Land, Water and People: Thankful for living in the San Luis Valley


Thanksgiving has come and gone for another year, but we shouldn’t stop being thankful. Being thankful is a positive experience; it even stimulates a chemical response in our bodies that just makes us feel great. So it’s good to be thankful and there is much to be thankful for living in the San Luis Valley. 

We should all be thankful for the mountains that surround the Valley. The San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos jut up from the Valley floor providing us with spectacular views. These two mountain ranges also wring moisture out of our mostly dry air. The moisture comes in the form of snow this time of year, which later provides us with a sustained flow of water during the summer months. We all drink the water that flows off our mountains, many use it to irrigate their crops, and the spring flows help fill the wetlands where hundreds of thousands of birds visit and many nest.

Speaking of wetlands, we should all be thankful for the plethora of wetlands that dot our mountain drainages and even for the beavers that help create some of these organic sponges. Many of our mountain wetlands began forming in low spots or behind debris dams as the alpine glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago. Today, these wetlands help slow down peak flows and store water that is slowly released into the ground and creeks supplying us with water year round, even on dry years like this one.

Personally, I’m also thankful for the summer monsoons, which waters the mountain slopes creating lush carpets of grasses and wildflowers. I never tire (mentally) of wandering through the seas of color that spread across the alpine meadows and along mountain creeks in the summer. The wildflowers are also flourishing below the dead and dying spruce trees and within the burned areas. Focusing on the beauty of nature’s amazing powers of recovery feels much better than dwelling on the dead and blackened trees.

We should all be thankful for the bountiful fish and wildlife that thrive in our mountains, in and along our rivers, creeks and lakes, and throughout our wetlands. Seeing and hearing wildlife helps jolt us from our mind’s wanderings and brings us into the present moment.  Wildlife connects us to the landscape and brings us a sense of joy. And for many, wildlife provides sustenance to body and spirit.

I’m also thankful for our rural lifestyle in the San Luis Valley. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, which began to grow when I was in junior high school. Traffic began to pack the roads as the hardwood forest in my backyard was subdivided and the agricultural lands were replaced with office buildings and warehouses. This was good for the economy, but was it worth it? Not for me – I escaped to the upper Rio Grande in 1978 and knew I had found heaven.

We should all be thankful for the large expanses of public lands that surround and are within the San Luis Valley. Besides providing us with all the things mentioned above, they attract visitors from other areas, which stimulates the economy of our bedroom communities while maintaining the open space we all benefit from and enjoy. 

There are many things to be thankful for living in the San Luis Valley, but because we are engrossed in our busy lives we sometimes don’t think about it. Since I’m betting most people prefer to be happy rather than pulled down by negative emotions, the next time you hear a raven caw, the wind blowing through the trees, or the gurgling of a creek, stop for a moment and be thankful for where we live… it will make you feel good. 

Mike Blakeman is the public affairs officer for the Rio Grande National Forest. He spends much of his free time scrambling around the mountains with a camera in his hand.

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