Pagosa’s Past – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Thu, 26 Mar 2020 17:08:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Pagosa’s Past: Pagosa Country pioneers http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-pagosa-country-pioneers-2/ Wed, 01 Apr 2020 11:00:14 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=199972

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown in this photo are two buildings located on Lewis Street. On the left is the first Archuleta County school building and on the right is the first Catholic Church. The buildings are on the north side of Lewis Street between 3rd and 4th streets.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
One of the most interesting Pagosa Country pioneer family histories describes how a persevering woman overcame what, to many, would have been unsurmountable obstacles to raise her young family to become leaders in their new- found home.
Our story begins when Harry C. Macht was born in New York City July 11, 1877. He accompanied his parents to Colorado Territory when he was 6 years old. On Thanksgiving Day, 1899, he married Lena Adams. They had three children, son Ray, daughter Reva who died in infancy, and his brothers, Will, Jule and Joe. Harry was active in community affairs as he ranched until his passing in May of 1942.
Lena K. Adams, his wife, was born in Newton, Kans., on Oct. 4, 1877. At an early age, she moved to Durango, Colo., where she lived until marrying Harry. She died Dec. 11, 1951.
Joe J. Macht was born in New York City in 1871. At the age of 7, he moved to Del Norte, Colo., and in 1883 he arrived in Pagosa Springs with his widowed mother, three brothers and one sister. He moved to Glendale, Ariz., in 1929 and to Aztec, N.M., in 1942. He married Hazel Adams in 1915 and the couple had two children before he passed away in July of 1947.
Jule Macht was born Dec. 1, 1878, in New York City and passed away June 14,1963. He was the youngest son of Carl and Victoria Macht, the brother of Joe J., Harry, and Will, and sister Mrs. Harry Hampton. The family moved to Del Norte when he was a boy. The father, Carl, passed away in Del Norte and the mother, Victoria, moved the family to Pagosa Springs in 1883.
The family first lived in one of the abandoned Fort Lewis buildings remaining on Pagosa Street in town before moving to a ranch on Turkey Creek Road. He married Jennie Belle Flaugh Nov. 7, 1901. Jule was always active in community affairs. He also built a brick house in town which remains on the corner of 3rd and Pagosa streets, formerly the site of the first Baptist Church in Pagosa Springs. His daughter was Mrs. Fern Hott.
William (Will) Macht was born Jan. 2, 1870, in New York City to Carl and Victoria Macht. Will married Myrtle Adams in 1894. In 1904, they moved to San Diego, but returned a short time later to Pagosa Springs, where they homesteaded a ranch just north of the cemetery. He passed away Dec. 8, 1963.
Next week we’ll take a closer look at how the widowed mother and her sons fared on the wild Pagosa frontier.

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Pagosa’s Past: Pagosa Country pioneers http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-pagosa-country-pioneers/ Wed, 25 Mar 2020 11:00:50 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=199640

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Pioneer Eudolphus M. Taylor, shown with his team in this photo, lived near the Jule Macht house in town. He likely had a carriage house for the team shown in this photo.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Today’s column focuses on the Macht family, early day Pagosa pioneers. I had the privilege some years ago of spending considerable time talking with Ray Macht about Pagosa history and his family history.
A drive through town a few weeks ago and a follow-up telephone call is what triggered this column. I started with a question: Have you ever driven past something year after year without really looking at it? OK, so I’m the only one to be so careless.
As it happened, I was driving eastward down Lewis Street through its intersection with 3rd Street, the entry to Mesa Heights. I enjoy that drive almost daily because it isn’t unusual to see wild turkeys and the town mule deer herd in that vicinity. As I eased through the intersection, a phenomenon from the right caught my eye. What is that, I wondered? Standing there on the east side of 3rd Street between Pagosa and Lewis streets were two two-story brown frame buildings.
My mind began to churn. On the south end of that same block next to the two buildings is a red brick building. The idea fermenting in my mind was, somewhere, sometime, that red brick building had been built by pioneer Jule Macht. I knew Jule had run a cattle ranch up in the headwaters of the Little Blanco River. It was common during pioneer days for ranch homesteaders to maintain a home in town. That way they could go to the store, go to church and the kids go to school without fighting the snow between the ranch and town. It seemed logical to assume that the two buildings on 3rd Street next to the red brick house had been built by Jule Macht. He would likely have needed a building in which to park carriages and carts and a place to keep a horse or two.
And, so, last week, I placed a phone call to John and Jean Taylor, who, along with other Pagosaites, were enjoying Arizona sunshine while the rest of us shovel snow.
Jean Taylor is a descendant of the Macht family. She answered my questions by confirming the guess that those buildings on 3rd Street had been built by Jule. She said he owned almost half of that city block. I also referred to a story on the Macht family I had written in The SUN a few years ago based on information from Ray. The family history as Pagosa pioneers is worth repeating, so watch for it in next week’s column.

