Gold and silver discoveries near Summitville in 1870 fueled the mining rush to the San Luis Valley environs. 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.
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 1500’s 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 (probably from Medano Pass) in 1807. Until Mexico’s liberation from Spain in 1821, Spain claimed the San Luis Valley. The 1850’s saw the first permanent settlements.
Just 2 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 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.
The easy access to the mountain regions surrounding the San Luis Valley are a major attraction for visitors and locals alike. Not only a provider of recreation, the forests are a key economic resource. The extensive Rio Grande National Forest first came under government control in 1891 with the authorization of the Timber Reserves Act in 1891. Established to conserve the nation’s timber, range and water resources, much of this land has remained unspoiled and public. The Great Sand Dunes National Park (first created as a monument in 1932) and The San Luis Valley Lakes State Park offer outdoor recreation on the valley floor.
In 1921, Adams State College was founded as a teaching college and is now a bachelor- and master-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.
But perhaps you’d like to recapture the feel of a bygone era. Travel our rails or visit mining towns. From Medano Pass let your gaze wander from 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.