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Rich in history, religion, culture, and bio-diversity, the area preserves a special place in our nation’s history where the villages and lifestyles of some of America’s earliest Spanish settlements still exist alongside newer railroad communities.

How did the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range get its name?

In the 1800s, when the Spanish dreamed of conquest, they wanted it all from the native peoples – their land, their gold, their soul. Spanish entradas, entrances, into the lands almost always included armor and friars. It is during one of these early explorations into present day San Luis Valley that a legend was born.

Virginia Simmons in her book, The San Luis Valley: Land of the Six Armed Cross, recounts the legend.

An exploratory party had reached the mouth of the Rio Grande. Father Francisco Torres, a missionary from the Pueblos, looked on to the majestic valley and called it, El Valle de San Luis, after the patron saint of Seville, Spain. As was the custom, the Spanish brought with them natives who were essentially slaves. Weary of their treatment, they rebelled and in the process wounded the dreamer, Father Torres.

Wounded though he was, he and the Spanish party fled down the mountain through the great sand dunes and onto the lake, which is today San Luis Lake.

The party quickly produced a makeshift raft and sailed onto the lake for safety, but it was too late for Padre Torres. His wounds were too deep, and he lay dying on the raft. In his last hours, the sun was setting on the beautiful mountain range. He, no doubt, saw Mt. Blanca and the other peaks that towered over the giant sand dunes. The setting sun hit the snowcapped mountains creating a burst of red – as so often happens to this day. With his dying breath, the Padre soulfully exclaimed, “Sangre de Cristo, Sangre de Cristo” – that is, “the blood of Christ, the blood of Christ.” This is the legend of the naming of the beautiful mountain range which spans southern Colorado into New Mexico. The wetlands of Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the tallest sand dunes of North America in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve demarcate the northern boundary. Mountain ranges, Sangre de Cristos to the east and San Juans to the west, flank the SdCNHA study area.The southern border is defined by the Colorado-New Mexico border. Congress designated the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area in March 2009 in recognition of the rich natural resources, variety of recreational opportunities, and unparalleled history of the San Luis Valley.

CLICK image for larger map. The SdCNHA in south central Colorado.

CLICK image for larger map. The SdCNHA in south central Colorado.

What is a National Heritage Area?

Heritage areas present opportunities for residents and visitors to recognize and celebrate a region’s cultural and natural assets.

A heritage area is both a place and a concept. Physically, heritage areas are regions with concentrations of significant natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational resources. Most of the properties in a heritage area are in private ownership and will remain in private ownership. Heritage areas are places known for their unique culture and identity, as well as for being good places to live and visit.

As a concept, heritage areas are partnerships where residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations, education institutions, local governments and state and federal agencies collaborate to create more livable and economically sustainable regions.