Day Two: San Luis Valley
I think this will come as a surprise to those of you who have moved to Colorado recently, however, this state is the largest producer of potatoes second only to Idaho. This is, thanks in big part, to the San Luis Valley. Potato farming is a big business here and almost everyone is connected to the industry in some way.
While agriculture is a way of life, the San Luis Valley offers a lot to the visitor: a lot of wide-open space, a lot of off-grid exploration, and a lot of relaxing fun like hot springs. This is a stress-free environment and the only traffic problem is when a herd of cows appears in the roadway. It happened to us and the cowboys told us to “drive through them,” so we did.
I associate this area with an incredible landscape and birds because I’m a bird-nerd and this region is a treasure trove for birders. We’ve visited the area a number of times and I am excited to introduce you again during our road trip of Southern Colorado.
A Road Trip in Southern Colorado, Day Two:
I’d recommend grabbing breakfast at Hopscotch Bakery before you head out of Pueblo. I had a scrumptious green chile bacon quiche there earlier in our Pueblo stay while Ryan ate a homemade muffin. This tiny bakery puts out some big tastes, but don’t take my word for it. A masked and socially distanced line had formed out the door by the time we left.
From Pueblo, we headed towards the mountains and over La Veta Pass which was dotted with red scrub oak, a sign of impending winter.
The drive from Pueblo to Alamosa, the largest town in the San Luis Valley, is two hours. US-160 rises and falls gently over Le Veta Pass and through Fort Garland to Alamosa. With a population of just under 10,000, the biggest town in the valley isn’t very big.
We rolled into town and headed directly to Locavores, which is located on US-160 near the chain hotels heading northwest out of town.
Turns out, this market/deli in a former bank building is one of the coolest businesses I’ve discovered in my travels around Colorado. Not only is it a deli, making items like our scrumptious Colorado Cubano, but they sell all the things I love: picked things, cheesy things, wine things, meaty things… and sriracha pasta. Yes, sriracha pasta! Of course, I bought that.
I learned from a local that during COVID-19 lockdown, Locavores also served as a grocery delivery service. That’s pretty awesome. I think this is a great addition to Alamosa and the San Luis Valley. It’s been here for four years, and I’m only sorry I didn’t discover it earlier.
We ate our Colorado Cubano with a side of fingerling potatoes from the valley, of course, on Locavores’ dog-friendly patio. I overheard an amusing conversation between two friends sitting properly socially distanced away from us.
“There sure are a lot of potatoes around here,” one person said to the other.
From Locavores we head back to downtown where we had beers at Square Peg Brewerks. Open by a potato farmer in 2017, this brewery has done its part in introducing local palates to craft beer. And the business is growing as they just opened a tasting room an hour and 20 minutes away in Creede, Colorado.
I had the MFU Pale Ale and it is a delightfully well-balanced. With excellent beer and an inviting taproom, Square Peg is a must-stop in Alamosa for beer lovers.
At this point, it’s time for a hike. It’s not hard to go off-grid around here—just turn off the main road. Most “back roads” are dirt so if you do hike in the San Luis Valley, be safe and let someone know where you’re planning to go.
On our visit to the San Luis Valley this spring, we hiked the North Rock Creek Trail #701 with Fritzi. We didn’t see another soul and it was bliss. Not open to motorized vehicles, the trail is 7.6 miles or you can do a shorter hike.
Located in the Rio Grand National Forest, the trailhead is west of Alamosa and adjacent to Rock Creek Campground which has 10 sites. Fritzi had fun chasing butterflies around the closed campground in spring. This valley is filled with hiking opportunities and Alamosa.org has many described.
We were booked at Mellow Moon Lodge in Del Norte. From Alamosa take US-160 through Monte Vista and then on to Del Norte. It’s only about a 30-minute drive.
This was our first time staying in this town. I have been to the gas station on the corner of US-160 and CO-112 in Del Norte many times. I don’t know why, but we stop there every time we’re on our way over Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs, Durango or Mesa Verde Country.
We have also made frequent stops at Three Barrel Brewing over the years. The brewery has been open since 2005, but that’s as far as my Del Norte knowledge goes, so I was excited to stay in another San Luis Valley town.
Mellow Moon Lodge is an old remodeled highway motel and it is the perfect addition to this little town. Not only did this motel have the most comfortable bed on this road trip, but it is also dog-friendly. With a coffee shop up front (closed now due to COVID-19) and the rooms equipped with everything to make you happy in 2020, including a retro fridge and snacks, this motel is awesome.
The town of Del Norte feels like a place where exciting things are happening and I think Mellow Moon is part of that renaissance. I have heard Del Norte referred to as a town where the citizens aren’t just weekend warriors, they live a recreational lifestyle all the time.
People care about things like health which is apparent by the imminent opening of Simple Foods Market at 680 Grand Avenue. There is a bike shop at the Mellow Moon and cyclists were staying in the room next to us. I don’t think Del Norte residents or visitors are gym types, exercise is just something they get because they hike, bike, ski and do the other stuff that keeps a person fit.
I eat too many tacos to fit this description but I liked Del Norte anyway.
After walking Fritzi around the neighborhood we settled into room #6 at Mellow Moon Lodge.
With Fritzi in her crate and the door to our room open, we sat in the chairs on our “porch” to enjoy Walter’s beer from Pueblo.
We never travel without Fritzi’s collapsible crate. It’s her happy place and it means she doesn’t wake us up at 2 p.m. by jumping on the bed.
When in Del Norte, I do pizza at Three Barrel Brewing Company. It’s something we’ve been doing in this town for a long while so why stop now? The wood-fired pizza is delicious, the beer truly satisfies.
On this visit, I discovered that for a $1 more, they will serve your house salad on a pizza crust. You have no idea how happy this made me as, much to Ryan’s chagrin, I put salad on pizza all the time. Now he knows I am not the only one.
By the way, this brewery’s Peach Wheat is my favorite peach beer this season. It’s an easy drinker that goes down well. Also, with a dog-friendly patio, this is a good stop for us.
Back at our room, just a couple blocks down US-160 from the brewery, we sank into a deep sleep. Before drifting off, however, I did notice that Del Norte was very quiet.
Up next, Day Three of my Southern Colorado Road Trip.
Read Day One, Pueblo: Eat All the Things
Travel in collaboration with COLO-Road Trips by the Colorado Tourism Office.
Thank you to Mellow Moon Lodge for providing our lodging.