La Garita, San Luis Valley

J.S. and S.W. Aber

In May 2012 we continued our goal to visit and conduct kite aerial photography in all parts of the San Luis Valley. We have previously conducted KAP at several sites--see San Luis Valley. The valley is a high-altitude desert, roughly the size of Connecticut, completely surrounded by mountains with peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. With an elevation just over 7800 feet, La Garita is one of the higher spots on the northwestern margin of valley. La Garita was established by Spanish settlers in 1858, where Carnero Creek flows from the mountains into the valley.

San Juan Baptiste Church (La Capilla de San Juan Bautista) and the Carnero Creek Cemetery are located just west of the present village of La Garita beside Wilson Arroyo. Land for the church was donated in the 1870s, but the original building burned down in 1924. The present church was constructed in 1926; it is still in use and is currently undergoing renovation. The church was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1980. It has an unusual four-armed cross on the steeple.

Also present at this site is a preserved fragment of original wall from a rectory built in 1879 to serve Jesuit Priests of the Society of Jesus; later it was converted to a convent for the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross. A large circular feature is under construction between the church, rectory wall, and cemetery. Dirt work and drainage are completed along with concrete sidewalks. Presumably this will be some type of garden or memorial.

Low-height overview of San Juan Baptiste Church
with the San Juan Mountains in the background.

High-altitude kite aerial photography is challenging because the thin air does not provide much lift. We utilized a large rokkaku without tail (to minimize drag) and our lightest Canon Elph (SD600) camera rig. A good breeze coming upslope from the valley center was just sufficient to lift the kite and camera rig. We set up in a parking area next to the cemetery, upwind from the church.

Kite aerial photographs
Close-up shots of San Juan Baptiste Church. Left: the church and circular structure. Right: preserved rectory wall to right. The green meadow behind is watered by Carnero Creek. Kite shadow is visible in lower right portion.
Carnero Creek Cemetery. Left: overview of the cemetery showing clear division between the potter's field (right side) and more-elaborate graves (left side). Kite flyers in upper right corner. Right: closer view of the cemetery with potter's field in foreground.
Left: looking behind the church toward the San Juan Mountains. Small sand dunes cover the surface to left, and Carnero Creek emerges from the mountains to right. Right: La Garita with center-pivot irrigated fields in the background. The meandering line of trees follows Wilson Arroyo, and a faint silhouette of Sierra Blanca appears in the left distance.

Ground pictures
San Juan Baptiste Church. Left: renovated church walls and roof and new white fence. Right: close-up shot of unique four-armed cross on steeple.
Left: portion of the concrete walkway and contoured mounds under construction in front of the church. Right: preserved portion of the rectory and convent wall with four-armed cross.
Carnero Creek Cemetery. Left: decorated for Memorial Day. Right: potter's field section. Most markers are simple stones or wooden crosses without names.

Related sites

Text and images © J.S. and S.W. Aber

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Last update: May 2012.