About the Area
In the words of Colonel John Francisco as he gazed over the future site of La Veta in 1862, "This is paradise enough for me".
Legends of gold once abounded in the land of the Spanish Peaks or "Dos Hermanos". Spanish explorers led by Coronado sought the riches of the city of Cibola arriving in this area in 1594.
Upon returning to Mexico, Coronado left in the area three monks. According to legend, one of those monks found rich gold mines, brought up Indians from Pecos to work them, and then tried to pack the gold on mules to trek back to Mexico City. He was never seen again.
An Indian Legend discovered in archives in Mexico City, speaks of a time "before the alliance of the three kingdoms, Alcolhua, Aztec, and Tepance". Gold was sought for in this time but not coined or used as barter. Instead gold was "offered to the deities only". Nezhuatcoyotl reigned in splendor at Tezcuco, according to the story, and the gods, being jealous of the riches of his court, placed demons on the double mountains (Dos Hermanos) forbidding any to enter the area and find the source of gold.
This area was home to several Native American tribes including the Jicarillo Apache and the Ute. The top of Cuchara Pass was a favorite gathering place for feasts and ceremonial dances. They called this area Nunda Canyon. Nunda was their word for potatoe for potatoes were grown here by Indians as well as early Spanish settlers.
In the early 1800s, Spain made grants of thousands of acres to individuals who promised to colonize . Family plazas sprang up all along the Purgatoire River Valley. Plazas were established in Segundo, Vigil, and Cordova. Felipe Baca was one of the colonizers who came from Guadalupita to raise crops. He returned to Guadalupita with examples of the melons he had grown and convinced 12 families to move with him to the valley.
Among the remains still standing from this colonization period is the Cordova Chapel south of Hwy 12 built in 1871 and used as the Cordova family's private chapel. The town of Vigil founded by the Vigil family in the 1860s sits across the highway from the "House on the Bridge" built on the bridge that was part of the original road from Stonewall to Trinidad. West of Vigil Plaza sits the San Isidro Church which is still in use. San Isidro is the patron saint of farmers.
After the arrival of the railroad in the late 1800s, mining became the main industry of the area. Mining camps and coke ovens dotted the valley concentrated in Cokedale and Segundo. Segundo, built in the early 1900s, was the largest coal processing plant west of Chicago with 800 coking ovens. The roundhouse headquarters of the Colorado & Wyoming Railway was established in Segundo. Tercio was a coal camp built in 1901 by Colorado Fuel & Iron. Cokedale was also built in the first decade of the 1900s as a company town. The original town is still standing providing a good example of a turn-of-the-century mining town. This was built as a "model camp".
In 1907, North Lake was constructed as a part of Trinidad's water supply. A state wildlife area was also set aside. The San Isabel national Forest was created that year by the newly formed Forest Service. And the next year, the Cuchara Camps were built to provide cabins for the new resort area.
The depression years brought several WPA projects to the area including the construction of the Apishapa Arch, a rock masonry arch built through a dike. You can see this arch by traveling on the road from Cuchara to Aquilar. Monument Lake and buildings were constructed in 1937 as a resort.
Be sure not to miss stopping in the quaint town of La Veta, viewing the Dakota Sandstone rock formations between La Veta and Stonewall, and taking a trolley ride through the cobblestone streets of victorian Trinidad.