Two southern Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways get national recognition for innovative projects

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Blanca Peak, 14,351 feet, seen from the San Luis Valley on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

The 129-mile Los Caminos Antiguos winds through frontier, tribal and other historic sites, as well as forests, wildlife refuges and nature-oriented locales in the San Luis Valley’s Sangre de Cristo Heritage Area, while the Gold Belt Tour traverses mountains, canyons and communities in Teller and Fremont Counties.

Both recently received awards from The National Scenic Byway Foundation.

Los Caminos Antiguos was recognized for its use of local oral histories to guide people through the region. The Sangre de Cristo Heritage Area, which manages the byway, designed way showing structures made of adobe, wood and metal along with interpretive signs informed by historians.

Stories of the Valley’s residents who are descended from early inhabitants played an important role too. There's also an app through which travelers can access the stories and information as they near historical sites or points of interest on the route, or from home.

A 20-year effort of collaboration and fundraising to restore an 1895 adobe schoolhouse garnered the Gold Belt Tour Scenic & Historic Byway's recognition.

After assessing what needed to be done at the Garden Park School near Canon City, the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway Association worked with multiple organizations and agencies, along with businesses, clubs and volunteers to raise the money to repair the building. Travelers on the Gold Belt Tour can choose from three separate routes that total 131 miles.

The two Colorado Byways were among eight nationwide that received 2023 awards from the National Scenic Byway Foundation.

Of the 184 routes designated as America's Byways, thirteen are in Colorado — more than any other state according to the Colorado Department of Transportation which manages the state’s program. The designation is chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. There are a total of 26 state-designated byways in Colorado.

The Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway is a state-designated byway and the Gold Belt Tour has both state and national designations.