Conejos County, Colorado, offers a variety of heritage tourists experiences to a visit. Such experiences include the oldest parish in Colorado, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a scenic ride on the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Public lands make up two-thirds of the county’s area providing countless recreational opportunities.
Conejos, meaning rabbits in Spanish, is located in south-central Colorado. The eastern half is bounded by the Rio Grande and is part of the San Luis Valley and reaches south to the New Mexico border.
The eastern half rises up over foothills to the mountains of the Continental Divide on the west. Conejos County was created in 1861 as an original county under the name of Guadalupe. The name was changed to Conejos in 1869.
Volcanoes and Water
Volcanic activity deposited an abundance of gold and silver bearing solutions in the multiple calderas of the Valley. These volcanic / mining centers include Platoro Caldera in Conejos County. The explosive eruptions that formed the calderas, also deposited obsidian layers utilized by the early Native Americans. These eruptions covered vast regions with volcanic ash. Erosional remnants of these volcanic flows make up the San Luis Hills and the Piñon Hills in Conejos County. Read more…
The Conejos Land Grant
Land holdings by Hispanos stemmed from Roman and Spanish traditions that were transferred to the New World. New Mexico was established by granting land to settlers who would build and protect a colony.
These traditions were often abused and were modified through time. From the Spanish Period (1598-1821) to the Mexican Period (1821-1846), land grants kept New Mexico populated, creating a micro-economy based on raising livestock. As American and French interests started to venture into the New Mexico Territory, the government granted large land tracts in the San Luis Valley to New Mexicans who would brave Ute and Apache attack. One of these grants was the Conejos Land Grant awarded in 1833. Read more …
Conejos County and the Greater San Luis Valley
Settlers from New Mexico had moved about the Conejos River for a number of years so the land was known. When the grantees arrived on the land they found the soil to be rich and fertile, prairie lands covered with grasses and plenty of water flowing through the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers. Nuevo Mexicanos from the Chama Valley (located at the western end of New Mexico), who settled the Conejos Grant, brought with them their family traditions and religious customs.
Their well-established and accomplished farming techniques were well suited to the rich farmland and climate of the area. By 1930 the southern part of the valley had eleven packing houses. These farmers located their warehouses and packing sheds along railroad spurs, where produce was easily shipped to the southern and mid-western United States.
Conejos Country has five incorporated communities — Antonito, Manassa, Romeo, Sanford, and La Jara — and many unincorporated communities. Each has its own story. Read more…
The U.S. Military: Pike’s Stockade
Contact between Anglo and Hispano cultures in the San Luis Valley occurred long before the arrival of the railroad. In February of 1806, Lt. Zebulon Pike and his expeditor party were discovered by Spanish scouts at the stockade they had constructed on the Conejos River, and were commanded to return to Santa Fe. Though only occupied for about two months, its the first official fort in the region. Read more…
Completed in 1881, the narrow-gauge San Juan Extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway stretched from Alamosa and through Conejos County, wound its way through the San Juan Mountains to Chama New Mexico. The line survives today as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
As the railroad gained importance, Antonito became a hub of activity, attracting people from the Town of Conejos, NW of Antonito.
Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (the Society for the Mutual Protection of United Workers)
Large-scale commercial agricultural/ranching operations sprang up during the late 1800s changing the agropastural culture to a cash and wage labor economy that solidified with the coming of the railroad. Once the cash economy and dependence of wage labor took hold in the valley, Hispanos experienced discrimination as wage earners. Read more…
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church is considered the oldest parish in Colorado, established in Conejos in 1856. The first settlers into the area were from New Mexico, primarily from Abiquiu, San Juan de los Caballeros, and Santa Cruz. As more and more people arrived, mission churches were established and all had the records housed with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Read more…
Slide show photo credits: 1) Our Lady of Guadalupe, courtesy Marilyn Loser 2) Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, courtesy Julie Gallegos 3) El Dia San Antonio, courtesy Dolores Valdez de Pong 4) Old Adobe, courtesy Julie Gallegos 5) Alamosa Canyon Cattle Drive, courtesy John Whitted 6) Alamosa Canyon Fall Color, courtesy Marilyn Loser