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Still alive in southern Colorado, crafts of Spanish pioneers.

A revival of Spanish pioneer crafts and culture is generating pride and even income for the people of southern Colorado's rural San Luis Valley. With a detour through the pleasing -countryside of this sprawling valley-about midway between Denver and Santa Fe- today's renaissance is yours to witness and even bring home.

Looms are once again weaving striped Rio Grande style blankets and the more complicated designs brought by Spanish pioneers to their northernmost inland settlement. And colcha embroidery is back, decorating everything from purses to bedspreads. Also for sale are santos (carvings of saints) and pottery.

Two bed-and-breakfast inns, one in a Spanish-built adobe, are new in San Luis, Colorado's oldest town.

Set between Colorado's San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Range, this valley has an average elevation of 7,500 feet, so summer weather is cool.

A meander through Spanish culture, southern Colorado-style

Here are the valley's key attractions. Towns, which are on or near U.S. Highway 285 or State 159, are listed north to south. All area codes are 719.

La Garita. In the early '80s, several dozen women who studied the region's long-forgotten Hispanic crafts skills formed Artes del Valle, then began selling their crafts in the restored 1898 adobe Capilia de San Juan Bautista. Their most distinctive work is colcha embroidery; also for sale are wood carvings, other needlework, pottery, and weavings. Hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day) are 9 to 4 weekdays, 1 to 4 weekends; 754-3191.

To get to La Garita from U.S. 285, take La Garita Road west 8 miles.

Alamosa. Founded in 1878, Alamosa is the Spanish name for the cottonwood tree, a species that still flourishes along the nearby Rio Grande. Several galleries have moved into town, including the Rio Grande Art Market at 424 State Street; it specializes in valley-made arts and crafts-about half of them in Hispanic style. Gallery operators can put you in touch with the artists. Hours are 10 to 8 Mondays through Saturdays.

In town, you can also see a fine historic collection of santos at the Luther Bean Museum (1 to 4:30 weekdays), in Richardson Hall (brick with white bell tower) at Adams State College.

Eppie Archuleta, who has won Colorado's Governor's Award for her contribution to the arts, sells her own traditional Spanish weavings out of her home. If you'd like to visit, call 589-5268 beforehand.

Alamosa is on U.S. 160. Its chamber of commerce (Cole Park, Alamosa 81101; 589-3681) offers details on valley attractions and lodging.

Fort Garland. Now a restored military museum with six original adobe buildings, Fort Garland in the mid-1800s protected settlers from Indian attacks. Kit Carson was its most famous commander. The season opens May 27 with the Fort Garland Rendezvous of Cultures, featuring military reenactments and Indian and Hispanic events. Owned by the Colorado Historical Society, the fort regularly portrays frontier life and Hispanic folk art.

At the intersection of U.S. 160 and State 159, the fort is open through Labor Day from 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, I to 5 Sundays. Admission is $2, $1 seniors and ages 5 through 16. For information, call 379-3512.

San Luis. Colorado's oldest town, still surrounded by farms and ranches, was founded in 1851 by a dozen Spanish families from Taos; their descendants live here today, and business is often conducted in Spanish. Much of the town, currently being restored by its residents, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Note in some buildings the blend of Southwest adobe and Gothic styles.

At 401 Church Place, on the town's historic square, the San Luis Museum Cultural and Commercial Center tells the local story through photographs, a diorama, and a re-creation of a morada where Penitentes (a Catholic brotherhood unique to Spanish America) conduct their rites. The museum hosts crafts demonstrations; ask about the Santiago y Santa Ana Fiesta July 28 to 30. Curator Juanita Gurule can put you in touch with the town's embroiderers and weavers.

Center hours are 8 to 4:30 weekdays yearround, 11 to 5 weekends Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is $1, 50 cents ages 6 through 12; 672-3611. San Luis is south of Fort Garland on State 159.

Valley lodging: two San Luis B & Bs

Casa de Oro Inn, 603 Main St., San Luis 81152; 672-3608. Julie Joseph rents three rooms in this 1906 Victorian-style house; season opens May 1. Rates are $40 for two, including full breakfast.

El Convento Bed and Breakfast, 511 Church Place, San Luis 81152; 672-3685. The 1905 adobe convent, owned by the parish, features four rooms with furnishings made in Taos. Accommodations are $50 for two, including full breakfast.
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Date:May 1, 1989
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