Alamosa, Colorado


San Luis National Forest, Colorado

18 years ago I visited Colorado while my sister was here on a student exchange. While I was here I made a friend that I stayed in contact with over the years, first by hand written letters and later via email and Facebook. Considering that I had not returned to this part of the world since then, I made plans to head back to Alamosa, Colorado to see my friend again. I flew from Vancouver to Denver then caught the bus south to Alamosa arriving in the early evening.

The five hour bus ride was quite interesting as I became involved in numerous conversations with the passengers, trying to learn a little about the culture and their current world view. The conversations covered the recent legalisation of Marijuana and the various issues associated with state law and federal law being out of sync; the American prison industry; hiking; climate change; skiing; distrust of the media; the obstructionist and divisive American democratic system; and the all-pervasive fear that has gripped America over the last 13 years. It made for a very interesting ride and I learned a great deal about the perspectives of individual Americans.

Columbine, Colorado's State FlowerAlamosa is in the San Luis Valley, the highest agricultural land in the US at an elevation of approximately 7500ft, and had changed a great deal from what I remembered. It has grown substantially to a population of around 9000 and become the central commercial district of the San Luis Valley. The area still had not become a tourist destination and I don’t quite understand why as Alamosa is a short drive to a number of excellent sites including the Great Sand Dunes Monument, the San Luis National Forest, a few 14000ft mountains are accessible from here in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountain Ranges. It’s not that I think that it should be a tourist mecca but it should not be treated as a “Why would you go there?” place, which is what I was asked several times when I was travelling to and from there as well as while I was in town. And while Lonely Planet mention the nearby Great Sand Dunes Park they inform people to travel over 100 miles from Pagosa Springs or Crested Butte to get there, as though there are no other options.

Michelle picked me up from the bus and introduced me to her three children. When I was last here we bonded over a passion for writing and love of fantasy and science fiction, which we both still enjoyed. Sometimes when there has been years between seeing a person, it can be difficult to get the conversation flowing again, but over the week we spent most of the time talking.

Michelle had planned a few activities for me to enjoy while I was staying with her which included camping and a few sites but first she had one more day of work. She works at a local radio station and I accompanied her to work on the first day to be her guest host. The show went as follows:

 followed by: Cream ~ White Room; Eric Clapton ~ Wonderful Tonight; The Cars ~ Just What I Needed; Led Zeppelin ~ Fool In The Rain.

 followed by: America ~ Sister Golden Hair; The Allman Brothers ~ Ramblin' Man; Bob Dylan ~ Rainy Day Women #12 & 35; Whitesnake ~ Here I Go Again; The Who ~ Pinball Wizard; Supertramp ~ Goodbye Stranger.

 finishing with the songs: Led Zeppelin ~ Ramble On; Janis Joplin ~ Piece Of My Heart. It was a cool experience and I learnt a little about what it takes to put a radio show together.

Microbrewing has grown across America and the world in the last decade with many pubs and restaurants offering a selection of house or limited supply microbrews. Alamosa has one restaurant that I visited that does that, the San Luis Valley Brewing Company. Their restaurant is located on Main Street in a quaint old building that has been converted. The interior is all polished dark woods creating a western style saloon feel but not tackily. The menu is a single broadsheet newspaper, which is quite cool although could be put to better use with more small articles associated with their food and drinks. They offered me a choice of six beers of which I tried the Hefe Suave (American style wheat beer), Alamosa Amber (Ale), and Grande River IPA. The beers were good representations of American microbrewing, balanced and consistent but not impressive. But if your choice is between something in a bottle or can from the liquor store then these beers are miles ahead of what is widely available. They offer a variety of pub grub, 5 sausage dishes, 7 burgers, 12 sandwiches, and a variety of starts and mains. It is well worth dropping by here for a beer if not a quick bite when you are in the area.

Visiting Alamosa and Southern Colorado again was an excellent experience and there are many ways for a visitor to occupy their time here. For me, the best part was catching up a friend and spending time with her and her family. Getting to see their world from their perspective is the bonus, and I know that they were able to experience their home differently as well.

