Sangre De Cristo Loop

As one heads up Highway 69 from Walsenburg and north, they overlook the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains while shifting from high desert plains into the foothills, sprigs of spring green edging away the dormancy of the winter months. Enter some buffalo into the scene, resting gracefully along the shores of a nearby creek rolling past the grassy lands of Wolf Creek Ranch. The sight of a tiny airfield, runway tucked into the ease of a quaint little town, greets travelers as one nears Westcliffe, Colorado, a very rural town of about 500 people dating from the early days of the railroad in 1881.

Turning onto Highway 96 and moving west, the hillsides alter and rise steeper and steeper, rich crimson soil emerging through its rocky edges. The road now winds and leads toward Highway 50 where the curious site-seeker can weigh their journey’s travels. If one moves east the Royal Gorge awaits, welcoming interested bridge explorers across it from 7am to dusk every day with stunning overlooks of the mighty river tearing through its base far below clearly visible from its picnic spots.


Once one starts to head east again, the Arkansas River roars alongside the highway, weaving and carving through the valley, a few rafters and anglers visible along its shores and rapids. The snow-capped Sangre de Cristos drift into the frame of one’s views again, leading the traveler’s eyes further into the western recesses of the Rocky Mountain Range. Throughout small towns one glimpses the historic and rugged history of the old west; little cafes and charming rustic storefronts speed by along the sides of the asphalt while one twists and mazes through the sights. First, pass Texas Creek, then Cotopaxi, and onward. The sites of a chalet similar to the ones in the Alps suddenly rise through the tiny town of Swissvale.


However, it is Salida that stands as a gateway into the Sangre de Cristos once more. First founded in 1880 as a hub for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, Salida now beacons as a tourist destination. While most departed Salida in the 1950s for Leadville nearby, those brave enough for white-water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and skiing in Monarch Pass continue to explore the region. The historic downtown hustles and bustles still in its frozen images of days past as the rustic, brick buildings boom with activity and inviting store windows. A river walk allows guests to observe the yearly kayak races on the Arkansas.

Just beyond Salida is the community of Poncha Springs where one catches the 285 south, circling to the western sides of the Sangre de Cristos to travel back and view the wonders of their backsides. Passing the Boy Scout’s Rocky Mountain Adventure headquarters, one moves further and further south, soon crossing over to highway 17 toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Joyful Hot Springs. Gorgeous panoramas litter the landscape, pulling the traveler into its grip. As Alamosa looms on the horizon, the painted golds and mochas of the glorious sand dunes appear, rising from their wind kept prison at the base of the peaks. One can either enter the National Park or continue into Alamosa, crossing the banks of the Rio Grande River.


As soon as one starts back east once more on Highway 160, about 16 miles from Alamosa, the turn off again for the Great Sand Dunes provides another opportunity for a visit. Before the gates to the park, the turn off for Zapatas Falls Recreation area looms. By this point in the day, the sun settles low on the western plains, easing ever so slowly at first behind the San Juan peaks of the Rocky’s out on the western slopes. The vast San Luis Valley stays awash in golds and pinks, the trails of purple spreading further and further. Recollections of the “Lion King” opening scene spur in the mind while observing the vastness and glory of the sun’s journey. Climbing atop the car roof or sitting quietly beside a raging fire in the campground, one surrenders themselves to witnessing Mother Nature’s purest and most romantic moments as the sun now quickly descends, leaving the nearby peak of Mt. Blanca to bask in the dusky silence of the evening. And now the journey onward and homeward proceeds, reminding that a simple road trip allows all these pleasant things in a matter of a few hours, but yet every day the wonders of our world continue, providing magic and awesomeness in every possible moment.



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