Strong Multi-Cultural Roots
The Valley traces its roots back to early Native American cultures 11,000 years ago and was predominantly home to the Ute Indians. Navajo, Apache and Comanche tribes also came to trade and hunt. The Spanish began exploring the San Luis Valley region in the late 1500’s and Mexico established numerous land grants in the territory. Vestiges of these early inhabitants are still on display. The Luther Bean Museum at Alamosa’s Adams State College has an excellent display of Native American weavings and pottery, and Mexican-influenced crafts, jewelry and cuisine are available in shops across the Valley.
The geology of the San Luis Valley has produced a unique environment for this rich agricultural region. There are two mountain ranges that make up our Valley. The San Juan Mountain Range to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range to the east. The San Juan Mountain Range is abundant in rich volcanic soil which has fed our Valley with the essential nutrients for prime growth of potatoes, grains, hay, and other crops. The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range is home to just a few of our famous 14ers. Its beauty houses other unique features to our Valley, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, San Luis State Park, three naturally hot springs recreational areas as well as many wetland areas.The first permanent settlement in the Valley was established in 1851 in what is now the city of San Luis, and forts were constructed throughout the region to protect early settlers. In 1870, gold and silver were discovered near Summitville which kicked off the area’s gold rush. Mining settlements were established in Bonanza, Creede and all along the San Juan Mountains. Visitors today can get a taste of early life in the Valley by visiting Fort Garland, a restored garrison once commanded by Kit Carson. Agriculture has long been the basis of the economy in the San Luis Valley especially in the north central acreage which is unique in world topography, the elevation of the valley floor is 7600 feet above sea level. This area is also known for Old Spanish Trail, railroad construction, and early developments along the Rio Grande River.
While the Valley’s history and culture are a definite draw, it is the natural beauty of the Valley that makes it most famous. From Blanca Peak, one of the Navajo sacred mountains and the highest peak in the southern range, visitors can enjoy idyllic vistas and hikes. The San Luis State Park and Lakes are a sanctuary for raptors and birds of all kinds and a perfect spot for a picnic. Likewise, the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wide variety of bird species as well as deer, elk, big horn sheep and more.
Endless Recreational Possibilities
The San Luis Valley is an outdoors man’s paradise great for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, skiing, ATV trails, rock climbing and more. One of the jewels of the region is the awe-inspiring Great Sand Dunes National Park. The newest of America’s national parks, the Great Sand Dunes are the highest in the US and welcome over 300,000 visitors each year. Most visitors attempt to scale the 750 foot height and slide, run or tumble down. La Garita and Wheeler Geologic Areas are renowned for their pristine views and trails as well.
At the center of the potato industry for the Valley, Monte Vista, located at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 160 and 285 is the second largest city in the Valley. It is a beautifully situated, lively community offering tours of historic homes, wildlife viewing areas, an annual Crane Festival in March, Ski Hi Stampede which is the state’s oldest professional rodeo in July, San Luis Valley Potato Festival in September and much more.