Travel Quiz – What can this strange sight be? A photo shopped alligator in Colorado? Fake snow at a gator pond in Florida? A Colorado gator in his natural environment? A real photo? Had I labeled these A - D the answer is....D! On Highway 17, 15 miles north of Alamosa, the Colorado Gator Farm is an excellent stop for entertainment and education. Even as a biologist, I knew little about alligators, having not spent time in the tropics. Learned much in an hour about gators, their behavior, their physiology, and their amazing evolutionary 'run' of 80 million years! Though not alligators' natural habitat, they can survive and thrive in high altitude cold as long as their hot spring ponds are filled with 87 degree water and they get plenty of sun!
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.
Winter recedes upward in elevation as temperatures in the valleys and lower parts of the mountains begin to warm from late March, through April, and into May. Trails emerge from hibernation beneath their blankets of ice and snow and become muddy and wet. Mud season! Depending on the winter snowpack (snowfall measured through April 15th) and variable spring weather, mud season can last a few weeks to over two months. No matter, put on shoes that like mud and hit the trail.
What seasonal treasures are left behind during and after the melt down? Why some of mother nature's finest sculptures in the form of ice waterfalls! One such treasure can be found up the Willow Creek access to Kit Carson Peak. The trailhead begins near Crestone. Find directions there, bring necessary gear and enjoy the day. The hike is 3.8 miles and 2800 vertical feet one way to the waterfall which is a fairly steep climb. Slow and steady hiking will be rewarded. The frozen waterfall lies against the 100 plus foot rock wall where Willow Creek tumbles off a cliff. Imagine how unique it would be to have time lapse photography of the column of ice forming over the course of the winter!
Climbing the Great Sand Dunes
What a magnificent sandpile! Forever shifting and changing in the wind but always staying in the same place. Hiking the dunes is unique as there is no trail. Everyone blazes their own. Rising almost 800 feet above the valley floor the dunes are easily accessed from the visitor center parking lot. Prepare for seasonal conditions with proper clothing, sun protection, and water. If hiking barefoot during the summer months, pack sandals or shoes for the decent. How do I know this? The hard way, once. The sand will heat up quickly in the high altitude sun and will become a toe toasting surface. And though shoes may fill with an hourglass full of sand, they can easily be removed and drained. Aim at the highest dune and start walking. Each step is forgiving as the soft sand falls away and creates an impression. One step forward, half step back. Every few minutes, stop and look around. In a hurry? Don't be. Enjoy the pace and the views as you hike, for there is no way to turn an ankle! Feel the valley breezes kissing the skin. Reach the top and photo opp.
Having been lucky enough in the summer of 2013 to be the driver for a photography class in Northern New Mexico, I 'attended' the class of a photographer who made his living traveling the world with his camera. He had a camera, of course, but he informed the class that they could start with whatever camera they had available, including a simple digital or cell phone camera. It's mostly a matter of seeing the shot and even then, sometimes he snaps a hundred pictures and only has three or four that meet his expectations.
With today's digital technology it is easy to do that, so fire away!
Hot springs in winter … wherefore art thou? Travelers have numerous reactions to hot springs in a region. Some seek them out. Others happen upon them any time of year and are happy to spontaneously try them out. Others, like me, enjoy them seasonally. I like contrasts. Cold winter days make hot soothing pools of water much more inviting, especially after skiing, running, snowshoeing, or any other snow-filled fun. I say 'ahhhh' at the Sand Dunes Pool.
First, let's take a step back in time. Imagine being an oil drilling company in the 1930s and getting into hot water, literally! One mile below ground. Energy is energy in science, but hot water won't fuel a car or a truck. So the oil company moved on and a warm swimming hole became a reality, then a fish pond and greenhouses. Finally, the modernized outdoor Sand Dunes Swimming Pool came to be as it is today. In late spring of 2015, the newly added large indoor greenhouse space will be open to the public.
Having been deployed to my hometown in Illinois for most of the last two winters to take care of an aging parent, and finding the winters to be as I remembered—cold, gray and windy—I am often confronted with this statement: "Living in Colorado, you must be used to these cold winters."
"No," is my reply, "winters in Colorado aren't this cold!" I say emphatically. Let me explain. What I really mean is that Colorado cold does not feel as cold. I run outside all winter because I told myself years ago that there are no excuses. If I have to bundle up like a penguin and cover every square inch of flesh with multiple layers, which is what I do to maintain my passion. My nose is the exception as I do have to breathe, being one of my worst habits, especially while running. Because I have run so many miles in both places and paying close attention to weather conditions, I present the following theory: In temperatures below 40°F, there is a 25° difference in feel between Colorado and Illinois. Point of reference; 25° in Illinois is what ZERO feels like in Colorado.
It all started with over 200 'crazies' aka runners/walkers who slipped, stumbled, and slid ten feet down the embankment to the Rio Grande River and the starting line of the annual Alamosa Ice Fest Rio Frio 5k. Two other perils were the three inches of slurpy slush which made for cold wet feet and the cones which indicated several thin ice or open water spots. Not a good day for a swim. Imagine being Jeff Owsley, the race director, having to drill a thousand holes (his guestimate) into the ice on the river to make sure there was enough depth to the ice everywhere to ensure a safe race. A thousand holes on any other race course might be considered an act of vandalistic sabotage! We were given instructions to stay away from the orange cones indicating thin spots. Rivers do not freeze consistently over their surfaces like ponds and lakes because of the flowing waters under the ice.
The art of adventure, whether 500 years ago, or now, is wonderful. We read, or watch shows about historical adventures when we have the ability to go now! It is ingrained in our human spirit. We have no idea where we are going until we get there. Such is how I felt on February 3, 2015 as I drove up the muddy, snowy, and slush-filled Conejos River Road. I'd never been up this road so it was time to go. I had two hours to pursue one of my passions, 'light exploring.'
Travel writing requires travel. Confronted with a brochure rack ... what to choose, what to choose? I take three approaches.
#1. SKIP all brochure racks and go 'Ready, Fire, Aim.' Drive around randomly where I am, see something interesting and stop. This approach will be different for all of us, but it does have its rewards by maintaining a good attitude of not knowing what we may find! An adventure awaits! (As long as the family/traveling companions are in agreement.) My 'no brochure approach' has stopped me at trailheads where I have gone for trail runs, aka, fast hiking. Coming around bends in trails, I have seen spectacular views, migrating flocks, run into coyotes, deer, elk, bears, mother moose with calf (her glare was the scariest of all) and come across fresh mountain lion tracks. One observation - wild animals do look at me differently when I am running versus hiking. Hmmm?
More Articles ...
- Insider Trails
- Orient Land Trust and Valley View Hotsprings
- Hot Springs and Camels and Golf, Oh My!
- Potato High School
- New Hot Spring Attraction: The Greenhouse
- Beach or Mountain Vacation?
- Joyful Journey Hotsprings Spa
- Orient Mine Bats
- Because it is there.
- Hiking the Jeep Trail to Como Lake
- OPT and Trail Munchies, huh?
- Fall Colors along the Conejos River
- Fort Garland - A Historical Perspective
- The Treasures and Pleasures of Penitente Canyon
- 5 Trails You Need To Be On
- The Ultimate Ales and Trails Guide to the San Luis Valley
- 5 Reasons to Visit Alamosa: Not Your Typical Trip to Colorado
- Exploring the Locally Grown Food of the San Luis Valley
- 3 Fall Favorite Coffee Stops
- Great Sand Dunes Activities