The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area has exceptional recreational opportunities. There are hundreds of square miles of public lands, thousands of acres of wildlife rich wetlands, marshes, and water bodies and two designated wildernesses that provide for highly diverse recreation experiences.While experiencing this unparalleled scenic beauty one can find solitude, absorb clean crisp air, gaze upon some of the clearest of night skies and bask in a climate that is dominated by sunlight.In addition, there are phenomenal cultural resources that clearly express old world traditions and native beliefs. The cultural expression in the landscape illustrates the local ties to this unique landscape and heritage. There are also lots of great historic, educational, cultural and just plain fun places to stop along the way
Alamosa Gator Farm
This family run and family friendly stop is one that you must check off your bucket list when visiting. The educational facility is home to Colorado alligators and other reptiles like snakes, tortoises, iguanas, and other animals with everything from spiders to birds thanks to its geothermic water. Colorado Gators is owned and operated by Erwin and Lynne Young and was originally a fish hatchery. Alligators were originally used to help dispose of fish remnants. They have also taken in rescue animals and is home to Hollywood star Morris(Happy Gilmore).
Capilla de Todos Los Santos
The Chapel of All Saints, dominates the view for miles around the San Luis. Its bright dome and classic bell towers are reminiscent of the lovely white-washed churches of Mexico This adobe masterpiece was inspired by Father Patrick Valdez, the dynamic and well loved Theatine Father of Sangre de Cristo Parish. architect Michael Bertin, of Architectural Harmonics in Boulder, CO and designer Arnold Valdez speak of a deeply inspired collaboration, combining several different adobe traditions. Mr. Valdez, son of many generations of land owners and farmers, was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University Design School for his expertise in Hispano vernacular architecture and the cultural landscapes of Southern Colorado.
The market was established and is still owned and operated by the decedents of Costilla county pioneer Dario Gallegos. The Market, located in downtown San Luis, opened in 1857, making it the oldest continuously operated business in Colorado.
Splashland Hot Springs
This seasonal hot spring has been open to the public since 1955. Located one mile north of Alamosa, this family friendly destination offers open lap swim, summer swimming lessons, a concession stand, locker rooms with showers, a diving board and three slides.
Cattails Golf Course
Adams State University
Murals of the Heritage Area
Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway–The Ancient Roads is a 129 mile stretch of Colorado highway that provides travelers with panoramic views, a strong sense of the past, and opportunities to experience the rich culture and traditions of the people of southern Colorado. Those who travel Los Caminos Antiguos follow a path worn smooth by ancient tribes, explorers, trappers and traders, miners, and Spanish and U.S. settlers.
- Cano’s Castle
- Cumbres and Toltec Railroad
- Rio Grande Scenic Railraod
- Pikes Stockade
- Indiana Jones Bed and Breakfast
Cumbres and Toltec
Rio Grande Scenic
- Conejos County Museum
- Jack Dempsey Museum
- Luther Bean Museum
- Sandford Museum
- San Luis Valley Museum
- Ryan Geological Museum
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Alamosa Wildlife Refuge
- Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge
- Baca Wildlife Refuge
- Blanca Wetlands
The Blanca Wetlands (BLM) provide birding, photographic, and cross-country experiences. The wetlands are closed to the public during nesting season from February 15 to July 15. Directions: From the intersection of US 160 and CO 17 in Alamosa, head five miles north and turn right (east) on CR 2S. Proceed seven miles east to the entrance gate.
San Luis Lakes
- Trujillo Meadows State Wildlife Area
- La Jara Ranch State Wildlife Area
- La Jara State Wildlife Area
- Conejos River State Wildlife Area
- Mountain Home Reservoir State Wildlife Area
- Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area
- Sego Springs State Wildlife Area
- Smith Reservoir State Wildlife Area
- Alberta Park Reservoir State Wildlife Area
The Museums located in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area are part of the San Luis Valley Museum Association. All museum photo credits go to the SLV Museum Assoc.
