Driving the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway


Trips Into History traveled the historic and very scenic Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway. Here is a national Scenic Byway that travels through three counties of southern Colorado and through the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.

blanca peak colorado

14,345 foot Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristo range

In North America, certain roads are designated as scenic byways based on their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and overall scenic qualities. America’s Byways are a distinctive collection of American roads, their stories and treasured places.

The name of this scenic byway means “the ancient road” and it is true that this roadway winds itself through an area that was once home to the ancient Indians of the southwest as well as the territory of Nuevo Mexico once ruled by Spain.

Travel on the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the culture and traditions of some of Colorado’s oldest communities. You’ll view the spectacular San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges as well as the high, fertile San Luis Valley which is today Colorado’s largest agricultural area. Also, along this highway you’ll explore the fascinating Great Sand Dunes National Park, the site of the highest sand dunes in North America.

las caminos antiguos scenic byway

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Conejos Colorado

Some of the Unique Sites Along the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

The entire length of the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway is 129 miles and the travel time for it’s exploration will take perhaps four hours. Travel time will be dependent on how many stops you make along the way.  Interpretive markers along the way will direct you to specific sites that tell the region’s history and make the journey so enjoyable.This scenic highway is open during the entire year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

This church was founded in 1856 and it’s parish is the oldest in Colorado. The first church was constructed of logs put together with adobe. In 1863 a larger adobe church was built.  Renovations took place through the years but the building was destroyed in 1926 by an electrical fire. The walls and towers were spared but new brick towers and a brick entrance were built in 1948.When you visit the church you’ll notice a niche above the front entrance near the roof line containing the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This is the original statue brought by the first settlers of the area.

stations of the cross san luis colorado

Stations of the Cross, Chapel of All Saints

Shrine of the Stations of the Cross

In the town of San Luis Colorado you’ll see a mesa just a few yards west of the scenic byway off of main street. This is the location of the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross. A walkway up the side of the mesa leads past 3/4 size bronze statues by local sculptor Huberto Maestas. The statues depict Christ’s last hours. At the end of the three quarter mile walkway is the Chapel of All Saints which is used by pilgrims for prayer and meditation. On top of the mesa are additional statues of martyrs and saints.From atop the mesa you’ll see the town of San Luis below and the People’s Ditch, the oldest communal irrigation waterway in Colorado.

The mesa is named La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia (the Hill of Piety and Mercy) .Look for the interpretive signs at the trail head on the left side of the highway as you enter the town from the south.

fort garland colorado

Restored Fort Garland Colorado buildings

Historic Fort Garland

North of San Luis is historic Fort Garland, once an important frontier fort that was established in 1858 to protect settlers of the San Luis Valley and at one time commanded by Kit Carson and occupied by the Buffalo Soldiers after the Civil War.

Today, Fort Garland exhibits several restored original buildings and offers visitors several separate museums within the structures. You’ll see authentic frontier firearms, many artifacts from the 1800’s and recreations of original interiors such as the infantry and cavalry barracks and the commander’s quarters. All of the structures were built around a parade ground with it’s historic flagpole in the center.

Looking north from Fort Garland you’ll see the towering Blanca Peak rising some 14,345 feet above sea level. Blanca Peak is the fourth highest peak in Colorado.

On our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy our photo article of Fort Garland found on the link below…

A Trip to Fort Garland

alamosa colorado train station

Old D & RG Railroad Depot, Alamosa Colorado

Alamosa Colorado

Alamosa went from a tent city to a full fledged town almost overnight when tracks of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached the settlement.Today, a great many of the buildings in Alamosa are on both the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties and the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the best ways to explore Alamosa is with a downtown walking tour. Maps are available at the Colorado Welcome Center located at the D & RG train depot. Add to your trip a visit to the San Luis Valley Museum. The museum exhibits artifacts, photos and collectibles that portray early farm life in the valley. Also exhibited are Indian and Hispanic artifacts and artifacts and photos of the early railroad.

The link below will take you to our photo article of Alamosa Colorado on our Western Trips site…

A Visit to Alamosa Colorado

great sand dunes colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great San Dunes

The Great Sand Dunes National Monument was created in the 1930’s during the Great Depression. By the year 2004 the park also included a preserve. The preserve was then joined with the Great Sand Dunes Monument and was then the combined area was named a full-fledged National Park in September 2004. It contains about 39 square miles of massive sand dunes, some 750 feet high. The Great Sand Dunes National Park also includes alpine lakes and tundra, six mountain peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

The Great San Dunes National Park is located about 29 miles northwest of Fort Garland and about 34 miles east/northeast of Alamosa.