The Alamosa WitchWilhelmina Becker, The Alamosa Witch TombstoneP.S. There is an interesting urban legend in Alamosa of a witch buried at the cemetery. In the rear left of the cemetery is the grave of Wihelmina Becker, Died October 36th 1913. There are no county or cemetery records for Wihelmmina Becker and offerings are left on the statue. Many people have said they have felt a strange energy and gloominess around the statue, especially at night, with other reporting strange lights around the area, although these could easily be explained by the airport opposite the cemetery. The myth also says that the date of her death also alternates between the 36th and 32nd of October.

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San Luis National Forest, Colorado

We drove out into the San Luis National Forest to begin our camping trip: Michelle and myself, three children and three dogs.

Driving through this incredible forest, we saw deer, chipmunks and a moose and numerous other small animals. Michelle had never seen a moose in the wild and we were all very excited, especially as it ran through a field and jumped a fence. Driving through the mountains looking for a place to camp we saw a storm rolling in but it hit us with a deluge just as we nearing a good site. The rain was so heavy we couldn’t see the road so we stopped and waited. Ten minutes later we drove onwards to a potential spot. That spot was no good as the downpour had turned the area to mud and there was nowhere we could pitch. We drove to a nearby town for dinner as there would be no chance of us building a fire. The restaurant offered two Bigfoot food challenges, one for breakfast and another for dinner. The breakfast challenge involved eating a stack of pancakes, each one the size of a dinner plate and over a centimetre thick. I don’t think I could even have eaten one let alone a stack of them. The other challenge was a burger with a kilogram of meat topped with a heap of bacon and cheese. I barely finished a single burger.

Camping in ColoradoAfter dinner we drove down a road heading east through the valley looking for a place to camp. The rain had stopped and there were no longer pools of water everywhere. As the sun was dipping low we found a small clearing next to the river. We played UNO and talked for a while before sleeping.

In the morning I walked up the adjacent hill with the kids in tow before we returned to break down the camp and move on. We drove west into the mountains and deeper into the park, on mountain ridges and through valleys deep and broad, the view absolutely stunning. This area is incredible to admire and enjoy, tree covered mountains, grassed valley floors, the rich red of iron in stone on a cliff face, a small river weaving its way, tripping over rocks and fallen trees searching for a lake or ocean to fill. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors this place is lovely. There are very few people out here, the towns are small and the tourism is low, so it is not hard to enjoy.

La Garita Natural Arch,  Penitente Canyon, Colorado


We were looking for an old gold town in the area where we would spend the day but missed the turnoff in the mountains and instead drove through a ghost town before heading into another wood to pitch camp. The clouds were building again but this time we made it to our camp and setup well before the rains hit. We also managed to find enough dry wood to build a campfire to cook our dinner.

The kids and I took a walk around the forest before dinner and the following day we all walked together on the road further into the forest. Colorado is a truly beautiful place to visit, and being here you can understand why they are so proud of it.

Not far from Del Norte on the western side of the San Luis Valley is Penitente Canyon which features the beautiful lone La Garita natural arch, but as my friend kept telling me “If you’ve been to Utah, you won’t be impressed”. I liked it, simple and majestic on an isolated ridge, the arch was like a telescope lens aimed at the broad plains beyond.

View from la garita Natural Arch, Penitente Canyon, Colorado

To top off the physically beautiful reasons to visit the region, you should visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Originally established as a monument in 1932 the area was renamed in 2004. The dunes are very impressive and with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains as the backdrop is even more so. Walking on these dunes is great and very deceptive. Nowhere is as close as you think it is, and it probably not possible to reach it by a singular path. As you walk on the dunes you will notice the wind is always apparent, increasing in strength as you climb higher, sand dancing across the crests. The highest dune is approximately 230m and the dunefield covers over 7000 hectares of the 18000 hectare park. The park is more than just the sand dunes and has a range of camping and hiking options.

Wild About Bears Talk, Great Sand Dunes National Park Rangers Station, ColoradoThe day I visited there were some talks by the Rangers. The first was “Wild about Bears”, an informative talk about Black Bears. During the talk the ranger passed around a few items including a bear skull for us to hold.

Another was “Who Dunnit?” an interactive educational game about the history of the dunes from formation to the modern day. This was a great talk as they included props such as sand and a magnifying lens, historical dialogues, and photographs, engaging the entire group.

