Rumor has it, with 2016 being the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, that Great Sand Dunes National Park is busy. The sand dunes have plenty of room for people and dogs, yes, even dogs are welcome, but the infrastructure of parking lots, campgrounds, and other facilities are beyond capacity. Go, and enjoy, but... If the desire strikes to get far from the crowds, there are other places in the San Luis Valley that offer unique and wonderful views, experiences, and fuel our adventurous internal fires. My brother and I are of the same mindset when we set out on a new trail or even a regular 'go to' trail because we always see something new. The same awaits you and your traveling companions in other parts of the SLV.
"One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, from here to there, from there to here, funny things are everywhere..." Dr. Seuss of course! Will only make one change. 'Fun things are everywhere.' The east side of the valley attractions are: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls, Joyful Journey Hot Springs, the town of Crestone and the nearby trail heads, Valley View Hot Springs and the Bat Caves, Sand Dunes Pool, Colorado Gators, the UFO watch tower, Fort Garland Museum, San Luis and the 12 Stations of the Cross, and other attractions/ activities.
Now, for the West side story of the Valley... In Alamosa? Have a garden at home and your green thumb needs exercise? Stop by the Community Garden at 11th and State Streets, pick weeds for 5-10 minutes and reward yourself with a few veggies and fresh lettuces for your road trip salad or sandwiches.
Starting in Alamosa? - Colorado Sports at 630 Main Street will have your clothing and footwear for outdoor activities and the staff can make suggestions on where to go test drive your new outdoor wear. Need gear for biking, hiking, camping, climbing? (Almost Dr. Seussish:).
Find Kristy Mountain Sports on the west side of town at 3223 Main and now with a location in Del Norte. Talk with the staff in one of their stores and they can direct you toward Penitente Canyon for a bit more technical mountain biking, climbing and hiking. Kristimountainsports.com cosportsonline.com. Stop by the Colorado Welcome Center at 610 State Avenue and pick up brochures and talk to the knowledgeable staff about where else to go and what to do.
OLD SPANISH TRAIL ROAD
Want an easily accessible leisurely hike or mountain bike? Midway between Monte Vista and Del Norte is the pull out on Highway 160 for the monument and interpretive signs for the Old Spanish Trail. Park and hike or bike from there, or, like I did, drive several miles south on the gravel road, find a place to park and continue on a variety of trails or continue up the road. I parked 3 miles from 160. My excursion last week was a 6 mile out and back run where I saw no people, only two large jackrabbits. Big feet, big ears and they can 'rocket' through the sage and disappear. Fun to watch them move so fast but, sometimes they sit, keep their brown eyes on your movements, twitch their nose, and continue browsing. Valley breezes come in bursts and sound like a waterfall as the wind whips through the underbrush, kicking up dust and disappearing. Clouds form over the mountains and valleys and create all sorts of shapes. Use your imagination. Off in the distance, views of mountains and the Sand Dunes can be seen far across the valley. Here up the Old Spanish Trail road, solitude.
A potpourri of small mountain towns dot the western part of the SLV - Saguache, La Garita, Center, Monte Vista, Del Norte, Creede, South Fork. All offer a variety of activities, from geology explorations, touring old mining ghost towns, arts and entertainment. Waterfalls on tributaries of the Upper Rio Grande can be found on short hikes. Each town will have a website for your pre exploration and will allow you to find, yes, a potpourri of activities for your traveling tastes.
Now back to Dr. Seuss and his fish, sort of. According to Joel at 8200 Sports in South Fork, anglers have descended from all over the world this month to 'chase the hatch.' This means that insects are hatching for the summer which make trout hungry and happy! Be a part of the action. Choices for fishing include bait fishing, which is not allowed in moving streams but if lake/reservoir fishing is your style, there are plenty of stocked lakes for your bait fishing fun.
For lures and fly fishing, numerous stretches of the Rio Grande and its tributaries offer well stocked fishing excitement. My favorite fishing is finding a tight stretch of stream, casting a small spinner into a quiet pool without my lure getting caught on the willows or other plants along the water, and hooking a small brook trout. I have never been a trophy trout hunter and I am fine catching a 7 - 9 inch fighter.
Want to officially try fly fishing? 8200 Mountain Sports offers guided fly fishing and fly fishing lessons. When I asked Joel about this year's fishing experiences of their guests - "It doesn't get any better than this!"
Wanna go rafting on the flowing waters and skip the fishing? They have that also. 8200mountainsports.com