Sunday, July 13, 2014

South Central Colorado (NM/CO) - June 2014

New Mexico and Colorado Trip - June 2014

I've broken this trip into two blog posts, which is not unusual. However, instead of doing this strictly chronologically, I have divided the posts into a New Mexico post (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning, Thursday afternoon and Friday), and then this Colorado post (Wednesday noon to Thursday afternoon).

Remember, you can click on a photo to see them all in a larger size.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Alamosa, Colorado

I left Rio de los Piños, NM heading northeast on Los Piños Road and was soon in Colorado. I decided not to stop at Antonito as it was still too early for lunch and the one gas station didn't even post their prices, so I could imagine they were high. Instead headed north along US-285 to Alamosa. I don't think I'd ever been there and figured gas would be less expensive. I also found an interesting small, local place to eat, the Monterey Cafe. Though it was approaching lunchtime, they advertised breakfast all day and a lady at the next table was having chicken-fried steak and eggs. I asked her if it was good and she affirmed that it was, so that's what I ordered and it hit the spot.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Looking at the map I decided that rather than turning back to more familiar areas to the south, I would explore south central Colorado where I'd never been to before. As a New Mexico native, I'd never really felt drawn to go to Great Sand Dunes National Park, but as it wasn't very far away and I had my senior pass, I figured I'd check it out. First I drove north on CO-17, then east on Mile 6 Lane, then north on the turn-off to the park.

View of Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind irrigated fields from Mile 6 Lane.
You can just make out the Great Sand Dune to the right between field and mountain.

The terrain below the dune is grass- and shrublands. At a pull-out on Mile 6 Lane.

As those of you who have been there know, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is actually a pretty cool area with much more diversity in landscape than I had guessed.

Near the park entrance: Sand dune with mountains.

Medano Creek

Sand sledders on the High Dune

Dune Panorama

I waded in the river with a bunch of other folks, then drove up the primitive road to the "Point of No Return." As is apparently typical of the National Park Service, the warning sign on that primitive road is quite dire in an attempt to turn back the unprepared. At the visitor center I talked with a ranger intern and she & her brother painted a less bleak picture, explained where the camping areas were up the road and gave me a map. The first five miles are very sandy and they recommend lowering your tire pressure. Sounds like a fun adventure perhaps during the aspen season.

View of the dunes from the primitive road

The Starvation Prickly Pear was blooming all around

Looking south from near the campground toward the dunes and Visitor Center

Afterwards, I headed south on CO-150 and connected up with East US-160, then south on CO-12. It goes through the town of La Veta, then up into the mountains of the Spanish Peaks.

Spanish Peaks

View of the Spanish Peaks from US-160

Past La Veta, as the road began to climb the wide valley, I stopped to photograph a dramatic rock formation. It looked like a granite wall sticking out of the hillside. Later there was another with a formal pull-out and an informational sign. These formations are "dikes" formed by molten rock filling cracks deep under the earth during the volcanic formation of the mountains. Over time, after uplift, the soil has worn away exposing the dikes.

Volcanic "Dike"

San Isabel National Forest

I continued up the valley, passing through the resort & summer community of Cuchara. From the map I could see that there was really just one road into the national forest before Cucharas Pass. I took the road which ran along side a rushing creek. The road was signed as only allowing camping at one of the two campgrounds. There were a number of fishing access parking areas along the road. It did look like good fishing.

I looked over both campgrounds and decided to stay at Blue Lake Campground. By the time I set up there wasn't enough time to do more than have supper and take a short walk around the campground.

My site at Blue Lake Campground


Blue Lake

In the morning I decided to take the trail down to Blue Lake. The sign said 3/4 mile to the lake. I think it was a bit farther than that, but not much. It was an absolutely beautiful trail winding up and down around the hillside.

Trail from campground to Blue Lake

Lots of butterflies were enjoying the wild flowers

Wild Strawberry blossom

As a native New Mexican, I was in heaven with all this Colorado greenery.

Butterflies were not the only ones feasting on the flowers along the trail.
I believe this is a Broad-tailed Hummingbird female, but am not positive.

There were lots of blooming wildflowers with butterflies, a cascading brook, and then the crystal clear lake.

This cascade is wide enough you need a couple of rocks
to step completely across it.

Pretty, tiny geranium blossom.

Blue Lake - currently my favorite photo of the summer.

I took photos and talked to a couple of the fishermen. I then walked the short distance to Little Blue Lake where there were more wildflowers, but no one fishing.

There were lots of Shooting Star Columbines in the area.

