Saguache County is steeped in a rich history and boasts a wealth of historic sites. Here are a few of the best:
Robertson’s Flour Mill: The original grist mill was constructed by Otto Mears in the late 1860s to provide flour for the Indian agency and the settlers of the northern area of the San Luis Valley. It is one of the few water-powered grist mills still standing in the Western United States. Tours can be arranged by appointment only by calling 719-221-3869.
Downtown Saguache: Saguache began as a trading post on the Old Spanish Trail and flourished as a supply center for the surrounding mining camps. Since the railroad never extended to this corner of the County, it remains an endearing sleepy downtown. Pamphlets describing the downtown are available at the Museum, Hazard House, and the Saguache Crescent (one of the few linotype newspapers still in publication).
Bonanza: Bonanza sits nestled at the base of the southern Sawatch Mountains. Founded in 1880 as a thriving mining camp, it is now the smallest incorporated town in Colorado, with a population of just 16. Visitors to Bonanza may explore its historic cemeteries and take in the views of the aspen covered peaks named for the Ute tribal leaders, Chipeta and Ouray and Mount KIA/MIA. Signage in the town and a U.S. Forest Service brochure interprets this historic mining district.
Crestone School House: The old Crestone Schoolhouse is a National Historic Register site that dates to the 1880s. This rural schoolhouse served local schoolchildren until 1949. The School House is now the Community Center and located on Cottonwood St.
Moffat Community Church: The church was built by the town’s citizens using a machine ordered from the Sear’s catalogue which formed concrete blocks to look like stone, which were then mortared together. This is the second year of a Colorado State Historical Society grant to preserve this valuable historical structure and convert it into a community center and town hall. www.moffatcolorado.com
Old Spanish Trail Markers: In several places, the roads and highways of the Saguache County intersect the Old Spanish Trail, a historic trade route linking Santa Fe, NM with Los Angeles, CA. This route followed even earlier routes established by Native Americans. In 2002, the Old Spanish Trail became part of the National Historic Trails system. http://www.oldspanishtrail.org
Travelers have always come to this Valley; some are just passing through, many will return, and a handful will stay - but none will forget the vast beauty that is Saguache County. From the time prehistoric Ice Age peoples hunted giant bison 11,200 years ago, through the historic period when European settlers carved out homes in the wilderness, we remain a resilient bunch. Willing to forego convenience of urban pleasures for the quality of life in this peaceful open place where the sun always shines and the stars are as close as your backdoor. This land of majestic vista has much to offer those who seek an experience apart from the ordinary. Folks always ask us, “what is there to do here?” This guide will show you all the wonders of Saguache County – outdoor recreation on public lands, religious temples, quiet spaces to watch abundant wildlife, and a deep culture full of history and art. We invite you to come be a part of it all – you’ll never forget it.
From the Sangre de Cristo to the San Juan Mountains, the jagged peaks and rushing rivers of the San Luis Valley public lands wrap themselves around this Rocky Mountain basin. Whether viewing the mountain scenery from roads or finding challenge on trails, visitors discover solitude and self-reliance through uncrowded year-round recreation opportunities. As recreation pressures increase in other parts of Colorado, the public lands of the Saguache County maintain their remote spirit and traditional culture.
The Rio Grande Forest and adjacent BLM lands form the scenic and cultural backdrop to the Saguache County. With a landscape of high peaks, geologic wonders, and steep river canyons, the spectacular scenery beckons adventurers from near and far. Culturally, the public lands have been significant to generations of users and continue to provide economic benefits to local communities through recreation-based tourism and multiple uses. History is alive at prehistoric Native American sites, historic mining camps, and along the routes of early explorers and settlers. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail winds for 236 miles across the Rio Grande Forest and is managed to protect its scenic and recreation values. The CDNST stretches 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, creating a habitat corridor for wildlife and hikers. For map and more information go to www.cdtrail.org.
