Whimsy, Welding and Nostalgia

UPDATED Editors note: John passed away Dec. 8 after sustaining multiple injuries in a car accident on Nov. 12. Please give here if you are able. Thank you. COOPER THE WHOOPER, a pile of welded and painted farm tools and spare parts, stands on U.S. 160 in the center of Monte Vista. Cooper was my …

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Crestone Charter School

IMAGINE PACKING A BACKPACK and checking a gear list that includes sunscreen, extra socks, water bottles, hat, hiking boots and various layers of clothing. Then envision loading up into a travel van with eight classmates and driving the westbound prairie route out of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and across Colorado to the Four Corners …

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High Desert Magic: Hooper Pool

Colorado Central Hooper Pool

AT FIRST GLANCE, the landscape around Highway 17 through the San Luis Valley might appear incapable of hiding anything. The earth spreads wide, splayed out below 14,000-foot peaks and an impossibly open sky. But off toward the Great Sand Dunes an oasis hides in a stand of tall, skinny trees. Finding this gem on accident …

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Salida Filmmakers Earn Emmy

Mike Rust The Rider and the Wolf

THE RURAL AREAS OF COLORADO ARE riddled with mysteries, particularly where dirt roads meet trails winding into the mountains. People who choose to make their lives in this tough and unforgiving environment tend to be private people who have moved out of the city and off the grid for a specific purpose. Mike Rust was …

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Places: Penitente Canyon

By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez As regular readers may have already determined, I am an outdoor recreation novice, which is probably why I love Penitente Canyon so much. Although there are absolutely more challenges there than I will ever be prepared for, the canyon’s more than 25 miles of trails have hiking routes for every level of …

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Projecting the Future of the Frontier Drive-In

By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez The Frontier Drive-In, located on U.S. Hwy. 285 just minutes from the town of Center, has been vacant for years. But before the pandemic made drive-ins more popular as the most practical way to hold outdoor gatherings, the potential for the Frontier to be on the frontier (not sorry) of tourism and …

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Places: The Historic Town of San Luis

By Mike Rosso Fans of Colorado history and culture should consider making the trip to the town of San Luis, Colorado. The town, which lies about 16 miles south of Fort Garland on Colo. Hwy. 159, at the intersection of Colo. Hwy. 142 is the oldest continuously-occupied town in Colorado. It consists of historic Spanish-style …

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Colorado Governor Ralph Carr and the San Luis Valley

By Forrest Whitman There’s a movement afoot to rename the Russell Office Building in Washington D.C. “The Ralph Carr Senate Office Building.” That would please Colorado’s Japanese-American community and many folks from the San Luis Valley. That’s because Carr stood up for the Japanese folks during World War II. He had roots in the Valley, …

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All Along the Watchtower

By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez The UFO Watchtower, on the west side of Colo. Hwy. 17 just north of Hooper, and an hour south of Salida, is a unique trip, camping destination or a must-stop along the way to other San Luis Valley attractions. Judy Messoline, the founder of the Watchtower, along with her partner Stan, who …

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Places: The San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center

By Mike Rosso Those who’d like to travel, but continue to social-distance—with an added dose of tranquility and spirituality—should consider a trip to the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center near La Garita in the San Luis Valley. The center consists of the Capilla de San Juan Bautista (Church of Saint John the Baptist), the San …

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Places: The San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center

By Mike Rosso Those who’d like to travel, but continue to social-distance—with an added dose of tranquility and spirituality—should consider a trip to the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center near La Garita in the San Luis Valley. The center consists of the Capilla de San Juan Bautista (Church of Saint John the Baptist), the San …

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Stepping Up: The San Luis Valley Responds to the Pandemic

By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for rural hospitals has been an anticipated challenge since the scope of the COVID-19 crisis became a hard-hitting reality. However, volunteers and local business owners proved they were up for the challenge, stepping up to protect San Luis Valley healthcare workers and patients, donating hundreds …

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Moffat: A Boomtown Wannabe

By Kenneth Jessen Moffat came close to becoming a town of great importance in the north-central part of the San Luis Valley. Historian Holly Rechel-Felmlee wrote about Moffat in 1980: “A cold wind blows through, swirling dust around old buildings. One can hear the swings on the playground squeaking and a loose door slamming open …

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Places: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

By Mike Rosso What’s a mountain dweller to do when they need to get some sand between their toes? When the nearest ocean is 1,000 miles away? One solution lies close to home in the San Luis Valley. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve sits at the base of the majestic Sangre De Cristo …

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Places: The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

Article and photos by Anthony Guerrero South of Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley is a prime opportunity to view nature up close. The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is a serene location mostly of wetlands featuring waterfowl and other water-dependent birds. The refuge is famous, hosting to up to 27,000 Sandhill Cranes every …

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Q&A with author, Virginia Simmons

CCM: Did you attend college? If so, where? VS: After attending school in New England, where regional history is pretty hard to escape, I headed west to Oberlin College, where I majored in history and discovered the fun of examining the often misleading minutiae that reveal what really happened. When I moved to Colorado in …

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Museums of Central Colorado: The San Luis Valley Museum

The Pioneer Schoolroom at the San Luis Valley Museum.

