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Home to more mountain peaks over 14,000 feet than any place else in Colorado, "Fourteener" Country spans the Continental Divide. The Collegiate Peaks section of the Sawatch Mountains, themselves a portion of the larger Rocky Mountain range, looks over the Upper Arkansas River Valley. To the east lies South Park, an expansive plain encircled by mountains. The Rockies, the Arkansas River, abundant wildlife, flora and fauna all add up to breathtaking views.
Good words to describe the Buena Vista and Salida end of the Upper Arkansas Valley are mild, dry, windy and sunny. Buena Vista itself boasts an average of 264 sunny days a year. It isn't for nothing that the area is nicknamed the "Banana Belt."
The protecting mountains to the west provide the surprisingly temperate weather. Although all four seasons, along with their distinct attractions, take their turn, the summer heat and winter cold and snow are generally more mild than either further up in the mountains or over the Front Range in Colorado Springs or Denver. Even though there are periods of less-than-moderate heat and cold, they don't last long. Because of this and a lack of humidity, the district is ideal for outdoor recreation all year 'round.
The scenery may be lovely, but a town is only as beautiful as its people, and 14er country has no shortage of friendly, open-hearted inhabitants. Salida, Buena Vista, Leadville and other nearby towns may cater to tourists, but they are decidedly not tourist towns. Instead, they are full-fledged year-round communities where a sense of that community is strong, with neighbor helping neighbor and where a neighbor is anyone in need.
Newcomers are made to feel welcome and given the opportunity to join any number of organizations. Outdoor recreation, arts of all kinds, intellectual pursuits, music and dance are all found here. The coffee-drinker next to you in a café could be a rancher, artist, blue-collar worker, lawyer, rafting guide, retired rocket scientist, school teacher or organic farmer. This diversity is just as attractive to the residents as are the opportunities for personal involvement and growth.
If it's done outside, central Colorado probably has it. Mountain and street biking, rafting and kayaking, camping and hiking, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, downhill and cross country skiing, photography, fishing, climbing—they're all here and more. Head off on your own adventure or join an activity put on by the town's recreation department. Drop in to the chamber of commerce to learn about both the large and small tourist businesses, as well as public town events, and find out about ways to discover the local history and natural wonders. There's always something going on, no matter what the time of year. The more you get to know the area, the more you discover there is to know.
Though the towns are small, they can provide just about anything you need, from toothpicks to world-class art, from window shopping to necessities.
Music, dancing, art exhibits, quilt shows, free lectures, clubs of many kinds, special town events—the FourteenerNet "Events" calendar and the local chambers of commerce and town websites will alert you to all that is going on.
Schools in the Arkansas Valley strive to develop the many sides of each student, offering strong academics coupled with a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Intellectual growth, the arts, sports, life skills and character development are all emphasized. The local school is not seen just as a place for the kids, but as the heart of the community.
There are many resources available if you'd like to start a new business in this, "the heart of the Rockies," including chambers of commerce, town websites, the South Park Business Directory & Profile, Salida Business Directory & Profile, and FourteenerNet's sister-site Leadville.com.