A Traveler's Blog

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

Back on Track to the Rio Frio

Not long until the days start getting longer! Winter may even show up after a stretch of single digit mornings and shirtsleeve afternoons, with the desert sunshine in the San Luis Valley feeling as nice as September. Such is a La Niña year when a big High Pressure dome sits over the Southwest making for cold nights and warm days with 50 degree temperature swings not unusual. Perfect time to run at the Alamosa High School track when the day warms up. The track is open to the public and provides a wonderful semi soft surface and the round and round on the oval is still much better than a treadmill for us runner types. I, once again, being of questionable mind and body, am training for the late January tradition known as the Rio Frio, a 5k run on the frozen surface of the Rio Grande when several hundred runners brave the day and run the river without a boat. Last year, the starting temperature was 16 below zero. Makes for cold extremities of toes, nose, fingers and ears. As I run training laps on the track, my mind leads me to wonder, how fit am I?

Adams State University has a Human Performance Lab on Campus that is open to the public. I decided ‘to drop in, to see what condition my condition was in,’ to paraphrase the lyrics from the song by the First Edition in 1968, sung by Kenny Rogers, FYI. Met Dr. Tracey Robinson at the lab and she introduced me to three of her grad students who would test me for my fitness age.

First, they did the ‘caliper thingy’ on various parts of my body along with tape measuring to determine my BMI (Body Mass Index). Next, I get my resting pulse taken, then do step up step downs for 3 minutes to a goofy recording to pace my stepping and compare my exercise pulse to my resting pulse. As a runner, I performed well in this test. Up next was the flexibility test by sitting with legs flat on floor and extending as far as possible to the threshold of pain which tests the legs and lower back.

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Happy Thanksduning

Having turned our Thanksgiving meal this year into a late lunch instead of dinner, we had the rest of the afternoon to either hang out in a ‘food coma,’ or get outside and do something! With temperatures in the mid-fifties coupled with virtually no wind, there were no excuses. Time to go, do what I am now referring to, as ‘Thanksduning,’ at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This would be a good day to hike in the sand and reflect upon all the wonderful Thanksgivings from years past. There were family traditions with grandparents, traveling occasionally hundreds of miles to Minneapolis where we did have wintery holidays on occasion, to being home with friends and doing all the cooking and entertaining while helping out mom and dad. Goofy gimmicky kitchen tools were being sold in those days to aid the average person with all the tasks! I remember those first Sunbeam electric knives being introduced for easily carving the turkey at the table. Ahh, the smells of turkey fresh out of the oven, stuffing and gravy, homemade dinner rolls, fresh pies and everything else that made Thanksgiving special while growing up.

Later, post College, it became good times with friends and their new families and even an occasional holiday that was not so great. I experienced one solitary Thanksgiving. I was housesitting in one of my early years in Colorado. It snowed 16 inches overnight, another 8 during the day, the plows could not keep up and the roads were drifted impassable. I was housebound. I ate a peanut butter sandwich, drank a half a bottle of Cabernet that I was going to take to the house to which I had been invited, and went for a silent snowy walk in the neighborhood, returned to the house and watched football. A nice day overall but Thanksgiving solitude is not something I would recommend! I vowed to avoid another.

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Rio Grande- A River Through Desert

Desert sky,

Dream beneath the desert sky,

Rivers run, but soon run dry,

We need new dreams tonight...

U2 - In God’s Country - Joshua Tree Album 1987

A river, by any other name, will still run its course. Humans are similar, not by geography, but by time. Our lives, like rivers, will run their course, but unlike rivers, we can change direction.

How then do we manage our rivers and streams? Our time? (C’est une bonne question!). That is a good question! In French or any other language. This blog post is the result of having attended a community meeting for Revitalizing the Rio Grande, though not so much about the meeting, but more about the “River Big,” as translated from Spanish to English.

Alamosa is a high desert. The annual average precipitation is seven inches. The town and the valley rely on the Rio Grande for water via reservoirs, canals, irrigation ditches, and other ways to distribute water from the river. Due to changes in snowpack every year, quantity and quality of the Rio Grande can vary.

