Nature and wildlife lovers, sports enthusiasts, and history and culture seekers will be in heaven as they explore the backcountry of Conejos County. A generous 66 percent of the land is public land, overseen by the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Colorado, providing endless locations for outdoor recreation and large game hunting. Camping sites and lodges offer outdoor adventurers an authentic rural frontier to explore under sun filled days and dark night skies. Fish pristine, gold medal waters of the Conejos River, and if you don’t want to go it alone, there are many guides and outfitters in the area. Fish species include, Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Salmon. The San Juan Wilderness Area and eight State Wildlife Areas offer miles of hiking for all ability levels, ATV and primitive four-wheel drive trails, and cross-country skiing or snowmobiling is an option for the winter months. Visit the Colorado State Wildlife site for details on trails.
Volcanic activity deposited gold and silver and turquoise in Conejos County in the areas of Platoro and the King Turquoise Mine. In the summer months you won’t want to miss events like La Jara Glory Days, Manassa Pioneer Days and Antonito’s Labor Day festival.
https://manassa.com/pioneer-days/–link to manassa pioneer days above
Conejos County is home to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, America’s longest and highest narrow gauge steam railroad and the oldest Hispano civil rights union, the S.P.M.D.T.U. Mission churches dot the landscape, with the largest and oldest being Our Lady of Guadalupe. Several museums can be found throughout the small towns, which depict early frontier life of southern Colorado. There area state and national historic sites throughout the county like Pike’s Stockade and Lobatos Bridge, which is just a stone’s throw away from where Don Diego de Vargas first crossed the Rio Grande.
Towns in Conejos County
1880 – As the Denver and Rio Grande railroad extended south from Alamosa to Española and Chama, New Mexico. The railroad located the train station one mile south of Conejos. One rail line went west to Chama and the second line went south to Española and was called the “Chile Line”. When a petition for a post office was made, the name of San Antonio was taken, so “Antonito” or “Little Anthony”, became the official name. It was in honor of the nearby mountain, named San Antonio by explorer, Governor Diego de Vargas.
1874 – First established as “Sunflower” by Mormon settlers. A gentleman by the name of Romero petitioned for a Post Office for the community and the name “Romero” was already in use in Colorado. To get around the problem, Mr. Romero removed the second R from his name, thus the Post Office and eventually the community were named Romeo.
1880 – Gold was discovered at the Mammoth Mine. As the miners dug deeper into the mountain, a rich vein of silver was also discovered. The mining town was given the name for silver and gold, or “Plata” for silver and “Oro” for gold, thus the combined name of “Platoro”.
A post office was established in 1888.
1880 – Sanford, named in honor of Silas Sanford Smith, the 1st president of the San Luis Valley LDS Stake. Sanford was also known as “Alma”. Silas Sanford Smith was a cousin of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
1879 – Named by Lawrence C. Peterson, a Mormon from New Mexico in honor of the biblical Joseph’s son. Settlers included Milton Evans, Samuel Sellers, William Jones, Thomas Chandler, Hugh Sellers, and their families. They came in October, 1878 and were caught by a severe winter storm. They survived the winter because they were taken in and given shelter and sustenance by the local Hispano settlers.
1867 – Civil War Veteran, José María Casías homesteaded the settlement to raise sheep. Casías named the settlement San Antonio because it lays near the foot of “El Cerro de San Antonio”
1870 – Establish on the banks of La Jara creek by the same settlers from Capulín. Other settlers from El Rito, N.M. also joined the new community. The town was named for the “jaras” red willows that grew along the creek’s banks. When the railroad extended south from Alamosa, the town moved to the railroad stop at the water tank location. The name moved with the town.
1870 – Ortiz, also known as “Los Pinos” the pines, was established by Nestor Ortiz who was a sheep rancher with a large flock. Nestor also opened a store in the community. A post office was opened in 1885 and given the name of Ortiz. Ortiz is six miles SE of Antonito and named after Nestor Ortiz who owned a store there. It was homesteaded in the early 1870s by Jose Maria Casias, but attempts to settle the area may have been made since the early 1840s. Originally named Los Pinos, it was renamed in 1885 when the post office was opened in the Ortiz store.
