All Along the UFO Watchtower

November 2003

If you are inclined toward weekend exploration of Colorado’s high ranges and deep valleys, you’ll learn a few things about Centennial State geography rather quickly: first, roads in Colorado cover the spectrum from solid to rude; second, towns in Colorado have two basic types (affordable strip mall and overpriced Victorian); and, third, no two mountain valleys are alike.

Case in point: the San Luis Valley. Sitting at 7,600 feet in elevation and ringed by mountains up to 14,000 feet tall, this 150-mile-by-45-mile valley gets a mere 6 inches of rain annually. The resultant loss of topsoil is evidenced by the Great Sand Dunes, a 50-square-mile pile of sand up to 700 feet tall. (The wind is not powerful enough to lift the sand over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, at the western base of which the Sand Dunes sit.)

The San Luis Valley is also unique for its odd cloud formations. Just about every time I’ve driven through the San Luis Valley, the sky has produced some really strange-looking clouds: big, flat, brown orbs that look like burnt marshmallows; giant, twisted, colon-shaped cheese snacks; and weird, ground-striking blades that look like fins on the bottoms of fish or cartoonish bolts of lightning frozen in time.