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Pagosa’s Past: Working at the lumber mill http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-working-at-the-lumber-mill/ Sun, 15 Mar 2020 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=199227

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Back in the early 1900s, a lumber mill and yards for drying the lumber covered a good deal of the land now serving to house school buildings and athletic fields. In those days, south Pagosa was almost a town unto itself separate from Pagosa Springs. This photo shows the “Company Store.”

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Last week’s column about my first car tickled some forgotten memory lobes and drifted across things that took place but had been long forgotten.
I reminisced about my first car, the black, four-door 1936 Ford sedan, all go and no stop. Within a few months, the all go went, traded in on a higher priority 1940 Chevrolet coupe, royal blue and the car of choice among my generation, boy or girl, or boy and girl.
Upon graduating from high school, I felt fortunate in securing a job pulling green chain at Spaulding’s lumber mill out near Murphy, Ore. As a boy, I had obtained favor from the Spauldings by mowing their lawn for 50 cents an hour. That mill had another connection with our family fortunes. That was the same green chain where my step-father ripped apart his lower abdomen so bad he had to wear a truss to keep his insides inside.
Now I know Pagosa Springs was a logging, lumber mill town throughout most of its history. Making lumber was still going on when I moved here some 50 years ago. So I know there are some Paul Bunyans here, I mean lumberjacks, who know what pulling green chain was all about. After a good-sized tree had been reduced to lumber of various sizes suitable for building houses and such, the freshly cut lumber moves down a conveyor chain, where it is tallied, graded and sorted in stacks according to size and grade. Pulling green chain was the job of pulling that lumber off of the moving chain and stacking it in neat piles so it can be dried in the yard surrounding the mill and eventually sold. I’ve been told that most of the lumber used to develop the metropolitan areas stretching along the east side of the mountains running north-south through Colorado and New Mexico was cut from Pagosa Country.
And, so, my first job out of high school was pulling green chain, starting in Murphy, and then about 80 miles west in Crescent City, Calif., at the northern extremity of the coastal redwoods. I worked in two redwood mills and I can tell you a wet, freshly cut redwood plank 3 inch by 12 inch by 18 feet long weighs around 300 pounds. But, in truth, I liked to show off my 148 pounds of grit, especially when the mill owners from back east came to ooh and aah.
I had had a couple of years of college before working in the redwood mills, so it was easy for me to get promoted to chain boss. On one shift, the big boss showed up with a couple of new hands. These guys were well over 6 feet tall and looked pretty stout. The boss introduced them and had me show them how to pull chain. We happened to be sorting 300-pound boards at the time. I hitched up my leather apron, latched onto the next board coming down the chain and deftly planted it on the blocks.
“Wanna try it, bub?” I asked, a grin on my face.” I’d learned not to use the King’s English when talkin’ to mill hands.
“Nothin’ to it,” one of the new hands replied. The look in his eyes told me he figured if I could do it, it would be a lead-pipe cinch for him.
Pretty quick like, I was pulling the lumber off of the new hand and helping him back to his feet. The two new hands looked at each other, took off their gloves and without a word or a look at me, headed out the gate for home.
In truth, I wasn’t stronger, but, I knew a lot more about leverage. And I used that leverage to enjoy my Chevrolet coupe until Korea called and Uncle Sam gave me a new job.