By Joyce Gunn

The San Luis Valley Museum is located in Alamosa, across the street from the fire department, at 401 Hunt Avenue. On the north side of the building is a mural depicting 96 or so images of various sites in the Valley as well as many of the people who had an impact on the Valley’s history. Stop by and we’ll be happy to give you an informational guide to the mural.

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About the Cover Photographer: David Sorensen

By David Sorensen

David Sorensen migrated with his family from the Netherlands to the San Luis Valley, Colorado in 2016. They have a dream of living in the beauty of God’s creation. As a nature photographer, David has found that the beauty of nature has a healing effect on people. Nature’s beauty gives us a feeling of well being, relaxation and positive thoughts. It lowers stress levels and gives a sense of abundant life. That’s why David created a brand new interior collection with his very best nature photography, called Paradise Canvas Prints. This collection literally “brings paradise into your home.” You can order his Colorado wall art at David’s website: www.ParadiseCanvasPrints.com.

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Long Time Coming

Mike Rust, pictured at the Colorado Cyclery in Salida before he moved to the San Luis Valley. Photo courtesy of the author.

The Mystery of Mike Rust Solved and A Killer Convicted

By Nathan Ward

 

The San Luis Valley locals knew who killed Mike Rust on the night of March 31, 2009, in Saguache County. They told us the killer’s name just days after we started making a film to celebrate Mike’s role as a pioneer in the sport of mountain biking, and to draw attention to the mystery of his disappearance. The locals knew who killed him, but as former Sheriff Mike Norris said “With no body, there is no crime. We just have to wait for someone to talk.” After eight years, someone finally talked.

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Center: In the Middle of the San Luis Valley

By Anthony Guerrero

There is a small town in the center of the San Luis Valley and its location has gifted it with the name Center, Colorado. It is also not uncommon to hear the Spanish pronunciation, Centro since it is populated by a very large Hispanic and immigrant population.

Center was incorporated on January 19, 1907. It has a population of 2,271 as of the 2012 census. That population generally swells by an additional 800 to 1,000 in the summer months due to migrant farmworkers. Close to 90 percent of residents are of Latino descent and a little over 10 percent are Caucasian.

Center resides primarily in Saguache County, and interestingly enough, a small portion, south of Colo. Highway 112 is located in Rio Grande County.

Photo by Mike Rosso

The town is easily identified by the large water tower displaying its name hovering over, letting every visitor know where they are.

Center is not really a tourist destination although there are great opportunities to experience regional culture. The town is mostly the home to hard-working families who help sustain the San Luis Valley’s lifeblood, the agricultural industry.

It is home to one bank, one school, a post office, a dance hall, the preferred Catholic church among other denominations, a popular Alta Convenience gas station, two parks, a few other businesses and multiple restaurants. 

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The Sanford Museum: Memories of the Past

By Mary Pope-Cornum

Sitting in the middle of the main street of Sanford, Colorado is a white-washed, Spanish-style adobe building. A hand-painted sign above the door declares this the Sanford Museum. The sign was arranged for by one of the museum’s originators, Gary Bailey, and painted by a missionary who was in the area at the time. The museum was initiated by Sanford native Mary June Peterson Miller, who wrote a historical book about Sanford titled We Call it Home. She passed away in 2015.

The building, which houses the museum is a museum in-and-of itself as part of the area’s history. It was built in 1937 as a government project through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Since that time it has housed a community center, firehouse, town hall, church meetings and band practice rooms for local students. An aerial lookout tower was built around 1955.

The decision to convert the building to a museum was made in 1995. The building has four rooms including a Pike’s Stockade room, with a mock-up of Zebulon Pike’s stockade and information regarding it. In other rooms, military uniforms hang along walls, with pictures and tributes to those who wore them. A plat of the town shows all the properties and their residents and visitors like to look for relatives’ houses on it.

Artifacts such as dresses, dolls and pictures were contributed by many families to commemorate their ancestors. Displays include an old cast iron stove, irons, dishes, appliances, and pictures of days gone by. Most of the history on display starts in the years after Sanford was settled in the late 1880s, with only a little of the earliest history of the town, which was settled by early Mormons migrating from Utah and the southern states, including a band of Catawba Indians who were part of the early Mormon settlers. Descendants of the Catawba still live in the area.

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New Life for an Old Hotel

The Saguache Hotel today. Photo by Mike Rosso.

