating geese will usually announce their passing! Drive up river and stop again. So what if its only a mile!
The colors of the leaves attract all the attention in the Fall for the visual. But I also enjoy the wildlife refuges out on the San Luis Valley floor. I like the look of the tans and browns of the drying grasses. And their smells. The wildlife you see may surprise you. And off in the distance on the peaks, powdered sugar from the first snowfalls of the season.
I intentionally kept this post short, left out unnecessary words to provide time to get on your trike, bike, or in your car and head up the Conejos before immediately. Fall is almost over. Actually, until a windstorm comes, the trees along the river can often hold their leaves and their color into early November.