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Pagosa’s Past: Remember your first car? http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-remember-your-first-car/ Sun, 08 Mar 2020 11:00:36 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=198613

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Most folks living in these parts drive through Halfway Cañon without realizing that, in pioneer times, this was a stage stop halfway between Lumberton, N.M., and Pagosa Springs. Here you could get a home-cooked meal, a night’s rest and a change of horses, if you could afford it.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Do you remember your first car? I’m doing a bit of reminiscing and you need to know I’ll be age 86 on March 14. That gives me a lot of time to ponder the past.
This story starts in 1950-1951, when I was a junior in Grants Pass High School. Grants Pass is in southern Oregon not so far from the Oregon Caves. The schools we competed against knew us as the Cavemen. Our nearest rival was Medford, the Black Tornado. But, that is another story.
By the time they were 16, old enough to get a driver’s license, most of the boys in my class had a car courtesy of their dad’s pocket book. The car of choice was a coupe, a one-seater. These were vintage 1938 through 1948 coupes, the newer the more expensive and the more girls lined up smiling and hoping for a ride, also known as “a spin.”
I had the driver’s license and occasional permission to drive the family car. I also had a job working at the local weekly newspaper on weekends and at a nearby Guernsey dairy morning and night excepting Sunday nights. This is off of the subject, but, not counting chores at home, I’ve worked since I was in the fourth grade, starting at 50 cents an hour and not moving up the pay scale very fast.
Back to the original story. I jacked up my courage and asked my step-dad; he was an ex-Marine from the last Horse Marine Cavalry unit that fought in China. “Dad, I’d like to buy a car?”
“Did you look at the tires,” he asked.
I expected that question and was ready. My high school chemistry teacher had purchased a newer car and wanted to sell his 1936 black Ford four-door sedan. He told me $50 would do the job.
“I did, Dad, and they’re almost new,” I assured him. “It’s a good, clean car.”
I explained my prospects to dad and told him I’d like to have him look at it with me.
“Go ahead. I’ll sign any papers you need signed,” he replied as a fork full of mashed potatoes took priority over any remaining conversation as far as he was concerned.
As you must know, they don’t make cars like that anymore. In the first place, it had the now legendary flat head V-8 engine. Boy, would it go and get there in a hurry. But, there was a second place. You never knew if the brakes would work. The brake pedal often rested against the floor board.
Instead of hydraulic brakes, it had cable brakes connected to each wheel. Over time, the cables stretched and had to be tightened. Now for the critical third place. Rats! The girls didn’t think that old sedan or its driver were sexy.
And so, within six months, I bought a 1940 navy blue Chevy coupe. Now I was in the driver’s seat and girls were tickled plumb pink to go with me to one of the newly invented drive-in restaurants as long as I could pay for a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. The only thing better was a drive-in movie.

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Pagosa’s Past: Snow, snow and more snow http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-snow-snow-and-more-snow-2/ Tue, 03 Mar 2020 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=198199

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Chapson family lived near the west end of Wolf Creek Pass during the early 1900s. The Chapson boys trapped fur bearers and sold the pelts. There might be a grizzly bear in this photo of a Chapson pelt collection.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the winter I remember for the most snow fall since I moved here a little over 50 years ago. I said it was during the late 1970s, maybe 1978, but I wasn’t sure.
Lo and behold! I got a message this week from an old friend, Franklin Anderson, who reads my column. He had talked with a neighbor whose family, the Englers, have lived in the Allison area since the Utes turned loose of that particular piece of real estate circa 1902. According to Anderson, the year of the great snow fall was 1978. According to the Engler friend, more snow fell in 1978 than any year since about 1902.
Thanks for the info, Cmdr. Franklin. For my readers who don’t know, Franklin’s dad, Lloyd, was the last government trapper who lived in this area. Lloyd hunted and trapped in the Southern San Juans when they were still wild; we’re talking fang-gnashin’-grizzlies wild. Truthfully, a book could be written about Lloyd, and also about Franklin. Lloyd was featured in a book about the last grizzly, one that he trapped in the upper Weminuche Valley. Franklin’s life is also worth a book. He was the first commander of the Navy Seals.
About government trappers. Not so many years ago, maybe into the 1940s, grizzly bears and wolves, you know, “The better to bite you with my dear” kind of predators who made a living chomping on the local herbivores including the thousands of domestic sheep and cattle. The ranchers blamed the government for the meat-eater meals snatched from their herds and managed to collect money for their losses. It didn’t take the government long to figure out they could save money and placate the ranchers by hiring a hunter/trapper. This governmental policy is one of the reasons we no longer have grizzlies and wolves roaming our wilderness areas.
You also may have noticed that when some folks attempt to reintroduce bears and wolves these days, the ranchers raise quite a fuss in protest. The ranchers don’t want to create more wilderness-designated geography because the bears and wolves would be protected in those areas. That is also where ranchers rent grazing land for their cattle.
The Weminuche Wilderness Area was created to protect grizzly bears. With its over 500,000 acres, it is the largest wilderness area in Colorado. Our state hunting laws say there are no grizzlies up there, but if you see one, you can’t shoot it.

