When I think of southern Colorado, I think mountains, specifically the San Juan range, which is home of some of my favorite summits. But SoCo has its fair share of desert too. The land wedged between the San Juans and the Sangre de Christos is shielded from rain by the mountains, creating an arid landscape in the midst of snowcapped peaks.
Much of this space, north of Del Norte, west of highway 285, is no man’s land: public lands held by the Bureau of Land Management. These public lands belong to you and me. In these places, this country is still free.
I had heard that somewhere in this desert is an arch in volcanic rock. Arches, like those in Arches National Monument, are most commonly formed by freeze and thaw cycles in sandstone, a sedimentary rock. Volcanic rocks don’t often weather this way, but there are always exceptions.
I found La Ventana Arch high on a ridge, near the intersection of county roads A32 and 35C, just east of Eagle Mountain. Hiking up to the arch, at an elevation over 8,000 feet, was a scramble, but the views of the San Luis Valley through the aperture were well worth it!
After checking out the arch, I headed to Penitente Canyon to camp for the night. Camping on BLM land is usually free but this was $11 a night! Granted, this is something of a famous place.
Long before rock climbers discovered the canyon’s short but world class walls, members of the Penitente Brotherhood, a very strict Catholic sect, used the canyon as a place of worship. Climbers have left behind hundreds of bolted routes in the walls and the Brotherhood, a beautiful pictograph of the Virgin of Guadalupe:
I love the desert, but I’m feeling parched and ready for some water! On to Manitou Springs!