05 April 2006

A weekend in the San Luis Valley

The features of this high valley include the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Alligator/Fish Farm near Mosca and the Sand Dunes hot springs Pool at Hooper and of course driving through the valley with the mighty Sangre de Cristo mountains to the East and rock climbing in Penitente Canyon to the West, near La Garita.

Julia had been to Penitente, of course, but none of us had been to the gator farm or the pool warmed by hot springs. My hand was on the rebound but it was too early to climb. I found that out last weekend. Julia was another excuse to visit the sand dunes. It's been a few decades since I've roamed that area.

It was windy at the dunes but it was a riot watching Julia run and run and run - barefoot.

Did I say it was windy? Julia would have hiked us to the top of the highest dune before understanding she was freezing. We headed back after sliding down some steep slopes.

We camped in the park campground. Julia got bored of us and carried her folding chair to the neighboring camp and proceeded to entertain them ... I think. The night held the joys of the campfire and roasted marshmellows. She invited the neighbors over for marshmellows too!

The next day was big fun. We went to the alligator / fish farm between Mosca and Hooper. Hot springs make it a good place to raise tropical Tilapia fish. They ship 1 ton / week to the Asian market in Denver. What to do with the fish innards and bones after cleaning the fish though? That's when they brought the gators in to clean up the fish remains. Alligators like the warm water too.

At this point, it appears the place is basically a zoo for rescued animals + a fish farm + a gator display. Snakes, tortoises, ostriches ... Great place for kids and big kids! I'd like to try the gator wrestling but it costs $50.

When you enter, they force a little gator in your hands. I had NO idea they were going to do this! Then they give you a certificate of bravery stamped by the same gator's jaws you were just holding. This place is definitely a must see. We'll be back.

Then we hit the Sand Dunes hot springs pool in Hooper. (I couldn't find a web site for this, sorry.) There's a small kids pool, a small pool for the big kids and a large pool for everyone. Very clean and supposedly the best concessionaire in Colorado. The food smelled good but we brought our own lunch. It was fun! Especially for Julia. Margit did a passable dive on the low diving board and a non-passable job on the high one. At least she tried. I wish I had brought the camera in to show the view of the Sangres from the pool ...

We met some nice folks at the pool, Leslie & Julie Lewis. They were from Red River, New Mexico and run the Timberline Lodge. Check them out if you're down there.

More photos at this Flickr album.

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