The Conejos County Museum is located in Antonito. The museum has exhibitions that include: Colorado Wildlife Display including Mountain Lion, Elk, Bear, Big Horned Sheep, Antelope and Otter courtesy of Colorado Department of Wildlife, an antique printing press, Mission Church photos of the area, and artifacts from early settlement of the Conejos County. Learn More at https://www.museumtrail.org/conejos-county-museum.html
Located in Manassa, the Jack Dempsey Museum celebrated the life of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. Dedicated in 1966, the museum is housed in the cabin in which Dempsey was born. It contains several artifacts of Dempsey’s career, including the gloves he wore in the New York fight and numerous black and white photographs of his life. Learn More at https://www.museumtrail.org/jack-dempsey-museum.html
Sangre de Cristo Cultural Center
Located on a plaza in the San Luis de la Culebra National Historic District, the San Luis Museum and Cultural Center was established to interpret the history of San Luis, La Vega, the People’s Ditch, the oldest family store in the state, the town’s local heritage, and its Hispano culture and settlement. The museum houses interpretive exhibits and a diorama of the village. Additionally it has a replica of a Penitente morada, complete with religious objects and Santos (carved saints), and an extensive collection of local art, including traditional embroidery and murals. Originally constructed in 1943 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an Institute of Arts and Crafts, the building was later used as a high school. Much of the original architecture (vigas and ﬁreplace) is still intact. The Carlos Beaubien Theatre, located within the museum, has hosted several stage performances, presentations, and concerts. Several years ago the museum offered classes in weaving, embroidery, using hornos (outdoor earthen ovens traditionally used by both Hispanics and Native Americans), and a variety of lectures. Due to funding constraints and personnel changes, however, these programs are no longer offered. The courtyard is still used for festivals, although the museum has been closed for several years and the center is undergoing restoration. Learn More at https://www.museumtrail.org/sangre-de-cristo-heritage-center.html
Fort Garland Museum
Established in 1858 and commanded by legendary frontiersman Kit Carson, Fort Garland had a garrison of more than 100 men and served to protect the earliest settlers in the San Luis Valley. Original adobe buildings on the grounds (including the barracks pictured here), exhibits on infantry, cavalry, and Buffalo Soldiers stationed at the fort, an authentic 1871 stagecoach, and historic dioramas offer visitors a memorable experience of American western history. Fort Garland is one of the major interpretive sites in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Learn More at Fort Garland’s Website and a at SLV Museum Trail https://www.museumtrail.org/fort-garland-museum.html
The Luther Bean Museum is located within Adams State University. It features an eclectic collection of Southwest and European artifacts, and local arts and history, including Native American and Hispano Southwest art, and European decorative arts paintings and bronzes by nationally and regionally renowned artists like Eppie Archuleta and Huberto Maestas. Also featured is a collection of memorabilia of the former Colorado Governor and ASU’s founder William H. “Billy” Adams. Learn More at https://www.adams.edu/lutherbean/ and https://www.museumtrail.org/luther-bean-museum.html
The Sanford Museum includes memorabilia showcasing the town’s history and Mormon heritage. In addition to military exhibits and a large doll collection. The museum also includes information on nearby Pike’s Stockade and the village of Los Sauces. Learn more at https://www.museumtrail.org/sanford-museum.html
Located in downtown Alamosa, the San Luis Valley Museum contains memorabilia displaying the area’s multicultural heritage representing pioneers, Hispanos, Native Americans and other settlers of the San Luis Valley. Collections contain historical photographs and American Indian items, including clothing made from hides, Oriental art and Veterans memorabilia. The building contains a pioneer schoolroom and trading post display. Learn more at https://www.museumtrail.org/conejos-county-museum.html
Located on Adams State University Campus. In 2004, Mr. Edward M. Ryan donated his collection of more than 5,000 fossils and minerals to Adams State for academic and public use. After exploring several possible homes for his collection, He determined Adams State was “the most perfect place.”
Weather Preparation and Featured Activities:
December -Februaryare winter months, bring warm clothes and snow boots. This is the best time of year for winter fun such as ice skating, ice fishing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, small town holiday festivities, the Alamosa Ice Fest, and the Rio Frio Fest
March-May are spring months and it can still be a little cool and windy, bring sweaters, hiking gear, and rain gear. This is a great time of year to see everything starting to bloom. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad starts their season in May.
June-August are summer months, bring swimming attire, hiking gear and cool clothing. This is a great time of year for fishing, camping, hiking, biking, river rafting, and visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Enjoy the
Summerfest on the Rio, Manassa Pioneer Days, Santa Anna Y Santiago Festival, and the La Jara Glory Days Festival, and live music every Sunday at 6pm at Cole Park in Alamosa.