Below is a link to our Western Trips photo article on the Great Sand Dunes National Park…

The Great Sand Dunes

rio grande scenic railroad locomotive

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad locomotive, Alamosa Colorado

There’s Plenty to See on the Los Cominos Antiguos Scenic Byway

The above sites along the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway are just a few of the sites you’ll see during your road trip. For more information about the route and additional sites along the way see website www.coloradodot.info/travel/scenic-byways/south-central/los-caminos  Here you will find much more detailed information as well as a map of the route.

Again, this area of southern Colorado is one of the most scenic and historic in the entire country. If your future travel plans call for a visit to this part of the country you may just want to add this historic scenic byway to your trip planner.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

Valles Caldera

Take a scenic drive west of Los Alamos New Mexico on NM Rte 4 and you’ll come to Valles Caldera National Preserve. This 89,000 acre expanse is sitting inside a collapsed crater. Interestingly enough, this area was the well known Baca Ranch until the year 2000.

The Creation of the Crater

valles caldera

Valles Caldera in New Mexico

A “caldera” is a cauldron-like volcanic feature that’s usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. This is a bit different than a crater. A crater is sometimes caused by celestial bodies colliding with the earth. At the same time there are craters caused by volcanic activity. The difference is that a crater is a bowl shaped depression. A crater can be made by an impacting meteor, an underground land collapse, or it could be found at the top of a volcano. With a caldera there was an eruption after which the magma chamber collapsed and then was filled in. Another explanation of the difference between the two is that a crater is a steep walled depression located at the top of a volcano.

The Valles Caldera which is sometimes referred to as the Jemez Caldera, is twelve miles wide. It is quite unique, being only one of six known land based supervolcanoes. Native tribes roamed the caldera over 11,000 years ago. The tribes hunted on the caldera land  and spear points have been discovered dating back to that time. The tribes in this area collected “obsidian” which is a volcanic glass used back then for spear points. The obsidian was in demand and trading went on for it between the tribes of the southwest.

Special Photographic Tours Scheduled for 2013

Two three day photographic excursions of Valles Caldera crater will be offered during 2013. 
Visitors for these events will be chosen by lottery. Camping will be allowed at a designated location. Officials say the lottery closes April 24 for the first photography event, which is scheduled for May 24-26. The second events is scheduled for Sept. 20-22, and the lottery closes on Aug. 21. Anyone can apply by calling the preserve at 1-866-382-5537.

valles caldera in new mexico

NM Rte 4 passing Valles Caldera

The U.S. Congress passed the Valles Caldera Preservation Act in the year 2000. The act states that Congress established the Valles Caldera Preserve in order “to protect and preserve the scientific, scenic, geologic, watershed, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, and recreational values of the preserve, and to provide for multiple use and sustained yield of renewable resources within the preserve. This Congressional act authorized the federal purchase of Baca Location No.1 and established the Valles Caldera Trust as the manager of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Science projects are a big part of what is currently happening at the preserve. There is a project in it’s third year to create a new geologic map of the preserve. The new map is intended to replace the 1970 USGS map of the same area and provide greater details to help geologists better understand the formation of the caldera and the Jemez Mountains region in general. A core sample taken in 2004 will provide details on the lake bed sedimentary history of the Valle Grande.

Driving Scenic New Mexico Route 4

valles caldera in jemez mountains

Historic marker at Valles Caldera

When you take a western road trip into the Jemez Mountains on NM Rte 4 west of Los Alamos, there are many fascinating sites to see in the vicinity of the Valles Caldera. This includes Battleship Rock directly on Route 4.

Battleship Rock received it’s name because the rock high colorful rock resembles the bow of a battleship. There’s also an excellent hiking trail head at Battleship Rock which will take you to Jemez Warm Springs and Jemez Falls. The trail is rated moderate and takes about three hours round trip. Drive a bit further on NM Rte 4 and you’ll arrive a beautiful Jemez Springs which is home to the Jemez State Monument. The Jemez State Monument features the ruins of a pueblo Indian village and mission dating back to the 1620’s.

