Photo: Rio Grande Scenic Railroad to Alamosa, Colorado by Larry Lamsa
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.
Thanks to its proximity to New Mexico, the San Luis Valley shares many of its signature flavors with its neighbors immediately to the south. Traders and merchants used the Old Spanish Trail, along with several other major thoroughfares, to move goods between the San Luis Valley, New Mexico, and California, spreading cultural influence throughout the American Southwest. The SLV is also part of the region where the chile pepper was born: Bred by horticulture professor Dr. Fabian Garcia in 1913, the green chile is among the most beloved southwestern staples. You’ll find some of Colorado’s best local foods in this agricultural haven.
Thanks to its agricultural background, the San Luis Valley is home to tons of unique local flavor. Though the region is technically a high-altitude desert climate, it’s fed by an underground aquifer and regular spring runoff from the nearby mountains. The valley is known for its production of potatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and quinoa, all of which thrive at 7,600 feet above sea level. It’s also home to free-range bison and Rocky Mountain White Tilapia.
Fortunately, much of the food that’s grown in the San Luis Valley stays there. Head to the Alamosa Farmers’ Market (held downtown at State Avenue and 6th Street) every Saturday from July to October for fresh regional produce and baked goods. You’ll also find cooking demos, kids activities, live music, and other cultural events to make it a great way to spend your Saturday morning.
There’s also the San Luis Valley Food Co-Op, where you can find local meat, eggs, dairy, grains, and seasonal produce year-round. It’s member-owned, but anyone is welcome to shop at the co-op.
For your sausage needs, check out Gosar Ranch Natural Foods, which has been making sausages with the same preservative-, nitrate-, and additive-free recipe for six generations. There’s also a flour mill at its Monte Vista headquarters.
Plenty of San Luis Valley restaurants serve local fare, too. Head to Locavores for fresh, local ingredients paired with a focus on Indonesian cuisine and a commitment to environmental sustainability. It’s motto is "modern cuisine, local produce," and classically trained chefs Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray fuse Indonesian flavors and dishes with local produce, often grown in their own garden. The restaurant features solar panels on the roof to supply much of its electricity, and all the edible kitchen waste is fed to pigs on their farm or composted for the garden. The menu is filled with unique dishes that are bound to impress.
Another must-visit spot is the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, which offers both locally made beer and food in an inviting setting. Scott and Angie Graber brew the beer on the premises, which is an 1897-built building that was updated to a modern restaurant and brewery in 2006. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a 5,000-pound vault door from 1912 that "is a reminder of what the brewery is about today: quality, craftsmanship, and using raw materials to make something wonderful."
The small-batch beer list changes, but some favorites include the Valle Special, a Mexican-style lager, the Hefe Suavé, an American style wheat beer, and the Alamosa Amber, a classic Colorado red. The menu is filled with comfort food done well, and includes a bison chili, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and steaks. Seafood lovers should try the Colorado stream trout served over quinoa.
Next door to the the brewing company, The Roast, also run by the Grabers, features ethically sourced coffee as well as libations. It’s the perfect spot to grab a pick-me-up to start your day.
Originally written by RootsRated for Alamosa CVB.
3 Local Coffee Houses- 3 Fall Favorite Flavors
Nothing says fall better than a seasonally flavored latte. Alamosa offers three great locally owned locations for that perfect fall brew (Coffee, Latte ). Below are three favorite fall favorites, but don't just take our word for it, go out and enjoy for yourself!
Pumpkin Marshmallow Latte
Blessed Brews Coffee Shop 2431 Main St.
The blend of pumpkin, white chocolate & cocunut is perfect for a crisp fall morning. Just a sip and you can almost imagine the crunching of leaves beneath your feet. Looking for something filling to pair with this latte? Check out their baked good section!
Iced Gingerbread Chai Latte
The Roast 420 San Juan Ave.
The mood and atmosphere alone will put you in the fall mood. From the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans to the unique gowler lights, the roast is a sure fall favorite stop. For those warmer fall days try this creation. Sweet & refreshing with a little flair!
Pumpkin Pie Latte
Milagros Coffee House 529 Main St.
On the corner of Main and State in Alamosa you might be inticed to explore the sounds and smells of Milagros Coffee house. A popular hangout for those roaming downtown Alamosa and a great stop for a break from shopping. Try the Pumpkin Pie Latte for that traditional twist on fall.
All three coffee houses offer a variety of flavors for the fall season. Stop in and taste for yourself!
Sandboarding and Sledding
For years, visitors have been sledding down the dunes in plastic toboggans, rounded saucers, and even cardboard. As most visitors soon found out, the saucers and cardboard did not work at all. Adventuresome and creative people soon developed boards specifically made for sand, featuring extra slick bases. These new boards are the ideal tool for surfing down the dunes. Sandboarding, sledding, and skiing are permitted anywhere on the dunefield away from vegetated areas. The park does not rent or sell sandboards, but they can be rented at Kristi Mountain Sports, (719) 589-9759.
Did you know? The oldest rocks in the park are metamorphic (biotite schist and gneiss) estimated at 1.7 billion years old, making them some of the oldest rocks within the National Park System!
Beach and Sandbox
Experience the beach like nowhere else on earth, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and the stunning beauty of the dunes. Medano Creek is a popular seasonal stream enjoyed by all ages. The creek runs intermittently—depending on the season—at the base of the dunes. Expect the most water in late spring and early summer. Bring beach toys, sunblock, and plenty of drinking water. Click here for current creek conditions.
