San Luis Valley Historical Trails Research

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail (OSNHT) was a pack route primarily used in the early to mid-nineteenth century by merchants traveling between Santa Fe and Los Angeles to exchange blankets and other woolens for horses and mules. The routes these pack caravans traveled were blazed in the late eighteenth century, and many perhaps centuries earlier by American Indians. The Old Spanish Trail (OST) was not just one route but instead a braided system of routes that took many divergent paths.

One of the lesser-known routes is the West Fork of the North Branch, which went from northern New Mexico up the west side of the San Luis Valley in Colorado where it ultimately joined the East Fork of the North Branch near Saguache. Little is known about the West Fork and only a few archaeological investigations have been conducted focused on the West Fork.

In 2017, PCRG and the Bureau of Land Management conducted a project focused on historical trails research on the west side of the San Luis Valley, mainly focused on finding evidence of the West Fork. Field crews conducted a survey to see if historical trails were present in the area and could be seen during pedestrian survey. Then, using geospatial data such as lidar and historical maps, the research team set out to build a framework for future research on the West Fork and historical trails in the San Luis Valley. The final report details the project finding and lays the groundwork for future research on the West Fork.