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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.).
More Articles ...
- 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
- Hot Springs Eternal
- Rio Frio Ice Fest 2017
- Dio of the Rio Frio Ice Fest
- Dune Day Afternoon
- Winter Highways in the SLV
- Zapata Lake Trail- A Low Lander's Perspective
- Early Deep Winter
- In Search of - Path Finding Adventures
- Cruising Crestone and Crestone Brewery
- Hiking and Biking in the SLV
- Healthy Trends for Healthy Living in the SLV
- 12 Hours of Penitence Rides Again
- Presto Pesto!
- Wheeler Geologic Area Pyroclastic Breccia!
- Things to Do
- Scenic Wonders
- Arts & Culture
- Outdoor Activities
- Shopping & Retail
- History & Heritage
- Eat & Drink
- Plan A Trip
- Great Sand Dunes