Huerfano County’s Spanish Peaks Country provides beauty and fun
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 third edition we explore the mountainous Huerfano County.
Due east of the Sangre de Cristo Range lies one of Colorado’s original counties, Huerfano County. The county enjoyed an economic boom in the early 1900s and again during World War II. The cause of that boom: coal.
The discovery of coal deposits in the early 1900s caused the population in Huerfano County to double between 1900 and 1920 from 8,395 to 16,879, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The need for coal dissipated after World War II as cleaner, more efficient forms of energy became available. As the price of the newer forms of energy declined, so too did the demand for coal. In direct correlation, those working the mines in Huerfano County left in search of greener pastures.
After peaking at just over 17,000 residents in 1930, Huerfano County has seen a steady decline in residents over the last 85 years as the estimated population of 6,942 from the U.S. Census Bureau reflects. That total is down 3.3 percent from 2010. Huerfano County is getting older as well as the largest increase in population has come from residents 65 years and over. From 2010 to 2015 that demographic saw a growth of 6 percent, the largest increase for any age group in the county.
Ethnic demographics paint a picture that differs from other Southern Colorado counties. Where most Southern Colorado counties have a partial or full majority Hispanic population, Huerfano County has a Caucasian population of 61.4 percent, compared to 34.1 percent Hispanic, 5.3 percent American Indian and Alaska Native and 1 percent for African Americans and Asians.
Spanish Peaks Country
Though Huerfano County is not packed with residents, it still enjoys its share of visitors, most of which come to the county to be in “Spanish Peaks Country.”
“The Spanish Peaks are some of the state’s most significant landmarks, but you don’t hear about them very much outside of Southern Colorado,” said Duman Mondragon, 49, who lived in Huerfano County before taking a job that relocated him to Pueblo. “So many different travelers used the peaks to guide them across Colorado and through the West.”
With the East Spanish Peak at 12,683 feet and the West Spanish Peak at 13,625 feet, the Spanish Peaks make up two of the monumental mountains in Huerfano County. Others include Blanca Peak, Silver Mountain, California Peak, Greenhorn Mountain, Mount Mestas, Mount Zwischen, Iron Mountain on the Sangre de Cristo Range and Huerfano Butte after which the county is named.
Of course with those mountains, hiking trails abound and outdoor recreation is one of Huerfano County’s largest attractions.
One of those attractions is the San Isabel National Forest, which is one of 11 National Forests in Colorado. The forest includes over a million acres of scenery, snow-capped peaks and clear mountain lakes. The Wet Mountains, Collegiate Peaks, Sawatch Range, Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains flank the forest providing an abundance of scenery. The forest is also home to Black bear, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wild turkey and mountain lions, which visitors may see along the 800 miles of hiking trails.
Though the natural scenery attracts many visitors to Huerfano, the events of “Spanish Peaks Country” also bring their share of patrons.
“There are a lot of festivals,” Mondragon said. “I think once the summer gets going, there is something going on every weekend.”
Indeed hippie-friendly music festivals like Sonic Bloom and Gardner Hippie Days as well as the Spanish Peaks Music Festival and the Spanish Peaks Country International Celtic Music Festival keep the summer calendar hopping with music, food and dancing.
For more on Huerfano County and Spanish Peaks Country visit huerfano.us and www.spanishpeakscountry.com.