There’s an unparalleled excitement we feel when we overcome obstacles in the wilderness. We feel a rush and deep satisfaction when we step into new territory, or try an activity for the first time, and expand our perception of our own abilities. Adventurers who thrive at that intersection of challenge and exploration should make their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where they’ll find a handful of the toughest outdoor adventures in the Centennial State.
Alamosa sits in the center of the valley, with the Sangre de Cristo range to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west. Denverites can blaze down I-25 and reach Alamosa in a four-hour drive. The area’s mix of spicy terrain is a draw for hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, cyclists, and rock climbers. Here are a handful of the most riveting experiences for adrenaline-seekers in Southern Colorado.
Looking to spend the 4th of July in the San Luis Valley? We’ve compiled six great ways to make sure your Independence Day celebration is unforgettable!
Heaven among anglers, the high-desert valley of Alamosa is home to a ginormous web of more than 1,400 rivers, streams, reservoirs and lakes, including the beloved Rio Grande River, which is fed by the surrounding snow-capped peaks. Of those waterways, the Rio Grande River, a siren call to anglers, embodies one of the longest stretchs of Gold Medal Water that the Centennial State can offer.
To qualify for Gold Medal status, the water must produce a minimum of a dozen quality trout—measuring at least 14 inches—per acre. This healthy ecosystem delivers 60 pounds of standing stock—the amount of living organisms in the ecosystem, including fish, plant life, and micro invertebrates—per acre. The designation only applies to water that is accessible to the public.
The Rio Grande and other waterways near Alamosa support five major species of fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and Rio Grande cutthroat.
Considering the wilderness of the San Luis Valley, its unique terrain—including the tallest sand dunes in North America—and boundless outdoor recreation access (without big crowds), this area is prime for all varieties of anglers. Diehard explorers can venture to remote, high-alpine lakes, yet families can design fishing vacations that allow access to amenities in town and a fun mix of other outdoor activities.
Whether you stay near town or go deep into the Rocky Mountains, you’re bound to catch healthy trout. Here’s your guide to help kickstart a trip to the world-class angling scene that surrounds Alamosa.
ALL ABOARD THE RIO GRANDE SCENIC RAILROAD
If you are looking for an experience that encompasses the quintessential Alamosa, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad may be perfect for you. This train ride combines the rich history of the west, breathtaking mountain views and small town hospitality that Alamosa is known for. The train travels on the tracks that were laid in 1878 to bring supplies into the San Luis Valley and ship agricultural and mining products out. You can relive the golden age of railroads through miles of unspoiled Colorado territory, all the while learning about the San Luis Valley and surrounding areas from the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad’s friendly and knowledgeable staff.
The Rio Grande River begins its journey in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. On the periphery of Silverton, Colorado, the water begins its high-mountain flow and feeds thick blankets of Ponderosa Pines as it moves southeast through the Weminuche Wilderness.
Also known as the "Rio Bravo," its whitewater traces steep cliffs and jagged peaks before it enters the San Luis Valley: a vast intermountain basin with 14,000-foot snow-capped peaks on either side. To the east, the sun rises over the adjacent Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Outdoor lovers are drawn to San Luis Valley for its magnificent landscape, wildlife, river culture, and solitude. At an elevation of 7,500 feet, the basin spans 65 miles wide, stretches 100 miles in length, and reaches all the way into New Mexico. The Rio Grande passes the towns of Del Norte, Monte Vista, and Alamosa before it continues south.
With Alamosa, Colorado, as a basecamp, travelers will find refreshing adventures while exploring the Rio Grande’s dynamic waters and broad banks.
If 2018 resolutions included healthy activities such as skiing more deep powder at Wolf Creek, so far this winter, Mother Nature has not provided. Hopefully she will even herself out from February through April and lay down those deep carpets of snowy fluff for us to enjoy! Weather is out of our control.
How about those healthy activities over which we do have control for our bodies, mind, and spirits? Enter four new businesses in the San Luis Valley who are addressing those needs. Cool Breeze Farm, Susan Vadney Massage and Sound Healing, Infinite Art Gallery and Tea House, and the new remodeled Body Tune Up Gym.
COOL BREEZE FARM
Allien Jones moved here from the bustle of California to pursue what she loves, growing flowers, edible plants and herbs. She has rented a farm that came with a solar heated greenhouse for her plants to grow year round, not only in organic soil, but she has a unique hydroponic system for growing a variety of herbs and lettuces, vertically! It is the first time I have ever seen lettuce, cilantro and parsley growing sideways in this ‘vertical garden.’ Constructed in a metal framework with a drip system, I was eyeball to eyeball with cilantro.
The farm is off the grid northeast of Alamosa and utilizes solar hot water, solar electric, passive solar, and thermal mass in the form of large solar heated water tanks to help balance temperature extremes. Clean artesian well water is used for growing many different types of flowers and plants. Jones is also renting garden space at the Gator Farm up the road where the 87 degree water temperatures not only keeps 300 alligators happy, but the warm water in the greenhouse is magical for growing food in the winter. The extreme winter cold of the San Luis Valley can be overcome by creating microclimates within a carefully controlled indoor environment.
With a theme of Superheroes for the 2018 Rio Frio Ice Fest, how about a famous real person that does not make most people’s Superhero lists because they are mostly unfamiliar with Archimedes! He is the guy who gave us Pi. This is the number, in what I call circle science that is always the same, when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter and is a never ending number but is rounded oﬀ to 3.14159....
And he gave us the Archimedes Principle and all sorts of other cool knowledge as a mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer. The Archimedes Principle is that an object placed in water will displace the amount of water equal to its own weight. Perhaps you have heard of Archimedes as the guy who yelled “Eureka! I’ve found it!” While taking a bath, he noticed how he displaced a certain amount of water and the answer came to him! So excited was he, that he went running through the streets without any clothes on to proclaim his discovery. No record of what month in which this occurred or whether or not he came to his senses and ran to the nearest body of water and did his own Polar Plunge to escape being seen!
How do these two super discoveries, made over 2,000 years ago apply to the Rio Frio in 2018? Let’s ask Archimedes!
#1. - ICE CAROUSEL AND ENTERTAINMENT AT BLANCA VISTA PONDS. PLUS THE POLAR PLUNGE!
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.
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
- Choclorado Seasonal Beers and the Dark Season
- Autumn Part 2
- The Autumn Equinox in the San Luis Valley
- American Graffiti Meets Alamosa
- What's Growing On Around Here?!
- Colorado Backroads
- Great Sand Dunes NP Sunsets Stars and Sunrises
- Walkabout in the Local Woods
- Air Earth Fire Water in the SLV
- Science in the San Luis Valley
- Let the Farming Begin!
- Memories and Memorial Weekend Wanderings
- Mosca Pass Trail- A Different Day at the Dunes
- Newbies to San Luis Valley 2017
- Take a Ride on the Chile Line
- Let the Growing Season Begin
- Here Come the Cranes Again
- Pike's Stockade and the Free for All
- Zebulon Pike and the Great Sand Dunes
- Things to Do
- Scenic Wonders
- Arts & Culture
- Outdoor Activities
- Shopping & Retail
- History & Heritage
- Eat & Drink
- Plan A Trip
- Great Sand Dunes