The first church built in Colorado

Hundreds of feet high and over a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, the Great Sand Dunes are a wonder to behold. These drifting dunes accumulated here over the eons as the wind swept sand particles against the rise of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Life in the San Luis Valley hasn't changed much since the first Spanish settlers arrived here and staked out the land for the King of Spain in the 1600's. Colorado's oldest surviving community, San Luis, is here. The oldest church is in Conejos and one of the first US military posts in the West is at Fort Garland. Take your time here, there's lots of countryside to explore and lots of history, culture and wildlife to learn about. No Colorado vacation would be complete without a drive and a few stops along this beautiful and historic Scenic Byway.

Los Caminos Antiguos meanders around the southern part of the San Luis Valley, essentially traveling through the areas first settled by Europeans. Native Americans only came into the San Luis Valley from late spring to first snowfall, then they left for the winter. The hunting and fishing were good but that winter... that was a killer. This part of the Valley was originally settled by Spanish settlers, coming because the King of Spain and the Government of Mexico granted them huge chunks of land if they would go there and settle on it. The Land Grants covered nearly the entire Valley from the New Mexico border up to modern-day Saguache. This was the only way the King of Spain and, later, the Mexican government could be sure to keep the Americans out in those days. When Lt. Zebulon Pike was caught on the wrong side of the Arkansas River (the international boundary in those days) he was escorted to Santa Fe and then to Chihuahua as an example (he was released soon after and sent back to the States to tell his story).