Enjoy Costilla County! Rich history and culture mark Costilla County, Colorado and draw thousands of visitors yearly to this primarily farming and agricultural community. This area of the state of Colorado rightly claims status as the first to be colonized in 1540. Adding to the history, Costilla County boasts as Colorado’s first established county and home to Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis. Abundant with historical and natural beauty, Costilla County offer fun for all ages.
If you purchase land in Costilla County you will not want for activities no matter what your interest. Here are just a few of the things we love about Costilla County Colorado.
The County hosts four reservoirs. Eastdale Reservoir, Sanchez Reservoir, Smith Reservoir and Mountain Home Reservoir. Sanchez, Smith and Mountain Home Reservoirs hold state wildlife area status. Part of Colorado’s conservancy efforts, these regions boast lush waters, rich vegetation and abundant wildlife. The county of Costilla came into existence as a result of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Therefore, public property is limited to these three state wildlife areas and a piece of land on the Huerfano/Las Animas lines.
Fishing, fly fishing and boating provide recreation for anglers local and visiting. The reservoirs teem with the likes of walleye, pike, bass, several species of trout and other types of fish. Each area hosts differing gilled creatures. For those more interested in nature watching, the reservoirs house a variety of wildlife. Deer, elk, antelope, coyotes, bears, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and Sandhill cranes are common sites in these areas. Large herds of 100 elk are not uncommon. For birding enthusiasts, Costilla County holds the promise of plenty of sightings. Birding sites aid in identifying habitats across the county that include cliff faces, sagebrush, wet meadows, mountain meadows, ponds, lakes, forests and, of course, the reservoirs..
- Fort Garland Museum
The Fort Garland Museum preserves an old army fort built in 1858. Originally, this fort was home to 100 men serving to protect the citizens of San Luis. A famous frontiersman, Kit Carson, commanded the fort beginning in 1866. No battles raged on the grounds of Fort Garland as the government issued orders to keep peace in the San Luis Valley. The structure stood as a show of force and protected settlers from the Ute Indians.
Today, the fort hosts tours and manages Pike’s Stockade educating visitors on military history. Visitors are free to roam the grounds, explore Pike’s Stockade and browse the gift shop. Fort Garland also spotlights the folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado. The fort is open by appointment during some parts of the year and runs regular visitor hours during others. For Memorial Day weekend, the fort holds a three-day festival of re-enactments. The stories, songs and dances illustrate the cultures and occupations indigenous to Costilla such as Hispanic and Ute.
- San Luis Museum and Cultural Center
San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado. Construction of the San Luis Museum began in the 1930s and was completed in 1944. The museum showcases Native American artifacts, Civil War history, butterfly and insect collections, pottery making, carnival masks, a Morada room replica and an 1851 San Luis replica. Displays of antiques and collectibles from early ranch and farm life exist as well. The exhibits include those of Hispanic settlers, the Japanese-American community, Adams State University, military regalia and early railroading. Pictures and murals line the walls illustrating San Luis history. The San Luis Museum remains open year round, Tuesday through Saturday.
- Shrine of the Stations of the Cross
Previously known as “La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia” (Hill of Piety and Mercy), the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish. An act of faith and love, this visitor favorite welcomes all faiths and reflects the deeply rooted spiritual traditions of the area. The Shrine sits on a mesa (flat top mountain) in the center of San Luis. Built as the town’s version of Calvary, bronze statues represent the last hour of Christ’s life through his resurrection. The three-quarter to life-size bronze statues of the 15 stations were sculpted by local artist Huberto Maestas. The Shrine draws thousands of visitors per year to pray and find peace. La Capilla de Todas los Santos, a Catholic chapel, sits above the Stations of the Cross Shrine.
- Veterans Park
Dedicated in 2014, Veteran’s Park honors Costilla County military veterans. A T-33A Shooting Star marks this remembrance. A hallmark of the park is the Memorial Stone etched with the names of Costilla County citizens who served their country honors men and women alike. The park is located to the southeast of Fort Garland.