1863-64 – Los Sauces, the “willow trees” was founded by Antonio Márquez, José Rodríguez, and Fernando Borrego and their families. The town was named for the abundance of willow trees in the area.
1858 – Capulín was settled by residents from the Conejos and El Rito, N.M. areas. Capulín was founded near a grove of choke cherry trees and given name of this tree “capulín”. Founding fathers were: Hipólito Romero, Juan and Fermín Gómez, Tomás Sánchez, Victor Gonzales, and Bernardino Valdez. The town was built of jacales and burned down. The town was moved west about a mile and a half in 1867 to higher ground and leave the river bottom land for raising crops.
1855 – Las Mesitas was named after the row of mesas extending from west to north. The founding father of the community was Juan de Diós Ruybal.
1854 – Mogote, six miles west of Guadalupe also known as Fort San Juan or San Juan was settled by José María Suazo, Manuel Gonzales, Ramón Gómez, Rómolo Ruybal and their families. They name the community after the nearby hills that remind them of stacks of corn, a“mogote”.
It was a summer home for the Utes; the women and children stayed is the bosque while the men hunted.
1855 – Conejos is established by the families from Guadalupe after the spring runoff floods their homes and they move to higher ground on the south bank of the river. The settlers name the new town “Conejos” for the abundance of rabbits and the river that separates the two villages. It is about a mile northwest of Antonito
People moved from Guadalupe across the Conejos River in 1855 since it was on higher and drier ground. It was the principal trading center in the area until Antonito was founded on the rail line. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was built in 1926 on the site of a burned adobe built in 1860. In1861, Conejos was the county seat of the newly created Colorado Territory.
1854 – San Rafael also known as “El Paisaje” the view of the country, Vicente Velásquez, Juan Bautista Chacón, Miguel Jaramillo, Antonio Trujillo, Bonifacio Romero with their families establish the community.
Atanacio Trujillo donates a statue of
San Rafael (Saint Rafael the Archangel)
to the new church. Town named in honor of
San Rafael to protect the settlers.
1854 – Led by José María Jáquez, Vicente Velásquez, Jesús Velásquez, José Manuel Vigil, Santiago Manchego, Juan de Diós Martínez, José Francisco Martínez, Juan Nicolás Martínez, José Chaves, Hilario Atencio, Antonio Chaves, Antonio José Chaves, and Juan de la Cruz Espinoza brought their families to settle the Conejos Land Grant.
Bringing an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to protect them from the hostile Indians, they named their town Guadalupe.
Richfield: Founded by Mormons in 1882.
El Centrito: Located two miles west of Capulin, it was the center of a ranch area, a poblaciano.
Morgan: Morgan was settled by Mormons in 1886.
La Isla: La Isla, meaning the island, lies between the Conejos River on the north and the Rio San Antonio on the south and east. Celedonio Valdes, on of the petitioners for the Conejos Grant in 1835 owned much of the land in the area.
Canon: Two and one-half miles southwest of Mogote, it is east of the mouth of Conejos Canyon on the south side of the Conejos River. It was settled in the later 1860s.
Ceniceros/Lobatos: Ceniceros, meaning the pile of ashes, was named for the sand dunes at the base of the hills about eight miles southwest of the village. The first morada in the San Luis Valley was just south. Established in the mid 1850s, it was surrounded by an adobe wall for protection. Ceniceros was shorted to Cenicero and then in 1902 renamed Lobatos for Jesus Maria Lobato, the first postmaster. It is 3 miles east of Antonito on the road to Mesita.
La Florida: Meaning flowers, La Florida is east of Antonio and southeast of Lobatos, near the hills.
Los Cerritos: Los Cerritos, meaning little hills, is 1.5 miles SE of Manassa. Settled by Juan Maria Garcia and Pablito Martinez there were more than 38 families in 1878.
Los Rincones: The name means corners and is 3 miles southeast of Manassa and east of the Conejos River. It was settled between 1849 and 1851. By 1870 it had 23 taxpayers and had a morada.
Espinoza: Originally called Los Fuerticitos (the ‘little fort”) of Incarnacio Espinosa, it provided protection from Indians. Located 2 and one-half miles south of Manassa, buildings were constructed of adobe.