The San Luis Mystery: A Chevrolet Citation Story

Desert night

The San Luis Valley in Colorado is a strange place. It has a running history of strange occurrences. UFOs, mirages, alien sounds, bizarre natural features and strange beauty are all here. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but something happened to me that was unreal. I was driving by myself, at night, alone and behind the wheel of the worst car I ever had – a 1982 Chevrolet Citation. No, I wasn’t drinking.

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Having experienced numerous breakdowns in the Citation by this time, I ensured that I supplied and tanked up in Poncha Springs. I never entered the San Luis without water, beef jerky, a full tank of gas and an empty bladder. Especially in that unreliable Chevy. To get over Poncha Pass in the Citation meant I needed to push the pedal to the floor, grit my teeth, hold my breath and curse as the four cylinder pinged like a circus popcorn wagon at every incline. On a hill, the big four cylinder sounded like a Fisher-Price Corn Popper.

Poncha passimage:

As you crest over Poncha Pass, the San Luis Valley seems to have everything. Verdant mountains, clear streams and sweet green pine forests. Yet soon, you leave that classic Colorado scenery and find yourself sprinting across an empty flat basin, waist-deep in sagebrush. You then realize that this is not any valley, but the bottom of a huge pre-historic inland sea, that has become a dry high desert.

The San Luis is shaped like a warped satellite dish, tilting south towards Mexico.  14,000 foot high mountain walls cut it off from the rest of Colorado. The air is thin and cold, the sun is bright, there are no trees and the dry winds are strong.  As you drive south from the Pass, the more immense and desolate the San Luis appears. It is not a place to be stranded in an infamous GM Deadly Sin, especially at night.

san luis valley itinimage:

For millennia, powerful western winds scoured the old sea floor of sand, stones and pebbles, sweeping everything it could carry into 700 foot high sand dunes in front of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. These are the Great Sand Dunes. The nearest town is miles away where early settlers were able to find trees. I was in town to audit a few properties for a couple days and see the Dunes. It was off season and the middle of the week, so I saw no traffic as I finished up at the Alamosa Best Western and headed east towards the national park. The sun disappeared over the Divide and a full moon rose over the jagged snow-capped granite Crestones in a cloudless sky. There is only one long flat empty road to the Dunes. The only lights within dozens of miles came from the rectangular Citation headlamps. The Dunes and the mountains were magically ablaze in the moonlight. The night skies are unforgettable there, at that altitude and in that darkness you can see billions of stars.

Chevrolet citation radio

It was too quiet, so I tried the radio. Citations had a vertically mounted monaural AM radio which looked and sounded like it was designed by Mattel.  However because of the Valley’s altitude and shape – I was able to reach Mexico. I sped an hour towards the empty mountains and dunes listening to tinny Mariachi music. I began to understand how people could believe in the supernatural when surrounded by such magnificent strangeness. After experiencing enough of it I turn the car around.

As I was headed back to Alamosa, I heard an odd thump. It sounded like I hit a large tar strip, but the road was smooth. I heard another and once again couldn’t see a cause. I slowed down a bit then heard another. A quick series of thumps causing me to think I had a flat. I took a flashlight and walked around the car. No flat. Driving slower didn’t stop it. I shifted to the left lane to discover if it was a road imperfection. Nope. The thumping continued and occasionally I heard a quick succession of them. Confounded, I grabbed my flashlight again and did a thorough search under the Citation. Nothing. I hoped I could make it back to Alamosa.

Desert night

The thumping continued. Sometimes I felt it through the steering. In wonderment I saw that the wind would blow loose valley debris and dust across the car. The sagebrush shook in the winds and in the moonlight, looked like waves of water rolling from west to east. I thought I saw things crossing in front of the Citation from the edge of the road immediately before I heard another thump. Was I hitting sagebrush? Tumbleweeds? Was it the wind buffeting against the Citation?

Then in utter shock I saw what was happening. I was hitting jackrabbits? No – I couldn’t really believe it. They weren’t sitting on the road. What were they doing? To my horror I saw that they were charging the car. They were waiting until they could run at my headlights from the sides of the road. I’d catch a flash as their eyes reflected light and then they would come at me and I’d hear the thump as we collided. They were jackrabbits and they kept running and charging the Citation. It took me a while to believe it was really happening.

Jack rabbit deadimage:

I slowed the car to a near stop. Sure enough, the rabbits came at the car. I swerved in an attempt to avoid some of the attackers. Sometimes, I could see a half dozen rabbits racing towards the Citation from the edge of the road. I couldn’t get away. I had a long trip back to town, but I didn’t want to take several hours to do it. It was maddening. I sped up hoping I could out-run them. Instead, the thumping noises came faster and louder. It was crazy. I stopped to see if I was taking on damage. The tires were spotted with fur and blood. I could also see fur and blood hanging from underneath as well. The Citation was not damaged by the attacks, but the entire situation was both surreal and sickening. I stood in front of the Chevy and yelled. The noisiest car ever, needed a hill to make the engine sound like a gravel truck, and there were no hills! I hopped into the car and angrily pounded the horn. Then I thought I could drive without my headlights. In the end, this is what seemed to work. I drove for miles using only the moonlight and the Citation’s parking lights until I saw the main road.

Was it mating season? Were the rabbits attracted to the warmth of the road in the chilly night air? What was it about the headlights that caused such a mass reaction? If I had a bonfire would they had run through it? I’ve never figured out what happened, but we cannot rule out one possible cause – these Citations suck so bad they caused wildlife to commit mass suicide. The San Luis Valley is indeed a mystical place.