THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING - Hiking Trails
Trails, trails, trails - easy ones,
challenging ones, wooded,
rocky, sandy and grassy ones - long trails, short loops and
trails that you could follow all the way to Canada. Saguache
County trails meander through 1,487,088 acres of America's
backyard, our public lands - a hiker’s paradise. Crestone
resident Ben Brack shares his love and advice of walking
the high country:
"Welcome wanderers, to the majesty of the Sangre de Cristo
Mountains. Towering above our tiny town, these peaks run wild
with legends, adventure, drawing worshippers throughout history
and claiming sacrifices as necessary. Maintain your wits in
this world and you may depart wiser and more enlightened than
when you arrived.
Today these mountains yield treasure to those hearty enough
to go hiking for it. Old mining trails have been improved and
maintained by the USFS to provide back country access. All of
these trails offer amazing views, bounding hearts, and labored
breathing. They should not be attempted unprepared or in questionable
Some saftey tips:
As you go higher, the air is thinner
and less oxygen is available. It’s also colder and drier, and
the ultraviolet rays from the sun are stronger. The lower
oxygen levels when going to elevation has significant affects
on human physiology in a number of ways. Stay calm,
drink water and head back down if experiencing dizziness
or an over all sickly feeling.
All mountain adventurers should be prepared for changing
weather and other unforeseen circumstances. Extra
layers, wind and waterproof clothing, food, water and first
aid kits are essential items. Maps, compass, and sticking
to established trails are highly recommended. As a matter
of common sense and safety it is recommendation to hike
with a partner. If an emergency should occur, stay calm,
think clearly and act decisively. Be aware that you are primarily
responsible for your own safety, but in case of an
emergency do not hesitate to call for help.
The Rio Grande National Forest map is a good source of
information or call the office at:
Saguache Field Office BLM/USFS
46525 Highway 114
Saguache, Colorado 81149
WHERE THE AIR GETS RARE - Climbing
It's no big surprise that a place with such majestic views
would offer a wide variety of opportunities for climbers.
The Sangre de Cristo range on the east side is home to glacier
gouged gorges surrounded by ragged topped 14’ers that
tower 6,000 feet above the valley floor. The cluster of 14’ers
includes the Crestone Needle, Kit Carson, Humboldt, Challenger
and Crestone Peak, which at 14,294' is the 7th tallest
peak in Colorado. The Sangres
feature dozens of peaks over
13,000' that are also exciting to summit, often in solitude.
The rock stratum is Permian-Pennsylvanian rock, (composed
of conglomerates with igneous intrusions), which offers many
convenient handholds. There are many classic Class 5 routes
and numerous non-technical scrambles of Class 3 and 4 in
The Rio Grande Rift of southern Colorado supports the
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, (Spanish for blood of Christ is
said to come from the red color at sunset, especially when
covered with snow), along its eastern side. They are north
to south running, fault block mountains, which differ from
the thrust fault mountains which cover the rest of the state.
Fault block mountains rise up as one solid block usually
due to volcanic action. As the ancient volcanic San Juan
Mountains swelled from the valley floor, the earth tore
apart, forming the Rio Grande Rift and driving the fault
block of the Sangre de Cristos to their soaring heights. This
also caused powerful fault lines to fracture along the east
and west sides of the mountains, with some faults severing
completely through the range.
The west side of Saguache County lies within the San
Juan Mountains, mostly in the La Garita, (Spanish for the
sentinel or lookout point), a sub-set range. Its high point is
San Luis Peak 14,014' in the La Garita Wilderness. Another
unique feature is the La Garita Caldera, which is an expansive
35 miles in diameter. During the volcanic activity
which formed the range, lava flowed east onto the rift valley
floor. Deep layers of ash settled on top burying the lava
beds thousands of feet below the present surface.
Climbers with not a lot of time on their hands
might try Penitente Canyon off Hwy 285 on County Road
G – just follow the signs to the parking lot. Penitente
Canyon Special Recreation Management Area is an internationally
recognized climbing area, providing over
300 incredible sport climbing routes. South facing routes
can be climbed year-round. They range from beginner levels
(5.2) to advanced (5.11b and up). On-site camping, with
water and restroom facilities are available at reasonable rates.
