History and Heritage

History and Heritage

Before written history, native American cultures, including Clovis and Folsom, hunted and gathered in the area 11,000 years ago. Spain claimed the area in the 1500s and established land grants to attract settlers. However, clashes with Comanches left the valley largely unsettled for many years. Zebulon Pike, exploring the southern part of the Louisiana Purchase and after his discovery of Pike’s Peak, was awed by the view of the Sand Dunes (likely from Medano Pass) in 1807. Until Mexico’s liberation from Spain in 1821, Spain claimed the San Luis Valley. The 1850s saw the first group of permanent settlements.

Gold and silver discoveries near Summitville in 1870 fueled the mining rush to the San Luis Valley. While other mining settlements quickly followed at Creede and Bonzana, the history of the San Luis Valley’s settlement was greatly influenced by the railroad, farming, ranching, and timber. Just two years after Colorado became a state, a narrow-gauge train loaded with expectant settlers and their belongings stopped at a protected bend in the Rio Grande shaded by a grove of cottonwoods. In 1878, the town of Alamosa—Spanish for cottonwood grove—was founded.

Trains delivered lumber and hardware and left with agricultural products. Over the next ten years rails were laid in all four directions and Alamosa became a veritable center of the San Luis Valley. In 1921, Adams State College was founded as a teaching college and is now a bachelor and master's degree-granting institution. With a population of around 16,000, Alamosa today offers majestic mountain views, the winding Rio Grande, clear skies, breathing room, abundant agriculture, a thriving economy, and two institutions of higher learning.

If you’d like to recapture the feel of a bygone era, travel our rails or visit local mining towns to immerse yourself in our history. From Medano Pass, take in the vistas spanning the sand dunes across the San Luis Valley to mountains and your view of natural beauty will be similar to Zebulon Pike’s 200 years ago. 

For more information about history and culture in the San Luis Valley, visit the San Luis Valley Museum Association and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area websites.

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Alamosa Train Depot

The Alamosa Train Depot doubles as a historical site as well as one of Colorado's 9 Welcome Centers, located right in downtown Alamosa. Alamosa was founded, in part, ...
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Creed Mining Loop Trails

This 17-mile self-guided tour traverses through a well-preserved mining area just North of Creed, Colorado. Visitors can choose to drive through, hike, or cycle their way ...
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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

    Built in 1880, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a proud remnant of the spirit that won the west. It's path through steep passes and deep gorg ...
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Ft Garland Museum

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 comma ...
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Historic Downtown Alamosa Walking Tour

A stroll around Alamosa’s downtown reveals its history and small town charm. From red brick to pressed metal ornamentation and glazed colored tile, Alamosa is a stud ...
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Historic Exploration: 4 Trails in the the San Luis Valley With Fascinating History

The San Luis Valley is brimming with history, beginning with Native American Paleo-Indian cultures that date back to 11,000 years ago. The Ute people inhabited the valley ...
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Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway. Translated, the name means "the ancient roads" - aptly named for its tour through 16th century Spanish territorial expansion at its n ...
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Luther Bean Museum at ASU

The Luther E. Bean Museum features a beautiful collection of Native American pottery including pottery by Maria "Marie" Martinez and Acoma and Santo Domingo Pueblo ...
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Monte Vista Historical Society

The Society was organized in 1987 as a non-profit volunteer group committed to the preservation of historical documents, photographs, and buildings in Monte Vista an ...
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Ryan Geological Museum

      "In 2004, Mr. Edward M. Ryan donated his collection of more than 5,000 fossils and minerals to Adams State for academic and public use. After expl ...
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San Luis Valley History Museum

The San Luis Valley Museum, located at 4th and Hunt in Alamosa, features displays of the diversified cultures and arts of the area.  Among the various displays in ...
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Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area

Discover traces of culture representing the rich heritage of the moradas, placitas, historic churches, and murals.  Traditions materialize through the art, weaving ...
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Silver Thread National Scenic and Historic Byway

This scenic byway traverses between 117 miles of beautiful and remote landscapes between Blue Mesa Reservoir, near Gunnison, CO, and South Fork, just outside of Creede, C ...
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Southern Colorado's Museum Trail

Few Colorado landscapes are imbued with as much history as the San Luis Valley. The area has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years, first by Native Americans, and lat ...
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​Highway of Legends National Scenic and Historic Byway

One of the San Luis Valleys' three nearby scenic byways is the Highway of Legends which spans 82 miles between the town of Aguilar on Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 1 ...
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