A journey of conservation
The San Luis Valley, nestled between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, has long been a sanctuary for humans and wildlife. Once inhabited by the Ute and Comanche Indians who hunted an abundance of elk, deer, pronghorn, small game, and waterfowl.
Diego de Vargas, a Spanish explorer, became the first European to see the valley, and described the area as “Sierra de las Grullas” or Mountains of the Cranes. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike’ s expedition traveled through the valley while still a Spanish territory in 1806-1807. At the end of the Mexican War in 1848, the valley then became an American territory.
An 1880's ditch boom left irrigation canals fanning the valley, making is agriculturally productive. Farms, ranches, mines, and railroads soon developed peppering the valley and surrounding mountains with small communities.
Sitting at an elevation of approximately 7,600 feet and at the western edge of the Central Flyway the San Luis Valley has historically provided crucial migratory bird habitat. Declining waterfowl wintering habitat and waterfowl crop depredation prompted the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to create the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in 1952. Alamosa NWR was established in 1962 to serve as another link in a chain of wetland habitat along the Central Flyway. In 1979, the two Refuges were combined administratively into the Alamosa-Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Complex.