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. 

Great Sand Dunes NP Sunsets Stars and Sunrises

It was a dark and starry night... So begins the novel PAUL CLIFFORD (written in 1830), by replacing ‘starry’ with ‘stormy,’ a much parodied opening line from the book, my first image  of which was Snoopy sitting on his doghouse typing his great American Novel using those words on his typewriter. Mental images we take with our eyes, ‘cerebral photographs’ are part of the way we all view the world. What happens when we manipulate mental images with cameras such that what we see with our eyes is not what the camera sees? Let the artistic fun begin!

Imagine having the opportunity to drive a van transporting photographers for a workshop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park? Such was my honored task. This was not a normal day trip but an all nighter! The focus?  Sunset, Milky Way, and the sunrise.  The workshop participants had the opportunity to learn from the professionals at Tamron, a leading lens manufacturer, and the staff of National Park Trips Media. This was not their first National Park so Ken, Andre, Mark, and Damian have had time to perfect their craft of teaching about the technical aspects of nighttime photography, a lot more to it than aim and shoot! Technical terms like ISO, Aperture, shutter speed, lens’ sizes in millimeters, etc. were tossed around, all helping the students take the photos they were trying to digitally master. Wow! How fun, as I checked in on all the participants, peeking in on their camera screens, with permission of course, and looking at the shots they had taken moments before.

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Walkabout in the Local Woods

Walkabout - Australian Aborigine term by which young boys, having learned survival skills from their parents, head into the Outback (wilderness areas) of Australia for weeks or months on solitary journeys, live off the land, be spiritually enlightened, and begin the process to go from boyhood to manhood. Vision Quest (translated into English) is the Native American term referring to a similar journey. On a limited scale, due to limitations of modern world, these personal journeys continue today for these cultures.

We 'western civilizationers' have changed things up as we do not make that kind of time for turning kids into adults. Sending children out for these kinds of extended periods alone has never been part of our western culture. We do condensed versions - sending kids on solo overnights, maybe a backpacking trip for several days to weeks and usually in groups, or perhaps sending them to summer camp where the hope is, kids will get similar revelations, via experiences and interactions, about growing up in the world.

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Air Earth Fire Water in the SLV

As the ancient civilizations contemplated what substances made up the universe, most cultures came up with the basic four of Air (gas), Earth (solid), Fire (plasma) and Water (liquid). These were considered both matter and energy that sustained life. People contemplated these elements scientifically, philosophically and spiritually. How should we view these four things in the San Luis Valley?

AIR - Why is there air? To breathe? Blow up balloons? Make sure the Great Sand Dunes continue to reshape themselves? Carry the clouds across the sky? No instruments were available to determine the composition of air for the ancient peoples. They knew nothing about the gases that make up the air - nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, argon, water vapor and a few other assorted elemental gases in minuscule amounts. How did air come to be? Tough question, only that we instinctively know that it has mass when the wind blows and can make waves on water, blow dust into our eyes, bend trees.

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Science in the San Luis Valley

Science happens daily in the San Luis Valley. Fortunately, this gives me the chance to use my college degree. As the sweltering heat begins at the lower altitudes and we stride into the official beginning of summer, be it known, there is relief! Go high! I had the chance to do several high altitude adventures this week. One fact of weather science is that the atmosphere cools with altitude - about 1 degree Centigrade per 100 meters higher, equivalent to about 2 degrees Fahrenheit for every football field stood on its end. The sun can feel warmer because there are less air molecules to scatter the light rays, but, the ambient temperature does drop.

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Let the Farming Begin!

Heading over to the Rio Grande Farm Park on the last Saturday in May for a work day, I got a song stuck in my head. My brother and I had the record, a collection of Who songs entitled Odds and Sods. These were studio recordings that had not made other albums. This 'vinyl' had quite a diversity of unrelated songs but one song was called 'Now I'm a Farmer.'

The song goes through the pleasures and perils of being a farmer growing food commercially (versus a backyard garden) and how the politics and economics can affect the way a farmer feels about going through the process, after all the hard work and the toll it takes on tools, the horse, (symbolically his tractor), and the mental and physical toil of it all...

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Memories and Memorial Weekend Wanderings

Not all who wander are lost. Wandering around the western United States is not a bad way to spend time. I do it as much as possible. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will see the majority of visitors this weekend in the San Luis Valley with Memorial Day weekend being the summer kickoff for travel. Inevitably, large crowds will be at all National Parks over the next few months, as it should be. The parks are special places! But, one thing is certain. All National Parks and National Monuments are close to other state and Federal lands that offer wilderness adventures far from the madding crowds.

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Mosca Pass Trail- A Different Day at the Dunes

The Great Sand Dunes are certainly on center stage at the National Park. However, nearby trailheads offer routes into the backcountry with fewer people, scenic wonders and offer a good alternative activity when the Dunes are either too hot in the sun or perhaps, as on some days, too windy as Mother Nature has a 'dune sculpting day' and the dunes are inhospitable to human activities.

The Mosca Pass Trailhead is located a quarter mile from the Visitors Center. The trail map is in the newspaper guide from the entrance gate or in the Visitor Center (VC). There are 20 parking spots at the trailhead, or, you can leave your car at the VC as I did on a wild weather May day. Signs at the trail beginning will give you background about the pass as a toll road as early as 1871, a bit about the geology of the trail, possible wildlife sightings from bears to Bighorn Sheep (I saw an aging male who probably was not going to make it for long.).

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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.

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Take a Ride on the Chile Line

Travel is wonderful. Time travel would be off the scale spectacular! Imagine the ability to be transported back, or forward, to an event, or even a nonevent except for an everyday ride on a train from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Alamosa, Colorado a hundred years ago! It's sort of possible now. However, this trip requires reading about the history of train travel in this part of the country, visiting and seeing where the rail lines were, and stopping in the small places where the trains loaded water, acquired mail, passengers and freight to continue on to the next stop. In researching this blog, I have been able to piece together a short story about the railroad days of what is known as the 'Chile Line.' First a bit of background on the fascinations many of us, including me, have with railroads...

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