Hoping to become the world’s tarantula capital, La Junta hosts first-ever festival dedicated to the tiny critters

Jess Hazel/KRCC
The first Tarantula Fest parade proceeds down Santa Fe Avenue in downtown La Junta on October 8, 2022.

Respect the tarantula trek. That was the main message at La Junta’s first Tarantula Festival this weekend.

Festival goers got to watch a parade, take tarantula tours, buy tarantula-related goods and learn about the arachnids from hands-on displays at La Junta’s senior center. 

La Junta Mayor Joe Ayala said the festival is a chance to explain a tarantula’s important place in the local ecosystem. 

“It’s about educating,” Ayala said. “It’s about telling people it’s awesome, take a picture, don’t take a tarantula.” 

Jess Hazel/KRCC
A Colorado Brown Tarantula rests on festival volunteer Warren McClure’s hand at the educational pavilion in the La Junta senior center during Tarantula Fest on October 8, 2022.

Ayala said La Junta tourism focused on conservation education as well as bringing tourism to local businesses when planning the family-friendly event. He said he wants La Junta to become known as the tarantula capital of the world. 

“Instead of the home where the buffalo roam,” Ayala said, “it’s gonna be, ‘Give me a home where the tarantulas roam.’ That’s gonna be our slogan.”  

At the center’s education pavilion, Colorado Arachnid Club and other organizations taught attendees about the unique role tarantulas play in the local ecosystem. 

Club member Kelley Stevenson said arachnids help protect against diseases by eating an estimated 56,000 bugs per day per square mile. She said she’s seen people change their mind about tarantulas after learning more about them.   

“Usually when people first come to the program or they come up and ask questions they’re unaware of how harmless that they really are,” Stevenson said.

Jess Hazel/KRCC
Kelley Stevenson with Colorado Arachnid Club holds a Colorado Brown Tarantula in her hand while she explains the benefits of having a healthy population of tarantulas in the local ecosystem. The club participated in La Junta’s first Tarantula Festival on October 8, 2022.
Jess Hazel/KRCC
A parade float with a sign that says “Respect the Trek!” drives down Colorado Avenue in La Junta during the first Tarantula Fest on October 8, 2022.

La Junta plans to host the Tarantula Festival annually. Rick Wallner with Canyons and Plains said they plan to expand the tarantula tours to let more people sign up. 

“We’re doing the tarantula tours using the city buses. We’re taking people out to spot them,” Wallner said. “We had 72 slots on those tours and they filled up like that, they filled up really quick. So we know there’s some demand out there.”

Wallner said the festival doesn’t just advocate for the conservation of tarantulas but highlights the many resources in Southeastern Colorado. 

Tarantula Trek Tips 

The La Junta Tourism Board has these tips for people who want to watch tarantulas as they make their mating migration. 

  • Be aware of cars and other traffic on the road. Make sure to park away from the highway before getting out of your vehicle  
  • The best time of day to see tarantulas is an hour before sunset, though some tarantulas are active in the late afternoon
  • Tarantulas like warm days with very little wind
  • Best time of year for viewing is September but you may still spot tarantulas in October and November
  • Take pictures but don’t try to touch or take a tarantula
  • Tarantulas are docile and their venom cannot hurt humans. But they do shed hairs on their abdomen as a defense mechanism. Those hairs can make skin itchy or irritated