For more information, contact the Saguache Field Office at
As with all outdoor endeavors, common sense and planning
are your best tools. Always pack for weather changes
and bring plenty of water and emergency rations even on
day climbs. Be respectful of private property – get permission
first. A good source of climbing conditions and advice
can be found at www.14ers.com. Regardless of your ability
and preference, you are sure to find a suitable climb in
Saguache County which offers beautiful views and unspoiled
THE LAST QUIET PLACE IN COLORADO TO HUNT - Hunting
"As a Colorado native, I have hunted many places in our
state. I hunt elk, deer, antelope, bear and of course small
game. I know this much – Saguache County is the last quiet
place in Colorado to hunt and we are host to a wide variety
and healthy abundance of the big game species, including
Saguache County boasts vast chunks of public lands
that are easily accessible. There are thousands of acres of
beautiful country – most of which is uninterrupted by private
property. We have a good climate with terrain that varies
from grassland to sagebrush to aspens and evergreens,
all of which you can access in the same day if you want.
Don’t forget your camera – there is no bag limit to the number
of pictures you can shoot.
Saguache County appeals to most types of hunters by
accommodating most types of travel. You can travel horseback,
walk, drive or ride ATV’s on designated roads. You
might choose to pack-in to a wilderness area, park your motor
home at a campground, or set up camp in area motels.
Upon your arrival to Saguache County, over-the-counter
elk tags and fishing licenses can be purchased locally.
For the forgetful…you will find our retail stores, grocery stores and gas stations most helpful in filling your needs.
Take home a souvenir from one of our local artists. Dine
out at our local restaurants. You will appreciate the rural
flavor of small towns and the allure of friendly communities
that cater to the hunter.
Our family likes to hunt wilderness areas horseback.
We used to get up early and have horses saddled by
4:00 a.m., ride for two hours in the dark, tether the horses
and walk from there to hunt for elk. Now that we are practically
seniors, we might get up early, might have horses
saddled by 4:00 a.m., might ride for two hours in the dark.
We then tether the horses and walk from there to hunt for
a sunny slope to take a nap!
In the past we depended on big game for our meat
supply. Though elk is our favorite meat to eat, for us, the
hunt is now more for the comradery than the take. There
is nothing more satisfying than spending quality time together
with family and
friends in the great outdoors.
The ref lection
of the flickering firelight
adds a bit of laughter
to everyone’s eyes and
purely warms the heart.
This is a successful hunt.
I assure, before you
get back home, you will be planning for next year’s hunt
in the last quiet place – Saguache County; a simpler time
–Trish Gilbert, Saguache, Colorado
For hunting information go to www.wildlife.state.co.us
WORTH GETTING YOUR FEET WET - Fishing
Endless miles of exciting streams and lakes await fishermen
in Saguache County. Many are easily accessed
from the road while others are in remote secluded areas,
the choice is yours.
Numerous scenic small lakes above 10,000 feet in
elevation provide excellent fishing for cutthroat, rainbow
and brook trout. Trout in these pristine waters can
be temperamental when feeding conditions are favorable.
Most lakes require uphill hiking from 1-12 miles.
Some better high mountain lakes are: Crestone,
Cherry, Cotton, and Rito Alto lakes in the Sangre
de Cristo Wilderness; and Machine and Baldy lakes
in the La Garita Range. Flies and small lures fished
with light lines in the morning and evening is usually
best. Fly-fishing is best June through July when
stonefly and mayfly hatches dominate fish diets.
The eastern trout waters flow out of nearly every drainage
of the Sangre de Cristo Range from Poncha Pass to the
end of the Great Sand Dunes, including Cherry, Willow,
Deadman, and Sand Creeks. Brookies, browns, and cutthroats
lurk in these waters, hiding beneath undercut
banks ready to take the bait or raise to your fly. On the west side of the County the creeks can be followed
back far into the La Garita Wilderness. All three forks of
Saguache Creek are excellent and Middle, La Garita and
Carnero Creeks are good as well. Slaughterhouse Creek
comes out of the hills near the old mining town of Bonanza.
