A Traveler's Blog

Do you want to visit Alamosa like you know a local?  Here is your chance!  Enjoy the following feature articles written by a traveler enjoying some hidden (and not so hidden) treasures around the San Luis Valley. 

Potato High School

Potatoes. Mashed, hash-browned, French-fried, boiled, foiled (as in baked), souped, roasted, saladed, totted, Augratined or chipped. How do you like potatoes? Perhaps your taste leans more toward European styles like latkes (potato pancakes) or gnocchi (Italian potato pasta). Ah, how the world loves potatoes. But, do most people know how they grow? Potato trees? On bushes? A very small percentage of people who eat potatoes could actually identify the plant from which they grow. The French name for potato is 'pomme de terre' which means apple of the earth and provides a serious hint that potatoes grow underground. But, if they were called 'subterranean starch tubers' in English would that make them more or less appealing? I'm thinking less. Try adding any of the above names before or after and see if that sounds appealing. "I think I'll have the baked beans as a side." But, keep the name potatoes and say "I would like the creamy garlic mashed potatoes, or the baked potato with butter, sour cream and chives," - now we're talkin'!

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New Hot Spring Attraction: The Greenhouse

Something new is brewing at the Sand Dunes Pool and it isn't coffee! Smack dab in the middle of the San Luis Valley, a mile below the surface, Mother Nature continuously 'brews' purified ground-filtered water. Then, through the age old human practice of well digging, this perfect water is piped a mile to the surface at a warm and wonderful 118 degrees.

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Beach or Mountain Vacation?

Enjoy both at Great Sand Dunes National Park!

Families are often torn between beach and mountain vacations. Problem solved. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve provides both from mid-April into June. Because of higher-than-average snowpack and heavy spring rains, this year that time has been extended into July. Imagine my surprise on the Saturday after Memorial weekend and having to park over a 1/4 of a mile from the main parking lot. (In contrast the beautiful sunny December 18th day in 2014; I was car three in the lot that has hundreds of spaces.) Wow! Florida Beach? Southern Cal? Jersey shore? Snow covered Mount Herard to the northeast which provides much of the snowmelt water, assured me otherwise! I filled my day pack with necessary supplies - especially water, as the air temp was only in the low seventies, but between low humidity and a blazing high altitude sun, drinking water is required.

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Joyful Journey Hotsprings Spa

Peaceful Luxury

We all hope, for ourselves, and everyone else, for a joy-filled journey through life. However, recognizing the unreality of a smooth road without bumps and potholes, or life's unexpected twists and turns, it is nice to know that places exist for us to pursue some of our joys over which we have control.

One more of the hot spots for hot springs in the San Luis Valley, where Mother Nature makes her warm and wonderful waters available, is the Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa located 50 miles north of Alamosa just south of the junctions of highways 285 and 17. As with the other hot springs in the SLV, the water requires no purification. Mother Nature takes care of that too!

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Orient Mine Bats

Fast furious and frenetic, yet gracefully choreographed, are my words for the evening out-flight of the Orient Land Trust bat colony. As day yields to night, the voices of the 25 of us gathered at a fence above the opening of the old mine shafts—now the bat caves—are hushed as we await the 'opening act.' Rapid click-click chatter noises begin coming from a device that a Colorado Division of Wildlife employee is using to monitor the bats' activities. Soon, several forerunning bats open the gala and communicate to the cave that the coast is clear. Let the out flight begin!

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Because it is there.

Mountains. What is it about the human senses that want to go beyond the beauty of mountains as a backdrop to the horizon, and make those people with a 'climbing mentality' be determined to get to the top? The quote, "Because it is there," is attributed to George Mallory—an English climber—who was on his third attempt to climb Mt. Everest in 1924 when he perished along with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine. To reach 29,008’ requires major preparations in the land of perpetual ice, rock, and snow. And climbing equipment in those days was not as sophisticated as the technological advances of the last 75 years. It is amazing that they could even make the attempts in the 1920s. Such is the human spirit, as Mallory explained in an interview with the New York Times in 1923. "Everest is the highest mountain in the world and no person has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of humans' desire to conquer the universe." The debate continues as to whether or not they made it to the top as they were seen through a telescope very close to the summit and then never seen again.

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Hiking the Jeep Trail to Como Lake

September 9th in Alamosa started as a cloudless 36-degree morning. My plan for the day was to drive to the Blanca Peak trailhead and power hike up as far as I could in four hours toward the summit. After reading several trail information websites (14ers.com is a good one), I affirmed that the trail to Como Lake would be a steep and rocky hike, and close to 4,000 feet of vertical in six miles from parking.

The Blanca Peak jeep road turns east from CO 150 (one of the roads to the Great Sand Dunes), three miles north of Highway 160. The dirt road crosses grasslands for over a mile before turning to nothing but ashen gray rock. This is a good place to park a car as hiking is faster than driving! This road is considered the most difficult 4-wheel drive road in the state. For Colorado - 'that be sayin' somethin!'

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OPT and Trail Munchies, huh?

Way back when, a different time frame for each of us, I was in sophomore English when our teacher gave us an OPT. Fortunately, it was not a communicable disease, but an Occupational Preference Test, the only test I remember taking in high school that was not graded. The test showed how our answers to questions about preferences for situations and interests in life compared to the attitudes of people in various professions.

As I recall, a question would ask us about 'If you were in a band would you rather be the lead singer, the drummer, play guitar, be a roadie or the band manager.' The test seemed redundant in ways that made me think I was contradicting myself so I had no idea what my OPT would reveal about what profession I might choose. When we received the results we were given the top 3 possible professions for which our answers most closely matched the attitudes for people in those lines of work.

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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.

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