This city tucked in the San Luis Valley is only home to about 4,400 people … but in March, it’s also home to thousands more cranes, ducks and geese soaring against the backdrop of the Sangre De Cristo mountains.

Monte Vista is located some 215 miles away from Denver by way of US 285, and is just northwest of Alamosa and about an hour away from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The city’s beginnings are almost as old as Colorado itself.

Join us on the 9NEWS Instagram for a tour of Monte Vista starting Friday at 11 a.m.!

A town with two names (luckily only one stuck)

The Monte Vista Historical Society says the city’s beginnings can be traced back to 1881, when – like many cities in Colorado – it can thank the railroad industry for its existence.

The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad placed a railroad siding at the site near what’s now Fullenwider Park. It was called Lariat then.

This led the first pioneers to come to the town – including Theodore C. Henry, a “land promoter” who was looking for new canal ventures (a thing in the 1800s).

More than twenty horse-drawn wagons loaded with potatoes are parked on a dirt street in Monte Vista (Rio Grande County), Colorado.
History Colorado, Denver and Rio Grande collection

In the process, he took out a ton of debt and went ahead and named his new town after himself.

Unfortunately though, Henry took out more debt that he could actually repay and left the town of Henry … and his debts.

The Travelers’ Insurance Co. from Hartford, Connecticut ended up taking over Henry’s interests in 1995 and, in addition to investing in a bunch of new buildings, also decided to rename the city since it was currently named after a dude who literally skipped town.

So, when it was incorporated on July 3, 1886, the town became Monte Vista – a name stemming from the gorgeous mountain vistas that surrounded it.

Men stand near Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company locomotive 1136 and a tanker car at Sugar Junction (Rio Grande County) Colorado. San Luis Central diesel locomotive #71 is in the distance. A station wagon is near the tracks.
Richardson, Robert W.

Monte Vista today is known for its old-fashioned downtown (which has free parking – something increasingly becoming an anomaly) and as the farming hub that grows the special barley that you can find in Coors (aka Colorado Kool-Aid).

This town is also near the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway, which meanders through the San Luis Valley and some of Colorado’s oldest communities.

And of course, there’s the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge … but we’ll get to that later.

Locally-owned gems and attractions for families

The town's main thoroughfare to drink, dine and shop is along 1st Avenue.

There a visitor can find plenty of big-box chains (think Pizza Hut, Sonic Drive-In, Subway), as well as locally-owned gems.

One example is Don Tomas Bakery and Breakfast (829 1st Ave.), a favorite for the morning meal. Across the street, Nino's Mexican Family Restaurant (118 Adams St.) offers all the classics, sandwiches and a small space for groups/meetings.

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Looking west in downtown Monte Vista.
Courtesy Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce

Also nearby, Quincy's Steak & Spirits (138 Adams St.) is a romantic spot serving up all the meat-lovers' favorites.

The area is also perfect for shopping local at places like Rainbow's End Thrift Store (154 Adams St.), Shades, Quilts & Etc. (129 Adams St.) and Dulcinea Boutique (117 Adams St.).

Monte Vista is great for families, too. It has several parks, such as Fullenwider Park, a long green stretch with a walking/running trail cutting through it, as well as a skate park. While visiting, stop at Sugar Shack (1035 Park Ave.) for some ice cream, or head across the street to Java Dave's (1042 Park Ave.) to support a local coffee shop.

A migration you have to see to believe

The annual spring migration of the greater sandhill cranes in southern Colorado is a thing you’ve got to see to believe – and one of the best places to take in this bucket list site is in Monte Vista.

The San Luis Valley Crane Festival is slated for March 9 to 11 – when about 25,000 birds stop by Colorado on their way to states like Wyoming, Idaho and Montana for their summer nesting season.

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Of course, the birds will be in Colorado for more than just this weekend, so if you can’t make it down to the San Luis Valley on short notice, you aren’t totally out of luck.

The birds are most active at dawn and dusk, and during the festival, staff members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will lead tours.

Some of those tours are already booked up, but that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck – they will allow people to be on standby in case there are cancellations.

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You can find more information about the schedule and how the crane festival works here:

Check out the photo gallery below for a look at the crane migration in previous years:

So you want to pack up and move to Monte Vista?

Homes currently on the market in Monte Vista are priced low relative to Denver — anywhere from $52,000 to more than $400,000. The median rent stands at $750 per month, according to real estate website