Photo by Liam Doran
by Phillip Armour
Colorado’s San Luis Valley is the kind of place that makes you feel blessed just for being there. It’s so remote, so high, so big and stuffed with so many dramatic geologic formations that you seem to absorb it all on a cellular level. And tiny Del Norte (population 1,598) is a stubborn little oasis amidst these superlatives. A farming and ranching community at its core (and originally, a mining town), Del Norte has long been a waypoint for travelers headed over Wolf Creek Pass. The Windsor Hotel, a newly refurbished Victorian, is one of the oldest crash pads in Colorado, built as it was in 1874. And since the construction of the first rope tow up Wolf Creek Pass in 1938, athletes and outdoorsmen have steadily been moving here to harvest powder and and explore backcountry trails.
Trout and big game have always been plentiful, attracting the Ute Tribe for millennia and the Ancestral Puebloans before that. The valley’s free-roaming buffalo are gone, but one enterprising rancher is breeding a healthy herd just north of town. During my visit in June, the tawny-colored newborn calves stood out against their black parents, skipping about on spindly legs. Heck, even Mammoth once roamed the San Luis Valley. And the area’s rich wetlands have long been an important stop for migrating birds.