40th SLV Crane Festival swoops into Valley


Photos by Brian Williams The Sandhill cranes returned to the San Luis Valley during their annual spring migration. People came to Monte Vista to view the cranes and for the annual Crane Festival on March 10-12.

MONTE VISTA — People migrated to the San Luis Valley for the 40th annual Monte Vista Crane Festival on March 10-12.

Assistant MV National Wildlife Refuge Manager Dean Lee was at the refuge on Sunday morning. He said many people came to the refuge to see the cranes this year during the festival.

“The crowds that we have seen out here have been pretty steady,” Lee said. “We don’t have a total count, but we have seen an uptick of people over here and out at Ski Hi park this year for the festival. I think it's because this is our first full year back, you know after COVID, and with the new facility and everything out at Ski Hi too, we have seen a bigger crowd also. I have heard a lot of people express how it’s been nice to get out into nature and really enjoy the cranes this year. The cranes have been coming around for thousands of years, but this is the 40th for our town. It’s cool that we get to come out and enjoy the cranes. I also enjoy teaching people about the cranes and talking to them about the festival.”

There were a variety of vendors at the Outcalt Event and Conference at SLV Ski Hi Complex for the festival selling jewelry, soaps, perfumes, wood crafts, homemade baked goods, candles, carved signs, clothing and much more. There were also booths at the complex, including one from the Colorado State University SLV Area Extension Office, and one with rangers from the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to answer questions about Sandhill cranes and other wildlife.

On Saturday night at the Ski Hi Complex, the world premiere of the movie, “Where the Cranes Meet the Mountains,” was shown. The movie was made possible by a grant from the Colorado Tourism Office and made specifically for the 40th annual MV Crane Festival.

The movie featured an artist by the name of Amanda Charlton Hurley. Hurley spoke about her artistry and how the cranes inspired her to paint a steel crane for the “Swoop of the Cranes.” She said this was her first year seeing the cranes and spoke of their beauty. Hurley added that she loved how the cranes brought so many people with diverse cultures and backgrounds to the San Luis Valley.

Hurley was introduced in person at the movie's premiere, and the steel crane she painted was also on display for everyone to see at the premiere.

Keynote speaker and co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, Dr. George Archibald, gave a talk that was all about the Sandhill cranes, including where the cranes come from, their migration patterns, what the cranes eat, specific habits of the cranes, and how cranes populate. He also spoke about the cranes being in Monte Vista for the festival.

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday residents could buy tickets in advance or the day of to take a tour of different wetland and wildlife areas around Monte Vista and the Valley. Each morning or afternoon, depending on what time the tours were held, residents were taken to various locations for a guided tour of the wetlands or the wildlife refuge and could watch the cranes in their natural habitat.

The Sunday morning tour took people to the MV National Wildlife Refuge, led by Doug Ouren. Ouren said the cranes followed patterns on their migration to the Valley every year and that Monte Vista was one of their major stopping points. He mentioned that although it was a grandiose thing for people to witness every year, for the cranes it was simply part of their way of moving from one place to another.

Ouren said it was “wonderful” that people traveled near and far to watch the migration and witness the beauty of the cranes.

“The cranes really enjoy being here,” he said. “They enjoy loafing in the water, and then they go and feed. The cranes are omnivores and will eat what they find, like frogs, fish, and plant matter. You can often see them basking in the sun, and raising their wings before they take flight out at the refuge. This migration is an annual thing, and our place at the refuge is a spot they really enjoy visiting.”

For more information about the annual Crane Festival, visit the website at mvcranefest.org.


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