Ahh! Spring! The season of the sun bringing back the warmth to the ground. During the dark dormant days of winter, soils get a chance to rest, and winter is placing water for summer plants high in the mountains for cold storage in the form of snow. Looking across, what appears to be a dreadfully dry sagebrush covered landscape, water has been stealthily percolating underneath the San Luis Valley floor for hundreds and thousands of years, getting naturally filtered through layers of gravel and clay, and is, in places, also under pressure. All that is required, is to dig a well deep enough to find this pressurized water, tap it, and voila, an artesian well, meaning that the pressure alone will bring the water to the surface without mechanical pumping required.
'Here come the cranes again, flying overhead like they always do...'
To the tune of the Eurythmics song - "Here Comes the Rain Again." Twice a year the Sand Hill Cranes move, north in the summer and south in the winter. The Sand Hill Cranes have not missed one of their own human sponsored Monte Vista Crane Festival weekends ever, as they have been having their own fest here for hundreds of thousands of years.
Ever wonder how close the western states came to not becoming part of the United States? About as close as the space between the words you are reading! How so? Permit me to ramble on about the years 1802ish to 1807ish.
The players in the game were the powerful European nations of France, England, and Spain, while the internal players were the newly formed United States, Indian tribes and unethical, yet quite enterprising, American citizens as well as Spanish citizens in Mexican territories all with strong political ties, access to money and self-serving purposes. The prizes in the game were New Orleans, control of the Mississippi River, (an absolute necessity when water travel was the only way to get valuable trade goods up and down to the port of New Orleans and the world markets beyond), parts of Spanish Florida, islands in the Caribbean, and the whole present day American West!
BLOGGERS NOTES - In recognizing two hundred and ten years since Zebulon Pike came into the San Luis Valley, on a mission to supposedly find the southern boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase, I have the advantage of a picture of history before and after 1806 -1807. His adventures here were like many other western travelers in those days, one of awe of the natural surroundings, one of survival, one of discovery, and one of possibly ulterior motives for the expedition that has not necessarily been documented. A good ole conspiracy theory! This will be a two part blog, this one a general overview and the next one more specific about Pike's story out west, his capture by the Spanish, his time as sort of a prisoner in Mexico for 'trespassing' and his eventual release, but not before there was a bit of intrigue surrounding his story...
As winter heads toward spring - days are longer, nights not so cold, and the sun feels warmer as it crawls northward into our daily skies... It seems to be another season of sorts. It is! Hot Springs Soaking Season providing sunset watching, mountain viewing, and star gazing. From Alamosa, there are five options from which to choose. To the north off Highway 17, the Sand Dunes Recreation offers family fun in a big swimming pool, a hot tub and restaurant. Lodging, campsites, RV sites are available. Views? Oh yeah! Plus, in the adult area, several pools of varying temps provide options and there is a bar for adult beverages. Thirty minutes north of Alamosa.
Awakening before dawn on Saturday the 28th of January, I checked my phone for the Alamosa temperature. Sounds strange does it not? 17 below zero. Okay, it is January and it is the Ice Fest. The one time of year, winter, when we humans can walk on water, only because it's frozen! Remember the days when we looked out a frosty kitchen window at a thermometer attached to the house, checking the red fluid that would expand and contract with the actual temperature? The red stuff would easily have been midway between the minus 15 and minus 20 mark and generally quite accurate unless the sun hit the thermometer, warmed it up, and would no longer 'read' the actual temperature. Surely, I thought, it will warm up by race time at 9 AM. Yep, it did, all the way up to 9 below. But, no wind and the sun was shining, so we had that going for us!
The 'dio' (god) of the Rio Frio Ice Fest is WATER. Wait a sec? Is it not WINTER such that the cold is the star of the show? True, cold plays a role in assisting water by fluctuating temperatures from cold to colder to really cold, but it is water that can change its state of matter under many winter conditions, in shape and in volume.
On a training exercise for the 5k run, one of the events for the Ice Fest, I found myself up toward the Cat Creek Trail on the eastern slopes of the San Juan Mountains. Cloudy, with quick bursts of sunlight and occasional snow showers, muddy, snow packed and icy roads made me think of all the ways water can present itself to the surface of our planet. I was the only one parked where Forest Service Road 271 would normally continue on to the Cat Creek Trail. I parked, pulled my snowshoes out of my trunk and headed up the untracked road. My mind began to wander to all the states of water I was experiencing. First was snow, originally forming in the upper atmosphere, starting as a super cooled water droplet, freezing to a dust particle, then attracting more water vapor molecules as it drops toward earth, creating a beautiful six sided shape that dihydrogen oxide (H20) water drops form. We call it snow! There are as many different snowflake crystals as there are snowflakes, although I believe a few years back, scientists discovered two snowflakes that WERE exactly the same. And the number of snowflakes that have fallen within a hundred miles of Alamosa this winter would probably take up more zeros than I get on a blog post!
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open all year! I repeat, all year! From a distance the Dunes look two dimensional, almost fake and out of place, against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains in the winter. January, deep Winter, as good as a time as any to take my adventurous pal Elizabeth on her first journey to, and up the Great Sand Dunes! There are no excuses for not taking a quick day trip from Alamosa out to the dunes. In 45 minutes, you can be out of your vehicle and in the visitor's Center (9-4:30 daily except Federal holidays) or parked at the main parking lot for hiking the dunes.
The Dunes are spectacular in the winter. January is the same month that Zebulon Pike (yep, the Pike's Peak guy) and his expedition came over Medano Pass (also part of the park) with orders from President Thomas Jefferson to survey and figure out the fringes of exactly what the heck we had recently purchased from France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase was not your normal real estate buy, as it involved strange political tensions between the newly born Unites States and the power player countries of Britain, France, and Spain = Mexico at the time. Read excerpts from his journals, and he and his men were fascinated by the sea of sand and the valley that lay before them! His words can be found at various road side stops on the way to the dunes or in the Visitors Center.
Rare though it is, snow can come hard and fast in the San Luis Valley! Such a day it was, when yes, a snowstorm was pounding the mountain passes and the valley floor. Often the valley is in a 'donut hole' of dry air while the surrounding mountain ranges are smothered in clouds and the storms blanket the peaks, which is the general norm due to the physics of weather.
"How do people live in this place? There's nothing here," the woman proclaimed, in the convenience gas station in Fort Garland on US Highway 160. Her question was seemingly directed to no one except maybe her husband looking for munchies. I was on a C-E-S, a coffee elimination stop mid-morning on my way to San Luis and points south. I could sorta see her point, she being obviously passing through the San Luis Valley for the first time going somewhere for Christmas which was in three days.
More Articles ...
- 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!
- Poncha Pass Pondering
- A Potpourri of Pleasures in the SLV
- Boyd Community Garden
- Del Norte Trail Showcase
- May Day Play Day in Canyon De Penitente
- Journey to the Oldest Town in Colorado
- Migration of a Traveler
- Observing the Sandhill Cranes
- Take a Break, It's Spring!
- San Luis Valley: Gateway and Pathway
- Spring Has Sprung! Alamosa Open Space Trails