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Places: The San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center

By Mike Rosso

Those who’d like to travel, but continue to social-distance—with an added dose of tranquility and spirituality—should consider a trip to the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center near La Garita in the San Luis Valley.

The center consists of the Capilla de San Juan Bautista (Church of Saint John the Baptist), the San Juan Bautista Monument, the St. John Paul II Rosary Walk and Carnero Creek Cemetery. The 10-acre site is owned by the Diocese of Pueblo, and offers a historical view of cultural traditions and a Catholic way of life brought from old Spain by the first Hispano settlers who traveled to the Spanish northern frontier from New Mexico.

After a series of treaties removed the Southern Ute Indians from the valley and opened the San Juan Mountains to mining and settlement, a growing number of Catholic settlers streamed into the northern San Luis Valley in the 1870s. Dedicated on June 24, 1879, the Territorial Adobe church was named for San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist), and served as the parish church from 1879 to 1895, when the parish headquarters was moved to Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in Del Norte.

Photo by Mike Rosso

The Capilla de San Juan Bautista was built in 1924-26 as a Catholic mission church. It replaced the original church on the same site. The church consists of twenty-inch-thick adobe walls with a white stucco coating, topped by a gabled roof with a central two-story bell tower and a distinctive six-armed cross.

The rebuilt church was abandoned in the 1960s, but was taken over by a local women’s craft cooperative in 1973 called Artes del Valle, who used the building to display and sell their products, according to The cooperative worked to get the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and secured State Historical Fund grants in the 1990s for restoration work on the building. Artes del Valle closed in the early 2000s and in 2007 Father Joseph Vigil of the San Juan Catholic Community led an effort to revitalize the historic church. In 2009, restoration of the church began as part of the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center.

In addition to the church, the spiritual center includes the San Juan Bautista Monument, built in 2009 using a surviving wall from the property’s old adobe rectory; the St. John Paul II Rosary Walk, completed in 2012; and the historic Carnero Creek Cemetery. The monument, Rosary Walk, and cemetery are open every day, and the church is used to celebrate Mass on the Feast of St. John the Baptist in June and the Feast of the Archangels in September.

Due to COVID-19, they are not currently scheduling events for this summer, but the Spiritual Center remains open to all visitors. However, they ask that when visiting, you respect those around you with appropriate methods of social distancing.

Visit for updates.

If you decide to visit the Center, consider a visit to nearby Penitente Canyon Recreation Area, known for its rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking. Just be aware the area is very popular and social-distancing might be a bit trickier to find there.

GETTING THERE: The Center is located at the northwest area of the San Luis Valley. From U.S. Hwy. 285, turn west on County Road G and travel about five miles. After passing the former La Garita Trading Post, turn right on Road 41.2 and travel about .25 miles.

Thanks to for much of the written content used in this column.