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Pagosa’s Past: Snow, snow and more snow http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-snow-snow-and-more-snow/ Wed, 26 Feb 2020 12:00:01 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=197945

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Fil Byrne, shown here as county judge in the late 1920s, came to Pagosa Springs in 1878, where he served as the first school teacher and in many other public offices throughout the coming years until passing away in 1932.

By John M Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
In last week’s column, I talked some about the highest and deepest snowfall I remember since moving to Pagosa Springs. I’m thinking it was the late 1970s and the snow was above the top of the door of my house on Hermosa Street.
The snow was so deep the Colorado Department of Transportation plowed U.S. 160 through town by pushing it into the center between lanes. They removed the new pile by filling a dump truck using a front-end loader and hauling the snow to an empty field outside of town where they dumped it. They then returned to town for another load. The dump truck couldn’t keep up and the pile on U.S. 160 got higher and higher. When I pulled from a side street onto U.S. 160, I couldn’t see over the pile of snow to know if a car was approaching from the opposite lane. Cars coming down those lanes couldn’t see across to the cars going the opposite direction.
The San Juan River reached flood levels downstream below town. Navajo Lake filled and filled until the upstream end of the lake was backing up the Piedra and San Juan Rivers. The water covered the boat ramp at Navajo Dam and folks were worried the water would spill over the dam creating the lake and maybe rupture the dam, flooding the agricultural land below.
Naturally, it took awhile for the county to clear county roads so residents and school buses could get through. I don’t know how many school kids were disappointed because they had to stay home.
Shifting scenes but sticking with winter weather, I received a considerable education about cold weather car care after moving here from Southern California, where I had lived for several years. I moved here because I’d obtained a job with State Parks and selected Navajo Lake State Park as my choice of where I wanted to work. I’d pretty well settled in and rented a home for my family at Tiffany, east of Arboles in the Ignacio school district.
Winter was approaching as I ate breakfast, kissed the wife goodbye, and went outside to crank up the old GMC pickup and drive off to work. I pushed the starter button on the dash. Silence. After trying to jump start it without success, I decided to walk and strolled out onto the highway bound for Arboles. Soon a local, his name was Phelps, pulled up beside me, rolled down his window and called through a cupped hand. “Hey! Whatcha doin’ walkin’ out there? Don’tcha know it’s 23 degrees below? Climb in. I’ll give ya a ride.”
I soon learned to put an electric heater on my engine oil dip stick and a number of other ways to get along in freezing weather, including wrapping the household water pipes, not to mention the prelude of how to weld copper tubing. Far from the bottom of the list was sealing all of the openings under the house so skunks couldn’t snooze underneath our living quarters. Incidentally, it’s not very smart to use a metal spring trap to get rid of skunks.

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Snow, snow and more snow http://www.pagosasun.com/snow-snow-and-more-snow-2/ Tue, 18 Feb 2020 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=197319

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Strawn Hotel was a landmark of pioneer Pagosa Springs. It was located on Pagosa Street on the lot just east of the school district office until it burned a few years ago.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Maybe one of you old-timers out there can help me. I’m going to ramble through a description of a winter I spent living on Hermosa Street in Pagosa Springs when the snow piled up higher and deeper than any year I can remember since moving here approximately 50 years ago. I think it was during the late 1970s.
The snow piled up higher than my front door. Only the porch saved me and allowed me to open the door. Snow was well above my head on either side of the front walk leading to the street. I contemplated turning the walk into a tunnel by covering it with 4×8 sheets of plywood.
If you have similar memories, let me know what year that was. I do know that us folks on Hermosa Street would not have been able to get in or out of our houses without the free and cheerful help of “Hoppo” Yamaguchi. I think I have the right Yamaguchi brother.
He lived down on the east end of Hermosa past Lynn George. His sister also lived on Hermosa on the north side of the street. She was married to Bill Cotton(?). The Yamaguchis were a remarkable family that had moved to the U.S. from Japan prior to WWII. I’ve heard that Hoppo was the most decorated WWII veteran in Colorado. He lost a leg in a bloody battle near Cassino in Italy.
Hoppo had a Jeep with a snowplow and, during the winter, he’d plow Hermosa Street and the driveways for all of us living along the street. I rented what was known as the Skutvik House in those days. County Clerk Falima Gardner lived next door to me. Both she and Sheriff Norman Ottaway were single, but they saw a lot of each other. Ottaway was county sheriff for about 27-28 years and was a man you didn’t want to mess with. He could put you on the floor quicker than anybody I ever knew. I saw him do it.
The Skutviks were of Norwegian origin and had moved to Denver to find work. Pagosa Country had a lot of Scandinavians during the early logging and lumber days circa 1900. While I’m besieged with a head full of wandering memories, you might be interested to know that there was a small shed full of wood chips in the back of the Skutvik house. Since the properties on the south side of Hermosa Street backed on the river, the residents used to chop blocks of ice from the river and store them in the “ice house.” Why? Not many folks had refrigerators before 1940.
While we’re on the subject of ice, when I moved here, a lot of folks were still using the “ice cave” located along Williams Creek as a source for blocks of ice. It was reached by driving out Piedra Road to where it crosses the Piedra River. From there a popular hiking trail follows the river downstream to First Fork, etc. Just beyond the gap in the river cañon east of the road, the river is joined by Williams Creek. If you hike down to that junction and turn right and follow Williams Creek upstream, you’ll find the ice cave. I assume it is still there and still full of ice.