Hiking In The Great Sand Dunes
Photo by Eric Starling. www.2wheels2boots.com
Explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand. A dunes-accessible wheelchair is available for free loan at the Visitor Center. In summer months, plan to hike the dunes in morning or evening to avoid 150F degree sand temperatures or thunderstorms. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. You can hike on the dunes at any time and explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand.
There are a variety of other hiking options as well; forested trails, alpine trails, grasslands, and wetlands. The region's geology and biology make it unique among our national parks and a fascinating place to explore. You can choose a day hike or stay overnight in the backcountry. Find everything you need to know to plan your excursion here.
Sleeping on the Great Sand Dunes and Camping Nearby
Photo by Eric Starling. www.2wheels2boots.com
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. A free permit from the Visitor Center is required if you plan to camp on the dunes at night.
Free backcountry permits are also required for overnight backpacking trips originating in the national park. Inquire at the Visitor Center for site availability, current conditions, and your permit. Please note that permits must be obtained in person during Visitor Center hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the fall, spring, and winter. Permits are not available in advance, or after Visitor Center hours. Plan to use Leave No Trace guidelines.
Medano Pass Primitive Road (high-clearance 4WD vehicles required) roadside camping is only permitted at 21 marked, numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (part of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, beginning 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends in the National Park). These sites are indicated with a brown post and camping symbol and are free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. All 21 sites fill on summer holiday weekends, and often on other summer weekends.
Piñon Flats is a National Park Service campground located one mile north of the Visitor Center, open April through October. You can make a reservation here.
- 88 Individual sites
- 3 Group Sites
- Restrooms with sinks, flush toilets, and a sink for dishwashing
- Each site has a fire grate and picnic table
- Some sites have large cottonwood or conifer trees for shade, while others are more out in the open with smaller piñon trees
- A few sites can fit RVs up to 35 feet in length
- No hookups
- Individual campsites have a maximum capacity of 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles (including towed vehicles/trailers).
- A 50% discount applies to senior pass and access pass holders.
Oasis Campground - located just outside the national park entrance. 90 sites total: RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, and camping cabins. Showers, laundry, restarurant, and store on site. Open April through October. Follow the link or call 719-378-2222.
Zapata Falls Campground - primitive campground on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, located 11 miles south of the park Visitor Center, at 9000 feet in elevation. Spectacular views of the entire dunefield and valley. No water; pit toilets; fire rings at each site. $11 per night. Open year round; dirt road is not plowed in winter, but many vehicles drive on it, packing down the snow.
San Luis State Park Campground - located 15 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. 1-800-678-2267 for reservations, 719-378-2020 for ranger station in summer. Hookups available. No trees in campground. Lake is absent in dry years. Wetland area closed to the public for nesting season February 15-July 15.
Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground - privately owned facility located 30 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Hooper, CO. RV sites with hookups, tent sites, cabins, geothermal swimming pool, organic produce, salads and hot food items. Open year round, 719-378-2807.
KOA Alamosa Campground - 34 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 4 miles east of Alamosa. RVs, hookups, tents, cabins. Open warmer months only. Reserve: 1-800-562-9157 Info: 719-589-9757.
Economy Campground - 35 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 3 miles east of Alamosa. Full hook-ups, dump station, open year round, showers, go cart course, pets welcome. 719-589-5574
Blanca RV Park, located 27 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. in town of Blanca. 719-379-3201.
UFO Watchtower and Campground - located 32 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, located north of Hooper on Hwy. 17 Open year round. 719-378-2296.
If you find yourself passing through the San Luis Valley in winter, perhaps on your way to a ski resort or playing in the backcountry, the Great Sand Dunes are an excellent choice for a rewarding photo shoot.
The dunes are one of those rare places for outstanding photography on any given day under all conditions. Start with whatever camera you have available including digital and cell phone cameras. It's simply a matter of seeing the shot and fearlessly shooting at will. Sometimes out of a hundred pictures three or four absolute treasures will emerge. With today's digital technology it is easy to do that, so fire away!
Photo by Eric Starling. www.2wheels2boots.com
Sunrises, sunsets, galaxies, and clouds that morph and dance across brilliant blue skies provide an ever-changing backdrop to the dunes. Dazzling and magical are accurate descriptive terms of the sky over the dunes.
No light pollution! The Great Sand Dunes provide excellent conditions for star and moon viewing. Star viewing is best on moonless nights. Star charts are available at the Visitor Center.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open year round with the scenery and landscapes being equally as breathtaking in winter as in summertime visit. Just a short drive from I-25 to Hwy 160 west leads you to the San Luis Valley and Great Sand Dunes Country. From Hwy 160, outside the small town of Blanca, Hwy 150 heads north right to the Sand Dunes. As you near the entrance to the Sand Dunes, the cascading slopes of snow covered sand magically appear against the bright blue winter sky. Although sunshine is generally abundant, temperatures will be cool so be sure to dress in layers. Even in the wintertime, a short walk out to the base of the dunes is a must! While at the Dunes, be sure to stop into the Visitor Center to check out the informational exhibits.
Close to the Sand Dunes, you will find Zapata Falls. Even in the wintertime, the falls are a site to behold! A short, uphill walk will lead you the falls, but be very careful, once you reach the stream, it will be icy and slippery. The falls freeze over in the wintertime offering amazing photo opportunities or even ice climbing for the more adventurous!
After an invigorating day enjoying the great outdoors, head to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, for a relaxing swim and soak. The hot well water enters the 150,000 gallon pool at 118 degrees and the pool's temperature is maintained between 98 and 102 degrees depending on the season. The adjoining 24 person therapy pool stays a consistent 108 to 109 degrees.