One of our state’s best kept secrets is the wide-open spaces and mystical landscapes of the San Luis Valley, Colorado. Located in the high desert of Southern Colorado, vast plains and mesas stand in stark contrast to the rugged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The San Luis Valley has loads of history and Spanish heritage, including claiming Colorado’s oldest church and first town. There’s plenty to keep you busy while vacationing in the San Luis Valley. Here’s a few reasons to visit:
Get ready to hike in the largest sandbox you’ve ever seen! With the tallest dune towering 750 feet high, choose your own path up the dunes or sled down the sand and bring out your inner kid! The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve encompasses 30 square miles and is located just 35 miles southeast of Alamosa, Colorado. Tucked into the curve of the 14,ooo’ Sangre de Cristo Mountains, scientific research indicates the dunes began forming 440,000 years ago. The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round, and will appeal to the kid in all of us. Plus, you’ll get some fabulous education on history, ecology, and geology.
If you’re hankerin’ for a piece of the old west, you’ve got to take a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. America’s most authentic steam-operated railroad was built in 1980, and portions were part of the San Juan extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Traveling between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico, you’ll pass through deep gorges and steep passes. Daily excursions are available.
The “ancient roads” of the Los Caminos Antiguos Byway are perfect for you to explore on a Colorado bicycle tour! Journey into history as you cross the paths of 16th Century Spanish Explorers. You’ll get up close and personal with the culture, hospitality and cuisine associated with the San Luis Valley. Los Caminos Antiguos will take you to San Luis, Colorado’s oldest town, and to its oldest parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Into birding? Then this is the place for you! The many wetlands and wildlife regues in the area offer fantastic viewing. The valley celebrates the arrival of the sandhill cranes during the annual Sandhill Crane Festival. These incredible species migrate to the Valley on their way north. They then migrate back south in the fall and stop again in the Valley. The best opportunity to see cranes, and other migrating birds, are March – May and September – November.
If birds aren’t your thing, there is abundant opportunity to view wildlife in the San Luis Valley. Keep your eyes open for pronghorn antelope, coyote, mule deer, or bighorn sheep.
Visit the beautiful Chapel of All Saints and view the inspiring and artistic Shrine of the Stations of the Cross in San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado. Just 45 minutes southeast of Alamosa, you’ll enjoy bronze sculptures by renowned artist Huberto Maestas on your short hike to the top of a small mesa. At the top is La Capilla de Todos Los Santos (The Chapel of All Saints).
That’s right, we said gators. “Unique” adequately describes this Colorado attraction. The owners of the farm decided to start a Tilapia farm in the late ‘70s, utilizing geothermal valley waters. Rather than throw away dead fish, they bought 100 baby alligators to take care of the disposal naturally. Locals soon began asking if they could see the gators, and in 1990, the Gator Farm opened to the public. The farm has since taken on another role: that of an Exotic Animal Refuge. They’ve received unwanted, illegal, and abused reptiles, giving refuge to tortoises, snakes, and iguanas.
Saddle up and ride some of the 60,000 acres of open range on horseback, providing you with the unique opportunity to view bands of wild mustangs in their natural habitat. These bands date back 400 years and are not protected by the Bureau of Land Management, so they are not subjected to rescue operations. These horses still roam on original Spanish land grants dating back to the 1600s.
Combine wild mustang viewing or any of these other Secrets of the San Luis Valley, Colorado on our multi-sport vacation.
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