The town of Crestone is the 'Outer Limits' of the San Luis Valley in a good way. Resting on the perimeter in the north part of the valley, 38 miles north of Alamosa, and 12 miles east of Highway 17, the town is easily accessible. During festivals and special events, Crestone is busy. Other times, like the day before Halloween, late October being considered off season as the calendar flows into the dark and chilly days of winter, Crestone is pleasantly peaceful. I took advantage of the perfect weather to go for a run up North Crestone Trail 744. I normally go up the Willow Lake Trail but it is good to change things up. I parked near the Crestone Art Museum in town on a quiet Sunday afternoon in perfect weather, no wind, with temperatures in the low 60s. Soft clouds filtered the low angle of the autumn sunlight. Alder Street going north will put you on the Camino de Crestone which will lead you up to the trailhead. Signs in town are lacking to point trail seekers in the right direction. I had to ask a gentleman out for a stroll.
Expecting it to be a rough rocky road, similar to the one heading to the Willow Lake trail, I had decided to trek to the trailhead on foot. But, it is paved and goes through neighborhoods of small log cabins and old miner style houses of yesteryear. This contrasts with houses on the south side of Crestone, many of which are second homes and having been built recently, are fairly large and contemporary. I like the old and funkier north side!
The road follows North Crestone Creek turns east into the Rio Grande National Forest, goes across a cattle guard and heads up into the V shaped glacial valley. Along the creek on the right side are 13 campsites. They are clean, spaced nicely and have toilet facilities. All for 7 bucks a night! A small parking lot is the end of the road about a mile from where the pavement stops. The trail begins with a gentle grade through the forest along the creek. Usually October will have several rain or snow storms and the aspen leaves become thick wet carpets of brown and gray beginning their winter decomposition. As of this writing, and what looks to be a dry start to November, the leaves are, and will remain a dried golden brown, crunchy underfoot, as if there had been a trail parade, and the confetti thrown was a billion cornflakes.
As usual, I met a few people on the trail and we exchanged pleasantries on how fabulous the late season hiking has been. I went up several miles to where I got spectacular views of the highest peaks to the east and a look west, yields the classic V shaped valley from the last glaciers who often were quite good at carving this letter of a future human alphabet. I took in the views, the soft odor of the dry leaves, and other smells of fall. I found a small spring emerging from under a large rock near the trail. Should be safe. I examined it closely, felt its coolness as it trickled onto the trail, and decided to have a drink, thinking and hoping it was completely fine. (Giardia and other water borne illnesses are never fun - don't drink it if you are not sure). I have not tasted such good water! Reversing course, I trotted down the hill, descending the 2000 vertical feet in a bit over four miles into town. I will return to this trail as it is not so rough and rocky as other trails in the Sangre de Cristos. Still two hours before sunset, mule deer were already making their rounds through town browsing on shrubs and grasses and hanging out in yards. Deer are aware of their surroundings, but they have no fear of humans in the city. And, as I would soon find out, they have a particular affection for the spent grain from Crestone Brewery. They wait patiently at the back door for the opportunity to recycle the barley!
In Crestone I drank more water and had a trunk lunch of leftovers from a local food event I helped put on two nights before. I consumed the mountain air and the timelessness of the late October moment. I went to the Crestone Art Gallery which was in full Halloween Costume.
Local artists have spectacular works of art here that rival any big city gallery. The art is for sale. Crestone is an art community, a spiritual community and some consider it a bit of an old and new hippie haven. People were gathered in the park with their children and their fun seeking dogs, ready to chase sticks or balls through the thick carpet of leaves left on the ground. I shuffled through them like a little kid on my 30 yard trek to Crestone's next treasure...
CRESTONE BREWING COMPANY
Crestone has several restaurants and lodges and the town now has a wonderful brewery! Since a craft beer is a wonderful thing after a trail adventure I wandered in on this Sunday afternoon. The Bronco game was on the one TV, but that was not the focus of the people gathered. The discussion was about what was brewing and now pouring from the taps. Crestone Brewing is now serving their own beer made from the beautiful pure water from which I had taken sips several thousand feet higher up in the mountains. By sourcing as many local ingredients as they can for their food and beer, Crestone Brewing is becoming uniquely Crestone Colorado in short order. I met one of the brewmaster's Dave earlier in the summer and got a tour of the small brewery in the back. But now he was able to give me a tour of the taps of what he is now brewing. I endured the tough duty of going through the Research & Development phase as Dave lined up and described his creations. (Click on the beer board picture for the names of the beers). The signs of a good brewer are that the beers all have their own unique nose as well as taste and color profiles. I started with his Corbeaus. The Saison Corbeau is a delicious version of a saison, many complex flavors in which my taste buds and brain were attempting to come to an agreement on what 'we' are actually tasting and enjoying immensely. His seasonal spiced beers also held the magic of the cinnamon, nutmegs, allspice and ginger profiles. The Mad Cow Coffee Milk Stout will put smiles on people who love their stouts. The coffee beans for the stout are roasted 12 miles away in Moffat. The Blonde Ale is refreshing and will satisfy the universal palate spectrum of beer drinkers.
On to my favorites. Being a hop head - I tasted the Dry - Hopped Blonde. With the profile flavors imparted by Mosaic hops, this is a great beer! Hoppy enough for serious IPA drinkers and light enough in body for people who like an easy drinking crisp and refreshing ale. My last taster was the Dead Man's Liberty IPA. When more IPA drinkers catch wind of this beer, it will be like the Oklahoma Land Rush days. The scramble will be on to make a beeline to Crestone Brewing for this top notch delicious IPA (India Pale Ale).
Their food is fantastic also! If you are starving you may want to attack the Yak burger. The chefs utilize local farmers and ranchers for much of their grub. Brewpubs usually have fish and chips. Their fish does not come from the oceans, but from cool mountain waters. Hint - starts with a T. Okay, trout. The website has their menu.
Crestone is an easy 12 mile drive off Highway 17 and the bonus is seeing the yak herd grazing in the pastures along the way. Oh, and the immensity of Challenger Ridge and the Crestones rising six thousand vertical feet off the valley floor are quite impressive. They seem to grow taller as you approach Crestone!
crestonebrewingco.com. For hours, events, beer and food menus and their brewing story and experiences. Salud!