Close up of Shooting Star Columbine blossom

Little Blue Lake

Returning to camp, I packed up, drove down the mountain, then continued on CO-12. At the pass I noticed a road to the left crossing a high meadow. I pulled over to let the truck behind me by, then reversed to the road. Looking at the NFS road sign, I didn't know if I wanted to take the dirt road all the way to I-25, especially after just bumping over some rough, rocky roads in New Mexico, but would certainly drive to the scenic overlook only a half mile in.

Cordova Pass Road

Gorgeous view of Colorado mountains and wildflowers.

This high meadow was full of flowers with a mountain top background and a view down the valley. I stopped at the overlook which had an informational sign for Cordova Pass Road.

Informational sign photoshopped to remove most bullet holes. Sigh.

I read about the road, the vista point at Cordova Pass which promised a 180 degree view, and an arch that had been constructed through one of the dikes for the road to pass through. I was sold, so I continued on the road, hoping it would be passible and not too rough.

Each time the road passed a turn-off for private ranch property, its condition deteriorated and I'd hold my breath, but never got very bad. I wondered what I'd find when I reached Cordova Pass. I envisioned a baren pass with maybe one other car, but the reality was very different. The pass was in a wooded area and there were at least 8 cars parked there. I realized this trailhead into the Spanish Peaks Wilderness must be popular with backpackers.

Sign at the parking area of Cordova Pass. Only one hole to patch on this one.

I gathered my photo gear and started up the trail to the vista point, which was supposed to be half a mile away (and was about half again as much.) They claim this vista point is handicap accessible - yes, maybe if someone carries you; no way a wheel chair could make it up that trail. The trail itself was quite scenic, passing through both woods and flower covered meadows, with views of West Spanish Peak as well as the lowlands to the east.

View of West Spanish Peak and the plains to the east

What a colorful butterfly!

The Rocky Mountain Clover was a feast for all the butterflies.

This black swallowtail was active right at the vista point

The view on top was indeed spectacular and even wider than promised. I took a pano with my iPhone and separate photos with my real camera to stitch together later. Turns out the phone photo in this case turned out very nice, so I never bothered with the other photos. I also had fantastic phone reception from there, so took the opportunity to check in with a friend.

Panoramic photo of the view from this vista point.

The road over the pass looked just fine so I continued on after my short hike. I'd realized I was out during a week leading up to a new moon. I had intended to try my hand again at star photos, but had been closed in by mountains all week. Looking at the map I thought I'd do something novel and drive out to the Kiowa National Grasslands in eastern New Mexico. Surely that would provide plenty of sky for photos. I thought ahead for once, and after finding the phone number for the grasslands headquarters in my Benchmark map, called to verify the campgrounds and roads were indeed open. Yes, they were.

Beauty along the roadside.
I took this one out the window of my truck, too.

I continued down Cordova Pass Road and then came to the tunnel through the dike, the Apishapa Arch.

The WPA built this arch through the volcanic dike

It was unsurprisingly hot by the time I descended all the way through the foothills and onto the plains and then south on I-25. I'd tried to take my time up in the mountains, but hadn't stalled enough and was afraid I would get to the grasslands while it was still hot. So, I stopped in Trinidad to kill a little time, getting an old fashioned root beer float at a small ice cream shoppe downtown.

I continued down I-25 and crossed into New Mexico at Raton Pass.

The narrative continues in the previous post.


  1. Agree with you on favorite picture of the summer. Loved Beauty along the Roadside as well as many others. Thanks for sharing. Really enjoyed it. Betty

    1. Betty, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  2. I 'thought' I'd left a post...perhaps you must okay them before publishing...but after writing it and THEN signing into Google...I don't see it. Sorry if this is a duplicate:

    Stunning photos as usual, Bill; what fun you must have! MY favorite shot is the one you took from your truck of the butterfly on 'matching' yellow/orange flowers. Fantastic!!!

    A friend recently told me she came up from Trinidad to the arch...and that the road past it was impassable; I'm glad you made it. I remember showing off at the trailhead-parking lot, telling a friend that the wild Gray Jays will actually land in your hand when food is offered. Not having any food, I scooped up a bit of duff from the ground and held my palm up...sure enough, two of the birds landed, one at a time, on my hand. I felt awful that I'd cheated them...

    If you ever feel the need for local history, our La Veta Library has a BUNCH of great books on the topic for your purusing pleasure. And that IS how ya spell it: La Veta (said to mean The Vein; having to do with the dykes coming out from a central point).

    Dang, my spelling is horriable...why don't these msg things have spell-check??? LOL

    You do really good work, Bill...thanks for sharing!

    1. Beverly, thanks for your comment. I didn't see any Gray Jays - maybe the wrong time of day or year. Sorry about mis-spelling your town's name - I'll go back and fix that; I didn't know what it meant, that's cool. No, your comment was not a dupe; don't know what happened to your original. And yes, I was very happy to get the butterfly on the orange flower.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!