The San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado is a very cool place to road-trip. Compared to the packed tourist hot-spots on I-70, The Valley is relatively quiet and undiscovered. (Don't wait too long to visit though; word about this awesome part of Colorado is spreading!) You CAN go for a hike without encountering others. You CAN drive the speed limit. You CAN see something you have never seen before. You CAN get a hotel room at a price you can live with. Oh, and The Valley is home to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, too.
Now, about those 5 outrageous farm visits ...
1. Greenhouse Hotsprings!
The Greenhouse at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool is an adult-only area complete with geothermal hot tubs, a dry sauna, a craft beer and wine bar, and a 'plant shelter' botanical garden. Also growing in The Greenhouse is a variety of northwest hops. The hops are delivered to Three Barrel Brewing in Del Norte along with a tanker full of Sand Dunes spring water, combined with locally grown and malted barley, and turned into a custom brew just for The Greenhouse. Neat.
2. North American Plains Bison!
Zapata Ranch is a working cattle and bison ranch just south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. It is stunningly gorgeous with the dunes and surrounding alpine mountains at the edge of the ranch. Owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy, really smart staff will guide you through the huge portion of the ranch known as the Medano with the aim of getting you up close to the herd. Yee-haw!
Chokurei raises healthy and happy organic food direct from the farm to the table, or as they like to say "field to fork." They are also home to a large herd of Tibetan yak. You really have to see a yak up close and personal to understand how special they are. Visitors ride in an army troop carrier to see the yaks in their natural environment. The carrier is open on three sides and is ideal for kids as well as adults.
Nearly 40 years ago, the Young family purchased land in The Valley to raise tilapia in the geothermal waters bubbling up out of the earth. Ten years later, they purchased 100 baby alligators to dispose of dead fish and the remains of filleted fish from the farming operation. Now visitors from all over the world come to see the Colorado gators. Some come for gator wrestling lessons. No kidding.
5. Goats Making Cheese!
Nestled between Del Norte and South Fork on the fourth-generation Knoblauch Ranch, happy goats eating native grasses are busy making milk for gourmet feta and chevre cheese. Laz Ewe cheese is sold at a variety of locations including Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers, Jack's Market, Valley Food Coop, and several farmer's markets in the San Luis Valley. And dang, those goats are adorable.