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Costilla County... Where Colorado Began

Costilla County was the first area of the state of Colorado to be colonized with recorded history dating back to 1540, the year Coronado explored the Southwest. It is home to the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis.

Costilla County has two incorporated towns and several smaller communities. The towns of San Luis and Blanca are incorporated while Fort Garland is one of the county’s larger towns though not incorporated. Chama, San Pedro, Los Fuertes, Garcia, Jaroso, San Francisco, San Acacio, and Mesita, are smaller communities, all of which were established shortly after the town of San Luis in 1851.

The county also has a few reservoirs: Eastdale Reservoir, Sanchez Reservoir, Smith Reservoir, and Mountain Home Reservoir. All are excellent for fishing and boating. One may catch walleye, pike, and several species of trout, bass, and a few other types of fish. Costilla County is also home to much wildlife such as deer, elk and antelope, which may often be seen in herds grazing in the fields. Coyotes, bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions also make their homes here. Costilla County offers some of the best big game hunting in Colorado.

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The Town of San Luis is home to the Stations of the Cross Shrine. The Shrine sits on top of a mesa in the center of San Luis. The shine represents the last hour of Christ's life to his resurrection. Attracting thousands of guests a year, visitors come to pray and bring peace to themselves. Every year, hundreds of people walk from as far as Pueblo, CO to the Stations of the Cross Shrine in what is known as a pilgrimage. All of the sculptures of the Stations of the Cross were created by local artist Huberto Maestas, who also has a gallery and sculpting studio in San Luis. Some of his work can also be seen on the Plaza in Taos, NM and at the Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa, CO. La Capilla de Todas los Santos, a Catholic Chapel, also sits above the Stations of the Cross Shrine.

San Luis is home to the Sangre de Cristo Parish Church, which was built in 1886, and to the R&R Supermarket, which is the oldest continuously operating business in Colorado dating back to 1857. At the San Luis Museum and Cultural Center, you can see everything from butterfly and insect collections to steps in pottery making, carnival masks, civil war history, and a replica of a Morada room, as well as a replica of San Luis from 1851. Pictures and murals depict the history of San Luis in the museum. The museum itself was built in the 1930s, but did not get completed until 1944.

Fort Garland is home to the Fort Garland Museum, which is an old frontier army fort built in 1858. It was once commanded by the famous frontiersman Kit Carson, although he didn't take over the post until 1866-67. Carson had orders from the government to keep peace in the San Luis Valley; therefore no battles were ever fought on fort grounds. The fort served only as a show of force and a staging area to protect settlers from the Ute Indians. Today it is a museum where you can learn about military history and walk the grounds. During Memorial Day weekend, the Fort Garland Museum is host to a three day festival of re-enactments, stories, songs, and dances depicting the cultures and occupations indigenous to Costilla County including Hispanic, Ute, and fur trapping.

The Town of Blanca is known for its views of Blanca Peak, which stands 14,345 feet tall. Both Blanca and Fort Garland are small communities in Costilla County along Colorado State Highway 160. In these towns, you will find a variety of restaurants, hotels and lodges, and gift stores that carry leatherwork, handmade jewelry, souvenirs, and Indian crafts.

San Acacio, a small village just west of San Luis, has a church, which is the oldest Christian structure in Colorado built in 1856.

Also in San Luis is 633 acres of communal grazing land called La Vega, which is part of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant.

Although Costilla is mainly a farming and agriculture county, it still brings visitors by the thousands year round from far and wide.