The San Luis Valley is the largest alpine valley in the world. It is also the largest and highest freshwater aquifer in North America. Teams from the Smithsonian Institution and other scientists have been gathering evidence of human habitation at various sites in the valley for decades, and it is established that the meadows west of the Great Sand Dunes been visited by humans for eleven thousand years. Breathtaking spear points have been found with mastodon tusks from some of the last remaining herds.
Below the dunes, the 4,000 square mile, semi-arid desert SLV floor is perched at an average elevation of 7,600 feet, over a mile-and-a-half above sea level. The vast valley floor averages less than five inches of rainfall per year. The valley’s entire wishbone shape, over 130 miles long, is ringed by majestic forested mountains that soar skyward on all sides.
Behind the Great Sand Dunes, to the east, stands a solid wall of rock soaring to heights of over 14,000 feet, the imposing Sangre de Cristo Mountains or Sisniijiini (‘black Sash Medicine belt’) in the native Dine’ tradition. This cluster of promontories at the valley’s midpoint, called the ‘Blanca Massif’ for convenience, contains the valley’s highest mountains. This 25 square-mile jumble of peaks stand like a host of brooding sentinels. For thousands of years, Blanca Peak and its lofty neighbors have been the focus of Native American myth and tradition and this stretch of the Sangres is rumored to contain doorways or portals into another realm where “all thought originates.” 12 different Indian (Southwestern, Great Basin and Plains) tribes shared what was considered a sacred “bloodless” valley; location of the “Sacred Mountain of the East” and the Sipapu, or “place of emergence.” Indeed, the area of the Sangres around the dunes appear to be ground zero in the mysterious SLV as does this stretch of the range. The Sangres are the longest continuous mountain chain in North America. The southern end of the valley is dominated on its eastern side by the Sangres’ Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico located just east of Taos, NM.
The entire western side of the SLV is bordered by the older San Juan Mountains, which rise above a labyrinth of deep valleys and roaring rivers to their west. The famous Rio Grande River originates here in the San Juan Mountains, just west of the SLV near Creede, Colorado. From there, it snakes its way into the valley’s midpoint and then heads southward to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Sangre de Cristo/Rio Grande Rift is considered to be the second longest rift valley on the planet, bested only by the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Straddling the backbone of North America, the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains merge at the extreme northern end of the valley in Saguache County, after emptying over one hundred creeks into the largest freshwater aquifer in the United States.
The southern portion of the valley was the first officially settled region of Colorado, and two-thirds of the way down the valley’s length, below the Colorado- New Mexico border, are some of the oldest European settlements in the United States. San Luis, in Costilla County Colorado, founded in 1851, is the oldest town in Colorado. As a result of the sixteenth and seventeenth century influx of settlers migrating north from Taos and the New Mexico Territory, today the southern part of the geographic valley has a rich cultural tradition with Spanish-speaking residents making up half the population.
Physically and metaphorically isolated from the outside world, this unique Hispano subculture has developed its own special character, combining mystical elements of indigenous Native American beliefs with an Old World style of fundamentalist Catholic piety. This close-knit Hispanic population is very superstitious, wary of outsiders, and their peculiar beliefs incorporate much myth, magic and some traditional beliefs found nowhere else.
In the mid-1600s Spanish conquistadores and missionaries followed the Rio Grande River Valley north to the Taos Pueblo, oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in North America. The gold-seeking Spanish were driven out by the Indians for 13 years in 1680, but by the early 1700s, Spanish settlers had reached what is now Colorado. Life was hard at 7,000 feet.
The many room Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in North America. The gold-seeking Spanish were driven out by the Indians for 13 years in 1680, but by the early 1700s, Spanish settlers had reached into del norte’ —what is now known as Colorado.
Hotspot regions like the San Luis Valley are veritable magnets for reports of paranormal events. But unfortunately, any attempt to define what constitutes a truly “paranormal” event is wrought with perilous philosophic and scientific challenges, and a lack of hard data. In the SLV, knowledge of past-unexplained activity has not traveled out into the mainstream of the valley culture.
As in prehistoric times, experiencers’ and witnesses’ quiet descriptions to friends and family filtered only slowly into the greater local population, with the details subtly shaded or lost as the stories were told and re-told for generations.
In the past 100 years, small town papers occasionally hinted that these unexplained events were occurring only if reporters were assigned to the story. More widely-known accounts and personal experiences were recounted at family gatherings, picnics, at the post office, over the backyard fence and out in the grocery store parking lot. In this modern age of instant communication, local knowledge of inexplicable events echo around the SLV more readily. And, as in other hotspot regions, word of unexplained activity appears to be firmly embedded in the population. This ‘instant communication’ and our level of affordable technology combines to make everyone a potential investigator!
The key is coordinating efforts and communicating with an assortment of local law enforcement officials, a skywatcher network, other amateur and professional investigators and local newspaper reporters.
SLV residents investigated and documented an intensive seven-year wave of unexplained phenomenal events between 1992 and 1999. Hundreds of anomalous aerial object and light sightings were documented.
Prior to this time period, this forgotten region at the top of North America called the SLV had been determined in 1990 to be the world’s Number One per capita UFO hotspot (Computer UFO Network, with 257 sightings per 10,000 in population) and contained four of the top ten counties. Now, with the additional amount of sighting reports and claims documented since 1990, this region makes an obvious, perfect test case region for the UFODAP team.