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Spanish Peaks replete with heritage and beauty
Photo courtesy: Colorado Parks and Recreation

By Joshua Pilkington

Southern Colorado contains a wealth of natural attractions that draw visitors from around the globe. One of those attractions is the Spanish Peaks. The pair of prominent mountains located in southwestern Huerfano County was an important landmark on the Santa Fe Trail for trappers, traders and the Ute, Comanche and Apache Indians that utilized it. Since 1976 has been designated as a National Natural Landmark. That designation comes form the peaks being one of the best-known examples of igneous dikes.


The Ute, Comanche, Apache and other Indian tribes in the area knew the Spanish Peaks as Huajatolla, meaning “breasts of Earth.” They respected the peaks in religious awe and used them as landmarks in travel as they could see the peaks as far as 100 miles distant when traveling from the east.

Animas River

According to the Spanish Peaks Country website, “the first Europeans to enter the Spanish Peaks area were Spanish militia in the company of a group of priests sent to look for gold wherever they could find it. Supposedly they found a rich vein somewhere on the Peaks and enslaved some local Indians to dig it out for them. When the Spaniards left they killed all the Indians and headed south over Cuchara Pass.

“They went down to Purgatoire River and headed west, hoping to cross the Sangre de Cristo’s. Somewhere along the banks of the river they were ambushed by hostile Indians and were wiped out. That’s how the river got its name, Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio.”


As with most of Colorado’s mountainous areas, the Spanish Peaks provide ample amounts of hiking and outdoor recreation. Along the hiking trails of the Spanish Peaks, outdoor enthusiasts can take in a scenery consisting of miles of aspen, Ponderosa and bristlecone pine trees as well as blue and Engelmann spruce tree, and a myriad of firs.

“A lot of mountains and hiking trails west of Denver get a lot of coverage related to foliage and changing colors in the fall, but the Spanish Peaks region is probably one of the season’s best kept secrets,” said David Birch, an outdoor enthusiast from Woodland Park who considers the Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo range among Colorado’s best kept secrets. “The whole area just lights up with colors that almost appear like an artistic rendering of what fall should be. As a photographer, I use those hikes (on the Spanish Peaks) to flesh out my portfolio with some amazing shots.


No Colorado landmark would be complete without ample opportunities to go lake side and try to catch some cold and warm water fish. With its high mountain lakes, streams, rivers and reservoirs, the Spanish Peaks and surrounding areas offer a variety of fishing hot spots.

“It’s a great place to bring the kids,” Birch said of Lake Isabel, one of several popular lake in Spanish Peaks country. “It has a decent amount of trout and even if you aren’t lucky enough to nab one, there are still paddle boats to rent and fun spots for camping.”

Other fishing hot spots include the high-elevation lakes like Blue Lake and Bear Lake.


Celebrating the Spanish Peaks in all their glory is a common occurrence. With cool summer temperatures and amazing fall colors, the area provides comfort and scenery for festival goers, performers and promoters alike. Festivals also serve as a means of celebrating the area’s heritage.

Crossroads in the Clouds, for example, celebrates the three cultures that defined the Spanish Peaks: the Utes, the Spanish and the Anglos. The Huajatolla Heritage Festival also celebrates the culture and heritage of the area with native dancers, drummers and musicians as well as learning sessions that allow attendees to explore their roots, learn miniature Navajo weaving and hear the history of Hispano veterans in Southern Colorado.

For more information on the Spanish Peaks visit





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