The northwest corner of
Saguache County runs along
Hwy 50 to the town of Sargents,
which is a jumping off
point to access many excellent
Colorado’s excellent fishing
opportunities are made
even better by the efforts of the
Colorado Division of Wildlife’s 19 hatcheries. The Division
of Wildlife stocks 3.5 million 10-inch fish every year. You
can fish in Colorado without a license only on the first full
weekend of June each year, though all other rules and regulations
apply. Always respect private land and ask first
with the Colorado Division
of Wildlife for
regular fishing seasons
and current maps of the
area, please visit www.wildlife.state.co.us
HAPPY TRAILS - Horseback Trails
Given the vastness of the land, it is no wonder many choose
to access the backcountry on horseback. With hundreds
of miles for non-motorized trails in Saguache County, you
could ride a new one every day for years and not see it all.
Seldom will you find an area that is more horse friendly in
such a beautiful setting.
The Ute people, who are the oldest continuous residents
of Colorado, probably arrived in the area around
1,300 AD. Imagine how their culture changed when the
Spanish brought the horse to the new world! The expansion
of their hunting range and ability to move their nomadic
camps made life easier. When European settlers arrived
in Saguache, the Utes were making annual trips over the
passes of the Sangres to hunt buffalo on the eastern plains.
Horses and other pack animals continue to be the easiest
method to bring game out of remote areas. If your just sight
seeing – everything looks better from the back of a horse.
The US Forest Service has set up corrals at some trailheads
and rental cabins. They also have a list of regulations
for stock use to protect the natural landscape.
• Minimize the impact, taking the least amount of animals
and gear necessary.
• Only certified weed free hay can be fed – at least 24
hours before bringing livestock onto public lands.
• Do not tie stock to trees – use a highline or portable
• No camping within 300 feet of lakes and 100 feet of
• No grazing within 300 feet of wetlands and marshy
• Scatter manure away from campsites to speed decay
and prevent flies.
• Pack out all trash and naturalize campsite.
• Hikers should yield to horseback riders – slow to a
walk while passing.
Hikers, horses and pack animals may now access the
Sand Dunes National Park and Forest from the northern
boundary. Until further national park and national forest
planning has been completed, Saguache County has granted
temporary approval for horse trailer/vehicle parking at
the designated parking area near the terminus of Camino
Baca Grande in the Baca Grande Subdivision, locally known
as the “Liberty Gate,” just outside the northern edge of the
national park. Wagons or other horse-drawn equipment are
not permitted to enter the park. For overnight use, please
self-register at the Liberty Gate for a free backcountry permit.
Call the Visitor Center
at 719-378-6399 for more
information. A map of road
access to the Liberty Gate
TOUR DE SAGUACHE - Bicycling & Mountain Biking
A favorite of touring cyclists, Saguache County is flat with
little traffic on the valley floor. Many groups and individuals
come through each year; here is an excerpt from one
"From the top of Poncha Pass, it was a straight descent toward
a small town called Villa Grove. There was little wind, so it was
fast and fun. We arrived in less than a half hour, and had lunch
at the Sangre de Cristo Cafe in the back of the general store,
Villa Grove Trade. Next we came to the town of Moffat where
we stopped for coffee in an unexpected jewel of an art gallery/gift
shop called the Mirage Trading Co. This tasteful shop set us behind
at least an hour…that is, if we were on a schedule. Our ride
into Crestone from Moffat on County Road T was approximately
12 miles of stunning beauty. The riparian landscape aligning the
quiet, winding road beheld a variety of lowland birds, such as
grey heron and yellow headed blackbirds. At this point, the looming
Sangre de Cristo range dwarfed everything beneath them,
and we faced these dramatic vistas all the way to Crestone. We
found our oasis at the Baca Lodge, a bed and breakfast which offered
the perfect resting point after our 60-mile journey. We treated
ourselves to a local massage and had dinner delivered by Caddy-
Shack Pizza, and never left our quarters until the morning.
After a delicious breakfast at the Baca Lodge, we bid farewell
and pointed our bikes back to CO 17 (12 miles). The wind gods
were on our backs, as we spun down the highway in a bicycling
formation, averaging 23 miles per hour all the way to the town
of Center (17 miles from Moffat to Hooper, then 12 miles from Hooper to Center). The feeling of cranking hard, getting into arhythm,
drafting behind or pulling in front of the line of bicyclists
was a completely different experience than pushing up big mountains.
