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.
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 ...