Wild Horse Mesa is located south of San Luis, in Costilla County, in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. The sunny, fertile, alpine valley is about 150 miles long and 75 miles wide, surrounded by the San Juan, La Garita and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges.
Wild Horse Mesa (also known as San Pedro Mesa) covers about 75 square miles, a few miles south of San Luis, near New Mexico. The mesa area is home to about 150 wild horses (mustangs), broken into 9 bands, roaming on private lands. They are descendents of horses used by Spanish explorers (conquistadors), brought to America in the 1500's. Native Indians acquired horses in the 1600's.
Colorado has 4 wild horse herd management areas, on public lands in western Colorado, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Only about 970 wild horses remain on Colorado public lands, with 420 planned for removal, leaving only 550. Wild horses in western Colorado are descendants of escaped and released horses from farmers, ranchers, miners or cavalry soldiers. Only 3 herds, with less than 600 horses, remain in New Mexico, down from 8 herds with 6,000 horses in 1974. There are no wild burros in Colorado. Under Colorado law, wild horses are not considered wildlife, therefore the Division of Wildlife is not responsible for managing them.
Other wildlife in the area includes mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, small game, birds, eagles, black bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep. Vegetation is mostly sagebrush, rabbitbrush (chamisa), Piñon pine and juniper.
The Rio Grande River flows south through the valley to Mexico. The elevation of San Luis is 7,980 feet. The mesa ranges from about 7,900 feet to 8,800 feet, with a few peaks at 9,200 feet. Snow-capped Mount Blanca Peak towers at 14,345 feet to the north, and Culebra Peak, rises to 14,047 feet to the east on Cielo Vista Ranch.
This beautiful high desert valley has evidence of human habitation for 11,000 years, including the Anasazi. It was home for the Ute Indians, Navajo, Comanche, and Jicarilla Apaches, and is now home to farmers and ranchers, many families have been there for generations. Crops grown on 450,000 acres include potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats, spinach, cabbage, peas, beans, peppers, carrots and lettuce. Livestock includes mostly cattle, but also hogs, sheep and goats. Energy farming includes oilseed crops such as canola and sunflowers, used to make bio-diesel fuel. Algae farming is being studied as another bio-fuel. Solar panel farms are also gaining popularity.
The valley is also attracting real estate investors and people looking for a great place to build a vacation home or cabin, retirement home or just buy some affordable land where they can visit or bring their camper or RV to relax and escape city life. San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado, founded in 1851, with a population of about 800. It is the Costilla County seat, and is rich in history and culture. Adobe homes, churches, town plazas and outdoor adobe ovens (hornos) are found in the area, along with lush green crop fields irrigated by gravity controlled, community operated ditches and canals (acequias). Costilla County is sparsely populated with about 3,600 people.
The East Fork Trail of the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail runs along the east side of Wild Horse Mesa, heading north along the Sangre de Cristo mountains. This historic trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles followed old Indian trails, on a difficult 1,200 mile, 2-month journey. Pack mule trains brought trade goods west, including live sheep, wool blankets from churro sheep, serapes, furs, and tanned hides, and brought mules and horses east, between 1829 and 1848. After the Mexican War, 1846-1848, wagon roads on other easier routes ended the use of the trail. The Old Spanish Trail (map) was designated a National Historic Trail in December 2002. Old Spanish Trail video. There are stories of lost gold mines and caches filled with gold or supplies including the Lost Spanish Mine of Culebra Peak. A former gold mine, 4 miles north of San Luis, operated by Battle Mountain Gold, and then acquired by Newmont Mining, is now closed.
Basalt rock (volcanic lava rock) from San Pedro Mesa was used for milling stones at corn and wheat mills in San Luis, San Francisco and other villages along the Rio Culebra. Later, modern milling equipment was brought in from St. Louis and installed at the San Luis Mill. The mill produced flour that was transported by ox-driven wagons to the miners in the gold fields near Denver and other mining districts. Basalt rock from the mesa was also used extensively for building construction under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). White washed basalt rocks were used to form the famous hillside landmark sign, "San Luis Oldest Town in Colorado".
On the east side of Wild Horse Mesa, Sanchez Reservoir (photo), completed in 1913, was the fifth largest earth and stone dam in the world at that time. Today it is a state wildlife area with a 4-mile long, 2,000 acre lake that provides excellent fishing for northern pike, perch and walleye, and is a home for water fowl and shore birds.
For classified ads, business ads, and information on local businesses and attractions in the San Luis Valley, including San Luis, Fort Garland, Blanca, Alamosa and Taos, New Mexico, please visit WildHorseMesaColorado.com.
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Last Update 02/18/2011 09:33 PM