By Mike Rosso

When Steve Stewart and Cathy Kent randomly parked in front of an old hotel during a visit to Saguache, Colorado, on a November day in 2016, little did they know that single, incidental act would change their lives and possible the future of the entire town.

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Museums of Central Colorado: The Rio Grande County Museum

By Lyndsie Ferrell

As with many museums throughout Colorado, the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte is home to some of the area’s oldest artifacts, highlighting the rich history surrounding the San Luis Valley and beyond. The Valley was homesteaded in the early 1800s by both Anglo and Spanish travelers, who came to the area after the Spanish Trail was forged through the dense high peaks surrounding the valley floor. When arriving in the area, both parties came to realize that they were the last to arrive in the region, joining the Native American Utes, Apache, Utah and several other clans.

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John Mattingly: Wild Cherry Creek

In the northern San Luis Valley, County Road AA – known sometimes as Alanon Afterway – intersects Colorado Highway 17 about five miles south of the intersection of Highway 17 and U.S. 285. Highway 17 at Road AA is the corner of four surveying quadrangles, the northeastern of which is the Mirage Quad. Looking to the south from that point, you often see mirages rising off the flat floor of the Valley. To the west on Road AA is one access to the Saguache County Landfill, which explains why that stretch of Road AA is frequently littered with trash, blown out of untarped trucks on their way to the landfill.

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Alamosa’s New Venue: Society Hall

By Mike Rosso

Back in 2014, a small group of Alamosa residents began considering the possibilities of buying and converting an old Christian Science Society building into an event and performance center. By the spring of 2015, they formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, The Society Hall Foundation, and purchased the building in August that same year.

They dubbed the building Society Hall, and today it is Alamosa’s newest venue for concerts, plays, workshops, weddings and other community uses.

Board president Ruthie Brown first considered the building, constructed in 1922, after seeing someone actually leaving the building, something she’d not witnessed in her 40 years in Alamosa. She immediately called local musician Don Richmond and his wife Teri McCartney to share her thoughts and once the couple had a look at the building, they decided it would be a great facility for the city.

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Ancient Tones: The Lithophone

By Marilyn Martorano

Several years ago, a number of very interesting and unique artifacts were identified in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve museum collections and in private collections throughout the San Luis Valley. A cursory study of these artifacts suggested that some of them may have been used as tools called pestles. Pestles were utilized to crush a variety of materials in a vertical up-and-down motion, likely in a mortar made of stone or wood. However, at the time of this initial study, it was not clear why many of the sample artifacts did not exhibit significant use-wear similar to those known to have been utilized as pestles, and why some specimens were so long, heavy and very carefully shaped for a simple utilitarian purpose.

The possible function of some of these groundstone artifacts remained a mystery until recently, when the work of a French researcher, Erik Gonthier, was examined. Gonthier’s research on long, cylindrical stone artifacts collected from Africa confirmed that certain specimens had acoustical properties. Gonthier determined that these acoustically-active artifacts were very likely utilized as portable lithophones, a musical instrument consisting of purposely-shaped rock artifacts that are struck to produce musical notes. Lithophones have been documented from numerous cultures around the world including Europe, the Far East, Africa, the South Seas and South America. Portable lithophones can be made of unmodified stone or can be formally shaped. They are played by being suspended vertically and horizontally, held vertically, played horizontally across the lap, or placed horizontally in groups similar to a marimba or xylophone. While some lithophones from around the world are portable, others are stationary and include large boulders and even stalactites and stalagmites. There are at least two locations in the North America that exhibit concentrations of stationary rock/boulder lithophones: Ringing Rocks Park in Pennsylvania and Ringing Rocks in Montana.

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The Del Norte Trail System: A Gem in the San Luis Valley

Del Norte’s River Walk Trail.
Del Norte’s River Walk Trail.

Article and photos by Anthony Guerrero

Deep in the San Luis Valley is a hidden gem of a small old mining town known as Del Norte. In recent years, the quiet and historic town has positioned itself to be the hub of all-season fun for the area and is increasingly being recognized throughout the state of Colorado as well as nationally for its amazing natural beauty and redevelopment and economic efforts.

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News from the San Luis Valley

Xcel Buying Solar From Hooper

Xcel Energy is now purchasing power generated by the 50-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in Hooper by SunPower Corp.

The power purchase agreement allows Xcel to purchase the energy at cost-competitive rates. It estimates the 320-acre plant is generating enough electricity to power approximately 13,500 average Colorado homes. Xcel is based in Minneapolis and is Colorado’s biggest provider of electricity and natural gas.

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Hemp: Colorado’s Next Big Thing

 By Mike Rosso

Colorado voters made history in 2012 when they passed Amendment 64, allowing for the cultivation, sale and personal use of marijuana.

