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Poncha Springs, originally Poncho Springs, is the small town just west of Salida, right on Highway 285. South from town, the highway crosses from the Arkansas River drainage into the San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande basin. Historically, Spain claimed the entire Rio Grande drainage right to the top of the pass. France claimed the land to the north. After much legal work, France sold their claim to America in 1803 as the Louisiana Purchase.
Captain Zebulon Pike explored the Arkansas basin in 1806/7. He and his men failed to find game further north and were nearing starvation when they came across a small herd of buffalo on Christmas Day. They feasted very close to modern day Poncha Springs.
Traditionally, Utes and Apaches used the valley as part of their hunting territory. They presumably used the hot springs for centuries.
The first cabin in Poncha was built in 1866 by a pair of prospectors. The town exploded in anticipation of the prospective rail yard. But then, the D&RG railroad chose Salida instead. Poncha remained a tiny town supported by farming and tourism. In 1956, even the school shut down.
The water from Poncha’s hot springs is piped five miles to the Salida Aquatic Center.