Special attractions include Sangre de Cristo and La Garita Wilderness Areas, Penitente Canyon, significant migratory wetlands, numerous 14,000 ft peaks, excellent hunting, fishing, and hiking opportunities. Consistent snow and excellent terrain create a winter wonderland ready for enthusiasts of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiles. With nearly half of the land designated as Wilderness or backcountry, and the overall remote nature of our public lands, the opportunities for solitude are outstanding. The area continues to be a safe and inviting place for families and social groups to experience the great outdoors.
The Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands are managed public lands; the lands combined are called the San Luis Valley Public Lands. Visit the Regional Forest website or the BLM website for more information.
Country Rural Lifestyles – Farming & Ranching
The first permanent settlements in Saguache County were established in the mid-1860s near the presentday towns of Villa Grove and Saguache. Wheat was grown and milled into flour, then transported over toll roads to mining camps in the Colorado mountains.
By the 1870s gold and silver were discovered in the Sangre de Cristos and mining camps sprang up overnight. The advent of the railroad allowed products to be shipped over the mountains and connected remote settlements with the outside world.
A robust farm and ranching sector then arose to feed the large influx of people involved in these enterprises. Sheep and cattle did very well on the lush summer pastures in the high country. Today very little of the mining remains, but the county remains an agricultural landscape.
The area around Center is the “bread basket” of the county, and San Luis Valley potatoes are famous throughout the country. Carrots, lettuce, barley and alfalfa are also grown here in the largest agricultural high altitude valley in the world. Cattle, sheep and goats graze the grasslands surrounding the towns of Moffat and La Garita.
The historic ranching industry has evolved to meet the needs of modern consumers. Many grass-fed beef enterprises produce high quality natural beef, and goat dairies make specialty cheeses and milk. Local artisans weave yarn from llamas, sheep and goats, that they raise themselves, into beautiful garments and works of art.
Saguache County is a place where the working cowboy still rides the range, checking the herd; where summer days are spent toiling in the hay fields to bring in the feed to get the stock through the long, cold high desert winters. It is a place where lonely homesteads have more horses in the corral than cars in the garage, and where dogs earn their keep; where you know your neighbor and are always ready to lend a hand during branding time.
Moffat cowboy poet, Peggy Godfrey, sums up our rural lifestyle wonderfully in this poem:
I’ve learned to see the mountains
as more than stone and mud.
Come to know my neighbors
as more than flesh and blood.
I’ve grown to see the work I do
as more than passing time.
Poetry means more to me
than getting words to rhyme.
I’m now aware each day is more
than getting on with life.
I see myself as more than just
my role as mom or wife.
Life offers me a framework
like bones stripped bare and white.
What I can do is flesh them in
with muscle, love and light.
The Baca Grande
The Baca Grande derives its name from an historic land grant from King Ferdinand of Spain to the Vaca Family in 1823 in what was then “New Mexico.” In 1878, George Adams, founder of Crestone, acquired the Baca Grant and developed it into a cattle ranch. In 1900, Adams sold the Baca Grant to wealthy Philadelphians for $1.4 million.
The Philadelphians’ primary interests were the Independence Mine located on the Baca Grant. Eventually $50 million in gold was produced from the mine, bringing lots of activity and money to Crestone. Crestone soon had seven saloons, several stores, some pool halls, and a golf course.
Strangely, it was the years during the Great Depression that brought growth and prosperity back to Crestone. Alfred Collins, a major stockholder in the San Luis Valley Land and Cattle Co., first visited the Baca Grande in 1930 and devoted the rest of his life to building the Baca Grant into one of America’s foremost Hereford cattle ranches.
In 1950, Collins sold the ranch to a group primarily Interested in logging for profit.
The Arizona-Colorado Land and Cattle Company (AZL) bought the land in 1962 and once again placed emphasis on the cattle production. In 1971 the Baca Grande Corporation formed as a subsidiary of AZL and home site development was planned. This land development formed the beginnings of the current Baca Grande subdivision. The Lindesfarne Association chose Crestone for the location of a comtemplative retreat.
This new phase in prosperity also brought Canadian millionaires Maurice and Hanne Strong, who envisioned the Baca Grande as a global village where people could explore environmental and spiritual issues.
Today, Baca Residents enjoy scenic vistas, abundant wildlife, and peaceful surroundings. – Lisa Cyriacks