Alamosa, Colorado – October 10th to 13th, 2020

We love sharing our adventures with our blog post readers and our YouTube channel followers, but sharing our time with friends, in person, is even better. Base Camp Family RV Park east of Alamosa was our base for three nights as we explored the Alamosa area with our friends Dave and Sandy.

We relaxed at our camp site in Lathrop State Park in the morning of October 10th before heading to Alamosa. The drive over La Veta Pass was beautiful. We spotted a few antelope along the way. It was too early to check into the RV park, so we continued on into the town of Alamosa. 

We stopped at Cole Park along the Rio Grande River in town for a picnic lunch. Being a Saturday, there were quite a few locals enjoying the park and the outdoors. There was a playground, skate park, picnic tables and a large grassy area with a path all the way around it. It looked like it is used for events because there were electrical outlets and wifi repeaters around the circumference of the grassy area. Several city trails led off from the park. We walked a few minutes down one of them along the river. At the other end of the park, near the highway, was an old train on display which looked like they let people climb on board. As we were leaving, we drove by the Adams State University campus just to see what it was like. It looked like a pleasant atmosphere.

We arrived at the RV park in the early afternoon and worked on our laptops until our friends Dave and Sandy arrived in the evening. We didn’t have a good cell signal at Lathrop, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We haven’t seen Dave and Sandy since last winter so it was nice to see them again. They will be traveling with us for the next six days while social distancing. It should be fun! We cooked our dinners separately, then had a wonderful conversation while sitting six feet apart. 

The following day was very windy. There were 20 to 30 mph winds with gusts up to 50 mph. We figured that we wouldn’t see any wildlife in the high winds so we decided to hike Mosca Pass instead of going to the national wildlife refuges in the area. Mosca Pass Trail is inside Great Sand Dunes National Park. The pass used to be a popular toll road in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It is hard to imagine horse drawn wagons making their way down the narrow canyon. 

The hike up to the pass is 3.5 miles long with about a 1400 foot elevation gain through a narrow canyon. It was windy in the canyon, but we didn’t realize how protected we were from the wind until we reached the meadows up near the pass. Part way up there were narrow views back to the dune fields. We were surprised at how many families with kids were hiking the trail. We know how hard it would have been to get our kids at that age to hike such a long and steep trail. 

We thought there would be nice views from the pass, but the pass is a wide and long saddle. The four of us sat down in the grass under some trees at the pass and ate our lunch. That gave us a chance to have a lovely conversation as it was hard to hear each other on the trail in the wind while keeping six feet apart. 

When we entered the meadows on the way back, the wind seemed even stronger and was now in our faces. We stopped and bundled up more because the wind was cold. Once we were in the canyon again, the wind seemed better for a while until we turned a corner and then it would be blasting in our faces again. If you didn’t pay attention, a gust of wind might blow you off the trail. 

After the hike, we drove over to the picnic area to get a closer look at the sand dunes. Amazingly, there were people out on the dunes. They must have been pretty sandblasted by the time they were done. Hopefully no one was up on the top of the dune ridges because it looked rather nasty up there. The wind was swirling the sand over and around the ridge, looking like a full blown sand storm.

The drive back to our campground was rather eery. The winds kicked up so much sand and dirt into the air that visibility was pretty poor. We were able to cook our dinner, an egg scramble, in our Instant Pot (paid link) inside of our van out of the strong cold winds. We were feeling sorry for our friends Dave and Sandy who did not have a means for cooking inside their vehicle. We felt better after we learned that they did not cook dinner, but had tuna sandwiches instead. The winds finally died down after 7 pm and we were able to sit outside with our friends for a while.

The winds were gone the next day. A perfect day to go looking for migrating sandhill cranes. The sandhill cranes migrate through the Alamosa area twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. From what we have read, the spring migration is more interesting than the fall, since the cranes perform their mating dances and calls in the spring. That just means we’ll have to come back for another visit.

Our first stop was Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. We headed for the Visitor Center by driving along the southern border of the refuge, hoping we might see some cranes along the way. When we turned north on highway 15, Right Buddy (RB) spotted some cranes to the east. We pulled over into a viewing area which had information signs and a viewing scope. Evidently this was a common place to see wildlife. There were several flocks of sandhill cranes in the wetlands before us. We watched the several hundred birds with our binoculars for quite a while. Groups would fly in; others would fly out. They were quite vocal. We not sure if they were talking to each other, talking to us, or talking about us. We noticed that most of them seemed to be paired up as couples. From the signs, we learned that they mate for life. 

The Visitor Center and restrooms were closed due to COVID, but the short scenic drive and short nature trail were open. There was not a lot of wildlife along the nature trail, a couple of small birds and a snake. Along the scenic drive a few cranes took off right in front of us. Dave and Sandy say they saw a flock of cranes fend off a hawk or eagle. There was a herd of cattle right alongside the dirt road we were on, with an electric fence separating us. The grazing of cows, sheep, and goats along with some crops on the refuge's land is managed to help the health of the refuge. 

From there we headed into the town of Alamosa in search of a restroom and had a picnic lunch at Cole Park. Afterwards, we headed to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge east of town. Our first stop was the Visitor Center, again closed for COVID, but there is a nature trail leading from the parking lot for a couple of miles along the Rio Grande River. We headed down the trail for about half a mile, but didn’t see any wildlife so we decided to try our luck over at the Bluff Overlook on the other side of the refuge. 

The roads within the refuge are all dirt, passable by 2WD vehicles, but there was a lot of washboarding so it was a bumpy ride. The Bluff Overlook was a great choice. The viewpoint looked out over the wetlands with ducks, coots, and, yes, more cranes. The birds were farther away than the ones we saw in Monte Vista NWR, but they were still interesting to see. 

Some of the flocks would fly right over our heads, with the low sun lighting up their undersides. As we continued around the Bluff Overlook loop road, we came across what looked like cross country runners training along the road. There was about a dozen or so runners going back and forth along a section of road that was marked with cones. We're guessing they were from the Adams State University in town. 

We stopped and hiked the Bluff Trail, hoping we would get a closer look at the cranes, but the only wildlife we saw along the trail was a few small birds, a dead snake, and some anthills. When we arrived back at our campground, there was just enough time to cook dinner before it got dark.

Exploring the Alamosa area with our friends made the experience even more special. Spending time with friends has become more precious this year due to the pandemic. We were looking forward to spending three more days with Dave and Sandy. Our next stop was Navajo State Park. Stay tuned for the next blog post.

Check out our related video: Alamosa, Colorado