Have you ever gone sledding down a big hill of sand?

Once upon a fleeting time, an American Indian tribe called the Utes made their home in a mystical land full of Saa waap maa nache, a Ute phrase meaning “sand that moves”. The Ute people were the first inhabitants of this newfound place.

The land was used for hunting animals and gathering plants by the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche tribes too. These tribes lived alongside the Ute people and traded handcrafted goods and food items. The Ute people were known for being skilled warriors on horseback!

The American Indian tribes weren’t the only residents in this area. The first Europeans, led by Don Diego de Vargas, arrived and explored this vast region in 1694. Many other explorers followed in Vargas’ footsteps like Juan Bautista de Anza, John C. Fremont, Zebulon Pike, and John Gunnison to name a few. Eventually, more and more settlers chose to call this place home. Ranching, mining, and farming were popular activities for them.

The land of moving sand is now called the Great Sand Dunes. It was designated as a national park and preserve to protect its precious resources, archaeological treasures, and ecosystem. These sand dunes are the tallest in North America. “Star Dune” is over 750 feet tall! The dunes formed long ago from sediment that washed down from surrounding mountain ranges, and from dried up lakebeds. The wind and rain swished and swooshed the sand around causing it to pile up to form the big hills we see today.  

This historical area that is home to the Great Sand Dunes is better known as the San Luis Valley. The valley spans 122 miles long by 74 miles wide. It is located in south-central Colorado with a portion of it crossing over into New Mexico, and originally belonged to Mexico. From 1846-1848 there was an armed conflict between Mexico and the United States over possession of this land and surrounding territories, known as the Mexican-American War. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, which ended the war and gave possession of Texas and the San Luis Valley to the U.S. The U.S. established a treaty with the Ute tribe and built Fort Garland to protect the valley’s residents. Settlers continued to make a home here, many of them Hispanic farmers and ranchers who came from New Mexico. 

The fun never stops in the San Luis Valley with opportunities to surf and sled down the sand dunes, splash around in Medano Creek, search for fossils, view the Milky Way in the clear night sky, and learn about the rich and colorful history. Visit San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, participate in the Monte Vista Crane Festival, or ride the train on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Imagine yourself holding an alligator at the Reptile Park or being serenaded by the singing sands.

The possibilities are endless…. What will you do when you visit?

Learn more about the San Luis Valley on Wikipedia!