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The San Luis Valley is an extensive alpine valley in the United States of Colorado and New Mexico covering approximately 8000 square miles and sitting at an average elevation of 7500 feet above sea level The valley sits atop the Rio Grande Rift and is drained to the south by the Rio Grande River which rises in the San Juan Mountains to the west of the valley and flows south into New Mexico The San Luis Valley is generally considered to comprise six Colorado counties Saguache Alamosa Rio Grande Conejos Costilla and Mineral The principal towns are Alamosa Monte Vista Del Norte South Fork Creede Saguache Center Fort Garland San Luis Antonito La Jara Capulin Manassa Sanford Crestone Villa Grove Hooper Mosca San Acacio and a number of smaller locations The area was administered as part of the Spanish later Mexican province of Nuevo Mexico until the area was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the MexicanAmerican war in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Prior to 1868 the Capote band of Ute Indians lived in the valley The Utes made a treaty of peace with the United States in 1849 shortly after the Mexican War Shortly thereafter settlers from New Mexico established several small settlements in what is now Colorado and in 1868 the Utes were removed to a reservation in western Colorado They continued to play a role in Saguache in the northwestern corner of the valley from the Los Pinos Agency to the west of Saguache Extensive settlement began in the Valley again primarily by Hispanic farmers and ranchers from New Mexico in the 1850s after the construction of Fort Massachusetts by the US Army for protection against the Utes who previously barred settlers The history of the postwar US military presence in the Valley is preserved at Fort Garland and other sites in the Valley which became part of the Territory of Colorado in 1861 Today the Valley has the largest native Hispanic population in Colorado many families are directly descended from the original New Mexican settlers HISTORY OF THE SAN LUIS VALLEY