The formation of these dunes has numerous theories and depending on which text you read the age is anywhere from 5000 to 440000 years. What is known is that a combination of wind and water erodes the surrounding valley and mountains. Winds pick up the sand and deposit in this area. When you look at the sands under a microscope or magnifying lens, they are quite brilliant and colourful, and when investigated further shows that the sands are made up of materials from across the valley and surrounding ranges. The sand also contains black magnetite which can play havoc with compasses at some areas of the dunes. When the ranger spoke of this area at “Who Dunnt?” she also mentioned that formation was reliant upon an uplift to form the Sange de Cristi range and volcanic activity to form the San Juan, as well as the La Garita Super Volcano.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The dunes are important to the local indigenous populations; the Utes called them “sowapophe-uvehe” (the land that moves back and forth) and the Apaches “issei-nanyedi” ("it goes up and down.) Indigenous American groups are the only people currently allowed to remove material from the dunes.

In the evening the park offered a Raptor show thanks to the Nature and Raptor Centre of Pueblo, where they talked about and showed us a a Golden Eagle, a Great Horned Owl, a Swainson’s Hawk. The organisation provides education about and rehabilitation for birds of prey.

Golden Eagle from Nature and Raptor Centre, Pueblo, ColoradoGreat Horned Owl  from Nature and Raptor Centre, Pueblo, Colorado

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Koningsdag 2014

Koningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, NetherlandsWhen we came to the Netherlands for 5 days of camping we knew it was going to be a 3 day weekend. What we didn’t know is that the Saturday was Koningsdag, the King’s birthday. The previous night at a restaurant they let us know that they wouldn’t be open on Saturday as everyone in Holland would be wearing Orange (the national colour) or variations of the colours of the flag (Blue, White or Red) and probably getting drunk.

We woke around 7am to the vigorous chiming of church bells for 30 minutes followed shortly thereafter by a marching band. We made our way out of the campground into the streets to find cyclists galore riding into Katwijk Aan See. We headed into the town down a flag laden street to the small mall which was filled with people flowing past stalls of toys and other second hand items, staffed mostly by children.  The street sale stretched around the corner and into the distance down two other streets.

Koningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, NetherlandsWe followed one toward the beach where we came across another crowd and distorted commentary regarding a race of some kind. We stopped a while and ate breakfast and within twenty minutes discovered it was a fun run with a few hundred competitors.

We walked back in to the street market and followed the other road. The market soon became a craft fair stretching into the distance. Having had too much of the jostling crowd we again made our way toward the beach where we came across a football match being played in a car park. The fire department had covered the car park in foam and were arming the goalies for the five aside match with fire hoses. What followed was one of the best football (spuitball) matches I have seen with a team dressed in animal onesies going at it with another team. The goalies used the fire hoses to intercept the ball a few times but mostly aimed it squarely at the players, seemingly not caring whose team they hit, and soaked everyone. There were two more games after that before we wandered away for some lunch.

Sputball, Koningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, Netherlands

In the late afternoon we returned to the town to drink our way along the beach and proceeded through six different bars, enjoying a different flavour of beer at each (Netherland and Belgium beers). At each one we asked what else was happening in the town, to which we received a variety of responses. We were told there would be fireworks at 9, 10 or 11pm. We were told there would be live music somewhere. We were told also that nothing else would happen aside from copious amounts of drinking.

Koningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, NetherlandsKoningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, Netherlands

After the sixth bar we crossed the boulevard back into town and found a small street party with live music. Sadly the crowd were far drunker than we were and the music bad 70’s and 80’s covers like Tina Turner, so we moved on. We took another beer nearby before returning to the beach for sunset. We then headed back toward our campground and found music being played in a tent in the sailing club’s carpark. Rather than pay, we sat in the car park for free. Around 10:30 though the sky erupted with a fireworks display that was quite impressive for such a small town.

Koningsdag was a great deal of fun and far better that the Queen’s Birthday in Australia. Maybe it’s the weather that makes the difference, it currently being spring and the Queen’s Birthday in Adelaide being in winter. Either way, what an excellent day.

Koningsdag, Katwijk Aan See, Netherlands


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