A deeper look at Costilla County
Writer’s note: For the next several weeks we will be focusing on Southern Colorado counties where they came from, what they have to offer and why more Coloradoans should pay them a visit. In this second edition we explore the state’s most historic county, Costilla County.
It is the place where Colorado began. That is how Costilla County, sitting just north of the New Mexican border, touts itself. With a recorded history that dates back to 1540, Costilla County is the first area to be colonized in Colorado and the county seat can be found in the state’s oldest town, San Luis.
As Colorado came to be, San Luis became an incorporated part of Costilla County and a second incorporated town, Blanca, was founded shortly after. Since 1851, several unincorporated communities like Fort Garland, Chama, San Pedro, Los Fuertes, Garcia, Jaroso, San Francisco, San Acacio and Mesita have been established as well.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Costilla County in 2015 was at 3,584 and had seen an estimated increase from 2010 to 2015 of 1.7 percent. About 1,500 households make up Costilla County with just over 1,000 families residing there as well. With wide-open spaces, it is not surprising that those who move to Costilla County are looking to live off the land and off the grid. The population density of the county is three people per square mile (as a comparison Arapahoe County has 717 people per square inch), meaning that Costilla remains emblematic of the wide open West of decades past. The Hispanic population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was at 63.6 percent in 2015. That percentage is down from the 66 percent estimated in 2010; other minority populations, however, have been on the rise in the county. The Black or African American population rose from 0.7 percent to 2.1 percent from 2010 to 2015, the Asian population saw minor increase from 1 percent to 1.3 percent, and Costilla’s American Indian population saw the largest increase from 3 percent in 2010 to 5.5 percent in 2015.
Living in Costilla County
Part of living in Southern Colorado is handling extremes. The desert climate in the summer can cause difficult heat waves and flash floods, while the winter months can lead to devastating snow storms and extreme colds.
It is definitely a climate of extremes, said Maggie Rose, 72, of Blanca. Rose moved to Blanca from Westminster in 2007 after she decided to remove herself from the “unbridled chaos” of metro Denver. “I couldn’t keep up with the big city anymore and just chose to go south. My plan was actually to go to Albuquerque to live closer to my sister, but I found Blanca to be just the perfect place for me, so I stayed here.”
According to Sperling’s Best Places, residents of Costilla County can expect 9.3 inches of rainfall and 33 inches of snowfall annually (compared to state averages of 16 and 71 inches, respectively) with average July high temperatures of 82 degrees and January lows at 3 degrees.
We’re still at a very high elevation, so those cold days are very, very cold, Rose added.
Indeed Costilla was in the news statewide in January due to massive snowdrifts caused by high winds and major snowfall, which caused the county to declare a disaster and seek emergency services from surrounding counties and the state.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross are a well-known religious celebration that commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as he took the cross in an atoning sacrifice. In San Luis a shrine called the Stations of the Cross Shrine, was erected to represent the last hour of Christ’s life and his resurrection. All of the sculptures that make up the shrine are the work of local artist Huberto Maestas, whose gallery is also located in San Luis. As one of the more prominent artists of Costilla County, Maestas’ work can be found at the Plaza in Taos, New Mex. and at the Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa, CO.