San Luis Valley | Colorado | 07/26/19

The next leg of our 2 week adventure was our first overnight in the San Luis Valley. Much of Day 1 consisted of the 5 hour drive, but we had a number of stops we wanted to visit once we got to the valley that would take up the rest of the day.

Penitente Canyon Hike | Rio Grande National Forest

Del Norte, CO | 07/26/19 | 1.07 miles | 136′ gain

Our first stop was to the Penitente Canyon Recreation Area. I had read about some old wagon ruts that I wanted to see, but I couldn’t find much information about how to get to them. Luckily, we saw a sign and turned off the main road onto a side road. Another sign stated that this was a 4×4 road so I was hesitant to take my car much further. We parked in a small lot and, not knowing how much farther the wagon ruts were, continued up the road. After walking a half mile and seeing no other signs to indicate we were getting close, we decided to turn around. Oh well, it was still a great place to stretch our legs!

A beautiful road walk

Natural Arch | Rio Grande National Forest

Del Norte, CO | 07/26/19

Once we were back on the main road, it wasn’t much longer till we reached our next stop, the Natural Arch! My car had no trouble on the rough dirt road to the parking area, and we could even see the arch right from the car. A few interpretive signs taught us about the area’s Native American history, and we snapped a few photos before continuing on our journey.

Natural Arch

Elephant Rocks | Rio Grande National Forest

Del Norte, CO | 07/26/19

Our next stop was another obscure site that I couldn’t find much information on. The Elephant Rocks are a large area of elephant-like rock formations but I was unsure of the best place to access them. There are numerous roads and trails throughout this area that would make for great 4-wheeling and hiking, but we didn’t have time for anything except a quick photo.

Elephant Rocks

Ghost Town of Summitville | Rio Grande National Forest

Del Norte, CO | 07/26/19

The main destination for the day (other than our campsite) was the ghost town of Summitville. We made the extremely long trek up yet another dirt road to the huge mining complex. Gold was discovered here as early as 1870, but the area didn’t “boom” until 1873. This first boom lasted a number of years and the town was completely abandoned 20 years later. The second boom started in 1926 and became the largest mining camp in Colorado in less than 10 years. Much of the town was abandoned by 1956, but a few miners kept at it through the 1990s. In 1994, Summitville was designated a Superfund site to clean up cyanide contamination and acid mine drainage. The cleanup continues to this day!

By the time we arrived, it had begun raining, so Nicholas explored the numerous remaining buildings while I napped in the car. I was worried about the long drive out on muddy roads, so we didn’t stay too long.

A Summitville building with the mining area behind.
Inside a Summitville building (Photo by Nicholas)

After arriving back in Del Norte, we grabbed some cheeseburgers for dinner and set out for our camp site. We car camped in the Lake Como Road parking lot. Not super classy, but wonderful views (and also free)! The best part was that we’d be super close to our destination for Day 2 of our San Luis Valley trip! Can you guess where we might be headed?

Campsite views of the Blanca Group of peaks


5 thoughts on “San Luis Valley | Colorado | 07/26/19

  1. Pingback: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve | Colorado | 07/27/19 – Colorado Chelsea

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