Museums, Cultural & Spiritual

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Did you know that the Navajo consider Blanca Peak to be one of four sacred mountains that comprise the borders of their native lands? Or that many southwestern tribes consider the San Luis Valley to be the birthplace of their people, a spiritual place they've termed "Sipapu?"

Did you know that boxing heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, was born and raised right here in the valley, and that the cabin of his birthplace still stands as a museum and memorial in the small town of Manassa? Or that the valley is home to both Colorado's oldest town (San Luis), and oldest church (Conejos)?

The pure and palpable cultural and natural history that exists today throughout the San Luis Valley may be one of the best authentic journeys through our country's past. Browse through our area's museums and historic sites to get a taste for the stories that have made us who we are.

San Luis Valley Museum, 401 Hunt Avenue, Alamosa

The San Luis Valley Museum, located at 4th & Hunt in Alamosa, features displays of the diversified cultures and arts of the area.  Among the various displays in the museum are the costumes worn in the 1860's by frontiersman, Tom Tobin, and numerous Indian artifacts and clothing of the late 19th Century.  In the museum, visitors can experience two display rooms; one is a typical old school room and one room displays a traditional trading post.  Visitors can view fascinating collections of railroading memorabilia, cultural artifacts of the early settlers, farming and ranching tools, and a display of arrowheads and exotic insects.  A veteran's memorial wall honors those who served with varied displays of uniforms from World War I and World War II.  A unique collection of old hats and dolls is also on display.  Rotational displays are planned for future diversified exhibits. 

Historic Engine 169, Cole Park, Alamosa

Locomotive No 169 is a narrow gauge, coal-fired, 10-wheeler steam locomotive built in 1883 by Baldwin Locomotive Works.  It could haul 11 cars at 71 miles an hour!  Built for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to meet the need for additional and larger engines to haul passenger trains, it was part of an order of 12 locomotives and is one of the oldest surviving locomotives of the D&RG Railroad.

The 169 was removed from service in 1938 and was stored on a dead line at the Alamosa rail yard.  It was taken out of storage in 1939 to represent the D&RG Railroad at the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York City.  In 1941, the 169 came to rest at Cole Park, a gift to the city from the Railroad.

Fort Garland Museum, 29477 Highway 159, Fort Garland

Established in 1858, Fort Garland's primary purpose was as a base against attacks by Indians in an effort to protect the new settlers.  It was once under the command of the legendary Kit Carson, and has an excellent exhibit of his career and family life.  Walk the parade grounds and tour the adobe buildings, including a display about the famed Buffalo Soldiers, and view the 19th Century artifacts from early pioneers.  The museum features living history performances at special events throughout the year and is the Valley's most important museum.  Follow Highway 160 east from Alamosa for 25 miles into the town of Ft Garland.  Turn right onto Highway 159, the museum will be on your right about two blocks down.

After all that adventure, you are sure to have worked up an appetite!  There are a couple of local options in Ft. Garland such as the All-Gon Restaurant and Pizzeria or the Silver Sage Steakhouse.

Stations of the Cross Shrine, Downtown San Luis

The Stations of the Cross are beautifully depicted in a series of bronze sculptures by internationally known San Luis artist Huberto Maestas.  They rest along a comfortable three-quarter mile trail that climbs a short distance up a small mesa named La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia (the Hill of Piety and Mercy).  The walk offers numerous opportunities for meditation and reflection, and ends at the top at the chapel, La Capilla de Todos Los Santos (The Chapel of All Saints).  Below lies the village, with its "vega," San Luis' communal pasture, and the People's Ditch, the oldest communal irrigation waterway in Colorado.  No matter your spirituality, this is an emotional and cultural experience.  Look for the interpretive signs at the trail head on the right side of the highway as you enter the town from the north.

San Luis Museum and Cultural Center, 401 Church Place, San Luis

Nestled within the heart of San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, is the San Luis Museum and Cultural Center.  The Museum features murals and works of art from its own collection and on loan from various artists and collectors, many of whom are local residents.  The Gift Shop offers paintings and other art objects by various local artists.

The north wing of the complex houses the Carlos Beaubien Theatre, which shows movies on summer weekends and in the past has been used to host the Santa Ana/Santiago Queen Pageant.  The theatre has also been the setting of several stage performances, presentations, and concerts.  Because much of the original decor has been maintained throughout the building, the original vigas and fireplace still grace the theatre.

Last but certainly not least, spend some time in San Luis, a community with strong ties to Spain's religious, cultural, and artistic traditions.  It was once a part of four Spanish land grants decreed by the King of Spain. The Town's adobe architecture and its classic Spanish town layout retain the texture of the historical and cultural influences which shaped the early communities of Southern Colorado.

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