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Chipeta wife of Ute Chief Ouray – CO Historical Society/Ft. Garland Museum collection

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Walk in the footsteps of Kit Carson, Ouray and Chipeta, the Buffalo Soldiers, Alferd Packer, and countless other frontier characters through the land of the Old Spanish Trail.

An area rich in history and natural beauty, the San Luis Valley of Colorado is home to numerous museums, historical societies, and cultural points of interest.

Each tells a portion of a fascinating story -- ancient peoples, Spanish Conquistadors, the Westward Expansion, the rush for precious metals, war and intrigue, farming and ranching, modern day heroes...

The San Luis Valley is one of the largest high desert valleys in the world, lying at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. It is approximately 125 miles long and over 65 miles wide. Surrounded by the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west, the valley is the size of Connecticut and is larger than some states and countries.

The Rio Grande River begins as a small stream in the San Juan Mountains on the west side of the valley and was a major factor in the development of farming and ranching in the area.

It was originally home to the Ute Indians, who were removed from the valley in 1895. Other Indian tribes such as the Jicarilla Apache, Pueblo, Kiowa and Comanche raided or hunted here in early recorded times.

Many famous explorers penetrated the San Luis Valley between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, including the Spaniards Juan de Onate, Juan Maria Rivera, and Juan de Bautista Anza. They were followed later by Americans such as Zebulon Pike and John Fremont.

A major trade route, The Old Spanish Trail, passes through the Valley.

Hispanic pioneers from New Mexico founded settlements at San Luis and other sites in the southern end of the valley as early as the 1840s. The US Army established Fort Massachusetts, near the present location of Fort Garland, in 1852, to provide valley settlers with protection against hostile Indians.

With the discovery of gold and silver in the San Juan Mountains, a huge influx of miners and adventurers entered the area. By 1878 the railroad had reached Alamosa, which soon became destined to be the rail hub for the area. The narrow-gauge line was later extended to Antonito, Colorado and on into New Mexico.

New immigrants arrived to exploit the rich soil of the valley for agriculture and ranching. Thriving Mormon (LDS) communities were established at Manassa, Sanford, Romeo, and adjoining areas in the early 1870s. Dutch settlers developed productive farming communities at La Jara, Bowen and Waverly in the late nineteenth century. Japanese settlers were early immigrants to the area and contributed greatly to the agricultural productivity of the valley.

Alamosa, founded in 1878, is located in the very center of the San Luis Valley and is home to Adams State College which was established in 1921.

Nearby are the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, featuring 600 foot high sand dunes; Mount Blanca, one of North America's highest peaks at 14,345 feet, towers over the east edge of the valley overlooking the huge Zapata Ranch, where thousands of buffalo still roam; at its foot lies Fort Garland where the old rebuilt cavalry post, commanded at one time by Colonel Kit Carson, is located.

In the mountains to the east and west are nationally known ski areas, hunting and fishing locations, and scenic mountain towns such as Creede and Crestone.

Museum is hosted by the San Luis Valley Museum Association and is comprised of 15 museums spanning the breadth of the valley including:

  • Creede Historical Society and Museum (Creede, CO)
  • Creede Underground Mining Museum (Creede, CO)
  • Fort Garland Museum (Ft. Garland, CO)
  • Hazard House Museum (Saguache, CO)
  • Jack Dempsey Museum (Manassa, CO)
  • Luther Bean Museum (ASC) (Alamosa, CO)
  • Lookout Mountain Observatory (Del Norte, CO)
  • Monte Vista Historical Society and Museum (Monte Vista, CO)
  • Rio Grande County Museum (Del Norte, CO)
  • Ryan Geology Museum (ASC) (Alamosa, CO)
  • Saguache County Museum (Saguache, CO)
  • San Luis Museum and Cultural Center (San Luis, CO)
  • The San Luis Valley Museum (Alamosa, CO)
  • Transportation of the West Museum (Monte Vista, CO)
  • Veterans History Center Museum (Homelake, CO)

Congressional Bill S.185 approved by President Obama in March 2009 has designated three of the counties in the Valley as the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area which includes Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla Counties and the following museums: the San Luis Museum and Cultural Center, Ft. Garland Museum, Jack Dempsey Museum, and the Luther Bean Museum.

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