Conejos County, Colorado: History, Culture, and Geography


Conejos County, established in 1861 in the southern part of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, is the state’s 15th oldest county. With just over 8,000 residents, this rural county is rich in history, diverse geography, and vibrant communities.


  • Conejos County is home to the oldest parish church in Colorado, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish in Conejos.
  • The county's diverse landscape includes the San Juan Mountains, the Rio Grande National Forest, the Rio Grande river, and vast agricultural land.
  • Manassa, the largest town in Conejos County, hosts the annual Pioneer Days celebration each July.

Geography and Natural Features

Conejos County spans 1,291 square miles in the southern San Luis Valley. The western part of the county is dominated by the rugged San Juan Mountains, while the eastern portion is characterized by the fertile plains along the Rio Grande. The county is also traversed by the Conejos, Alamosa, and San Antonio Rivers, as well as La Jara Creek.

The Conejos River is popular for hiking and camping and a hidden gem for fishing–anglers and fly-fishers seek out spots throughout the year.

Historical Significance

Originally named Guadalupe County, Conejos County was renamed just one week after its creation in 1861. The county’s boundaries have evolved over time, with portions being broken away to form parts of Hinsdale, La Plata, and Rio Grande Counties in 1874.

Notable historical sites in Conejos County include:

  • Pikes Stockade: The site where Zebulon Pike raised the American flag in 1807 over what was then Spanish Territory.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish: The oldest parish church in Colorado, located in Conejos.
  • Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad: This historic narrow-gauge railroad runs through the county. The route climbs to 10,015 feet as it passes Cumbres Pass, the highest pass reached by rail in the country.

Municipalities and Population

Conejos County has five municipalities: Manassa, La Jara, Antonito, Sanford, and Romeo. Manassa, with a population of just over 1,000 people, is the largest town in the county. The county’s population is culturally diverse, with a significant Hispanic and Mormon pioneer heritage.

Agriculture and related industries are the primary economic drivers in Conejos County.

Cultural and Recreational Activities

Manassa hosts the annual Pioneer Days celebration each July, which honors the town’s Mormon pioneer heritage. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers scenic rides through the San Juan Mountains, attracting tourists to the area.

The Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa pays tribute to the famous boxer known as the “Manassa Mauler”.

Infrastructure and Services

Conejos County is served by a state and county roads network, with U.S. Highway 285 being the main transportation artery. The county has several educational institutions, including Conejos County School District RE-1J and Adams State University in nearby Alamosa.

The Conejos County Department of Social Services provides various assistance programs and services to residents in need.

Current Events and Community News

In April 2024, plea agreements were reached in a high-profile murder case involving the deaths of five individuals and the burning of their bodies in Conejos County in 2020.

The Conejos County Board of Commissioners is currently soliciting individuals to serve on the Morgan Drain District’s board of directors.

Agriculture and Water Resources

Agriculture is the lifeblood of Conejos County, with irrigation and water management playing a crucial role in the region’s economy and lifestyle. The county’s numerous rivers and irrigation ditches bring water to the fields, supporting the production of crops such as potatoes, barley, and alfalfa.

Conservation efforts and environmental concerns are also important issues in Conejos County, as the community works to balance agricultural needs with the preservation of natural resources.


What is the population of Conejos County, Colorado?

As of the latest census data, Conejos County has a resident population of just over 8,000 people.

What is the largest town in Conejos County?

Manassa, with just over 1,000 residents, is the largest town in Conejos County.

What are some notable historical sites in Conejos County?

Notable historical sites include Pikes Stockade, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish (the oldest parish church in Colorado), and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

What is the main economic driver in Conejos County?

Agriculture and related industries are the primary economic drivers in Conejos County.

What cultural events take place in Conejos County?

Manassa hosts the annual Pioneer Days celebration each July, which honors the southern Colorado town’s Mormon pioneer heritage.


About the author

Ransom Patterson

My expertise in Colorado life extends beyond just residing here; it’s also about living actively within the community. I spend my time cycling through Denver’s trails, experimenting with local cuisines, and immersing myself in the local music scene. These activities give me a unique perspective on the cultural and outdoor offerings of Colorado. This hands-on approach allows me to provide insider tips and personal recommendations that resonate with both locals and visitors alike.