- Name: San Luis
- Where: Colorado, USA
- Founded: 1851
- Population: 750
- Elevation: 7,979 feet
- More Info: Costilla County website
The village of San Luis would likely be just another obscure small town in Colorado if it wasn’t for a couple of facts about the village that makes it stand out from its peers. The first thing that San Luis is well known for is being the oldest town in all of Colorado. In fact the origins of San Luis is so old that it pre-dates this section of Colorado being part of the United States. The beginnings of this village can be traced to the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant given to Charles Beaubien by the Mexican government. Here is a brief history of this land grant:
Although the land was originally granted to Charles Beaubien’s 13 year-old son Narciso, and Stephen Luis Lee, Charles (or Carlos) was the driving force behind receiving the grant. Charles Beaubien was a French-Canadian fur trapper who had married into the community. Because his wife was Mexican, he gained the right to ask for a land grant from the Mexican government. He received an extremely large grant in his name, making him ineligible for any more land, but that didn’t stop him from helping to push through a new grant for his son.
When Narciso and Stephen Lee were killed in the 1847 Taos Uprising, Charles inherited the land. Instead of just being the man behind the scenes, he became the Patron of the Sangre de Cristo land grant. It was Charles who brought Hispanic settlers to develop the land; filed with the United States Congress to have the grant confirmed; wrote a document outlining community rights and access to the land; and who, before his death in 1864, sold the entire grant to William Gilpin to cover taxes. [NewMexicoHistory.org]
So basically the Mexican government gave out these large land grants in an effort to populate the region before the US could try to seize it. However, the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo caused southern Colorado to become part of the United States anyway. As part of the treaty the US honored the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant and Baubien brought settlers up into the San Luis Valley north of Taos, New Mexico to establish San Luis in 1851:
Over the years the various land grants that the Mexican government made prior to US annexation was slowly bought and sold piece meal over time. The remnants of these land grants can still be seen today since most of the Culebra Range outside of San Luis is still owned by private property owners to include the 14,047 foot Culebra Peak which is the only privately owned 14er in the United States. Despite being privately owned, Culebra Peak is accessible to hikers which has made San Luis the gateway city to climb one of Colorado’s 53 official fourteen thousand foot mountains. This impressive mountain along with other peaks that compose this section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains can easily be seen rising over San Luis to the East:
My main reason for visiting San Luis was to hike up Culebra Peak as part of my effort to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers. For those not wanting to camp out in front of the ranch, the only place to stay in San Luis is its lone motel the San Luis Inn:
The owner of the San Luis Inn is an elderly man who is a Korean War veteran. He has numerous awards and citations from his time in the service that can be seen hanging on the walls:
The inn is located in the middle of the town which makes everything within easy walking distance. So the day after I completed my hike up Culebra Peak I got up early to take a walk around town. The biggest restaurant in town was Emma’s Hacienda, but it was unfortunately closed at the time of our visit and for sale:
There is only one other Mexican restaurant in town which we found the food to be honestly quite average which was surprising to us considering the Mexican heritage of this town. As I walked down the sidewalk through downtown I next saw the Costilla County Courthouse that was built in 1883:
San Luis is the capital of Costilla County and considering how small this town it comes as no surprise that the county is the 9th least populated out of the 64 counties in Colorado. Another building that can be seen downtown is the San Luis Cultural Center:
The cultural center was a nice looking building that was all locked up and appeared to have nothing on display inside:
There was an interesting marker outside though that explained the unique rules that founded the colony that the town still tries to follow today:
Plaza de San Luis de la Culebra
The Original Ordinance of the Town of San Luis
May 11, 1863
All the inhabitants shall have use of pasture, wood, water, and timber and the mills that have been erected shall remain where they are, not interfering with the rights of others. No stock shall be allowed in said lands, except for household purposes. All those who come as settlers shall abide by the rules and regulations and shall keep as good citizens and be provided with the necessary weapons for the defense of the settlement.
Administrator of the Sangre de Cristo Grant
Town Rules for the Town of San Luis, May 11, 1863
1. The town shall be kept as clean as possible and the scattering of trash shall be prohibited.
2. Drunkenness will be prohibited in the presence of women and children.
3. No non-resident shall be allowed to settle in the town of San Luis, before having appeared before the judge and having been approved by said official.
4. It is prohibited to block the roads leading into town.
5. Any person wishing to buy a lot in the town of San Luis shall appear before the judge and after having qualified as a good citizen shall pay the price of the lot. Said price of the lot shall be turned over to the church for its benefit and use.
Because of these founding rules a major legal battle was fought against the prior owners of the ranch where Culebra Peak is located in regards to accessing their property for communal grazing and firewood gathering. The legal battle was so contentious that it led to physical confrontations and even the prior ranch owner being shot by a sniper. You can read about this legal battle at my prior posting about Culebra Peak.
