By Kim Fuller Published in The Denver Post
DEL NORTE – On a late summer morning, it was quiet on the streets of this town on the edge of the San Luis Valley, the soft scene cut only by the occasional hum of a car or, more often, by the whirring sound of bike wheels turning.
Eager to see the town, I ventured out from my cozy abode in the historic Windsor Hotel, which has its roots in Colorado’s late-1800s gold and silver boom, to stop by San Juan Mountain Coffee’s cartfor a steaming cup of drip ahead of my ride.
The high-desert climate of the San Luis Valley creates crisp air early, but the heat of the day was on its way. Some local mountain bikers already were heading of town, pedaling toward the nearby D Mountain trail system, or loading up racks to drive to Penitente Canyon, Limekiln, Stone Quarry and Bishop’s Rock, along with higher-altitude trails in the Rio Grande National Forest, such as Middle Frisco Creek.
I had a half-day of mountain biking planned in Penitente. The trailhead is a 20-minute drive out of town. The terrain of this area is known to be semi-technical, more primitive than manicured, so I was thankful to be going with a group led by seasoned San Louis Valley riders Brink Messick of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and Raleigh Burt, business development manager of Kristi Mountain Sports in nearby Alamosa.
On the drive, Messick explained how areas just outside of town, like Penitente and Stone Quarry, provide awesome trails for riding, but how there’s a growing demand for connector trails that will bring all the systems together and make them accessible directly from Del Norte.
“It really helps the community more if you can leave right from town,” he said.
Next summer, a government grant and a contribution from Rio Grande county will fund a connection project, starting from the in-town D Mountain trails area and eventually reaching Stone Quarry and beyond.
“There will be a singletrack system starting from Del Norte, and going as far as we can see to the north,” Messick said.
The plan for the future is to tie together areas like Middle Frisco and Bishop. Penitente sits on its own across the valley and won’t be a part of the connect project, but it’s worth the short drive. Our five hours of riding in and around the canyons of Penitente proved fun, but by midday the sun was hot and draining. I headed back to my room at the Windsor for a much-needed shower and snooze.
In the evening, I walked to Three Barrel Brewing, which is just a few blocks from the hotel, off of Grand Avenue. The brewers create artisan beers from locally grown malt, hops, honey and fresh mountain water.
I ordered a Trashy Blonde, an unfiltered blond ale, and a calzone, which Three Barrel bakes in its wood-fired oven. It was a perfect way to recover those calories spent pushing the pedals and sometimes carrying my bike. A pint in, this spicy ale left me wanting more, much like Del Norte itself.
Kim Fuller: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kfullerink.
If you go
Where to Stay
The Windsor Hotel: Starts at $125 per night. 719-657-9031, 625 Grand Ave., windsorhoteldelnorte.com
Where to Eat and Drink
Three Barrel Brewing Co.: Craft brews and wood-fired Italian fare. 719-657-0681, 475 Grand Ave., www.threebarrelbrew.com