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Pagosa’s Past: Snow, snow and more snow http://www.pagosasun.com/snow-snow-and-more-snow/ Tue, 11 Feb 2020 12:00:06 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=196835

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
One of my favorite pioneers was Henry Gordon. As a young man, Gordon fought in the War Between the States. He died in 1934 at the age of 101 in Pagosa Springs after spending the last years of his life ranching.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Do you remember when snow, tires and chains used to go together? Nowadays, it seems that almost every family vehicle has an emblem on it somewhere denoting four-wheel drive. And guess what? You don’t even have to open the driver’s door in a whirling blizzard and sink down on your hands and knees in the snow and ice to activate the front wheel part of your four-wheel drive system. All of this, you know, while you’re prayin’ that the next car that comes slippin’ and slidin’ down the highway doesn’t crash into the rear part of your anatomy that doesn’t even have a bumper guard. I guess the best part of that job was, you were already in a good position to pray.
I don’t know how many times as I approached Wolf Creek Pass, a blinkin’ red light pointed out a sign requirin’ snow tires and/or chains. You could also have nail-like studs driven into the tread to increase traction.
The word studs reminds me of the years I worked at the truck stop that used to greet diesel-burnin’ trucks on U.S. 160 east of town. There were some pretty tough studs drivin’ those 16-wheelers. The trucker would pull up to the diesel pumps in his 16-wheeler, turn off his radio, growl “done been through a mess a snow, take care of ‘er. I’m gettin’ me a cup.”
Take care of her meant fill the diesel tanks. On the average, the tank held from 200-300 gallons when full. While the tank was filling, I’d grab a 3-foot iron rod and thump the tires looking for flats. Low tires had to be filled and flat tires repaired. Repairing an iron-rimmed truck tire is serious work, especially outside in freezing weather.
The truck stop was open 24 hours a day and that was a good thing. Town folks visited the truck stop evenings for a hamburger, shake and fries after going to a movie. I have an idea many a wedding proposal was made in a truck stop restaurant booth.
It was also a good place to down a bacon and eggs breakfast in the morning, and during lunch hour, you could catch up on the town’s latest gossip. While working there, I got to know more than I should about almost everybody in town.
Best of all, for me the truck stop was a three-shift-a-weekend part-time job. My full-time job was typing and building ads at The Pagosa SUN for Glen Edmonds. That’s where my local newspaper career started. The truck stop job bought me a decent car and helped me get out of debt. Not to mention I became a pretty good source of what was the latest news in town.

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Snow? What’s it all about? http://www.pagosasun.com/snow-whats-it-all-about/ Mon, 03 Feb 2020 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=196468

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Pagosa Springs Medical Center, once named for Dr. Mary Fisher, the pioneer Pagosa doctor who began serving local medical needs circa 1895. This photo was made in 1928.

