Monday, August 2, 2010

Colorado Chronicles : The Rio Grande Starts Here

Falling For the Rio Grande
The Rio Grande is one of the most famous rivers in the world. "The Big River" has been memorialized in John Wayne movie classics, Johnny Rodriguez songs, and literature. Texans think of the Rio Grande as a border between the Lone Star State and Mexico, where it's known as El Rio Bravo del Norte. But it's much more than that. Modern history shows that the river has been used for irrigation since before 1540 when Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set eyes on the Pueblo Indians doing just that near Las Cruces, New Mexico. Some folks will be surprised that the Rio Grande begins as a trickle high in the mountains of Southwest Colorado in Rio Grande National Forest. Located four hours southwest of Denver and four hours north of Albuquerque, Rio Grande National Forest is an outstanding place to hike, camp, cross country ski or snowshoe, depending, of course, on the season. According to the website : "The 1.86 million acre Rio Grande National Forest is located in southcentral Colorado and remains one of the true undiscovered jewels of Colorado. The Rio Grande begins its 1800 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico high up in the San Juan Mountains in the western most part of the Forest. The Continental Divide runs for 236 miles along most of the western border of the Forest and the jagged tops of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains form the eastern border.  In between these two mountain ranges sits the San Luis Valley which is the largest agricultural alpine valley in the world. The Forest is composed of a myriad of ecosystems ranging from high elevation desert at 7600 feet above sea level to rocky crags at over 14,300 feet in the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Portions of four Wilderness Areas (South San Juan, Weminuche, La Garita and Sangre de Cristo) make up almost ¼ of the Forest." Rio Grande National Forest is a more than worthy addition to any vacation schedule. I plan on taking my family on a cross country trip in the next few months and Colorado was on the list because my Mom lives there. The Rio Grande National Forest is not on the direct route home for us when we head back to Maine, but having discovered such a place as RGNF and its incumbent Natural Splendor, I think we'll take the long way home.

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