SAN LUIS VALLEY —Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways was established in 1989. As one of Colorado’s 26 Scenic and Historic Byways, Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway (The Ancient Roads) is a premier example of why collections of roads are deemed significant enough to be recognized as a byway. Meeting criteria for designation, a byway must possess exceptional and/or distinctive scenic, recreational, natural, archaeological, cultural and historic features. Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway has all six of these criteria and was designated on November 25, 1991. Along its 129-mile route, interpretive markers tell the story of the land, the people and the history. The scenic drive will take you through the heart of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.
The Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway is famous for the early Spanish Settlement and communities designed under the Spanish Crown, land grants, and the ancient people who traveled along this Byway. This Byway winds through some of the San Luis Valley’s oldest communities built in adobe style architecture. This Byway follows ancient trails by the first hunter gatherers, Native Tribes, and then Spanish explorers looking for land to raise families and build communities. The Byway winds through these earliest settlements that visitors can now travel allowing them to experience the journey Juan de Onate and the earliest settlers would have taken on horseback and wagon. The Byway climbs over three thousand feet and back through high mountain desert to mountain terrain and has sites that highlights one of the oldest “Commons’’ in the United States still used for its original purpose in San Luis (the only other in existence is Boston Commons not use for its original purpose). People visiting this area will experience life on the last frontier where settlement took many decades to achieve and many more thrive. The stories of famous settlements and historical figures come alive in locations such as Fort Garland. The Rio Grande River corridor provides a dramatic backdrop to early human settlement with pictographs of a hunting and gathering society. Along this Byway there are several Paleo-Indian sites including a number of significant Folsom sites that dates back over 10,000 years, and bison kill sites as documented by the Smithsonian. Unique architectural features such as adobe structures, Jacals, and Moradas used by distinct religious groups that helped settle the Valley are all evident to Byway travelers today and help transport the visitor back in time. Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byways was the driving force in creating and getting the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area designated in Congress in 2009 when funding for byways ceased and national heritage areas were being funded.
The Byway is within the boundaries of a National Heritage Area. With 11,000 years of documented human habitation, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is a crossroads of the centuries. Here a unique blend of Native American, Hispano and Anglo settlement is reflected in the diversity of the people, art and traditions. The geographic isolation of our high desert valley and the peoples’ enduring ties to the land have given rise to a rich cultural heritage and ensured its preservation. The area’s fertile, cultural landscape is complemented by remarkable natural resources, including the mighty Rio Grande, majestic Rocky Mountain peaks, Great Sand Dunes National Park, National Wildlife Refuges, and the high mountain desert, all of which lend the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area an unparalleled beauty that offers a sense of retreat and a powerful source of inspiration for visitors.
Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area work hand in hand to interpret four primary themes: Hispano Culture: Folklore, Religion and Language – The lower San Luis Valley lies at the intersection of the Hispano Southwest and Angelo Rocky Mountain West where the flavor of Hispano culture thrives. The Valley’s relative isolation has preserved a living culture tradition where art, language, architecture, folklore, and religious traditions remain evocative of the region’s early Spanish and Mexican settlers; Interwoven Peoples and Traditions – The San Luis Valley is a place where different peoples have converged for thousands of years. The Valley’s profound historical, religious, and cultural convergence remains visible in the landscape and can be experienced in its communities, art, food, lodging and events; Land of the Blue Sky People – Interwoven with the Valley’s natural history is a very long and rich human history. The San Luis Valley served prehistoric and Native American cultures as a season hunting fowl where fowl, game, and edible and medicinal plants were bountiful. Select landscape features within the Valley have long been revered as sacred; A High Desert Valley’s Wind, Water, and Sand Dunes – The delicate interplay of wind, water, and sand have shaped the San Luis Valley’s unique landforms and contributes to its biological diversity. Though receiving little rainfall, the Valley’s hidden aquifers support extensive wetlands that are home to globally unique plant and animal species and are in migration stopover for many birds.
Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area partnered with the San Luis Valley Museum Association to create a TravelStorys App of Los Caminos Scenic and Historic Byway, which is a self-guided audio tour along the byway. This app can be downloaded onto your smartphone and will be available very soon!
Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway is overseen by the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area which shares the same board and is a partner with the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways program. For more information on the byway or the heritage area, please visit our website at: sdcnha.org or contact us at [email protected] or 719.580.7366.