Exploring Alamosa

Sand Dunes National Park, Alamosa, CO

Sand Dunes National Park, Alamosa, CO

by Jamie Greeman,

The San Luis Valley is located in South Central Colorado on the border of New Mexico. It is one of the most scenic places in Colorado with the towering peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west. There are eight fourteen thousand foot peaks close to Alamosa, just begging for a visit from  the avid hiker or just the causal day walker.

Alamosa is most famous for being home of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a miracle of nature that is sure to take your breathe away. The dunes are the largest in North America, so big that they would completely cover Denver! People come from all over the world to camp, hike and play on the great dunes, a promising play ground for all abilities and ages. Alamosa is home to two historic passenger trains, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. There is a connection between the trains that creates the only place in North America where standard gauge passenger rail meets narrow gauge passenger rail. Both excursions offer incredible scenery, historic steam engines and comfortable passenger cars. The Nature Conservancy partners with the National Park Service to protect the entire dunes system and its biodiversity. The Conservancy manages over 1,000 bison on Conservancy-owned grasslands and wetlands within the national park.

Bison Tours are offered throughout the year, weather permitting, on Nature Conservancy lands. Led as a hayride, horseback ride, or 4WD vehicle tour, bison managers take you to parts of the park that few visitors get to see. www.zranch.org  Alamosa is in the heart of nature, with the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, Blanca Wetlands and the San Luis Lakes State Park all excellent for wildlife viewing, especially birding. Alamosa is rich in cultural heritage. The area was first settled by the Spanish, then built on the backbone of the railroad. The culture has changed very little to this day, with the heritage alive in the arts, foods and events in the area. An excellent tour of this heritage is along the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway. Cattails Golf Course has a great clubhouse, it houses an expanded pro shop, new restaurant/bar and a nice deck with fantastic views of the mountains. The golf course is a unique par 71 that winds through tall old cottonwood trees and cattail wetlands along the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River.  Alamosa is centrally located to several hot springs, including the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool with 150,000 gallons of natural hot springs. The facility also features a 24 person therapy pool, a fun kid’s water slide, and a snack bar listed in Colorado’s Best: The Essential Guide to Favorite Places by Bruce Caughey and Doug Whitehead. On-site greenhouses grow organic tomatoes and cucumbers you won’t want to miss.

More…About Great Sand Dunes National Park

Because the dunes and surrounding mountains are designated wilderness, this is a great place to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty in a variety of ways. You can play in Medano Creek, build a sand castle, slide down the dunes, go birdwatching in wetlands, or ascend a 14,000′ peak. Medano Creek, at the base of the dunes is world famous for its beach like fun at the base of 14,000 foot peaks. Visitors may do any non-motorized and non-mechanized activities in the creek, including splashing, surfing, wading, skimboarding, tubing, sand castle building, and sand sculpting.  The creek is one of the few and best places in the world to experience “surge flow”, where creek water comes in rhythmic waves. The water’s source is the deep snows that collect through the winter. 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 hot sand. There are forested hiking trails around the Dunes, these are gentler trails that offer outstanding views of the Dunes and towering mountain peaks. Alpine trails also originate from the Dunes, they access lush meadows and forests, alpine lakes and spectacular peak ascents.

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is powered by steam locomotives, including the newest addition, the LS&I-18, built by the American Locomotive Company at its Pittsburgh works in 1910.  This locomotive previously operated on the Grand Canyon Railroad and the Mount Hood Railroad.  The LS&I joins the SP-1744, a fully restored 2-6-0 Mogul that began service in 1901 for the Southern Pacific Railroad.The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad has added five newly-remodeled 1950s-era dome cars to its fleet in 2011, offering passengers comfortable seating and panoramic views of area wildlife, sweeping mountain meadows, cliffs and canyons not accessible from the highway.  In addition, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad includes a 1930s-era open-air observation car and 1950s-era Pullman Passenger coaches, fully restored for daily service with new windows, heating, air conditioning and other amenities. The popular High Altitude Summer Concert Series is an annual favorite with performances by Michael Martin Murphey (“America’s singing cowboy poet” and a New Mexico favorite) and other national recording acts. Alamosa is the commercial hub of the vast San Luis Valley, with 10 hotels and motels, 35 restaurants, great shopping and an eighteen hole golf course. Great lodging and dining are available at very affordable rates. Article provided by Jamie Greeman, Visitor Bureau Alamosa

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