Old Spanish Trail can boost tourism in San Luis Valley

VALLEY — Heritage tourism and promoting the Old Spanish Trail are win-win situations for the San Luis Valley.

Many in the San Luis Valley have been working for years to place interpretive kiosks, signs and posts throughout the area to inform local residents and tourists about the Valley’s rich history and heritage, especially on the Old Spanish Trail. Several worked on the Los Caminos Antiquos Scenic Byway in the southern portion of the Valley and the Silver Thread from Creede to Lake City. They were also involved in other projects including the La Garita area, Blanca Wetlands, and the Alamosa River. 

Promoting local history can help to protect priceless ancient sites like rock art rock stone structures and more recent historic sites like old buildings, and locations along the Old Spanish Trail. Teaching the public about preserving the past is very important and “Save the Past for the Future” is a slogan used by the Colorado Archaeological Society. Interpretation along roadsides is one way to educate others about the Valley’s past.

The San Luis Valley is a destination for tourists to come and see local natural wonders like the Great Sand Dunes, mountains, lake and streams. It also needs to be a destination for those wanting to see historic sites. They spend days in the Valley driving to various locations, and in the meantime, they spend money in restaurants, motels and other businesses.

A meeting in December included the San Luis Valley Museum Association, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and local Chamber of Commerce managers.  Thanks to all those attending for their hard work to promote and preserve local history and their interest in the Old Spanish Trail, but more help is needed on projects throughout the San Luis Valley.

The Old Spanish Trail was used from 1829 to 1848 as an official trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California. Woolen textiles, woven in Northern New Mexico, were traded for strong Californian mules and horses. There are three branches, the original Armijo Route, the Main Route and the North Branch. The North Branch had two ancient routes that ran the length of the San Luis Valley. The East Fork coursed the open sage country near the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The other, the West Fork, traversed along the base of the San Juan. They met in Saguache and connected with the Main Route at Green River Utah. 

In 1994 the Old Spanish Trail Association originated in Del Norte and in 2002 it was designated by Congress to become part of the National Historic Trails System. The local chapter La Vereda del Norte (the trail of the north) was formed after that. 

U.S. Forest Service (USFS), retired and Chapter President of the La Vereda del Norte Chapter of the Old Spanish Trail (OST) Association Ken Frye was the featured speaker for the Saguache Chamber speaker program.

Born and raised in the San Luis Valley, Frye was an archaeologist and charter member of the OST Association when first formed in 1994. Ken spent many years as a San Luis Valley archaeologist with the USFS and has spent much of his life exploring ruins and trails no longer used by ancient peoples — Native Americans, Spanish explorers, fur trappers, Hispano settlers and post-civil war American pioneers.

Saguache is a crossroad for one of the most important aspects of the Old Spanish Trail; the “West Branch of the North Fork” (located at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 285 and Colorado State Highway 114) where men and women have turned west for centuries to cross the Continental Divide at Cochetopa Pass. This is also where the “East Branch of the North Fork” connects. Frye shared the history of the OST and his understanding of the “West Branch” and the significance of the locating of the town of Saguache in relation to this. 

County residents came to hear Frye speak about his life in the Valley, his current role with the OST Association, and the importance of the location of the Old Spanish Trail to Saguache yesterday, today, and in the future. 

For information or to join La Vereda del Norte Chapter please contact Ken Frye at 719-657-3161. The website for the Old Spanish Trail Association is www.oldspanishtrail.org, which gives general and comprehensive background and recent news on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail and the Association. There are many exciting projects going on with the East and West Fork Trails, with good field trips planned this summer. 



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