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Into the "Valley of Longing"

Home again, home again, jiggety jig....

At long last, we got our wish and reached the mountains.

Be careful what you ask for!

It took us a bit over two days to make the climb, some 30 miles, from Walsenburg Colorado (6171’) up to the top of La Veta Pass (9427’) and all of it was into a howling headwind.

I’ve developed a nasty blister, silver-dollar sized on the inside of my foot after ignoring a hotspot that developed when my left sock got a hole in it. I ended up doing surgery. On my shoe, not foot.

We were set up at beautiful Lathrop State Park for a couple of days. If you like solitude, camp in a state park in Colorado, in December. There was only one other couple in the entire park.

(Good morning, Colorado!)

(Stacey--State Park Ranger at Lathrop. We had a chat about harm reduction in public spaces with her.)

Julie suffers greatly in this kind of wind. After her lung cancer surgery a couple of years ago left her one lobe shy of a full lung-load, and her diaphragm failed to drop back down into its proper position, her breathing isn’t 100 percent. Today, she checked her oxygen sats while struggling to breath in the cold wind—83. Not good. So we kept her to 2-3 mile segments.

It was a hard-earned 30 miles.


I have a little history with the San Luis Valley—a place I love almost as much as our home in Gichi Onigaming/Grand Portage.

Starting in the early 2000’s, my family (former wife, Katie McGee, and kids—Phoebe and Eli) would spend much of the summer, during our breaks from teaching, volunteering at Valley View Hot Springs, camping, hiking in the Sangre de Christos, running mega-miles at 8000’-9000’ and soaking in the natural hot springs overlooking the largest mountain valley in North America.

We dreamed of having our own place in the valley, with its abundant cheap land, but scarce water. We even bought 2 ½ acres in the Grants outside of Crestone, but gave up on that idea when we realized we couldn’t afford the necessary septic system and well, and sold it for a $500 profit (not often achieved in the Valley.)

I made many life-long friends in our time there and still keep in touch with most of them. In fact, my best man, when Julie and I got married, was Jim Manley, whom I met at the hot springs when he and his wife, also Julie, swooped in with an armful of children’s games they wanted to try out in their classrooms in Flagstaff Arizona. Phoebe and Eli were willing subjects.

As I reached the "chain-up area" on the Valley side of La Veta Pass, I finished a wonderful book about the Valley--Ted Conover's Cheap Land Colorado. It relates the history of those who have arrived here looking for land, gold, escape (often from warrants.) Highly recommended!

In more recent history, on the winter solstice of 2018, I asked Julie to marry me, while we were soaking in a lonely, 100 degree pond at 9200’ at sunrise. It’s called the Top Pond and it is a good twenty minute hike up a steep rocky trail, and you mostly have it to yourself.

(Two shots of the top pond from years gone by)

Julie, an admitted gold-digger, jumped at the chance to get hitched to an elderly jogger, who was pulling in a fat teacher’s pension, and owned a couple of parcels of land boasting state-of- the-art outhouses.


Today we made the descent down toward the flats of the Valley, but the wind was even harsher. Julie couldn’t get out at all, and I, after foolishly sending her 10 miles down the road, had to swallow my pride and call her back to mile 6. It was one of those cartoonish scenes where the runner (me) was literally running in place at times.

The drive over the pass was a bit scary…pulling the camper while climbing, then dropping, a couple of thousand feet, into 35 mph winds. We were passed by just about everyone on the road as the KIA grinded in and out of overdrive.

We made it up to the campground outside of Alamosa in time to meet up with Chris Lopez of the Alamosa Citizen who did a little video story with us. The link to the video is on the News tab of our website or on Instagram of course.

(Chris Lopez of the Alamosa Citizen, with us.)

We’ll head back out tomorrow, when the only difference in the forecast is that it will be colder, along with the wind, to do as many miles as we can stomach.

And, we’re really excited about the prospect of walking our first mile with ANYONE! Julie’s mom—Cathy Haight and her hubby, Ken, will be blowing into town tomorrow for a visit.

Finally, this weekend we will be ditching the camper up at Valley View (no soaking as they’re closed in Dec.) and buzzing back to Minnesota for the first time in 5 ½ months(!) to see family and friends for about two weeks.

And then, back to Alamosa for the last few miles (950) to San Diego!


We are both enjoying a book recommended by the above Jim Manley—Ted Conover’s “Cheap Land Colorado”—the recent history of people coming to the San Luis Valley in search of their own chunk of dirt, or running from an unsavory past. I know a few of these folks. I almost was one of them.

The epic sunsets, the view of Desolation Row down in the valley, the plume of dust from a single car leaving the hot springs and headed down County Rd GG, knowing that every road eventually leads to a Sangre de Christos or San Juan trailhead, and even the stories of people moving in with high hopes and then ending up in the Row, couch surfing in Crestone, or fleeing back to Alabama, Arkansas, (or Minnesota) are what makes this place the Valley of Longing in my mind.

But, damn! am I happy to be back, even having done it the hard way.

(The Heart)

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3 Kommentare

10. Dez. 2023

Love this! Yep, home in the San Luis Valley!

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09. Dez. 2023

Still looking forward to walking with you, when the temp is below freezing and the wind is less than 50 mph. The two of you are amazing! This is a wonderful post - thanks. Love from Cathy and Ken 🥑🐕

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09. Dez. 2023

I’ll be glad when you get back home

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