Alamosa Bungalow

Articles and Photos by Camille Miller

It’s about 6:00 pm on the Tuesday following Memorial Day, and I’m relaxing on the front porch with my husband while the kids play an improvised baseball game in the backyard. There is a warm wind blowing and the next door neighbor is watering her newly-planted irises. The street is quiet and peaceful, as it has been for over a hundred years. For a moment I wonder if I have, in fact, stepped back in time. 

It helps, of course, that we are staying in a brick bungalow built in the first decade of the 1900’s. This gem of a property has been lovingly restored and filled with antiques that ring true with its original character. Standing at the stove this evening and preparing macaroni and cheese for dinner, I felt like I was poorly dressed for the domestic occasion: instead of tennis shoes I ought to have worn a pair of 1930’s heels, and rather than a t-shirt, I should have been wrapped in an elegant vintage house dress, complete with a strand of pearls!

Every detail of the home, from the door frames to the pictures on the wall, takes me back to a simpler era, a time when a handshake was as good as a contract, people dressed up to go to the movies, and a walk down the street was met with personal greetings from every neighbor. To be honest, I am wondering not only if I have stepped back in time, but whether I have somehow come “home.”

In just the past few hours, my family has quickly slid into the rhythm of Alamosa life. The kids insist on playing outdoors until the last shred of sunlight fades from the day. My husband has picked up a paperback novel he loved as a boy, and has planted himself on the sofa to read – a pleasure I’m sure he hasn’t had in months. I keep wandering through the house, touching soft curtains and smelling fresh lilacs on the breeze coming through the window. I am in love with little things like table cloths (when was the last time I used a table cloth?) and the vintage can of oatmeal on the kitchen shelf. I stare more than I should at the gorgeous antique light fixtures, probably reclaimed from an ashram in nearby Crestone. I could go on for pages, describing doorknobs and praising bedspreads. This home is peaceful and engaging at the same time, a combination I find almost magical.

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At first glance, Alamosa itself doesn’t seem like much, just a dusty little town set between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains. Only a little way west of here, the Rio Grande gets its start from melting snowdrifts, coming down through the San Luis Valley on its journey to the sea. The town was established in the late 1800’s on the river’s banks by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, to support the rail lines serving southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. Now it boasts about 8,000 residents, and is shifting into the new century with thoughtfulness and care.

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Stopping briefly at a local sporting goods store on Wednesday, I have to ask the young man behind the counter if he enjoys living in Alamosa. The whole valley has felt secluded and special to me from the moment I drove into it, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why.

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Maybe this local boy can describe it. He is wearing a t-shirt and jeans, a ball  cap on his head, and looks to be maybe twenty years old. Yet he handles gear and paperwork and supplies like he has been outfitting people for decades. I wonder what would keep a young man here in this sleepy little town, when he could easily seek big fortunes in bigger cities.

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He smiles at my questions and says casually. “I love living here. You can do anything. I go to school in the morning at the University, and when classes are over I can go rock climbing, or fishing, or even skiing within an hour. I don’t know of anywhere else like it.”

Driving back through town afterward, I consider his response. I’ve lived in Colorado for over a decade, and heard lots of mountain towns claim they are within an hour of more outdoor activities than you can pursue in a week. Why is Alamosa different?

As we pass a few locally-owned restaurants and cross the river I realize what makes it so unique: Alamosa has access to all the pleasures of the big resort towns scattered throughout the Rockies, but it hasn’t had its calm and steady nature exploited by resort business. The land is still mostly farms and natural wonders, not condos and chain stores.

It is one of the few remaining mountain towns in Colorado that hasn’t had to put a commercial face on and refine its rough western roots. That distinctive rawness is really very rare, and I find myself grateful that the modern world hasn’t yet caught up with Alamosa.

Picking up speed and leaving town, my family and I make our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for the day.

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It has been near the top of my bucket list for years now. A giant sandbox tucked up against the mountains is the perfect place to spend a day with the kids: hiking up and sledding down until every muscle aches and then stretching out and relaxing in the soft sunshine until we are ready to hike up again.

We’ve timed it just perfectly, because the melting snow has created a seasonal creek called Medano Creek, which comes down out of the mountains and circles the edge of the dunes before sinking into them.

The water is only five to ten inches deep, and it is marvelously warm and relaxing. We unpack our water toys, and the kids at once rush to build sandcastles, engage in water fights, and search for the clumps of black sand known as magnetite, an iron deposit they are convinced is valuable treasure.

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My husband gets quickly buried in sand while I sit nearby, laughing and taking videos, and wishing that my children could stay this young forever. The sky is a deep Colorado blue, and the mountain is a brilliant spring green. The dunes themselves sparkle in the sunlight; they stretch upward and spread outward for miles, and I can see tiny lines of people, looking like ants in the distance, climbing to the peaks.

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The Dunes are a big draw for visitors in the area, and I could stay here with my family for a week and not be bored. But there is so much more to see and do.

We could hike up to Zapata Falls, an unforgettable experience, or go see live Alligators at the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. The town hosts “Summer Fest on the Rio” which occurs the first weekend in June and the Early Iron car show over the Labor Day weekend. We might go for a train ride on the historic rails, or visit the tranquil Wildlife Refuge for an afternoon of birding and wildlife watching. I’m excited to try out the hot springs pool, after a hike along the Continental Divide. My husband wants to visit a nearby ghost town, and the kids want to stop in for a custom cookie at the Nestle Toll House Cafe. And I haven’t even begun to list the opportunities available a little further from town.

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I know I’ll come back here, to this valley, to this town, to this house. I plan to indulge in every one of the opportunities available to my family with repeated visits as we grow up. Of course I realize it won’t always be the same. Alamosa can’t stay this way forever, small and quaint and perfect. Industry and commercial interests will probably catch on to the riches of Alamosa before I’d like. But for now, I’m letting nostalgia and sentiment sweep me along, unrestrained. I know I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.

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camillem


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