The state of Colorado lures in visitors and residents alike with its staggering mountain peaks, champagne powder snow, roaring rivers, and what feels like an endless amount of sunshine. But there is another side to Colorado, where its quirky character is brought to light.
Known to most Coloradans as “the valley,” the mystical San Luis Valley bears a reputation for being a bit out of the ordinary. Protected by the surrounding peaks of the San Juan and the Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, the expansive valley floor invites its own vortex of unique energy and spirituality that is only felt here. While the valley’s most popular attraction is the Great Sand Dunes National Park, it also offers several off-the-beaten-path attractions that leave you wondering, is this still Colorado?
Saguache County Museum
WHERE: Saguache, Colorado
As the northern gateway to the San Luis Valley, the small town of Saguache sits quietly with a dirty little secret. Home to the original jailhouse of Colorado’s only cannibal, Alfred Packer, charged in 1874 for eating parts of his five comrades, the Saguache County Museum offers a glimpse into Colorado’s colorful past. Eventually escaping from jail, after only a short while, Alfred was not found until eight years later in Denver, Colorado. Beyond the jailhouse, the museum itself houses random antiques and artifacts including a tooth of a wooly mammoth, dating back 20,000 years, a Story-Clark organ, and an original 38-star American flag from the year Colorado became a state in 1876.
WHERE: Crestone, Colorado
Nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains lies Colorado’s very own spiritual oasis, the town of Crestone. Where prayer flags fly higher than American flags, and street names like Cordial Way and Carefree Street guide the way, the vibe here is one of love and deep spiritual connection. At the southeast edge of town rests the bright-yellowed spiral tower named the Crestone Ziggurat. Originally constructed by the father of Queen Noor of Jordan, it was meant to offer a place for meditation, prayer, and a chance to get closer to heaven. The structure is accessible via a short hike to the top where visitors are met with heaven-like views of the valley floor and the neighboring Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
WHERE: Center, Colorado
“Do you believe?”
Well, do you? Regardless, experience the chance to witness UFOs and paranormal activity at the UFO Watchtower. Believed to have a powerful magnetic pull within a clash of vortexes this area in Colorado is said to draw in aliens and extraterrestrial life. Visitors from all over have re-counted their sightings and experiences, all of which are documented with letters and photos inside the gift shop. Walk through the garden of modern artifacts where visitors are encouraged to leave something behind such as lipstick, shoes, sunglasses, and photographs. Whether or not you see a spaceship hovering over the valley, it’s an out-of-this-world experience you can only find in the valley.
INSIDER TIPIf you plan to visit the Colorado Gators Reptile Park, they will sell you a discounted ticket, so stop in first at the UFO Watchtower and buy your ticket to the gator farm there.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
WHERE: Mosca, Colorado
In the middle of the valley, just south of Hooper, Colorado, a large population of exotic reptiles, snakes, and alligators are found at the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. What started as a working farm, growing Rocky Mountain White Tilapia, slowly grew into the roadside attraction it is today. To help with fish waste removal, the family purchased over 100 alligators, which flourished in the area’s natural warm geothermal waters, and soon everyone wanted to see Colorado’s only gator farm. Be warned this is not the place to wear your Sunday best as there is a bit of a stench, which they warn you about upon entry, plenty of flies, and dirt. Highlights include the albino alligator, Morris, the famous gator from Happy Gilmore, and a chance to pet and feed the alligators.
Best Western Movie Manor
WHERE: Monte Vista, Colorado
What would make Saturday night at the drive-in more fun? Watching it from the comfort of your hotel room. In Monte Vista, Colorado movie-goers can do just that at the Best Western Movie Manor. The antique Star Drive-in, built in 1955, has withstood the test of time and now comes with a hotel attached. A single row of motel rooms faces two large screens, where guests can watch the featured movies from the comfort of their room. An oversized window offers plenty of viewing space from your bed and in-room speakers allow for personal sound control, so you don’t miss a thing. Take advantage of the entire experience and head down to the concession stand where buttery popcorn, fries, burgers, nachos, and (of course) your favorite sugared candies can all be purchased to complete Saturday night at the movies.
Indiana Jones Bed and Breakfast
WHERE: Antonito, Colorado
For those who live for the tall tales of America’s favorite archaeological adventurer, or just looking for a unique experience, a stay at the Indiana Jones Bed and Breakfast is a must. Resting a few blocks west of Main Street in Antonito, Colorado, is the Indiana Jones B&B, once the home to Indiana Jones himself during the filming of the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The opening scene of the movie was filmed two blocks from the Antonito train station, making this the perfect house to live while on location for filming. The former movie-set home is now an eclectic B&B that houses hundreds of pieces of Indiana Jones memorabilia, all mixed in with a hint of small-town charm that can only be found in the valley.