By John Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Who could deny that snow is a huge attention-getter? Go to any coffee shop and the talk among the coffee-gulpin’ old geezers sittin’ there is likely to be focused on questions such as, “I wonders when it snowed first? I wonders how much it snowed? Or I wonders what’s next?”
There is always one old-timer who does remember when. After clearing his throat and draining his cup, he’ll say something like, “I remembers one time in ‘42 when it snowed all night. Took me two hours to shovel a path to the barn, it did. Couldn’t see over the snow when my boots touched dirt and when I gets in the barn, there’s old Bess with a brand new set of twins, boys they was, and boys, she was so glad when I gave’er a bucket of oats she was in a good moo’ed for days. Them little fellers was purty happy, too, don’t ya know, and took a minute or two away from mama and they’s own breakfast to see what was goin’ on. And that’s a fact!”
Our bewhiskered storyteller hooks a thumb behind each suspender, leans back with a satisfied smile on his face and grins around the circle of wrinkled, old faces, defying anyone to top that story.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the world record for the highest seasonal snowfall was measured in the United States at Mt. Baker Ski Area, outside of the city of Bellingham, Wash., during the 1998-1999 season. Baker received 95.01 feet of snow, thus surpassing the previous record holder, Mount Rainier, Wash., which during the 1971-1972 season received 93.5 feet of snow.
The world record for the highest average annual snowfall is 57.87 feet measured in Sukayu Onsen, Japan, for the period of 1981-2010.
According to Guinness World Records, the world’s largest snowflake fell in January 1887 outside present-day Miles City, Mont. It measured 15 inches in diameter. More on snow next week.

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Whiteout on Wolf Creek http://www.pagosasun.com/whiteout-on-wolf-creek/ Wed, 22 Jan 2020 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=195510

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Running a mountain railroad could be risky business in pioneer Pagosa days. This engine rolled over on the track just south of Pagosa Springs on what is now U.S. 84 near its junction with the Blanco Basin road.

If you’ve recently risked shepherding your most mobile debt, the family auto, over snow-packed Wolf Creek Pass, you’ll likely agree with a group of Durango journalists who concluded a few years ago via a poll that Wolf Creek Pass is the worst drive in Colorado. That’s worst meaning most dangerous.
The data categories used in the poll were snow, switchbacks, steepness, traffic, elevation, distance from help and frequency of accidents.
Closely behind Wolf Creek in the poll were Monarch Pass and Red Mountain Pass. Monarch suffered the most deaths from accidents, averaging one a week. Red Mountain is a few miles northwest of Wolf Creek on the same Continental Divide mountain range.
The worst calamities on Wolf Creek occur at the switchback adorning the west end of the pass. Ironically, tourists often pull into a parking area known as the overlook adjacent to the switchback, where they ooh and aah over the scenic panorama spread out below them. Little do they know that the flat, brushy terrain 200 feet directly below them is known as the graveyard by truck drivers and Pagosa-area locals.
A long, downhill slope leads to the sharp turn at the overlook. Some truck drivers burn out their brakes by the time they reach the sharp turn and, consequently, roll into or though the guardrail, spilling whatever payload they are carrying. The list of spilled products is long. I have known locals, after hearing about a new wreck, to rush to the graveyard and load up on spilled beer cans, cans of beans, packaged meats or other desirable items.
Not so desirable was an over-turned circus truck loosing a load of lions, tigers, leopards, etc., allowing them to pad off into the Rocky Mountain wilderness. I subsequently heard that most of the oversized felines were soon recaptured. In later years I listened and wondered as neighbors in New Mexico described a large, hair-maned cat they had been seeing on a nearby hillside.
I personally spent a nerve-wracking night on Wolf Creek Pass a few years ago on my way home to Pagosa Springs from Creede. I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery and the star-speckled night sky as I hummed Cash McCall’s recent hit “Wolf Creek Pass” and started westward up the east side of the pass. Just a little before reaching the snow shed designed to keep avalanches from burying the road-way, dark clouds swept in and snow dropped in bunches, I mean so much snow I couldn’t see the hood ornament, let alone the edges of the highway. A sure-enough whiteout it was.
As I entered the shed, I noticed a “Do not park in the snow shed” sign. I also noticed an overhead light at the west end of the shed. What to do? Break the law or break my neck while falling off the mountain? Easy decision. I was betting that the highway patrol was busy down on lower, flatter and blizzard-less ground.
I parked my flivver under the light at the west end of the shed and spent the night staring out the exit until daylight allowed me to fire up and putt putt along westward to Pagosa Springs, where I gulped down a pot of black coffee at Al’s Café and shared tall tales with the early morning truckers.

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