Photo Courtesy Alamosa C. & V.B.
The Colorado Gators alligator farm, 17 miles north of Alamosa on Highway 17, is a visual oxymoron. How can there be 300 alligators, some weighing several hundred pounds, basking in the sun at the foot of snow-covered mountain peaks? How do they survive the winter, when ambient temperatures can reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (with wind chill), and why are they here to begin with? In the late 1970s, a local commercial fish farm needed to dispose of the scraps after the tilapia harvest. They decided to buy 100 baby alligators from Florida to use as living garbage disposals. The only reason the alligators survive is that there are natural artesian wells in the San Luis Valley with water that runs 80 degrees F. year 'round. The hot water is captured in giant ponds, so, during the winter, the alligators can stay submerged with only their eyes sticking out above the surface and be quite comfortable.
Two places 45 minutes from Alamosa are well worth visiting. The mountain town of Crestone, at the very northeast end of the valley, houses an assemblage of spiritual and religious sects that coexist in harmony. Prayer flags, prayer wheels, huge Buddhas, and ornate temples cling to the craggy slopes. To the southeast is the town of San Luis, the oldest in Colorado (1851). On a small mountain overlooking the town is the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross. Bronze statues marking the Stations of the Cross line a path to the top.
Throughout the San Luis Valley, beautiful murals depicting the history of the valley grace the buildings, grain silos, and other structures. Another work of art is Cano's Castle in Antonito, an unusual high-rise sculpture made from scrap metal and beer cans, created by Vietnam veteran Donald "Cano" Espinoza.
Most of the scenic roads throughout the region easily accommodated our Born Free Motorcoach. This RV proved roomy and comfortable, and made the drive very relaxing. Plus, we didn't have to worry about finding a hotel room each night.