Land of the Blue Sky People
Cradled between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains at the headwaters of the Rio Grande, lies the San Luis Valley. The diverse geologic and geographic features of this vast basin including lush river bottoms, an inland ocean of sand, and craggy summits reach elevations over 14,000 feet have enticed and enthralled people since the times of Ice Age hunters.
A cavalcade of characters, some famous, some infamous, and some downright notorious, have stepped across this landscape. Diego de Vargas, Juan Bautista de Anza, Zebulon Pike, John C. Fremont, Kit Carson, John Gunnison, Phil Sheridan, Tom Tobin, Bat Masterson, Soapy Smith, Bob Ford, Calamity Jane, Dario Gallegos, Poker Alice, Eppie Archuleta, Chipeta and Ouray, Otto Mears, Ulysses S. Grant, Alferd Packer - the names associated with San Luis Valley history read like a western epic.
Nomadic hunters, including Apache, Kiowa, Navajo, and Youth (Ute) tribal people sought out the Valley's abundant wildlife. Spanish governors were the first to provide written descriptions of the San Luis Valley before the formation of the United States. During ensuing decades, explorers, pioneers, homesteaders, land speculators, prospectors, and travel writers were attracted to the Valley's riches. Freely flowing clean water, comforting hot springs, verdant wetlands teeming with birds, fish and wild game, expanses of natural grass hay, majestic mountain vistas, forest and upland meadows, plus mother lode deposits of silver and gold lured these newcomers. Today, as you travel any of the routes into the Valley, you will be struck by the expansive landscapes, rugged mountains, and endless blue skies.
By the 1850s, Hispanic settlers from New Mexico had migrated into the San Luis Valley to establish small plazas with land grants issued by the Mexican governor in Santa Fe. These pioneers gave birth to the permanent settling of Colorado. Soon after, people from a variety of background seeking mineral wealth, free land, or frontier experiences joined the progression.
While much has changed within the Valley, traditional values and cultural practices still ensure. Well-preserved architecture and historic downtowns evoke the past. Whatever your interests, exploring the San Luis Valley's colorful history and vast beauty can make its legacy part of your Colorado heritage experience.
Come out and step into Colorado history!!
First and Oldest - The oldest town - San Luis; earliest adjudicated water rights - People's Ditch; oldest continuously operated business - R&R Market; oldest church building - Mission of San Acacio; oldest parish - Our Lady of Guadalupe; Colorado's first territorial governor, William Gilpin; first military fort and first weather station - Fort Massachusetts; oldest still-standing fort - Fort Garland; Colorado's first Lieutenant Governor - Lafayette Head; first and oldest Veterans Home - Homelake Veteran's Home; first four-year institute in Colorado federally designated as a Hispanic Serving Institute - Adams State University; the first commercial fish operations in Colorado Territory were started by Gordon Land in 1866 in Conejos County; first national monument - Wheeler Geologic Area; Oldest Pro Rodeo - Ski-Hi Stampede; path of the oldest migratory bird - Sandhill Crane Festival; oldest potato-growing area; and the oldest hot-lead printing press - the Saguache Crescent.