#8 Del Norte, Colorado
Originally a stage stop and supply town for miners drawn by the discovery of gold and silver in the San Juan Mountains, Del Norte today is a center of outdoor recreational activities, from hiking, hunting and fishing to skiing and snowmobiling.
Last year saw the grand opening of the town’s renovated Windsor Hotel, built in 1874, just two years after the town’s incorporation. A caboose from 1883 was also restored; it now resides on Grand Avenue, thanks to the local “Save the Caboose” fundraiser, which generated around $5,000 for the
project. Pretty solid efforts for a town of just 1,700.
A few traces of the Old Spanish Trail, which served as a major trade route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles between 1830 and 1848, can still be seen in town. The first phase of a master-planned trails system, developed by the Del Norte Trails Organization, was completed last June.
One of our favorite places to visit is the Rio Grande County Museum and Cultural Center. Visitors get a glimpse into the region’s American Indians, Hispanic settlers, trappers, mountain men and settlers from the East. Be sure to check out the museum’s fringed buckskins of Col. Albert Pfeiffer, Kit Carson’s comrade who secured Pagosa Springs for the Utes.
Del Norte’s Covered Wagon Days, featuring historic wagons and buggies (as well as a parade and other activities) serves as an annual reminder of the town’s roots.
Now the city is reaching for the stars to preserve more of its history. At one time Del Norte was home to one of the largest telescopes west of the Mississippi. The observatory, operated by the Presbyterian College of the Southwest, was built in 1885 on Lookout Mountain, which looms some 600 feet above the town. The Lookout Mountain Observatory Association is trying to locate the original telescope and rebuild the observatory, which fell into disrepair when the college closed in 1901.
In addition to its charm and historic sites, Del Norte serves as a gateway to the San Juan Mountains. Town officials estimate Del Norte gets as many as 10,000 visitors each year.