First let me start by making it clear that I’m terrified of spiders. This little trip has been an exercise in taming my fear. We headed out this morning on what we call a weekender. They are excursions close to home that only require one or two nights in a hotel. This time we are southeast of Colorado Springs, hanging out in La Junta Colorado. The best place to see the tarantulas is in the Comanche National Grassland. We headed to a trailhead called Withers Canyon and were greeted by surprisingly beautiful scenery.
I’ve heard over the years that Colorado has tarantulas and that they migrate in the fall. In spite of my arachnophobia we decided to go check out this amazing phenomenon in our state. Technically speaking the spiders are not migrating. It’s only the males that are out wandering and they are looking for love. The males are about ten years old and once they mate, if the female they mate with doesn’t kill them outright they will still only live for a couple of more months. The females stay close to home in the Comanche National Grassland, they can live up to twenty five years. This knowledge actually made me feel sympathetic towards my first Colorado tarantula. This guy we were so excited to finally see was plainly terrified of us, I almost felt bad following him to take his picture. We had done some research and were expecting to encounter spiders in late afternoon through early evening, we actually didn’t see a single spider until after dark. These Oklahoma Brown Tarantulas are pretty good sized with an average leg span between 4 and 5 inches so we were able to see them pretty easily as they crossed the road in front of us, even with just our headlights.
I fully expected to be freaked out by these spiders but the whole encounter was really pretty cool. My reaction and sympathy towards these creepy little guys was a nice surprise. Having said that I was amazed to see people tent camping in the grasslands. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to actually hold a spider and there is absolutely no way I could camp on the ground with five inch tarantulas crawling around. These campers are a lot braver than I am.
Besides the spiders the Comanche National Grasslands have an unexpected beauty that is a pleasure to explore. Most of us think of eastern Colorado as the not so beautiful part of the State. Granted the eastern plains are a lot plainer than our beautiful western mountains but these grasslands are a place of subtle beauty and peace. We loved hiking around while looking for spiders today. It’s a desert kind of beautiful but it is beautiful!
As we were hiking back to our car we were treated to an amazing sunset! What a great way to end the hike!
The second day in La Junta we decided to check out Bent’s Old Fort. The fort is eight miles east of La Junta. If you’re ever in the area it’s definitely worth a visit. Set up like a living history museum, the fort gives you a glimpse of what life was like in this bustling place.
Built in 1833 by Charles and William Bent along with their partner Ceran St. Vrain, the fort was put to many different uses over the years. Primarily used as a trading post for both Indians and trappers the post saw a large variety of trade goods pass through its gates.
Because the Bents had a reputation for honest trade and good relations with Native Americans they were often employed as diplomats and the fort hosted the Upper Platte and the Upper Arkansas Indian Agencies. Later years saw the fort serving as a military base and staging ground for the United States’ invasion of Mexico’s northern provinces.
This area of Colorado has very few trees so by necessity the fort was built from adobe bricks made on site.
This gave the builders a great medium to work with and they used it well. From a distance the fort looks almost like a castle in the middle of the plains.
Overall a very fun and educational weekend! Also taught me a little bit of tolerance for giant spiders!