Our Heritage

Find Out More About Our Heritage
Wind, Water, and Sand Dunes Dance
Land of the Blue Sky People
Interwoven Peoples and Traditions
Hispano Culture, Folklore, Religion and Language
National Historic Sites -- Conejos County
National Historic Sites -- Costilla County
National Historic Sites -- Alamosa County
State Historic Sites -- Conejos County
State Historic Sites -- Costilla County
State Historic Sites -- Alamosa County

Our Heritage Themes

The four heritage themes capture the essence of the San Luis Valley and reflect events and movements that have been important to the history of the United States.

A High Desert Valley’s Wind, Water and Sand Dance: Located in the heart of the San Luis Valley, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (SdCNHA) showcases the delicate interplay of wind, water and sand that have shaped the Valley’s unique landforms and contributed to its biological diversity.

Land of the Blue Sky People: Prehistoric occupation in the San Luis Valley began at the end of the last Ice Age over 11,000 years ago..

Interwoven Peoples and Traditions: The SdCNHA is steeped in history – a history of settlement, survival and persistence and claims some notable “firsts”.

Hispano Culture, Folklore, Religion and Language: A cradle of Colorado history, the SdCNHA lies at the intersection of the Hispano Southwest and the Anglo Rocky Mountain West.


Old Ranch: Photo courtesy Sean Canon


Mariachi San Luis Photo courtesy Adams State College

Mural Information: Sangre de Cristo! Blood of Christ! Visit our homepage for a telling of the legend.

“Naming of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains” mural – by J. Noel Tucker. Tucker, then the Adams State College Art Department Director, was commissioned by the college to paint the mural for what was then the college’s library and is now the Luther Bean Museum on the campus of Adams State College.

Tucker started the painting in January of 1937 and completed it in November of that same year. The mural is painted on 5 canvas panels spanning the entrance of the Luther Bean Museum measuring 49 feet long by 12 feet high.

According to the Adams State College South Coloradan, August 6, 1937 issue, prior to coming to Colorado Tucker worked as a professional mural painter. Tucker painted murals of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in the Fair Store located in Chicago; a painting at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden; and a South Sea Island scene at the Chicago Art Institute.


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.