Rio Grande County Museum home to Bunker Site exhibit

Photo by Lyndsie Ferrell The Rio Grande County Museum is home to the Bunker Site Exhibit, one of the San Luis Valley's most interesting archeological finds. Originally put together by the US Forest Service, this exhibit showcases unique and fascinating artifacts found by Valley natives near the Old Spanish Trail on the eastern edge of the Valley.

DEL NORTE - The Rio Grande County Museum has been home to the Bunker Site Exhibit for the past three years, bringing researchers and educational professionals from across the U.S. Originally created as a traveling exhibit by the US Forest Service, the Bunker Site Exhibit is a unique look at history in the San Luis Valley and showcases archeological finds that date back hundreds of years, further confirming that indigenous groups have been using the area for resources and served as part of the Old Spanish Trail.

The Bunker Site is a 16-acre area discovered several years ago by local ranchers Bob and Judy Bunker.

“The site lies at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range on the East Fork of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. The site has a manicured feel to it with wide openings between large pinon pine trees due to extensive de-limbing. Wetlands and sand to the west, and mountains to the east confined travelers along a corridor that provided forage, fuel, and cover. These and other environmental factors would have made this campsite the Holiday Inn of the Old Spanish Trail.”

The site was excavated by local archeological teams and continues to be excavated today with more artifacts being found year to year. Initial findings included axe blazes, musket balls, coscojos (also known as Spanish tack), metal points and tree rings that date back to the Old Spanish Trail era and proof that the site has been used for over a thousand years.

According to the exhibit’s description, “The Old Spanish Trail was pioneered by Mexican trader Antonio Armijo in 1829 as a pack trail and later, an emigration route that connected Sante Fe and Los Angeles. Traders carried woolens, made from the wool of churro sheep that were traded in Los Angeles for hundreds and sometimes thousands of strong Californian mules and horses.”

The San Luis Valley has a long history related to both sheep and burros dating back to its origins in the mid-1800s. Many Spanish settlers came to the area because of the abundance of resources after the Spanish Land Grant agreements were finalized. Evidence of the use of the trail remains to this day in other locations outside of the Bunker Site and remain points of curiosity for researchers worldwide.

The Rio Grande County Museum is home to several artifacts related to not only the Bunker Site but other locations where evidence of indigenous people’s follow along the Old Spanish Trail in the form of petroglyphs that date back between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. A large photographic collection of local petroglyphs is showcased at the museum and fall tours are held in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and Rio Grande National Forest to help share education about the sites, their historical significance and the importance of preservation of the sites.

The Bunker Site Exhibit is on display at the Rio Grande County Museum year-round and is available to experts looking to research its significance and connection to the Old Spanish Trail. For more information, visit or call 719-657-2847.