Spanish Peaks

Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado
The Spanish Peaks have welcomed visitors and settlers to Colorado for centuries. | Photo by Bachir / flickr

Staff writer

The Spanish Peaks are a pair of volcanic mountains rising 7,000 feet over the Plains in south-central Colorado. They have been revered by Native Americans and served as guideposts for early white explorers.

The West Spanish Peak stands 13,623 feet above sea level while the East Spanish Peak reaches 12,708 feet. They are located about 20 miles southwest of Walsenburg.

The peaks serve as religious symbols for the Ute, Comanche and Apache tribes. Native Americans thought the rain gods lived in the peaks because summer thunderstorms formed near the summits and called them the “Wahatoya,” or “breasts of the earth.” The peaks also were thought by the earlier Aztecs to be a source of hidden treasure.

The first Europeans to view and explore the Spanish Peaks region traveled north from Santa Fe in 1706, a century before Zebulon Pike discovered Pikes Peak.

The peaks became a key landmark on the Santa Fe Trail because they were visible from more than 100 miles away as explorers and settlers arrived from the East. One branch of the Santa Fe Trail, known as the “Taos Trail,” passed north of the Spanish Peaks along the Huerfano River and Oak Creek and over the Sangre de Cristo Pass to the San Luis Valley and south to Taos.

Today, the Spanish Peaks Wilderness area covers 17,855 acres that include the summits of both peaks.

The peaks were recognized in 1976 as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, which described them as “one of the best known examples of exposed igneous dikes.” Dikes are formed when molten igneous material is forced into a fracture or fault before becoming solidified.

Spanish Peaks Wilderness