sculpture

The Old Spanish Trail Landform Sculpture, located between Monte Vista and Del Norte, Colorado (along US 160), holds special significance to the Old Spanish Trail within the San Luis Valley. The sculpture stands near a portion of the West Fork Trail of the North Branch of the trail. As long-used trails evolved into roads, this
west-side route became known as the “Old Conejos Road.” Prior to the formation of Rio Grande County in 1874, pioneering settlers used this road because all legal records related to property within the terrain lying south of the Rio Grande, including mining claims, brands, personal and real property ownership, had to be filed at the courthouse in Conejos, a 100-mile round trip. Deep wagon ruts nearby indicate this use.

The Old Spanish Trail Landform Sculpture was conceived as a way to mark an historic trail and highlight the cultures of the San Luis Valley. Sculptor Mettje Swift, of Del Norte, began by creating a proposal and identifying the participants. During the process of the work, the project received funding from the Rio Grande County Tourism Board, the US Forest Service, and the Colorado Council on the Arts.

Mettje salvaged the large stone scraps from the Old Stone Quarry nearby and hired the Gates family to move the stones to the sculpture site. Work began in 1999, and was to take three years. Working during the summer in the cool of the early morning, Mettje was joined by Ross Martin, a young sculptor from La Garita. The theme of the sculpture was inspired by a small santo called La Conquistadora, which came north from Santa Fe in 1859, with the 14 New Mexico families who set out following the Old Spanish Trail to a “beautiful place far north along the Rio del Norte” (Rio Grande). The first settlement, just east of Del Norte, was called La Loma de San Jose. The front sculpture is a wheel, representing both time and travel of those families and others who came after. Other themes include local rock art and a map.