Two additional sites we’ve written articles on are Jemez Springs in the Jemez Mountains and Bandelier National Monument.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

Scenic Byways / Copper Harbor Scenic Highway In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula is a summer paradise. The peninsula is surrounded by Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. The northern woods scenery is spectacular and a road trip through the Copper Country and the scenic routes through the western section of upper Michigan is a perfect addition to any  vacation planner.

copper harbor michigan bridge

Upper Michigan's Copper Scenic Highway bridge

Make special note of the Copper Harbor Scenic Highway. This is a 27 mile stretch of highway, U.S. Hwy 41, running from Phoenix Michigan to Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Much of this scenic route was first traveled by the pioneers to the region. Today, it’s one of North America’s most scenic byways.

The western section of Michigan’s upper peninsula is steeped in the history of copper mining and iron ore mining. Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is another small land area that represents the very northern tip of the upper peninsula. Stretching into blue lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula itself is quite a historic site. The scenic byways through this peninsula are one of a kind.

Iron ore was found in Michigan’s upper peninsula about 1840 and copper was discovered in Michigan’s upper peninsula in 1841. Copper was to become a major export of Michigan. At first, the iron ore usage was fairly small, some being found in swamps and used in charcoal furnaces to produce pig iron. While the first deposits were small, beginning in 1844, iron ore was found in large deposits and the country started taking it more seriously. In fact, the U.S. thought it important enough to establish Fort Wilkens on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to protect the resource.  Fort Wilkens was no doubt one of the army’s more frigid outposts during the winter months. While quite a lot has been written about America’s wild western frontier, much less has been publicized about this part of Michigan which represented the northern frontier. As it turned out, the economic necessity of gaining access to and the transportation of iron ore would eventually lead to the construction of the Soo Locks on the eastern end of Michigan’s upper peninsula and would usher in the era of the Great Lakes ore carriers.

copper loaded on steamer

Steamer loading copper at Houghton Michigan in 1905

The Copper Harbor Scenic Highway is an all weather blacktopped roadway. While you drive this route you’ll be able to view an 1850’s era general store, a blacksmith shop, historic churches and ghost towns from the old mining boom days. A underground copper mine tour is also available. The Copper harbor Scenic Highway in upper Michigan offers motorists the chance to really see the heart of Michigan’s copper mining country. Another added Michigan vacation adventure while on the Keweenaw Peninsula is a ferry ride to the Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale National Park  is a rugged island in Lake Superior, northwest of Copper Harbor, with abundant wildlife. It’s very popular during the summer months with backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers.

Visitors to Fort Wilkens will get a good idea of what it was like for the troops that manned this very northerly outpost. Having Lake Superior bordering both sides of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the weather, particularly during winter, could be trying. Tourist to the Fort Wilkens State Historical Park can take advantage of both camping and day use activities. It also features one of the very first lighthouses on Lake Superior. The Copper Harbor Lighthouse, a round tower built in 1848 and put into operation the following year, was replaced in 1866 by the current structure.There is a Copper Harbor excursion that starts out from the marina and includes a boat tour and a visit to the lighthouse museum. At Fort Wilkens, interpreters will explain the history of this Keweenaw Peninsula fort.

copper harbor michigan sign

Sign at the terminus of the Copper Scenic Highway east of Copper Harbor Michigan

The Estivant Pines, a stand of virgin white pines, and The Delaware Mine, an old copper mine with guided tours, are located near the park. The Keweenaw Peninsula also offers a challenging nine hole golf course layout. Plenty of fun things to do and add to your Michigan vacation planner.

Two articles on scenic byways in the western U.S. are the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway just to the northeast of Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth National Scenic Byway in Montana.

Anyone taking a summer vacation to northern Michigan will also pass by several other very scenic and historic sites. One of them of course is the Mackinaw Bridge which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. Another is the fascinating Soo Locks at Saoult Ste.Marie  Michigan on the border of Ontario Canada. The locks connect Lake Superior with Lake Huron and allows for the traffic between the two Great lakes. The Soo Locks were completed in 1855. It’s estimated that the Soo Locks handle about 10,000 vessels per year. Connecting the United States to Canada is the International Bridge which spans over the locks. The map below shows the location of Copper Harbor and the Keweenaw Peninsula.

