Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, Part One

I have driven through the San Luis Valley numerous times. Once, I even spent a little time in Alamosa at the Rio Frio where I ran my first-ever 5K race down the frozen Rio Grande River. However, for the most part, this is drive through country for us. That’s why I was excited to stay in the area for our 17th wedding anniversary this past May.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (2)

The San Luis Valley is the largest alpine valley in the world and one of the most photogenic places in Colorado. As we drive over the small pass between Poncha Springs and the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Range comes into view, it’s as if the heavens open and angels sing—every single time.

RELATED: Running the Rio Grande River, a 5K Like No Other

We were booked for two nights at the Mountain Springs Homestay, our first experience at an Airb&b property.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (9)

We’d spent the first night of our three-day trip at the family cabin in the South Park area, a little more than two hours away. Therefore, we arrived in the valley well ahead of our check-in time. Deciding to explore, we turned onto County Road LL56, near Villa Grove, towards Bonanza.

Bonanza: Not a Colorado Ghost Town

This beautiful drive follows Kerber Creek to Bonanza. Bonanza is often referred to as a ghost town but a few people still call this place home. The post office closing down sometime around 2010 and around 2014, the town was stripped of its status as a municipality (source).

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (1)

Past articles on the Internet claim that only one person lives in Bonanza but this was clearly not the case when we drove through in mid-May. It’s obvious that several of the homes are inhabited and a few newer homes are visible on the outskirts of the little community.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (3)

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (4)

Beyond Bonanza, on the same dirt road, we explored Exchequer Townsite which features a cemetery that appeared to be in use in the mid-2000s. Beyond that, we drove up to a mine, which I believe is the Bonanza Mine. The town of Bonanza was established in 1881 during the mining boom in Colorado. The mine looks much newer than 1881 and I do not know the history. I do know that Ryan enjoyed exploring around the old building.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (5)

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (6)

Sun shone on us and snowflakes fell as we picnicked beside Kerber Creek in the shadow of the mine. Our lunch spot seemed far from civilization as we munched ham sandwiches, watched the creek flow by and brushed snowflakes off our noses.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (8)

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (7)

Springtime in Colorado has many days of what I call “snow-shine. ” It’s when the sun is shining and yet snowflakes fall from an unseen cloud.

San Luis Valley Traffic

Back on Hwy 285, we turned onto Hwy 17 and drove into Moffat, Colorado where we had coffee at Mirage Trading Co. Two heavily loaded road bikes were parked in front of the shop and two French tourists in bicycle gear were inside. As we sipped our coffee drinks the woman, pretty despite skin chapped by wind, Skyped with someone in French. They were obviously cycling the region and were probably thankful for the coffee shop’s good wi-fi connection.

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (10)

We took a back way to our Airbnb and before long we were stopped due to a San Luis Valley-style traffic backup. A large herd of cattle was being moved to upper mountain pastures and we were informed that they’d be blocking the road for hours. One of the women in the group advised that we should simply “drive through” the herd.

I grew up in a farming community in Western Washington but they didn’t move cattle in our region so “driving through a herd” was new to me. Apparently, for locals in the San Luis Valley, this is normal. 

Living History in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. HeidiTown.com (12)

Once we were through the herd, we drove the rest of the way to our Airbnb unfettered. I apologize in advance for my weird commentary. Apparently, I chatter when I am nervous.

6 Comments


  1. Heidi, I was a wreck the first and subsequent times I had to drive thru the sheep here in Bayfield. They jot across in front of the car because mom or baby is on other side. Ugh. Set to happen here any day as they move up into mountains above Lemon Lake

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Dawn. I don’t feel so silly about being nervous!

      I grew up in a town of 5000 but I never saw this until today. Of course, I have seen cows on the road (many times)!

      Reply



  2. Love that you are featuring the SLV, a FAVORITE of mine (ok, my Mom and my Sister live in the Valley, so I am biased, for sure). I have spent countless hours exploring that valley, including all of your stops (so far, I’m only on your Part 1).
    Not…..when you were in Moffat (Mirage Trading – AWESOME coffee and local art)…you were on 17, not Hwy. 285 (which runs down the western edge of the Valley to Monte Vista). If you had been on 285, you would have likely stopped in Saguache, and if you were lucky you would have had something to eat at the 4th Street Diner there, which you would have found too remarkable not to comment on here.
    So yea, you were on 17!

    Reply

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