Exploration and Settlement around Great Sand Dunes

Historical black and white photo of Julia Herard, a young woman in dress attire riding on a horse near the dunes
In 1907, Julia Herard is dressed up for her horseback ride around the dunes to the town of Liberty. She and her friend Ruth stayed overnight in the Liberty Hotel and bought supplies to bring back to the Herard family's remote homestead in Medano Canyon above the dunes.

NPS Archives

After Indigenous peoples had lived in the San Luis Valley for many thousands of years, explorers and settlers primarily of European descent began to arrive in the late 16th century. Clashes often arose not only between Indigenous people and the new arrivals, but also between the different cultural groups who had traveled here.

On the pages linked below are some of the significant individuals and groups who came to this valley in recent centuries. Their stories are sometimes tragic, yet often inspiring as they overcame not only a harsh climate and remote location, but also mistreatment or conflict.

Early Spanish Exploration

Zebulon Pike

Mountain Men

Old Spanish Trail

John Fremont Expeditions

John Gunnison Expedition

Fort Massachusetts and Fort Garland

Medano-Zapata Ranch

Baca Ranch

Herard Homestead

Mosca Pass and Medano Pass Roads

Trujillo Homesteads

Liberty, Duncan, and Denton Spring

Soda City

Japanese Settlement

Great Sand Dunes Gold Rush

Wellington Homestead

The Ladies' P.E.O

National Monument and National Park Status

Women in the National Park Service Era


Last updated: May 23, 2024

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11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146


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