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Choclorado Seasonal Beers and the Dark Season

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow

Take my head and let me sleep

In the coolness of your shadow

In the silence of your dream

Jesse Colin Young - Darkness Darkness

‘Falling back’ with our clocks makes me call the next three months the ‘dark season.’ Nothing we can do about the reduced hours of daylight, the coming of winter, and the cold and snow. Funny how we all have varying opinions about the seasonal changes. Winter would not be so bad if it were light outside for longer hours in the day! But that’s not how the World turning works. I know people who embrace the dark season by chasing snow. Ski instructor in Colorado during our winter and then they head south to Chile or New Zealand for their winter.

How do people in the San Luis Valley embrace winter and soothe what medical experts call Seasonal Affective Disorder? Check online to read medical suggestions or continue reading here for edible and drinkable ‘medicines.’

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Autumn Part 2

Leaves are falling all around, Time,

I was on my way,

Thanks to you, I’m much obliged, Such a pleasant stay, but now, It’s time for me to go,

The autumn moon lights my way... “Ramble On” - Led Zeppelin

Cannot help but feel so much recently for everyone after being pounded by wind, water, and waves in hurricanes, or, having everything they owned being completely consumed by firestorms! How lucky are some of us to be in the mountains where we may have a few blizzards, occasionally extreme cold, and a forest fire or two, but never as out of control as hurricanes, or the kinds of wildfires that crush California. Weather dynamics in parts of the world are completely in Mother Nature’s control and her wrath can be powerful and brutal.

Enter her softer gentler side. Colorado has two autumns. The first burst of color season that people come to see is mid-September through early October. Amazing contrasts reveal golden aspen groves against the green pines, the high jagged peaks, and the bluest of blue skies. But a series of fast moving storms as the jet stream comes south bring rain into the valleys and snow above tree line on the highest peaks. Unrelenting winds for a day or two rake the aspen trees bare until most of the groves at altitude appear, from a distance, like thousands of naked white sticks pointed to the sky. Though the scene may look uninviting, the trails that pass through them, are actually wonderful. The fallen leaves begin their decomposition to return to the forest soils and emit a unique and pleasant odor. If dry, they crunch under foot, and create a patchwork of art. Streams are running low and cold revealing their rocky bottoms. Autumn Part 2 may not be as colorful but it is still a photographer’s dream or an artist’s canvas. Bronzes, browns, and grays dominate except where renegade trees are ‘late bloomers’ and full of color, still dressed in shades of golds, reds, and oranges. If snow falls in October, it will generally be staying for the winter on the north facing slopes where the cold night temperatures keep the snow frozen even on days when air temperatures may be in the 50s.

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The Autumn Equinox in the San Luis Valley

It happens on time every year! But, not exactly at the same time. What the heck, is, ‘it’? I threw in those commas to slow readers down and contemplate for a bit. In the course of our 365.25 day yearly tour around the sun (that extra quarter of a day each year is what makes us need to throw in an extra day every four years in February to catch up to the Earth’s actual full revolution), the earth tilts at ever changing angles to direct sunlight independent of our 24 hour axis rotation that gives us night and day. Simple, yet complex and let’s all life survive on our spaceship Earth. If our planet did not rotate, the dark side of the Earth away from the sun would be frozen solid at absolute zero and the sunny side would be burnt to a crisp as if someone had left the oven on all night and forgot about the bread baking! Black cinder buns anyone?

What exactly is the Equinox? Similar to the recent solar eclipse where the new moon passed in front of the sun for around two minutes, the sun passes over the equator as the Earth revolves and only ‘hovers’ at that spot for a brief moment. In September this movement of the sun over the Equator starts fall in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The reverse happens on March 21 every year.

