This beautiful and bountiful landscape, much of it protected, serves as the foundation for the region’s agricultural economy and its tourism and recreational activities. Whether it is the region’s water, soils, wetlands, forest, or dunes, all of these resources interact within a living cultural landscape that continues to evolve over time.
“La Sierra le pertencece a Dios y nosotros le pertenecemos a La Sierra.”
“The mountain belongs to God and we belong to the mountain.”
–rallying cry attributed to Jose Apolinar Rael, San Luis.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The dunes are thought to have formed about 12,000 years ago when the Rio Grande, full of glacial meltwater from the melting of Ice Age glaciers, spread sand and other debris across the San Luis Valley. After the valley dried out, winds are thought to have carried the sand for centuries to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The dunes cover an area of 40 square miles and is open to the public year round. Play in the waters of Medano Creek, summit and sandboard the tallest dunes in North America, hike the rocky mountain trails, camp under the dark night skies and watch for amazing wildlife.
In addition to preserving and interpreting the animals, plants and ecosystems, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve also interprets the early cultural history of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Topics include prehistoric hunters and gatherers, the more recent Ute, Apache and Navajo cultural connections and the evolution of settlement, use and development of surrounding lands. The park offers free education programs for schools and other groups as well as regularly scheduled interpretive programs in the warmer months.
For more information, visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area encompasses three federally-designated wilderness areas: Great Sand Dunes Wilderness, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, and South San Juan Wilderness.
State Wildlife Areas
State wildlife areas (SWAs) are state- or privately-owned lands that offer state-managed, wildlife-related recreation to the public. While most activities focus on hunting and fishing, each SWA has different allowed activities based on location and available resources. These parcels of SWA land are paid for by sportsmen and sportswomen, and managed under state law by Colorado Parks and Wildlife employees for the benefit of wildlife. CPW manages about 350 SWA lands around the state.
Rio Grande Natural Area
The Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA) is a distinctive landscape in south central Colorado, in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area near the New Mexico border. It includes the Rio Grande River corridor and its breathtaking cliffs, bluffs, canyons, and river views. This remote area is where Don Diego de Vargas, the Spanish governor of colonial New Mexico made the earliest documented entrada into present day Colorado in 1694.
The RGNA was established by the Rio Grande Natural Area Act in 2006 in order to conserve, restore, and protect natural, historic, cultural, scientiﬁc, scenic, wildlife, and recreational resources of the natural area. Stretching 33 miles, its boundaries include the Rio Grande, from the southern boundary of the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico state line, plus lands extending one quarter of a mile on either side of the river bank. The RGNA encompasses approximately 8,800 acres, of which 5,900 acres (67%) is private land and 2,900 acres (34%) is federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The RGNA includes a 33-mile stretch of the Rio Grande River, which is also the boundary line between Conejos County to the west and Costilla County to the east. On the Costilla County side, the land is mostly privately owned except for a parcel of county owned land near State Highway 142. The Conejos County side is split approximately 75-25 between BLM and private ownership.
San Luis Lakes State Park
San Luis Lakes State Park is located in Alamosa, to the west of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.