The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached Chama by 1880 and the newly created town of Durango by 1881.
The railroad was the key that unlocked the San Juan Country treasure chest of natural resources. We’ll get into the story of the development of mines, timber, agriculture, and tourist resources pretty quickly. First, it will be interesting to take a look at the stage coach business connecting Chama, Pagosa Springs, and Animas City, the precursor of Durango.
As the D. & R. G. Railroad moved down the western side of the Southern San Juan Mountains, called the Conejos Range in those days, freight and passengers bound for San Juan Country rode the train to wherever it ended at that particular time.
When the railroad neared Chama, two stage coach lines ran from the railroad terminus to Animas City. At first for a little less than a year, those daily stagecoaches clattered from Chama to Pagosa Springs and from there to Pine River and finally to Animas City.
I can only guess at the route from Chama to Pagosa Springs. My best guess is that the coaches left Chama by following the West Fork of the Chama River until they reached the Navajo River several miles upstream from today’s Chromo. The coaches then followed the Navajo River down to Price (the original name for Chromo), then turned right crossing the Little Navajo River, Confar Hill, Coyote Park, the Blanco River, and finally into Pagosa Springs.
A good argument can be made that the road from Chromo to the Blanco might have been a couple of miles or so east of today’s U.S. 160. It might have crossed the saddle on today’s road to Buckles Lake just a little down from Spring Creek Lakes and hit the Blanco River about where Blue Mountain road is today.
Oldtimers talked about the remains of a stage coach buried in dense growth along the second route. Red Sisson, the husband of Ruby Sisson for whom the Pagosa Springs library is named, was a pioneer rancher in the Upper Blanco. Sisson is said to have the best handle on where to find the remains of the old coach. Most people who talked about the hidden coach concluded that robbers had captured the coach, and then, hidden it in an aspen grove.
In any case, the stage coaches reached Pagosa Springs, then headed west. The route out of town followed Piedra Street past the old cemetery on the west side of town and about two blocks south of present Put Hill. About a mile west of the city limits, the road passed through a deep cut, then finally joined the route of today’s U.S. 160 until reaching the community of Bayles. More next week on the old stage route.