Hi travelers! Welcome to the brand-spankin’ new series: Spotlight On…! Once a month I’ll shine the spotlight on a requested destination sent in by an avid Whisked Away newsletter reader. (Pssst: subscribe below to get in on that action!)
This month the spotlight is turned west toward the Centennial State, Colorado, but not to the usual hotspots. Everyone knows that Denver & Boulder are lovely, that Rocky Mt. National Park is insanely gorgeous and that you just “have to” see Red Rocks and the Garden of the Gods. (So if everyone knows those things… we should learn about other spots, shouldn’t we? We should!)
So, for this Spotlight On we are going to focus on the lesser-known glories of Colorado. Let’s get off the beaten path, friends!
Most folks flying in will land in Denver, and that’s totally cool. It’s important to note that out west landscapes loom a bit larger, scenery is more dramatic and drives can be longer. That’s actually great! Who doesn’t want to take a mini-road trip through all of that aforementioned dramatic scenery?
Here’s what you’re going to do: nab yourself a rental car and drive south on I-25 and then hop on I-160 W until you run into a town called Alamosa. The town itself is, on first glance, kind of a sleeper. But what it lacks in Boulder-ish-ness it makes up for in heart. And giant otherworldly sand dunes. But more on that in a moment.
Alamosa is the biggest town in the San Luis Valley, which is a really high altitude agricultural valley bordered by the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On the drive in, you’ll pass Mt. Blanca, the nearest fourteener (14K + feet in height) which you are free to hike! Or not!
There are three things you absolutely cannot miss when you are in Alamosa, and they are:
A coffee + baked good at Milagro’s Coffee Shop. All profits from this spot go to La Puente Homeless Shelter and all of their affiliate non-profits in the area, which include a food bank, community garden and children’s programs. It is a great organization, so get caffeinated and do some good at the same time!
Great Sand Dunes National Park: This place makes no sense, and that’s why so many people flock to it. (Sledding down giant sand dunes isn’t all that bad either.) This place will blow your mind, it is otherworldly, it is amazing. Go spend half a day there with copious amounts of sunscreen.
Zapata Falls: Ahhhh Zapata Falls. These falls are not as widely visited as the sand dunes but they should be. On your drive back to Alamosa from the dunes you’ll pass a turn-off to get to the falls. You’ll park, walk around and think, “Hmph. I’m surrounded by desert. Where the crap are these falls?” And then you’ll hike about 45 minutes up (watch for desert hares!) and you’ll see a river. The falls are just around the bend, inside that cave up ahead. Exhale, be refreshed after your hike in the sand, give thanks for the beauty and oddity we are surrounded by in nature.
Day Trips to Creede & Crestone
Crestone is one of those small towns that you’ll only need to visit if you’re on that higher path, if you own some crystals or Tarot cards or just really love being around amazing, high vibe folks.
Straight north of Alamosa by about an hour, Crestone sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains (read: beautiful) and is full of Buddhist stupas and spiritual getaway centers. It makes a great day trip to explore from Alamosa.
Creede is also a great day trip, but I’d like to suggest that you pack up and head out of Alamosa on your way, so that we can continue the trip from there.
Creede is about an hour and a half west and north of Alamosa, and is a historic mining town in the area, now known for its adorable “downtown” area and art scene. Geology fiends will love the area and so will hikers, folks who love craft beer, folks who love handmade art, salsa-lovahs (the food, not the dance… they have a whole festival dedicated to it!) and people who are just generally not curmudgeons. Creede is just that great.
Last Stop: Durango
From Creede you have about 3.5 hours to reach Durango- a flippin’ amazing town that straddles the Animas river. Yet another western town known for its lively downtown, great restaurants and breweries and endless outdoor living, Durango is pretty much beyond charming and you’ll want to move there instead of leave.
Stay for a few days to do some hiking, to try allll the delicious local brews, to raft the river and….
…to take a day trip to Mesa Verde!
Mesa Verde National Park is only a 40 minute drive north of Durango, and it will blow your ever-loving mind. Short, guided hikes lead you to ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, set (impossibly!) high in the cliffs. You’ll crawl through tiny tunnels (short ones) and climb up ladders to get to the dwellings, but beyond being on the side of cliffs they are all very accessible. Yes, really!
That’s All Folks!
I do so hope that you’ve enjoyed this Spotlight On! If you’d like Whisked Away to cover a destination you’ve had your eye on, send us a note or leave a comment below!