San Luis Valley

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The San Luis Valley is a broad mountain valley at the headwaters of the Rio Grande. For the most part it is in Colorado. It is a drop fault in the Rio Grande rift filled with alluvium and water. It has a cold desert climate, but there are broad areas of wetland and irrigated agriculture. After removal of the Utes It was settled in its southern portions by Hispanic settlers from similar regions in northern New Mexico. After the Civil War Anglo settlers followed, establishing ranches and towns. The waters of the valley were appropriated to raise hay and other crops. After wells became practical irrigated agriculture produced potatoes, head lettuce and beer barley in Saguache County where Crestone is located. There was some metal mining on the perimeter of the valley, and a major silver strike at Creede in Mineral County at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

History of the San Luis Valley

During the period of Anglo settlement in the late 19th century entry to the valley was via Mosca Pass near the Great Sand Dunes. In the days of the open range the stageline followed the perimeter of the valley north to Crestone and Saguache, then south to La Loma (Del Norte) then southwest to Conejos, crossing the Rio Grande at La Sauses, "the willows," to San Luis, then south to Taos and north to Ft. Garland, Sangre de Cristo Pass, Mosca Pass and Gardner. For the most part settlement north of the farming settlements in Costilla and Conejos counties consisted of isolated cow camps. (Actually, until 1866, when the northern part of the valley became Saguache County, Costilla County took in the entire valley.)

The farming and commercial towns of Alamosa and Monte Vista and the roads and railroads which serve them were founded and built in the late 19th century in the center of the valley and along the Rio Grande as settlement by homesteaders reached the marshy lands in the center of the valley and along the river. In Crestone the fencing of the Baca Grant was completed in 1881 and Crestone was founded in 1880 by George Adams, the owner of the grant. Cattle were shipped from Moffat, founded in 1890.