INSIDER TIPRooms fill up fast as there aren’t many lodging options to choose from in town, so book early!
WHERE: Antonito, Colorado
What some might consider junk is often another man’s treasure, which is certainly the case with the story of Cano’s Castle. Created by one man’s desire to pay homage to God for surviving the Vietnam War, Cano’s Castle is an unearthed treasure of, well, garbage. Towering above the surrounding homes, the castle gets its shine from the many beer cans and large scraps of metal that make up most of the structure. To add a bit of color and variety, other materials are used including grills, old screen doors, colored glass, and bicycle reflectors. Made of four distinct forms, “the king,” “the queen,” “the rook,” and “the palace,” the castle is a behemoth that is still under construction with continued plans to add more.
WHERE: Capulin, Colorado
Colorado is known for its abundant wildlife of bears, elk, and mountain lions, but camels in Colorado? At the southern end of the valley in the small town of Capulin, Colorado a family-owned and operating camel farm offers a glamping yurt for visitors to experience rural life in Colorado, with camels. The young couple who gave up their desk jobs for life “off-the-grid” built both a hard-side yurt for winter and a soft-side yurt for summer to rent out (via Airbnb) to the curious traveler. Inside, the camel-themed yurt offers sleeping accommodations for four with a queen-size bed and futon, plus a wood-burning stove, hand-made camel soap from the farm, and views of the camels themselves.
INSIDER TIPBe sure to ask about the farm tour, where you can meet the camels and learn more about the workings of the farm.
Joyful Journey Hot Springs
WHERE: Moffat, Colorado
A trip to the valley isn’t complete without a stop at Joyful Journey Hot Springs. Located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the dramatic mountain landscape sets the stage for a tranquil setting to soak in the rejuvenating waters of the quirky hot springs. Said to be made with the energy from the earth, these hot springs are one of the more unique within Colorado. While they offer a variety of accommodations including a hotel, yurts, and campsites, one of the more fun lodging options is the native Tipis. Keeping it simple, the tipis come with nothing but cots, sleeping mats, and beautiful mountain views.
Fort Garland Museum
WHERE: Fort Garland, Colorado
Established in 1858 to protect the San Luis Valley first settlers, the Fort Garland Museum offers a sneak peek into the past of life at the fort. Tour the original adobe buildings of the stronghold to see exhibits of the infantry and cavalry barracks and an exhibit on the Buffalo Soldiers. Beyond its historical presence, the unusual element of this fort is that it is believed to be haunted. So much so that there was an official paranormal investigation back in August of 2018. The story goes that in 1863, in the infantry barracks, H.C. Molina shot a sleeping Manuel Lujan in the head. Never punished for his deed, it’s believed that Manuel haunts the fort in search of justice. Visit yourself and decide, haunted, or not?
Jack Dempsey Museum
WHERE: Manassa, Colorado
While a drive through Manassa, Colorado leaves a lot to be desired, there is a unique treasure that awaits, the Jack Dempsey Museum. Jack Dempsey nicknamed the “The Manassa Mauler,” was a legendary heavyweight boxing champion, who defended his title for six years. Born in Manassa, where he spent several years of his childhood, Dempsey is the town’s pride and joy. In his honor, the community created a museum dedicated to the local home-town hero. The museum itself is the original cabin Dempsey was born in and lived as a child. Inside visitors will find artifacts from Dempsey’s career including old photographs and newspaper clippings, and the gloves he wore in the legendary New York fight against Luis Firpo.
Shrine of the Stations of the Cross
WHERE: San Luis, Colorado
Upon driving into San Luis, Colorado, the state’s oldest town, you can’t help but notice the beautiful Shrine of the Stations of the Cross. Designed to be seen by all, the shrine rests high atop a mesa in the heart of the town as a symbol of spirit and culture. Built as a Spanish-Moorish style adobe church, it was created to be a welcoming place of worship and prayer. A short three-quarter of a mile hike to the shrine guides visitors through the Stations of the Cross, a series of graphic sculptures depicting the last hours of Christ’s life. Once at the top, tour the inside of the shrine and walk the well-manicured grounds. No matter what god you pray to, a visit to the shrine is a spiritual experience unlike any other.