(Photos are from the public domain)

View Larger Map


A Scenic Santa Fe To Taos New Mexico Road Trip


santa fe to taos road trip

Truchas New Mexico during High Road Art Tour

A popular and very scenic drive while vacationing in New Mexico is called “The High Road to Taos”. This route is often taken while driving Santa Fe to Taos. The route is 56 miles in length and winds through the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trip is listed as an official New Mexico scenic by-way and you’ll pass by many unique art galleries which are home to the local artists who make this part of New Mexico their home. The Santa Fe to Taos route goes through deserts, mountains, forests and farmland. This route probably represents the best area of New Mexico where the Spanish heritage is still somewhat untouched. From Santa Fe to Taos, this scenic byway is one of the most impressive road trips in New Mexico. It’s also the perfect road trip to combine a Santa Fe and Taos vacation.

The journey on the High Road to Taos begins in the Espanola area about twenty miles north of Santa Fe. This Scenic Byway takes you through an authentic remnant of Old Spain. To start your journey, take U.S.285/84 north from Santa Fe and turn east on N.M.503. This will take you to the village of Nambe. You’ll drive by several adobe brick churches and chapels. These structures represent the early Spanish influence on the entire New Mexico region. The Byway then turns north on N.M. 520. The Byway next follows N.M. 76, heading northeast. N.M. 76 will turn into N.M. 75 eastbound. You’ll reach an intersection with N.M.516 going north and this road will take you to Rancho de Taos. The roads are posted with appropriate signs to help your journey. There are of course several short scenic detours that you can take before getting back on the scenic Byway. One such short detour is when you reach the village of Truchas. Truchas is situated on the side of a canyon and is very picturesque. Many people take a short ride east of the town toward Truchas Peak which is quite scenic.

gallery on the santa fe to taos road

Truchas New Mexico art gallery

An added treat along the way is a stop in Chimayo. Chimayo New Mexico is home to the Sanctuario de Chimayo which is a noted shrine. This church was constructed between the years 1811 to 1816 and is visited by thousands of people annually from throughout the world. The Santuario de Chimayo is believed to have healing powers and one of the most visited chapels in the entire American West. Chimayo is also home to several weaving studios that are operated by descendants of the original Spanish settlers. One very good stop for the hungry traveler is the Rancho de Chimayó. This popular restaurant is located in a restored, century old adobe home and is surrounded by three beautiful mountain ranges. The restaurant serves some of the finest Native New Mexican cuisine you’ll find in New Mexico. Diners can enjoy the garden terrace on sunny summer days, and cozy fireside dining as you watch the snow fall during the winter months. I’ve been to this restaurant during all seasons and I know you’ll enjoy it.

sangre de cristo mountains

New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The last two weekends of September is the traditional time for the High Road to Taos Art Tour. This is a very fun event and allows you to attend gallery open houses and have a chance to meet and greet local artisans. The High Road Art Tour offers the opportunity to deal directly with artists as well as visit the small, historic Land Grant villages in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Among the towns you’ll drive through on The High Road to Taos include Nambe, Truchas, Las Trampas and Cordova. In Truchas you’ll have wonderful views of the Rio Grande Valley and Truchas Peak. Great for picture taking. In Las Trampas be certain to stop and visit the San Jose de Gracia Church. This church is considered by historians to be one of the most beautiful colonial-era churches in the United States.

rancho de taos

San Francisco de Asis Church in Rancho de Taos

Your High Road to Taos drive will end at Ranchos de Taos which is about four miles southeast of Taos. Here you will see the magnificent San Francisco de Asis. Many believe that this is the most photographed church in all New Mexico. The church faces a plaza which is surrounded by adobe structures, some that are quite old. Rancho de Taos also offers some great photo taking opportunities. It is also thought that this church provided the inspiration behind many paintings by New Mexico’s own Georgia O’Keefe. OKeefe spent a good deal of her time in nearby Abique which is southwest of the Taos area on the west side of the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers. The San Francisco de Asis Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and has also been designated as a World heritage church.

Another very interesting article related to the Spaniards and the colonization of Nuevo Mexico is the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. This was the seat of government for all of Nuevo Mexico. Another good article relating to your New Mexico visit is the story of the La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

When on a Taos vacation make it a point to explore the Kit Carson Home and Museum, the Charles Bent Home and Museum which is two blocks north of the Taos Plaza and also the Taos Pueblo or often referred to as Pueblo de Taos which is just a few miles northwest of town. The Taos galleries are also great places to view local southwestern art. This part of New Mexico combines some of the finest western scenery there is with very interesting historic sites. If you plan on spending the night in Taos there are several unique hotels and bed and breakfast locations. One popular historic lodging site is the Mabel Dodge House just a very short drive east of the Taos plaza.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)