Adventure from Alamosa - Dunes to Ruins

September 21, 2023  •  1 Comment

Looking for a "base" to explore parts of Southern Colorado, we landed in Alamosa for a fun few days of exploring the Great National Sand Dunes and the historic mining district of Creede. 

 

mapMap

(Jump to Creede)

 

The San Luis Valley Sandbox - Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO - Mountain ViewGreat Sand Dunes National Park, CO - Mountain ViewPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

 

Alamosa is located in the San Luis Valley, one of the largest high desert valleys in the world. On the East side of the valley, about a half-hour drive from Alamosa, you'll find the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO - Lone TreeGreat Sand Dunes National Park, CO - Lone TreePhoto by Dave Alexander, 2023.

 

The dunes are the tallest in North America, with evidence of humans here dating back 11,000 years. 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO - PeopleGreat Sand Dunes National Park, CO - PeoplePhoto by Kathy Alexander.

 

In more recent times, the Ute, Jicarilla Apache and Navajo all visited and lived in the area of the dunes. The Ute called it So-wop-a-wat translated to "where the sand is". 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO - WaterGreat Sand Dunes National Park, CO - WaterA surprising place to get wet -- but also a handy place to then get dry (except when it's raining) -- is Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Alamosa and Saguache counties in Colorado. One finds the obligatory dunes of sand here -- in fact, the tallest in North America, rising in one spot 750 feet above the floor of the San Luis Valley. But to get to a large swath of them, one must wade across one of several (usually shallow) streams flowing along the sand mounds' edge. Most visitors actually relish that opportunity. The streams erode the edge of the dune field, and sand is carried downstream. The water disappears into the ground, depositing sand on the surface. Winds pick up the deposits of sand, and blow them up onto the dune field once again. Photo by Carol Highsmith.

 

The Spanish were known to have been here around the turn of the 17th Century. Today, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail passes through the Dunes area in which Spanish traders brought their mule pack trains across the southwest. 

 

Great Sand Dunes, COGreat Sand Dunes, COPhoto by Debra Miller, National Park Service.

 

Exploration for the United States during Westward Expansion would bring the US Topographical Survey crew through here in 1853.  Captain John Gunnison wrote at the time: 

"Turning the southern base of the sand-hills, over the lowest of which we rode for a short distance, our horses half burying their hoofs only on the windward slopes, but sinking to their knees on the opposite, we for some distance followed the bed of the stream from the pass, now sunk in the sand, and then struck off across the sandy plain…The sand was so heavy that we were six hours and a half in making ten miles…"

 

Fort Garland, CO - Infantry Barracks InteriorFort Garland, CO - Infantry Barracks InteriorPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

 

About the same time, Fort Massachusetts was established on the west bank of Ute Creek at the base of nearby Mount Blanca, but the swampy area led the government to relocate six miles south, renaming it to Fort Garland, which is about 20 miles southeast of the Great Sand Dunes.  

 

Fort Garland, CO - Old FortFort Garland, CO - Old FortFort Garland, Colorado was established in 1858 to protect the settlers in the San Luis Valley, then part of New Mexico Territory. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

 

The troops, including Buffalo Soldiers, patrolled this region until 1883 protecting both settlers and American Indian tribes. In fact, the 9th Calvalry black regiment once ran out white settlers who had encroached on Ute trible lands. Fort Garland is 27 miles east of Alamosa, and 26 miles south of the dunes.  It is worth exploring while you are near. 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO - JoeyGreat Sand Dunes National Park, CO - JoeyOur travel companion, Josephine Esquirrel III (Joey Squirrel) was not impressed with walking around in the sand.

 

There is a lot to do at the Dunes, including Hiking trails, sandboarding, horseback riding, nature watching, and much more.  We would recommend a full day, if not two, to explore this area. Alamosa, 30 miles to the Southwest, was an excellent place to park for this visit. Although there are closer areas to the dunes to camp, Alamosa had the amenities we were looking for as RVers.

For more information see: Great Sand Dunes National Park via National Park Service 

 

Also See: 

Old Spanish Trail - Trading Between New Mexico & California

San Luis Valley

The Ute Tribe - Roaming the Rockies

Fort Garland - Frontier Outpost on the Plains

Great Sand Dunes National Park Photo Print Gallery

 

 

Creede & the Colorado Historic Mining District - Rio Grande Adventure

Creede, CO - View From AboveCreede, CO - View From AboveA shot from above the town of Creede, Colorado. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

 

Near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, west of the San Luis Valley, Creede is the town that just wouldn't give up.  

