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Places: The Historic Town of San Luis

By Mike Rosso

Fans of Colorado history and culture should consider making the trip to the town of San Luis, Colorado. The town, which lies about 16 miles south of Fort Garland on Colo. Hwy. 159, at the intersection of Colo. Hwy. 142 is the oldest continuously-occupied town in Colorado. It consists of historic Spanish-style architecture and beautiful countryside along the north branch of the Old Spanish Trail along Culebra Creek, known as Los Caminos Antiguos (The Ancient Roads) Historic and Scenic Byway.

The town of about 650 residents features a walking trail up a Stations of the Cross display, with 14 lifelike bronze statues cast at two-thirds life-size by  Valley sculptor Huberto Maestas, along a gentle upward slope ending at an adobe church named The Chapel of All Saints (La Capilla de Todos Los Santos). The view of the town and valley from this vantage point is worth the small bit of exertion required to climb the hill.

The downtown San Luis building where the R&R Market is located. Photo by Mike Rosso.

In the old downtown, you can visit the R&R Market, a classic general store, first opened in 1857 and the oldest continuously operated business in Colorado. Felix Romero and his wife Claudia have been running the store for nearly 50 years and are ready to retire but cannot find a new owner for the business. They’ve had interest, says Felix, who’s great-great-grandfather started the store, but banks have been unwilling to offer loans to those interested in taking it over.

The Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center, located at 401 Church Place is home to the San Luis Museum, the Carlos Beaubien Community Theatre and a Community Kitchen. The museum has been closed for several years and the center is undergoing renovations, but the courtyard is still used for festivals.

The Sangre de Cristo Parish is located downtown at 511 Church Place. The church, with its towering steeple and Spanish architecture was built in 1894. A former convent run by the Sisters of Mercy, El Convento Inn is owned and operated by the Parish and is open year-round for visitors.

There are several dining options in San Luis including The Covered Wagon, Lu’s Main Street Cafe, and a taco truck; Tacos Hermanos, and for fans of cannabis, the Beleaf Wellness Center and La Casa Cannabis can cater to your needs.

The old plaza found off Main Street features several abandoned commercial buildings which are quite photogenic. Murals abound on many commercial walls throughout the town.

The nearby San Luis Hills serve as a backdrop to the historic town and Sanchez Reservoir and Sanchez State Wildlife Area offer recreational opportunities.

Of course, San Luis serves as a good base for the driving tour recommended by Kenneth Jessen beginning on page 13 of this issue.

GETTING THERE: From U.S. Hwy 160, go south at Fort Garland for 16 miles on Colo. Hwy. 142. You can also take Colo. Hwy. 159 east from Romeo, off U.S. Hwy. 285, along Los Caminos Antiguos for a very scenic tour of the Southern San Luis Valley.

The Places column is sponsored by Mark Zander and Leslie Champ.