- Big Game Hunting
Big game hunting draws woodsman near and far to Colorado. Costilla County is populated with deer, elk, antelope, bears, bighorn sheep and mountain lions. Habitats to track game include mountain habitats, sagebrush flats, pinyon and juniper rangeland and cottonwood stream bottoms. Upper elevations contain heavy timber with pure and mixed aspen and conifer. Trinchera Ranch near Fort Garland brings the thrill of the hunt to reality. Elk, deer, mountain lion and Bighorn sheep await the rifleman or bowhunter with the skill. For those seeking adventure without the artillery, the ranch offers wildlife watching and ranch tours, hiking and mountain biking trails, and roped rock climbing, fishing and fly fishing excursions and more.
- Local Shopping
Authentic souvenirs are a must have before a trip home from Costilla County. Local shops offer goods as well as history, charm and warmth to visitors. The small towns of Blanca and Fort Garland host gift stores which merchandise leatherwork, handmade jewelry, souvenirs and Indian crafts. In Blanca, the Forest Tango Art Works features a gallery of paintings and wooden sculptures by Terry and Joyce Henrie. Also, the Red Rocks General Store offers true general store finds as well as unusual, but authentic Polish sausage sandwiches. The Mt. Blanca Fudge Company occupies a historic post office and serves up 24 flavors of fudge plus local crafts. Of course, the studio of Hubert Maestas, sculptor of the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross statues, is located in San Luis.
- Scenic Views and Historic Sites
Costilla County boasts a variety of scenic views and historic sites to visit in between other stops. Perhaps the grandest scene is that of Mt. Blanca and Blanca Peak best seen from the town of Blanca. The Peak towers at 14,345 feet tall claiming rank as the fourth highest mountain in Colorado. Mt. Blanca has remained sacred to Native Americans in the west for centuries and is often the site of their vision quests. Of course, the beauty of the wildlife must be mentioned again. Deer, elk, antelope, coyotes, bears, bighorn sheep and mountain lions spot the landscape of this county. A winding drive brings untold views of the natural beauty and wildlife of this region.
Rattlesnake Trestle is part of the old San Luis Southern Railway trestle. This historic site claims honor on the 2004 National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. This section of railway warrants its name from the wintering ground of the prairie rattlesnake that lies beneath. The Rattlesnake Trestle is located near Smith Reservoir. Nearby is the historic Sangre de Cristo Parish Church,built in 1886. Also, the R&R Supermarket draws attention as the oldest continuously operating business in Colorado since 1857. Costilla County is full of history and boasts other historic sites as well.
With so much to see and do in Costilla County visitors need time to take it all in. Camping in the picturesque landscapes and nature laden areas of this county compares to none other. The Blanca RV Park offers 26 RV hook-ups plus tent camping at the foot of Mt. Blanca. A convenience store, gas pumps, shower and laundry facilities provide a touch of comfort for extended stays. Camping opportunities also exist at the reservoirs such as Smith Reservoir State Wildlife Area. The perfect reprieve from the noise of life exists in Costilla as visitors wake to the sweet sounds of nature or the breathtaking view of Mt. Blanca.
- The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Traveling through gorgeous scenery including cut rocks and two tunnels all dotted with abundant wildlife, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad cannot be passed up. This adventure boards in Alamosa, runs through Costilla County at Fort Garland and Blanca, over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains before stopping in La Veta. This historic set of tracks dates back to 1878 though the rails closed to the public in the 1950s. According to the current owners, “… we didn’t think scenery that spectacular, on rails that curve and wind through steep rocky grade, and mountain meadows with elk, eagles and bears, should remain closed forever.” So in 2006, the scenic railroad came alive once again. Today, the steam engine runs daily three-hour, 62-mile trips. Also, holiday rides, dinner trains and mountaintop concerts offer variety to visitors.
Costilla County, Colorado remains a farming and an agricultural area which draws visitors to its rich history, abundant wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. With much to do and see, an extended stay may be in order.