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San Luis Valley

San Luis Valley - chapels

Chapels of the San Luis Valley

For many years, I have been taking trips to the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. This area feels very different from either the Front Range or the Western Slope and is marked by tiny settlements and the vase expanse of the wide valley. Of particular interest to me are the simple chapels and churches, dotted across the landscape, some lovingly cared for, others abandoned.

the shining castle

I went down to the San Luis Valley to photograph some of the small village chapels that dot that flat, dusty landscape.  So as I was driving around, I was keeping a keen eye out for any structures, like a steeple, that might pop up out of the surrounding buildings or clusters of wind-ravaged trees. As I approached Antonito, one of the larger towns on the west side of the Valley, a shining, luminous vision sparkled in the morning sunlight above the two-story town.  Upon closer inspection I found what I later learned was Cano's Castle.

Las Mesitas, southern Colorado, photos by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

Las Mesitas 04a

Las Mesitas 04a

These are images from a roofless church in Las Mesitas, in southern Colorado on the western edge of the San Luis Valley.  I have been going there over a few years now and I am hopelessly fascinated by the stark simplicity of the place and its robust, stoic presence.

Las Mesitas 03a

Las Mesitas 03a

Las Mesitas 01a

Las Mesitas 01a

Las Mesitas 08a

Las Mesitas 08a

Las Mesitas 07a

Las Mesitas 07a

Las Mesitas 05a

Las Mesitas 05a

Las Mesitas 02a

Las Mesitas 02a

Photos by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

southwestern skies

The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, - and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

San Luis Valley - chapels

San Luis chapel 03

San Luis chapel 03

I have finally gotten around to processing some more film from a very rewarding trip to the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado last year.

San Luis chapel 04

San Luis chapel 04

San Luis chapel 02

San Luis chapel 02

San Luis chapel 01

San Luis chapel 01

I will certainly be going back there again this year, later in the Spring when the heavy snows have past but before the major snowmelt swells all the local rivers and streams.  I hope to have much more interesting historical and cultural info on the various locales  than in the past.

Colorado vernacular - adobe

barn

barn

A number of months ago a wrote a series of posts about Colorado's vernacular architecture.  I attempted to categorize the vernacular buildings by the dominant material - log, stone or frame.  Sadly missing from that collection was the base building material used by the Spanish colonial settlers in southern Colorado - adobe.

As most folks know, adobe is a sun-dried, hand-formed brick made of local sand, clay, water and some binding fiber like straw.  Adobe construction has been used in many cultures and over thousands of years and is particularly well-suited to hot, dry climates because of its dense thermal mass.

house 01

house 01

store

store

In southern Colorado, along the east and west sides of the San Luis Valley, there are numerous examples of very old adobe structures, many of which have been slowly replaced with more conventional concrete block construction.  In fact, when white-washed, it is very difficult to tell at a glance if the underlying structure is adobe or concrete unit masonry.  The adobe construction is generally limited to single story rectangular buildings that could be simply spanned by vigas or lumber framed roofs.

P1070815

P1070815

When left unadorned, the adobe bricks weather, their edges flaking off, creating a soft, pillowing profile that adds to their impression of mass and weight.  As a testament to their enduring nature, you can find many structures long devoid of their wood roofs and doors, with the adobe still standing.  The precious little dressed lumber that was used is placed to make uniform and contained window and door frames, further accentuating the adobe's soft forms.

window detail

window detail

I don't know where the line is struck in southern Colorado, but some place slightly north of Alamosa I would guess the use of adobe was found too incompatible with the increased snow and rain fall.  These adobe structures are certainly part of the Colorado vernacular environment and like the simple log and stone structures of the mountains, they are equally geographically limited.

house 02

house 02