Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Restores the Soul

Last week I had the most wonderful time in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. The place has captured the most amazingly rich history of Colorado's San Luis Valley.

 This image is from the NPS I was to in amazement to take this photo (plus I forgot my best camera)

I mean really look at that sunset! To top it all off the colors during the day are succulent shades of green that would even make Madame Sunday lay down green pastures and walk beside still waters. I am so not joking.

Yep that is the Great Sand Dunes in the distance. Here is a fun fact - this area that you are looking at is a National Monument, and it might be one of the few Monuments that is actually alive and moving, see there is water under that there sand and the sand moves. I swear it is the only place that I have been that at the base I felt like I was at the beach at the base and in need for a camel at the top all while hanging out in a square landlocked State.

I took this picture of a friend. I think it is just stunning and helps explain the colors. FYI this is just a point and shoot, no special lens, no UV filter, nothing.

But the colors do not just stop at the Dunes - nor do the great stories.  This area is home to a town that just pulls at my heart strings -  San Luis the oldest town in Colorado.  I don't know how many times I can say the word amazing, but these people are.  They also have a very deep connection to religion in this area.  Some of these guys just are radiating with spirituality. Just so you know this area is a melting pot of so many different religions.  The mountain range - Sangre de Cristo means "Blood of Christ".  Plus it has been said that this area has over 11,000 years of settlement, someone is bound to have found god during that time and left a mark. While I was there I saw two churches when I was there both with different exhilarating stories, both with different marks.

First church is the major tourist destination Stations of the Cross
The view from the Church. 

Can you see that patch of snow that kind of looks like a rooster. (its the only big patch of snow that is center left on)  Well the local story is that it looks like a rooster and when they see the rooster appear they know warmer weather will be arriving soon. (yes that means that the Sand Dunes gets snow!) That little house is where members of the Knights of Columbus come to get away. (I wonder if JFK, Vince Lombardi, Babe Ruth or Jeb Bush ever stayed there? Wonder what they would talk about if they were all there at the same time)

So the second church that I visited has the best story ever. ( I am totally going to butcher but here goes) So this area (SLV) was once settled by the Ute Tribe. One day after the Spanish settled Mexico they sent a crew to take over the San Luis Valley (SLV). Well that didn't go over so well so the Spanish crew tried to go home. But they were kicked out of the house/Mexico and told to not come back. They returned made nice with the Utes and started to settle the land. Well somewhere in that time line you insert this story. One day the men had gone out to hunt for food and left the women and children behind.  Sadly they left them on top of this mountain which happened to be the same place that the Ute's would travel to during certain times of the year. I know great place to leave your wife and kids!  Well the women and children all of a sudden have this view of billions (OK not billions but its my butchered story) of Ute's on horseback charging towards them. (yep I would be freaked I just picture it as Kevin Costner in Dancing with Wolves but way earlier) Well the women/children/elders being the Catholics that they were drop to their knees and start praying to San Acacio (Saint Acacius patron saint of soldiers).  Saying if he protected them they would build a church in his honor. Still on their knees the Ute's kept coming and the women kept praying. According to the story the Ute's were so close that the women could see the whites of their eyes and all of a sudden they pointed their swords/ spears to the sky towards the clouds turned around and left. 

Well according to legend years later the settlers in the area befriended and old Indian women. She told them this story of how they were prepared to destroy the settlement.  When all of a sudden the Ute's saw a vision in the clouds of a great warrior on horse back coming to defend the small settlement over the top of the mountain. It scared them so that they turned around and left, to which everyone believes it was San Acacio. Apparently this story has been passed down since 1880 and now I bring you my hopefully not to butchered version for you to pass down.

So they built a church....

 That is a 12" thick Adobe structure. It is in serious need of some exterior restoration work. But the inside has recently been restored. Although I think the original might have been painted so..

Now the reason I was in the wonderfully amazing area was because I was helping out with the Colorado Preserve America Youth Summit. Now this summit is one of the best programs that I have ever heard of and not just because I get to be a part of it.  It is the only one of its kind but the mission is: Working to preserve America's history while engaging youth in preservation activities that support their local communities. These kids (middle school and high school) meet a few times a year in different locations around the state under different themes. They always end up leaving the host area with recommendations of how they can get youth more actively involved in learning about history.  They have a blog, everyone should check them out and follow them.
So that was my last week. We did a lot of other stuff, ate some of the best Mexican food I have had in a long time, and saw another section of my new state that I am in love with. I hope to be able to plan some things for work in this area so that I can stuff my face with food introduced others to this area. If I do you can rest assured that I will tell you all about it.

I will leave you with my shot of the fire that is burning in the Sand Dunes. They say it is under control. They believe it was started by a lightning bolt. But that it is not bad for the area cause it is going to hopefully be a good thing in the end since a natural fire that they can have under control is cheaper then having a controlled burn.  Talk about divine intervention in one of the poorest communities in Colorado. 

Until next time


  1. I really liked SLV. It was so pretty and the people were very nice. They were very proud of their history and communities as well. Buggered I never made it to the Sand Dunes - guess I'll have to leave that til the next time I visit you!

  2. I agree it is so pretty. I am hoping to make back very soon. I learned about how years ago you had to go through a trail before you were excepted into the town. Sadly some of the kids thought that was still true and that they were still a closed community.