Southeastern Colorado: North La Veta Pass, La Junta

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US 285 makes a straight shot northward, following the railroad tracks.  It’s hard to pay attention to what’s in front of you on the road, as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains slowly come into view, far across the farmland.

From Antonito/Conejos, take US 285 to Alamosa, then US 160 east.

The most interesting sight I saw in La Jara was the Wool Market building, along the side of US 285.

After you make the turn onto US 160 at Alamosa, dramatic Blanca Peak (part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is right in front of you, then minutes later, right beside you, as the road curves slightly southward through the San Luis Valley.

At 14,345 feet, Blanca Peak is the fourth highest mountain in Colorado, and seventh highest in the contiguous United States.  

Just before US 160 curves slightly southward around Blanca Peak, you’ll find the turnoff for CO Rte. 150, which leads to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.  I didn’t have the time to drive up to the dunes, but I highly recommend you visit them if you can.

Beyond Blanca Peak, US 160 begins an exciting climb, topping out at 9,413 feet at North La Veta Pass.  As you hit the road’s high point, two more impressive mountains appear in front of you: Rough Mountain on the left, and Mt. Mestas on the right (11,138 feet and 11,568 feet, respectively).

You can also explore La Veta Pass via rail.  The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad runs trains between Alamosa and La Veta, Colorado.  It also runs a train south to Antonito, so you can connect with the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  For prices and schedules, visit the Rio Grande’s website.

If the altitude didn’t make you dizzy, the sudden change in landscape is about to make your head spin.

As soon as you come down from the mountains, heading east on US 160, your surroundings go from dramatic to downright dull.  (Notice the mountains in the rear-view, and the… well, the nothing that lies ahead.)  This is where the plains begin, and all that awaits you is hundreds and hundreds of miles of Kansas.

But, before you get to Kansas, you still have a few hours of Colorado remaining.  Turn on the cruise control and lock the steering wheel into position, then climb in the back seat and take a nap.  Oh, if only you could.

At Walsenburg, US 160 turns south and follows I-25.  Instead, follow CO Rte. 10, which makes an east-northeast bee-line to La Junta, where it connects with US 50.

La Junta, Colorado

Little La Junta is a welcome break from the monotony of Colorado Rte. 10.

I didn’t spend much time in La Junta, mostly because I needed to get as far east as I could before dark.  I was entering the phase of the vacation where the most important goal was getting back to my starting point, as quickly as possible.  So, I took a few pictures of a few of La Junta’s funky neon signs, such as the one at Margene’s Beauty salon…

… and Kit Carson Find Foods, Lounge, and Steaks, then headed out of town.

I ended my day (and started Day 7) in Lamar, Colorado at the Blue Spruce Motel.  It’s an older motel that has some rough edges, but the owners keep it clean and are slowly making improvements.  Plus, it’s cheap.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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