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Mysteries and Ice

A big boulder beside the road, festooned with cloth, candles and personal items. Snow on sand. Ice draping narrow canyon walls. A mysterious crater: A few of the things CE and a guest saw and explored the first week of February. Even a yak!

Colorado Experts is on a 300+ mile road trip to explore some spots in Colorado's San Luis Valley, itself a place of deep history. A note on American history: European settlers were in the Valley before Jamestown and Plymouth: Hispanics who came up out of Nuevo Mexico in the late 16th century. The Valley has many mysteries. UFO activity is a major one

. There's even a 'UFO Observation Tower'. The first animal mutilation incident was in the SLV. The Rio Grande River rises in the mountains at the north end of the Valley and flows all the way through New Mexico to form the border with Mexico. 19th century explorers Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont had appointments with destiny here.

Our first stop is a huge sandstone boulder just beside US 160 west of Walsenburg. It's called 'Virgin Mary Grotto'. The 'grotto' is a deep horizontal depression that forms a covered shelf for an image of the Virgin Mary. Around her are votive candles, strips of cloth, personal items left by worshippers. One article tells us that it's been a shrine for at least 60 years. The mystery is: 'why here?'

Next a climb up La Veta Pass, crossing over the summit of the Sangre de Cristos at 11,000 ft. where we drop down into the San Luis Valley.

The first town we hit in the Valley is Ft. Garland. At the edge of the town is the eponymous U.S. Army Fort, which operated 1858-1883. Beyond we continue out into the flat expanse of the Valley, we are near the foot of Blanca Peak, a 14-er. It is the easternmost of the four sacred peaks of the Dine (Navaho) people.

We turn north on the arrow straight road to Great Sand Dunes National Park. That's where we get a view of something that people don't usually think of: snow on sand. The Dunes, piled up by wind and water over millennia, contain the highest dune in the US: 750 ft. Today the sand is covered in spots by drifts of snow. Yet it's sunny and almost shirt-sleeve weather.

Near the Dunes is Zapata Falls. It's a place where a narrow drainage off the slopes of Blanca Peak cuts down into a narrow defile, forming a small, but dramatic falls

. At this moment the cleft is filled with ice in a spiky cascade and domes.

We're headed now west to Colorado Highway 17, then north. We pass the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Somehow, some alligators found their way to the Valley, where they reside in this kind of interesting tourist stop. A bit farther up the road we pass the 'UFO Watchtower'. It's a fun little tourist trap that makes no apology for being that. It's a dome structure with an observation platform 10 feet above it. You can pay $2 to go up and look around on the platform. Who knows? You might actually see a UFO; and you have the opportunity to select from a wide variety of UFO and alien related kitsch.

Turning east of CO 17, we pursue our other mystery: The Crestone Crater. We're looking at some bovines off to the left. But, they don't look quite right. There's one obligingly standing at the fence by the road. They're yaks!! Maybe UFOs brought them here....

At the northwest edge of Great Sand Dunes N.P. is the Crestone Crater. It's south of the unique town of Crestone on the National Park. From the air, it looks like a classic moon-like crater. It's oval, bowl-like, about 350 ft. x 250 ft. with a smooth rim all around. The mystery part is that there are alternative theories as to why it's there: underground subsidence and wind action being a couple. To us, it's what seems the obvious: something falling out of the sky. Another theory is UFO crash - not impossible considering the Valley's reputation, but our money is on meteor.

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