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American Graffiti Meets Alamosa

While attending the Early Iron Festival over Labor Day weekend in Alamosa, my senses of sight, hearing and smell were turned up to 11. (YouTube - ‘These go to 11’ from Spinal Tap - 56 seconds of funny!) Early Iron is a brilliant car show with car models spanning much of the 100 years of human fascination and love affairs with horseless carriages, from family sedans to wildly rebuilt muscle cars. As I wandered the rows of vehicles, the archives of personal movies and pictures, stored somewhere in my mind, triggered flashbacks of my history with cars, from the first time solo behind a wheel, to going way too fast in a friend’s 1969 Chevelle SS, to my favorite joy, driving a stick shift. I still do, and love it! The shape, colors, and detailing of the cars inside and out, the view of the steering wheel and old style speedometers, the revving of the engines, the smell of brand new upholstery, and ultimately, inevitably, exhaust fumes are all part of the experience. Ahh, each of us have our own special car memories...

What a magnificent gallery of powerful artistic engineering, in the form of automobiles and trucks, which rolled into Alamosa for three days, as it has for 37 years. Rumors of 600 restored cars were confirmed by wandering Cole Park, several other venues around town, and being on Main Street Saturday night. Owners, who have spent much time and money, as restoring ‘old cars’ is not a cheap and fast hobby, have a lot to talk about with car aficionados who arrive from all over the US and beyond to appreciate and dream of their wish list ‘hot rod.’ One group from England happened to be here on a tour for Steam Trains and Breweries and found themselves caught up in the car show. The Brits, taking it all in, loved it!

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What's Growing On Around Here?!

The middle of harvest season in the San Luis Valley provides numerous opportunities to prepare and eat wonderful foods grown here. But how did farming come to be part of this high desert area, considered a wasteland by some early explorers and used for only a summer hunting ground for Ute Indians? The growing season is short, occasionally only a hundred days between freezing temperatures, frost and snow!

First, a quick word on Texas flooding. Listening to the music by Dreamtale, a band from Finland, their album Beyond Reality is an appropriate term for Hurricane Harvey. Who can imagine over 4 feet of rain in a single storm? The people of SE Texas can, as well as the people in Bangladesh who rely on the monsoons to water their crops but must live in hopes that they are not subject to massive flooding that results in wiped out crops, destruction and death. Sadly, monster floods are occurring simultaneously there. One reason I mention this is that the water from the Rio Grande that supplies food to this valley is also responsible for growing food 1200 miles downstream in Texas. Fortunately, the major portion of Texas’ food growing regions were spared from the rains of Harvey. Still, the floods have taken their toll on local food supplies. How lucky we are to have had, and continue to have, a fabulous growing season. Not sure if there is a way for us to send excess bounty from our gardens to the people in desperate need in Texas shelters or not... Contact Local Food Coalition for ideas.

So, what is growing around here now besides pine, wildflowers and aspen trees in the mountains, sage, cacti, and grasses in the valley, willows and cottonwoods along the waterways, and many other valuable species that fill in the gaps? Add in the agricultural fields and gardens created by humans and all these ecosystems and life zones create a stable system of plant diversity which allows animal species, including humans, to live and thrive.

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Colorado Backroads

Summer is the season for high country backroads and trails. Inaccessible roads and trails during winter melted out late this year but are now providing amazing things to see and do. From now through sometime in October or in to early November, find a road or a trail and make a spontaneous trip. If you have 4 wheel drive, great!  Accessibility to some crazy roads are available. Not my style as I am usually on foot, but as it is, I have taken my car onto some pretty gnarly roads. My front wheel drive Honda becomes a bit of a four wheel drive. To drive these roads, requires talent, patience with slow speeds and learning how to pick your lines until you see the spot where you can no longer proceed.  Park.

“Keep taking those backroads, that’s all I ever heard her say...”. From the song Black Rose by Sad Cafe. When the trails and backroads are calling me, I often get the song stuck in my head, which is okay because it is a good song. (Can be found on YouTube.). The most EXTREME 4 wheel drive is up toward Lake Como and Blanca Peak in the San Luis Valley. Use caution, or do as I did, park low and continue on foot to the lake. The three miles to Zapata Falls is a slow rocky road, steep in places but there are always plenty of regular passenger cars in the lot. Worth the trip. Easier routes are dirt roads like Embargo Creek Road for hiking, fishing, and finding Fremont’s winter campsite from 1849 that I found earlier this summer.

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