I lovingly call the town I’m from, Alamosa, the “bustling metropolitan area” of the San Luis Valley. Alamosa’s population is 7,000 and it’s the only town with a Walmart for 120 miles. The whole San Luis Valley is geographically almost twice the size of Connecticut, but with only 46,000 people, it is very sparsely populated. A significant percentage of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
The San Luis Valley has always been an outlier. When I was growing up there, the high school dropout rate was really high. And while its economy is doing better now, the poverty rate in the San Luis Valley is still much above the Colorado average.
The San Luis Valley also has excellent art and great food and amazing community. Everybody—even people who aren’t particularly politically inclined or people who are politically conservative—talks about how the fire season is getting longer, how the drought is impacting our water supply, how hot the summers are becoming, how severe the winter storms can be, and so on. When the mountains around us are on fire or when buried deep in snow, trucks can’t bring supplies, and those Walmart shelves empty out. The thing about being that isolated is that changes in the environment can prevent access to basic resources.
The valley also has more of a culture of political action than other places. I was surprised when I moved away, first to go to school in Fort Collins and then to live in the Denver metro area, that most people aren’t very politically engaged.
The San Luis Valley is more democratic than you would expect. And that’s not because it’s some hotbed for woke young leftists. It’s because people who have been farming here, sometimes for over eight generations back, have the generational knowledge to see how drastically our climate is changing, and that things have to change for them to survive. They are afraid of running out of water, and they believe in climate change. And they’re thinking about how to conserve our resources in ways that allow us to continue this lifestyle. In the San Luis Valley, concern for the environment is not new, it’s old.