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. 

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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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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