By Bob Dean

It isn’t an exotic location compared to Belize, Africa, or Antarctica

and it isn’t really local, but it is doable for a range of budgets.
The San Luis Valley offers a variety of photographic opportunities,
both natural and cultural, within its large expanse (>100 miles
long and 50 miles wide). The main requirement is that you don’t
mind driving.

of year makes a difference. You wouldn’t necessarily make the
5-hour trip in winter to capture images you could get in the Denver
area. Beginning in March, however, the opportunities begin with the
impressive migration of greater sandhill cranes primarily through the
area south of Monte Vista. The town has a festival with an Arts and
Crafts component, educational opportunities, and bus tours if you are
so inclined. The cranes are on their way to Gray’s Lake NWR in
Idaho as well as other parts of the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for
breeding. They rest and “re-fuel” at the Monte Vista NWR for a
few weeks each year. The refuge is easily accessible to photographers
and the birds can be quite close to the various pullouts on the
roads. Early morning and late afternoon provide nice light for shots
of cranes dancing, flying and just congregating.

our most recent trip we did spend time with the cranes but
additionally we took side trips to La Garita where we photographed
the old church and rosary walk outside the church, spent part of a
day in Creede where we discovered the mining museum completely inside
the mountain, and after a great lunch at the 4th Street
Bakery and Café in Saguache (pronounced Sa WATCH), we photographed
some of the historical buildings. Also, while in Saguache, we had
the opportunity to visit with the publisher and editor of the local
weekly newspaper, the last paper in the country (world?) to use a hot
lead linotype machine. (See Smithsonian Magazine April/May 2022 issue
for lots of information on the newspaper.)


might also consider:

  • Sand
    Dunes National Park. Lots of great shots, especially in the late
    afternoon. The Dunes are an IDA Dark Sky location so night
    photography is wonderful, especially when the Galactic Center of the
    Milky Way is visible (use an app like PhotoPills or Stellarium to
    find dates). Our club had a productive night photographing the dark
    sky from the parking lot of the Sand Dunes Visitor Center last

  • Crestone
    with its unique town, Buddhist Stupa, and local wildlife

  • Historic
    Spanish villages in the far southeast part of the Valley

  • Cumbres
    and Toltec railroad with regular excursion and specialty trains. If
    you’d rather not ride the train, it’s fun to photograph it when
    it leaves the station in Antonito or from various places along the
    highway to Chama, New Mexico.

  • The
    town of San Luis with its Stations of the Cross walk (uphill!)

  • All
    of the interesting and historical buildings in the various small
    towns along the main highways.

  • The
    National Wildlife Refuges: Alamosa. Monte Vista and Baca.

  • Russell
    Lakes State Wildlife Area south of Saguache.

  • The
    history museums in Saguache, Alamosa, Fort Garland, and Del Norte
    and the Museum at the Homelake Veterans Home in Monte Vista.

  • Fun
    and possibly “tacky” places like the Alligator Farm in Mosca and
    the Alien Observation UFO Watch Tower along State Highway 17 near
    the town of Hooper.

  • The
    historical cemetery at Villa Grove at the north end of the Valley.

  • Old
    mining town of Bonanza, west and north of Villa Grove (just beyond
    Bonanza is the Exchequer townsite and cemetery where the historic
    figure and author Anne Ellis is buried).

is readily available in many of the towns (Alamosa, Monte Vista, Del
Norte, and Ft Garland). There are a variety of places to stay with a
wide price range from camping to hotel chains to a boutique hotel
(Windsor Hotel in Del Norte). As a lark, there is the Best Western
Movie Manor just west of Monte Vista, where in the warmer weather,
you can watch current movies on the outdoor drive-in screens right
from your room.

also range from modest – Dos Hermanas in Antonito, Locavores in
Alamosa Chavolo’s Mexican Restaurant, Raisin Rye Bakery and Three
Barrels Brewing all in Del Norte – to gourmet (Windsor Hotel).
Alamosa has many fast-food places as well.