The most famous structure in downtown is the R&R Market:
This business first opened on June 22, 1857 as R&R Grocery and is considered the oldest continuously open business in the state. The store has long been operated by two of San Luis’ founding families. The store was first operated by Dario Gallegos who stocked locally grown produce and sold goods he brought in from Santa Fe. In 1874 his daughter married A.A. Salazar the son of another town founder. The two families jointly ran the business until 1894 when the Salazar family took full control of the store. The front window of the store shows the various people who have been the primary owners of the store over the decades:
Overall there is not a whole lot to see in downtown, but I have to commend the community for putting together an effort to try to keep the historic buildings in downtown looking nice:
Here is a panorama of downtown with the R&R Market located on the center right:
On the Denver Public Library’s website they have a collection of historic San Luis photos that are worth checking out. Here is a picture that shows downtown San Luis all the way back in the 1880’s:
Another place I checked out just one block away from downtown is the Most Precious Blood Catholic Church:
The church was closed so I could not get any pictures of the interior, but according to the marker on the front of the church, this structure was built in 1886:
Across the street I could see some kind of business that appeared to be related to the church called the Guadalupe Parish Credit Union:
There were other buildings located just off of downtown that were run down and looking for someone to renovate them:
Here is another old structure I saw walking around town which was the remains of an old adobe school house built in 1913:
After completing my walk around town, I then decided to go and check out the Stations of the Cross Shrine:
The Stations of the Cross is a series of 15 bronze statues that depict the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The statues are displayed along a walking trail that leads to a church located on top of the mesa bordering the town:
The Stations of the Cross was constructed in 1986 and officially dedicated in 1990 in honor of the central role that religion has played in the lives of the residents of southern Colorado:
From near the start of the trail I could see for the first time the Chapel of All Saints that was constructed on top of the mesa that the Stations of the Cross trail leads to:
Here is a closer look at the church:
Below are pictures of the 15 stations that depict the crucifixion of Jesus:
Station I: “Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die”
Station II: “Jesus Accepts the Cross”
Station III: “Jesus Falls the First Time”
Station IV: “Jesus Meets His Mother”
Station V: “Simon Helps Carry the Cross”
Station VI: “Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus”
Station VII: “Jesus Falls the Second Time”
Station VIII: “Jesus Speaks to the Women”
Station IX: “Jesus Falls the Third Time”
Station X: “Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments”
Station XI: “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross”
Station XII: “The Crucifixion, Jesus Dies on the Cross”
Station XIII: “Jesus is Taken from the Cross”
Station XIV: “Jesus is Laid in the Tomb”
Station XV: “The Resurrection of Jesus”
For those that walking up the Stations of the Cross trail did not provide enough religious inspiration for, there is also a gift shop on top of the mesa to check out as well:
Maybe it is just me, but it seemed tacky to have a gift shop up there. Anyway if the Stations of the Cross and the gift shop isn’t enough for you behind the church there is also the Grotto Trail check out:
The short trail leads to a small nook in the mesa where there are a few statues of Spanish settlers kneeling before a statue of “Our Lady of Guadalupe“:
For those that this still isn’t enough religion for one day, behind the church there is another trail called the Memorial Trail:
It is a loop trail that goes up and back down a small hill behind the church:
This trail has busts of various clergy that died as martyrs of their faith in Old Mexico:
For some reason on the top of the trail there is a statue of Jesus appearing to be writing something down:
If anyone knows what the significance of this statue is please leave a comment.
Anyway for those that are not religious walking the Stations of the Cross trail is still worth checking out in order to see the really nice views of the area from the top of the mesa. Here is a panorama picture I took looking back towards San Luis where the farmland around the village and the Culebra Range in the distance can all be seen:
Here is a view from the mesa looking towards the Chapel of All Saints Church:
For those that like architecture like I do, the church is worth checking out just for this reason. The church may appear historic, but it was built as part of the Stations of the Cross project. What impressed me about the church was how historic Spanish architecture was used as part of its design:
I walked completely around the church and enjoyed checking out it beautiful architecture:
Here is a picture of the front of the Chapel of All Saints Church:
I unfortunately did not take any pictures of the church’s interior because there was a service going on that I did not want to interrupt. As I stood in front of the church taking pictures I noticed someone placed an owl on one of the steeples for some reason:
Here is one final view of the church as viewed from the top of the Memorial Trail:
Overall, San Luis ended up being a more interesting place to check out than I was expecting. If hiking up Culebra Peak, I recommend spending some time checking out San Luis as well. Its proximity to New Mexico and its Mexican heritage definitely give the community a unique character unlike other villages in Colorado. Hopefully though those who do decide to visit San Luis have better luck finding some quality Mexican food than I did.