Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area
The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area was established by Congress on March 26, 2009. This legislation included the San Luis Valley counties of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla, together with the three wildlife refuges and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Link to the official Heritage Area website.
The mission of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is to promote, preserve, protect, and interpret its profound historical, religious, environmental, geographic, geologic, cultural, and linguistic resources. These efforts will contribute to the overall national story, engender a spirit of pride and self-reliance, and create a legacy in the Colorado counties of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla.
A national heritage area is a place where national, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinct landscape. Such a landscape exists here in the San Luis Valley, where several distinct cultures intersected.
Mt. Blanca, the 14,345 foot peak that towers over the valley, was originally given the name Sisnaajini (White Shell Mountain) by the Dine (Navajo) people and is considered a sacred landmark, denoting the northeastern boundary of their world. The Ute, Apache, Tiwa, Tewa, Comanche, Kiowa, and Arapaho tribes also lived in the area, either following the migration of large game animals along what is now known as the Old Spanish Trail or building villages of adobe and farming crops such as squash and corn. Evidence of their presence is found today in petroglyphs and pictographs that tell the stories of their cultures.
Buffalo hunting and indigenous nomadic life was intersected by Mexican land grants and penitente moradas. This area includes the oldest town in Colorado (San Luis), and the oldest parish in Colorado (Our Lady of Guadalupe in Conejos). Several of the large tracts of land were once land grants from Spain, including the area of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and what has since become the Forbes-Trinchera.
Explorer Zebulon Pike was the first American to provide a detailed description of this area. Captured by Spanish soldiers in 1807, near the area of Pike’s Stockade, this rebuilt structure is a symbol of westward expansion and exploration. Pike’s foray in the Valley was followed by the military, sheepherders, Mormon settlement, mining, railroads, cattle ranchers and Japanese farmers.
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council serves on the Board of Directors for the heritage area, and were instumental in helping to obtain 501C3 status. We also work to provide input into the preservation and protection of the overall environmental, geographical, and cultural landscape of this unique area where Spanish, Anglo and Native American cultures converged.