ALAMOSA — When Jeff and Hallie Owsley decided to visit all of the area’s museums this summer, they had no idea what kind of adventure they were in for.
They not only learned about the region’s history through visiting the 16 museums included in the 2017 Museum Giveaway, but they also won the drawing from among those who visited all 16 museums — and had a little too close for comfort encounter with a bear.
While visiting the Francisco Fort Museum in La Veta the couple camped out near Monument Lake. “We didn’t realize it was big bear country,” Jeff Owsley recalled.
They were tent camping and put their dishes, stove, ice chest and food in some shelving units next to the site. A bear and perhaps one of its friends came to check out the goodies next to the tent in the middle of the night.
“We could hear snorts and grunts,” Jeff said. The couple tried to decide whether to turn a light on in their tent or not and finally decided it was better to turn the light on. About 15 minutes after the first bear rummaged through the Owsleys’ belongings, another showed up and didn’t find as much to munch on in the leftovers. The bear came towards the tent, and the Owsleys could hear it breathing near the tent opening.
Miraculously, during the entire ordeal, the Owsleys’ dog “never made a peep,” which was very unusual for him.
Of course after the bears left, the Owsleys surveyed the damage and saw how close the bears had come to the tent.
Their cooler still has a tooth mark in it as a memento.
“That was part of our museum tour,” Jeff said.
They also saw three moose, which was a much less frightening encounter.
The Owsleys became involved in the museum giveaway promotion on Memorial Day weekend when they were coming back to their home in Alamosa from a trip to Taos, New Mexico and stopped at the Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa. Jeff saw a card at the museum promoting the idea to visit the 16 participating museums for a chance to win prizes. He had seen it the year before, but he had not taken up the challenge.
This year he and Hallie decided to give it a shot.
“We thought it would be a great goal for the summertime as new empty nesters to have something like that,” Jeff recalled. “It was really fun to have that as a goal. We incorporated it into some different trips like on a weekend.”
For example, they incorporated a camp out at North Clear Creek Falls on their trip to the Hinsdale County Museum in Lake City.
Lake City and La Veta museums are part of the 16-museum promotion, with the rest inside the San Luis Valley at Sanford, Saguache, Creede (Creede Underground Mining Museum and Creede Historical Society), Del Norte (Rio Grande County Museum), Crestone, Alamosa (Luther Bean Museum and San Luis Valley Museum), Fort Garland, Manassa (Jack Dempsey Museum), Monte Vista (Monte Vista History Museum and Transportation of the West Museum), Homelake (Homelake Veterans Museum) and San Luis (Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center.)
Those who visited the most number of museums on the list (each museum would stamp participants’ giveaway punch cards) between Memorial Day and Labor Day were entered into a drawing to win prizes, and the Owsleys of Alamosa and Carole Humphrey of Pueblo won the prizes of gift certificates for museum gift shops. They also received "Get Caught Up in History" T-shirts.
“It was fun to plan it,” Jeff said.
Some of the museums were more of a challenge because they were only open certain hours and days or a someone had to be located to open up the museum for them.
“We thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the San Luis Valley,” Jeff said. “Each of these is like a gem around the San Luis Valley.”
He added, “We learned so much as we went along.”
He said he hoped the museums would continue the promotion in future years and that other people would take up the challenge.
“I would encourage more people to do that,” he said. “You learn so much about the Valley communities and the San Luis Valley in general by going to the museums.”
He said he appreciated the leadership of Kat Olance, president of the SLV Museum Association, for developing the Museum Giveaway idea.
“We need more things to encourage people to get out and visit the San Luis Valley … to be a tourist in your own place,” Jeff said.
To get on board next season visit www.museumgiveaway.org.
Above, Jeff and Hallie Owsley, left, make it to their 16th museum, the Sanford Museum, where they got their museum giveaway punch cards stamped for the final time. Celebrating with them are Linda Anderson Smith and Frankie Colton.
Below, Hallie and Jeff Owsley are laying in bed like the soldiers, head to feet in a single bunk at the Fort Garland Museum.