Wild Horse Mesa, Colorado Location

Wild Horse Mesa Lake SanchezWild Horse Mesa subdivision is located about 12 miles south of San Luis, zip code 81152, 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.

San Luis is 41 miles southeast of Alamosa, 16 miles south of Fort Garland, 155 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, and 63 miles north of Taos, New Mexico.

San Luis Valley Name History

San Luis Valley Colorado Genuine Logo

The San Luis Valley is named after Saint Louis, who was King Louis IX of France from 1226 until his death in 1270.  A devout Catholic, he was born in 1214 near Paris and died of disease during the Eighth Crusade on August 25, 1270, in Tunisia. 

During his reign, he commanded the largest army and most wealthy kingdom in Europe.  August 25th is the feast day of Saint Louis.  He is the only French King to be declared a Saint.  Many places are named after him.  It is believed that the San Luis Valley was named by Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado in 1540 when he discovered the valley on the feast day of San Luis.

Wild Horses at Wild Horse Mesa

Wild Horse Mesa horses

Wild Horse Mesa (also known as San Pedro Mesa) covers about 75 square miles, a few miles south of San Luis, near New Mexico.  According to the Spirit of the Wild Horse Foundation, the mesa area is home to 150 to 200 wild horses (mustangs), grouped in multiple small bands, roaming their separate grazing areas.  They are descendants of horses used by Spanish explorers (conquistadors), brought to America in the 1500s.

Spaniards began bringing horses and cattle to North America starting in 1493, after Columbus landed in 1492.  Spanish explorer Vazquez de Coronado visited the region with the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542, crossing the area of northern New Mexico, looking for the Seven Cities of Gold.

Costilla County was created from Spanish land grants and does not include federal land, so the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not manage mesa horses.  There is BLM land on the west side of the Rio Grande.

Ute Indians Acquire Spanish Horses

According to some tribal historians, the Ute Indians acquired Spanish horses in 1580.  Santa Fe became the capital of the New Spain province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico in 1610.  Captive Utes escaped with horses from Santa Fe in 1637. The Utes were the first Native Americans to introduce the horse into their culture.  As the horses multiplied and spread out, other Native American tribes acquired horses in the 1600s. 

See the Rocky Mountain PBS 30-minute video Colorado Experience: Native Horses for more information on Native American oral history, archaeological research, and Judy Barnes of Spirit of the Wild Horse, regarding the horses.

Colorado and New Mexico Wild Horse Herds

Colorado has four wild horse herd management areas, on public lands in western Colorado, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The wild horse population is declining.  Wild horses in western Colorado are descendants of escaped and released horses from farmers, ranchers, miners, and cavalry soldiers. 

New Mexico has two wild horse herd management areas

There are wild burros in South Park, near Fairplay, Colorado.  Under Colorado law, wild horses are not considered wildlife, so Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not responsible for managing them.

Wild Horse Mesa Wildlife and Vegetation

Wild Horse Mesa deer in snow

Other types of wildlife found around Wild Horse Mesa include mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, small game, birds, eagles, black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.  Sagebrush and rabbitbrush (chamisa) are common vegetation, along with  Piñon pine and juniper.

Wild Horse Mesa Surrounding Area

The Rio Grande River flows south through the valley to Mexico.  The elevation of San Luis is 7,980 feet.  Wild Horse 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.

San Luis Valley Native American History

Utes on horseback crossing riverThis beautiful high desert valley has evidence of human habitation for 11,000 years, including the Anasazi.  It was home to the Ute Indians, Navajo, Comanche, and Jicarilla Apaches.  There were eleven Ute bands, each living in different regions.

The Ute band native to the San Luis Valley, the Capote Utes, were relocated to the Southern Ute Reservation, near Durango, in 1873, in the four corners region of southwest Colorado.  You can learn more about the Ute Indians at the museums in AlamosaSan LuisFort GarlandMontrose, and at tribal headquarters in Ignacio.

The natives were called Yutas, meaning “meat eaters”, by Spanish explorers and Franciscan missionaries. The Utes called themselves Nuche or Nuustiyu, meaning “the people” or “the mountain people.”  The state of Utah is named after the Ute Indians. 

