Saguache (Ute, blue earth) County (1867), with its sagebrush flats and montane borders, spans the northern end of the San Luis Valley. On the east it climbs to the crest of the 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo range; on the west it rises into the Cochetopa Hills and the 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains. Parts of the Rio Grande, Gunnison, and San Isabel national forests; the Great Sand Dunes National Monument; and the La Garita Wilderness Area occupy more than 60 percent of the county.
Gold mining first attracted U.S. citizens to Kerber Creek in 1866, giving birth to Bonanza and several other towns. These gold camps soon fizzled, and the county shifted to lumbering. Over half of its twentieth-century industrial plants have been sawmills and planing mills. Saguache is also an agricultural county noted for lettuce, potatoes, barley, hay, oats, and live-stock. Tourism and hunting are the current bright spots in an economy which, in recent decades, has been as flat as much of the terrain. Of fifty-eight post office towns which flowered with mining, lumbering, and agricultural booms, only seven remain.
Saguache, the county seat, holds the greatest architectural interest, along with Crestone, an old mining town that has been reborn as a religious center with exotic monasteries and places of worship. As Saguache County has minimal building regulations, it has been a haven for alternative housing types, ranging from stucco-clad straw bale houses at Crestone to solar adobe buildings in some rural areas. The county's modest vernacular architecture is enhanced by the high desert landscape framed by towering snowcapped mountains.
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