Newbies to San Luis Valley 2017

New travelers, and returning visitors to the SLV, will have fun new additions in and around the valley. Worry not, the Great Sand Dunes, the mountains, streams, hot springs, small towns and trains have not been replaced or relocated!

Starting on US 160 in Del Norte is the new Mystic Biscuit Restaurant located in the old Organic Peddler Restaurant on the west end of town. Familiar too many people as a perfect stop between going east or going west, the new owners, all of whom have had many years of restaurant experience, decided to open a place where they would have control over the menu, the atmosphere and the hours of operation. Except for Mondays, (which may change come summer), the 'Biscuit' will be open from sunup to sundown. Their menu? With a Wi-Fi password of 'eatmorebacon' should indicate that they offer a variety of rich mountain food, including an espresso coffee bar, a small regular bar, a great big varied menu all in the funky cozy confines of the old Peddler building. Sort of like a mini museum with old time pictures, architecture and ceiling decor. An outdoor summer patio will be available in the back of the restaurant to enjoy the perfect mountain air at 7874 feet. Bon appetite at the Mystic Biscuit! (719) 657-1142.

Further East in downtown Alamosa on Highway 160 West (the one way) two locals are perfecting craft beer and opening Square Peg Brewerks, a new addition to the trend of mountain town breweries. Square Peg will be a tasting room only in a complete remodel of an old classic hardware store from yesteryear. Part of the old store is being revamped into a shuffleboard table. Couches around the wood stove, casual bar seating, tables and an outdoor patio will bring good energy to the place for which brewpubs are known. Look for a soft opening in mid-May and a full blown opening later in the month. Brewing in the back of the brewery, hidden from the bar unlike some breweries, is happening now! Being a connoisseur of craft beer, Mark gave me a taste of one of the first brews that will be hitting the taps. Still 'green' (no carbonation or full flavors from complete fermentation), I tasted the brown ale. This beer already has a wonderful roasted malt flavor and an extremely clean finish. They will also have an IPA and a Princess Peach Saison as some of their first beers. Other names are yet to be determined.

Square Peg will need our help! Stop in and taste their new beers and help them decide which ones should be flagships, the ones they will have on tap all the time, versus a beer that can be a seasonal, such as a Fest style for the fall, or a winter warmer porter or stout served November through February.

Other local brewing news - Colorado Malting Company, southwest of Alamosa will be opening a tasting room also. As a supplier to many breweries in the region, they felt they needed to do a bit of research and development with their products. No date for opening yet.

Lodging is in high demand during the summer for all the visitors to the valley. The Sunset Inn is a new locally owned 20 room hotel located one quarter mile south on 285 and a block west on 8th Street. Hal, the owner is no stranger to motels and hotels as he, as a general contractor, has helped build a number of them. He has put together basic rooms but, after a tour of several, and no stranger to nightly lodging on many occasions, the rooms have exactly what traveler’s need, nice bathrooms and showers, easy use of space, closets, microwave and fridge. A hot breakfast room completes the package and the prices will always remain the same throughout the year. Walking distance to downtown. (719) 480-8392

Twenty miles north on Highway 17 is the wonderful educational experience that is the Colorado Gator Farm. Utilizing the unique geology of the San Luis Valley, a two thousand foot deep well yields large quantities of fresh water heated by the earth to 87 degrees F. This allows the farm to have a large greenhouse with tropical plants, large pools of tilapia fish that are grown for restaurants and also feed some of the inhabitants of the farm. One newbie gator is Bruce the alligator. He was brought down from a hot springs fish farm in Idaho. Without his winter dormancy, where gators unlike humans do not have to eat for several months, Bruce was able to feed all year. He has grown into a 12 and a half foot, 900 pound big boy! Jay Young, owner of the farm has Bruce on a no food diet so he can lose about 150 pounds to achieve a normal weight for his length. The Gator farm is home to about 300 gators including three that are albinos.

Wait! That's not all! The Colorado Gator farm is an official rescue organization for people who think exotic animals are a good pet idea and find out, often the hard way that they are not. Therefore, a visit to the Gator farm is a trip through millions of years of evolution with animals who have done just fine without us. As an ecologist, I am constantly fascinated by the adaptations our fellow creatures have made, through the process of evolution, to survive in response to an ever-changing world. Kids absolutely love the place. Plan on spending several hours there as you learn alongside your children, holding an alligator, a tarantula, turtles. See iguanas, scorpions, green moss frogs (wow are they interesting!), geckos, rattlesnakes, pythons, boas, talking African grey parrots, numerous other species of snakes, salamanders, lizards, crocodiles, emus, exotic fish, a macaw, tropical plants and more gators than you might ever see in Florida's Everglades!

Employees offer tips and anecdotes about all the creatures so no one will come away without learning something new about all the creatures in residence.

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