You may see Ute dancers and artists at special events, pow wows, fiestas, fairs, and rodeos in the region, including Santana Days in San Luis, the last weekend in July.  The nomadic hunter-gatherers hunted wild game in the area for hundreds of years.  Look for arrowheads and spearheads while hiking.  Women gathered seeds, nuts, berries, plants, roots, tubers, and bark.  They have a website at SouthernUte-NSN.gov and a radio station with PBS and tribal programming at KSUT.org.  

SLV Agriculture

cattle herd cowboy

The San Luis Valley 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. 

Some local ranchers raise Navajo Churro sheep, an ancient, hardy breed, brought to the New World by Spanish explorers for meat and wool. Energy farming includes oilseed crops such as canola and sunflowers, used to make biodiesel fuel.  Algae farming is being studied as another bio-fuel.  Solar panel farms are also gaining popularity.

San Luis Colorado History

San Luis Oldest Town in Colorado sign

San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado, founded in 1851, with a population of about 800.   It was part of New Mexico Territory until 1861 when Colorado Territory was established.  Colorado became the 38th state in 1876.  San Luis is the Costilla County seat and is rich in history and culture. 

Southwestern-style 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 (San Luis Peoples Ditch, acequias).  Costilla County is sparsely populated with about 3,600 people. 

Louisiana Purchase and Zebulon Pike

In 1803, the United States, under President Thomas Jefferson, bought the huge Louisiana Territory in the Louisiana Purchase from France, including Colorado, east of the Continental Divide.  In 1806, Zebulon Pike explored the region and built a small stockade at warm springs on the Conejos River, at the Rio Grande.  He was met by Spanish soldiers, who escorted him to Mexico for questioning and then released him.

Old Spanish Trail History

The East Fork of the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail (Old Spanish Trail Map) 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.  Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and claimed control of western Colorado.  During the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, the United States took control of Colorado. 

After the war, wagon roads on other easier routes ended the use of the trail.  The Old Spanish Trail 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 northeast of San Luis, operated by Battle Mountain Gold, and then acquired by Newmont Mining, is now closed.

Volcanic Lava Rock, Basalt

San Luis Mill basalt grinding mill stone

Basalt rock (volcanic lava rock) from San Pedro Mesa was used for milling stones (see photo) 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.  After gold was discovered in 1858 in Cherry Creek, the mill produced flour that was transported by ox-driven wagons to the miners in the gold fields near Denver and other mining districts.

During the Great Depression, 1929-1939, basalt rock from the mesa was also used extensively for building construction under jobs programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Whitewashed basalt rocks were used to form the famous hillside landmark sign, “San Luis Oldest Town in Colorado” (see photo).

Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area (SWA), Fishing, Bird Watching

On the east side of Wild Horse Mesa, Sanchez Reservoir (see top 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, walleye, trout, yellow perch, and catfish.  It is a home for waterfowl, including ducks, geese, loons, grebes, and shore birds, including passerines and swallows.  

Other birds in the pinion/juniper and sagebrush habitat of the mesa include Western scrub and pinion jays, rock wren, black-chinned hummingbird, bushtit, and juniper titmouse.  On the northwest side of the mesa, along Highway 159, Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir is another fishing and recreation spot, about 4 miles southwest of San Luis. The reservoirs are owned by the Sanchez Ditch and Reservoir Company in Sanford.

SLV Real Estate

The valley is also attracting real estate investors and real estate investors stamppeople looking for a great place to build a vacation home or cabin, retirement home or just to buy some affordable land where they can visit or bring their camper, tent, or RV to relax and escape the fast pace and stress of city life. 

Wild Horse Mesa Market Report, Real Estate

WHM Market Report borderWild Horse Mesa subdivision includes sections A, B, and C, along Highway 159, down in the valley, below the west side of the mesa, Sections D, E, and K, on top, on the west side of the mesa, and Sections F and G, on top, on the east side of the mesa. Most lots are 2.5 acres. Section G is closest to the lake, Sanchez Reservoir. Lots closest to the lake are typically 1 acre. There is electricity along several main roads, including Wild Horse Drive, where there are power poles.

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Wild Horse Mesa Neighborhood Watch,

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