But easily overshadowed by its sexier cousin was the part of that ballot initiative that also allows for the growing and processing of industrial hemp. Although 64 did not authorize the immediate cultivation of hemp, it directed the General Assembly to enact legislation regarding it. With sponsors Rep. Don Coran and former Sen. Gail Schwartz, they passed SB13-241, the Industrial Hemp Growers Registration DOA, which was signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper in May 2013.

Hemp, like marijuana, is derived from the cannabis plant, but contains little if any of the psychoactive components of the popular recreational drug. What hemp does provide is an endless number of commercial, industrial and medical benefits from the entire plant – from stem to seed. It also requires fewer pesticides for growth than most major food crops and requires considerably less water than crops such as corn.

Hemp is currently legal in many other parts of the world including most of Europe. Russia, Japan, Thailand, Chile, India and Canada are among many others that produce industrial hemp, but the leading producer of in the world is – who else? – China.

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News from the San Luis Valley

by Gena Akers Gator Gets a New Home Jay Young, owner of the San Luis Valley’s Colorado Gators Reptile Park, recently drove 2,200 miles in 48 hours to rescue Jaxon, an 8-foot alligator. Wildlife officials found Jaxon in a backyard in Los Angeles, relocating him to a zoo. After retrieving Jaxon, Young visited the alligator’s …

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Places: The Crestone Stupas

By Ericka Kastner

Passing through the San Luis Valley, travelers looking east toward the Sangre De Cristo Range may find it impossible to discern the two great stupas hidden among the trees, yet towering above the landscape in the mountain foothills just outside Crestone. The stupas are woven into the rich spiritual history of Crestone, a community with more than 20 diverse spiritual centers reflecting nearly all the world’s major religions.

Stupas, traditionally monumental piles of earth formed to honor the spiritual teachers buried inside of them, eventually came to be erected in a more skyward fashion. They symbolize the Buddha’s body and mind, pointing the way to enlightenment and the path to realization. It is believed that stupas bring blessings to the builder, the landscape upon which they are built and to all who visit them. 

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All That Remains of Bonanza is a Name

By Allen Best

When does a town cease to be a town? That’s been the question this year for Bonanza, a place that for most of its existence has failed to live up to its name.

It’s located in south-central Colorado, 13 miles of gravel road from the nearest highway, post office or business. This is in the forested fringe of the northern San Luis Valley, a broad triangle of high desert sandwiched by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks.

The town was launched as a formal municipality in 1881. This was during Colorado’s mining boom. Bonanza had seven dance halls, four smelters, two hotels and one newspaper, along with 1,000 residents.

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Camels in Moffat are no Mirage

By Judith Reese

The late afternoon sun is just beginning to cast long shadows on the San Luis Valley floor. In pastureland renown for sheep and cattle, three vaguely Dr. Seussish fantastical creatures graze on the low brush of the high desert of Moffat. Camels, once thought exotic, now make their home in Colorado’s heartland.

Mudita Camel Dairy, a modest two-story combined home and milking barn, sits framed by the Sangre de Cristo Range to the east and the La Garita Wilderness to the west. Out front, a young couple loads milk into refrigerators in a pickup. They are Matt and Meghan Stalzer, and the camel dairy farm is their labor of love.

Matt moves inside, and nine-foot-tall Dora pokes her head into the barn, her 1,500-pound girth framed by the doorway with the Sangres supplying the backdrop. Inquisitive Dora just wants to be part of the welcoming. 

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News From the San Luis Valley

by Gena Akers Wolf Creek Development Approved The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) has completed The Village at Wolf Creek Access Project analysis. The land exchange between the National Forest and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV) will provide the opportunity for LMJV to develop year-round access to their property. Approximately 177 acres of privately held land …

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News from the San Luis Valley

Alamosa Agencies Look to Revitalize Historic Building Alamosa agencies are looking to revitalize the old Rio Grande Motorway for regular and special events, such as the Alamosa Farmers Market and Alamosa Live Music Association concerts. Other revitalization ideas include installing a catering kitchen, and banquet facility amenities that could hold up to 800 people. Building …

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News from the San Luis Valley

By Gena Akers Rio Grande Basin Adds to State Water Plan Gov. Hickenlooper expects to see a statewide water plan by December 2015 that encompasses all nine river basins. Under the jurisdiction of the Rio Grande Roundtable, the Rio Grande Basin water plan draft outlines 14 goals, including: protecting and restoring sustainability, watershed health and …

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News from the San Luis Valley

Healthy Living Park Acquires Property The Rio Grande Healthy Living Park in Alamosa is one step closer to becoming a reality after backers of the project won a lawsuit and managed to purchase the controversial property from the developer. The site of the proposed park, the Polston property, adjacent to the Rio Grande river, created …

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