Photo by Kelly B.
Huerfano County is named for Huerfano Butte, which lies along I-25 in the Northern part of the County. The ‘Huerfano’ was a landmark for early explorers long before anyone found Pikes Peak. The word huerfano is Spanish for ‘orphan’.
The more dominant feature of Huerfano County is the Spanish Peaks, or “Huajatolla” which is pronounced Wa-ha-toy-a, but today the mountains are referred to as the East Peak and the West Peak. The double mountain is geographically unique in America because it is independent of a larger mountain range. The West Peak is particularly renowned because of the radial dikes that extend from the mountain.
Huerfano County has been a crossroads in the American west long before the Europeans arrived. Taos Pueblo, in northern New Mexico, has been a major Native American trading center for over 1,000 years. The Utes, Navajos, Jicarilla Apaches, and Comanches came and went through Huerfano County.
The very first Europeans to come to Huerfano County were most likely Spanish but there were also a lot of French trappers traveling through. Near where Oak Creek separates from the Huerfano River a settlement called Badito was founded.
The Zebulon Pike Expedition in 1806-07 is recognized as the first Americans to officially enter Huerfano County but by that time over 1400 Europeans are recorded to have passed through Badito as they journeyed along the Taos (or Trapper's) Trail.
In the beginning of the Colorado Territory days, Huerfano County was much larger, stretching from the Arkansas River south to New Mexico and from the Kansas border to the mountains, but over time it was cut up and portions of the original county became entire new counties.
In the earliest days of American control, Badito was still the main center of business and was the official county seat for a couple of years, before Walsenburg became more established and the county offices were moved.
Today Huerfano County is comprised of four amazing communities, each with their own charm and culture: Walsenburg, La Veta, Cuchara, and Gardner.