Passing through working ranches, the UFO Watch Tower,
and endless fields of agriculture, the mind was free to wander and
it was exhilarating.
The entire ride was filled with great
experiences, and we realized how lucky
we were." – Lauren Giusti
In addition to touring routes, Saguache
offers some great back-country
trails. Mountain bikers come from near
and far to ride the thrills and chills of the
foothills and mountains. Penitente Canyon
Recreation Area has a stunning loop,
with unbelievable rock formations. The Colorado Trail and
the Continental Divide Trail both wind through the La
Garita and San Juan Mountains.
Please visit these websites;
the BLM website www.blm.gov
for more information.
ON A WING AND A PRAYER - Bird Watching
The San Luis Valley is a unique area for migratory birds,
and for many species this represents the northern most
extent of their range. Vast swaths of remote undeveloped
habitat and sparse human population help make Saguache
County a bird’s (and birder’s paradise). Most sites can be
viewed from a car. If fact, rarely can you drive a road on
the valley floor in Saguache and not see a raptor and shrub
The excellent bird watching opportunities change as
you move through the different landscapes. In the spring as
the snow pack melts in the high country, the low-lying wetlands
fill and waterfowl hop from pond to pond. Wetlands
provide migratory species sightings of white faced ibis, sandhill
cranes, and the occasional whooping crane. Semi-desert
shrub lands cover the valley floor yielding sightings of
larks, doves, and invariably hawks circling
scarcity of trees leads to competition for nesting sites, a pair
of Great Horned Owls may nest in February and the same
nest could be used by a Swainson’s Hawk to raise a brood the same year. Moving up in elevation, passing through bands
of pinon/juniper, ponderosa/spruce, and eventually emerging
onto alpine tundra, a kaleidoscope of birds can be
viewed. Some of the best undisturbed treed habitat can be
accessed through the north entrance of the Sand Dunes
National Park across the foothills to the north side of the
dunes. Above the Park lies the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
Area, which offers wild mountain terrain without motorized
vehicles interrupting the peacefulness. Birding information
|The following are some of the best places to view birds:
and State Wildlife Area
Dome Lakes State Wildlife Area
Marshall Pass Road
Moffat (area), and County Road T
Carnero Pass Road
and Rabbit Canyon
Russell Lakes State Wildlife (area)
Hot Springs Canyon (area)
La Garita (area)
Los Pinos State Wildlife (area)
Baca National Wildlife Refuge
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Saguache (town of)
WINTER SUNSHINE - Winter Sports
The days maybe shorter in the winter, but they are just as
bright here in San Luis Valley, with over 300 days of sunshine.
Our high mountain desert climate is excellent for
sunny winter sport activities. Winter camping on snowshoes
or skis is a unique experience. You can still go climbing
on the southern faces of Penitente Canyon even in the
coldest months. Ice climbing opportunities exist for the especially
rugged who are willing to hike to remote areas.
Saguache County is a wilderness mecca. Roughly three
of every four of the 2,013,440 square acres that make up
Saguache County is publicly owned. Included are both
the Rio Grande and Gunnison National Forests as well as
the majority of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and
Preserve. You would be challenged to spend a day traveling
through Saguache County without seeing at least one
large mammal and a dozen species of birds. Mule deer, elk,
pronghorn antelope, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and
an occasional moose make their homes in the diverse habitats
here. Most of the predator species stay out of sight along
with the smaller critters that they hunt, although snow cover
allows the observer the opportunity to see the tracks of
those shy species.
When you’re ready to leave the solitude of the back
country and be around people, there are two excellent downhill ski areas within an hour drive. Monarch Mountain
is just over Poncha Pass and up Monarch Pass on Hwy
50 west. Wolf Creek Ski Area is at the summit of Wolf
Creek Pass. Both areas have the most snow in the state and
it’s 100% natural! Family and snowboard friendly with all
levels of terrain.
At the end of the day it’s time to warm up by soaking
in one of the three geothermal springs coming out of
faults along the Sangres; Valley View
, Joyful Journey
Sand Dunes Pool
. A hot springs soak is just the ticket to relax
those muscles after a day spent outdoors.
So venture out with your favorite equipment or just
your two feet and a sense of awe for a unique outdoor adventure
in Saguache County! For more information visit www.