 

Creede, CO - Rio Grande NearCreede, CO - Rio Grande NearThe Rio Grande River near Creede, Colorado. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

The Upper Rio Grande Valley had long played a part in the lives of indigenous peoples, including the Ute tribe, who transversed the San Juan Mountains based on the season, moving to the valleys in the winter and the high country in the Summer.

 

Wagon Wheel Gap, COWagon Wheel Gap, COPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

Another attraction for the Natives of Southwest Colorado was the hot springs at what is now known as Wagon Wheel Gap, less than ten miles downriver from where Creede would be established.  It was there that settlers began farming as early as 1840. By the 1870s, stage stations connecting mining camps over the Divide with the East further increased settlement.

 

Wagon Wheel Gap, CO - Old DepotWagon Wheel Gap, CO - Old DepotPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

Tourism was also on the grow.  Books about the American West helped lure Easterners and European immigrants to the region, and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was transporting tourists to Wagon Wheel Gap by 1883 with the opening of a depot. 

 

Creede, CO - Main StreetCreede, CO - Main StreetPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

The discovery of a high-grade silver vein by Nicholas C. Creede in 1889 started a great rush that would bring thousands to the area seeking their fortune.  By 1891, the population in the area of Creede would swell to over 10,000. 

 

Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Commodore Mine - 5Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Commodore Mine - 5The Commodore Mine on Bachelor Loop by Creede, Colorado.

The Silver Panic of 1893 shuttered most of the mines, but Creede survived to see a small resurgence in the early 1900s, and through 1966 total production included 58 million troy ounces of silver, plus copper, gold, lead and zinc. 

 

Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Humphreys MillCreede, CO - Bachelor Loop Humphreys MillHumphreys Mill on Bachelor Loop by Creede Colorado. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

Mining continued until 1985 when the last mine, the Homestake, closed permanently. 

 

Creede, CO - From Bachelor LoopCreede, CO - From Bachelor LoopA view from Bachelor Loop and the Bulldog interpretive sign of Creede, Colorado. Photo by Dave Alexander

Today, Creede has gone back to its tourism roots. City and County leaders began leading efforts to preserve historic buildings and promote the area’s mining history and scenic views. In 1976, the Creede Historical Society was founded, and during the 1980s, the town developed into a vibrant arts community with galleries, theatres, and cultural events.

 

Creede, CO - Business BuildingsCreede, CO - Business BuildingsPhoto by Kathy Alexander.

For history buffs, a journey on the Bachelor Loop Historic Driving Tour tops off your Creede Adventure.  Seventeen miles through the historic mining district above Creede, you will experience mining remnants and abandoned camps, tour the Last Chance Mine, and take in the Creede Underground Mining Museum & Community Center adjacent to the loop at the north end of town.

 

Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Last Chance MineCreede, CO - Bachelor Loop Last Chance MinePhoto by Kathy Alexander.

The loop’s route includes 14 interpretive pullouts telling the history of the mining operations and abandoned camps, including Bachelor. The East part of the loop is specified for four-wheel drive vehicles as you go up the steep terrain. However, the Western part of the loop is much easier, and traveling this way allows you to go down the mountains on the rough parts if you can’t make the steep climbs.

Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Weaver Townsite -3Creede, CO - Bachelor Loop Weaver Townsite -3Weaver Townsite, below Last Chance Mine, Bachelor Loop. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

For more on the history, see our article Creede Colorado - Silver & Gold on the Rio Grande

Also See: 

Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of Colorado

Creede & Bachelor Loop Photo Print Gallery

 

For RVers'

While here we stayed at Cool Sunshine RV Park in Alamosa. Its location between the Great Sand Dunes and the Historic Mining District of Creede made this a great place to stay, with plenty of amenities in town. This is a fairly new RV Park, with good wifi, laundry, an outdoor seating area, and more. 


 


Comments

Paul Spencer(non-registered)
The word is that there are seven wagonloads of silver buried by the sand dunes; Don't get your metal detector out though. The dunes are a federal park. Also, a /creek/river flows under the dunes. if you dig down a few feet, you will hit water and you can watch it flow through the hole. Last, there are friendly deer in the camping areas. They have been fed to the point that they are tame.
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