September-November are our beautiful fall months. This is the best time of year to see Colorado’s colors. Bring sweaters, hiking gear and a camera. A train ride during these months provides some amazing photo opportunities.
Mission Church Tour
There are several churches in the three counties that comprise the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, which are considered mission churches. Several have unique architectural features and four in Costilla County were recently placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. All of these sites are easily accessible by cars and buses.
The Stations of the Cross Shrine in San Luis, Colorado has become a local landmark for not only the spiritual aspect of the bronze statues and the capilla (chapel), but also for the spectacular vistas from the top of the Mesa de Piedad y Misericordia (Mesa of Piety and Mercy).
Next to the oldest congregation in Colorado located in Conejos, Colorado there is a labyrinth being developed by local parishioners. Conejos County also has several mission churches.
The Church of Latter Day Saints also has some spiritual sites that can be explored.
There is also a new garden just outside of San Luis. Mother Mary’s Garden features two labyrinths, beautiful statuary, seating areas, and celebrates the many religions in the San Luis Valley. All of these sites are easily accessible by car or bus, some require walking short distances or light climbing.
There are several excellent museums in the Lower San Luis Valley that are worthy of a very interesting and informative tour. These include: the Fort Garland Museum (a History Colorado museum), the San Luis Valley Museum (Alamosa), the Sanford Museum (Sanford), the Luther Bean Museum and Northern Rio Grande Center at Adams State University (Alamosa), the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center in San Luis (under restoration, but will open soon), the Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa, and the Conejos County Museum in Antonito. All the museums are easily accessible by car or bus.
Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic & Historic Byway Tour
The Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic & Historic Byway provides the visitor with some of the most spectacular vistas in the region. There are many historical landmarks such as the San Luis Historic District, the oldest church as well as the oldest congregation in Colorado. Historic Manassa, Sanford and La Jara are home to a very rich Mormon culture. Alamosa’s railroad history has recently enjoyed a great renaissance and is becoming well known. Fort Garland Museum has some of the oldest State-owned adobe buildings with a rich cultural and military history. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a beautiful example of nature’s living laboratory with its spectacular dunes, dynamic water preservation and a unique biodiversity. The entire byway is easily accessible by car or bus. There are multiple locations along the way for food, gas, and lodging.
Town of San Luis Heritage Tour
San Luis de la Culebra (San Luis), Colorado is the oldest continuous settlement in the State of Colorado. It is where “Colorado Began” as the locals call it. The Plaza in San Luis, which makes up several square town blocks in the center of the village, is a National Historic District. It is named so for its unique architecture, its Spanish/Mexican style plaza and the many “firsts” for Colorado, including the oldest business owned continuously by the same family—the R&R Market. The People’s Ditch is the first adjudicated water right in Colorado, which is one of many acequias in Southern Costilla County. The adjoining vega is a common pasture and supports a centuries-old system of agriculture. This tour is a very popular one and leaves you with a sense of place. The town of San Luis and the sites are easily accessible by car or bus and offer food, gas, and lodging.
Natural Wonders Tour
Our National Heritage Area is full of natural wonder and beauty. It’s the perfect spot in Colorado to take in the majestic beauty of our mountain ranges, fish in crystal clear rivers, lakes and reservoirs, take a hike in the forests, or visit the highest natural sand dunes in the country. Some sites are difficult to access and may require a 4-wheel drive vehicle, walking long distances, or moderate climbing.
Our National Heritage Area is not your typical art scene, and you don’t have to be an artist to enjoy the wonderful artwork throughout our heritage area. However, many artists find our heritage area to be a source of inspiration!
You could plan this self-guided tour as a three-day trip, with one day in each of our three counties.
If you are interested in visiting a large outdoor gallery, with nature as the backdrop then this self-guided tour is for you. Some amazing local artists, following in their cultural tradition, have painted stunning artwork in unconventional places throughout our Heritage Area. Other artists have created homes of art. Yet others have molded statuary that seems to come to life.
This unique storytelling through art has a way of transporting the viewer back in time. The various artwork depict faith, scenic beauty, Hispano culture, folklore, and the settlement of the area. Art sites are easily accessible by car or van and near food, gas, and lodging.