Pagosa’s Past – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Wed, 22 Jul 2020 18:20:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 http://www.pagosasun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/cropped-sun-logo-512x512-1-32x32.jpg Pagosa’s Past – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com 32 32 Pagosa’s Past: Riding through the Weminuche wilderness http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-riding-through-the-weminuche-wilderness/ Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=207677

Photo courtesy John Motter
Horses and mules did most of the back-breaking labor back when logging first started in this country. These two- and four-legged loggers pictured here were working in the Edith area.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

This week, I’m describin’ one of my most memorable trail rides. Last week, I described how an old-time friend took me on a trail ride up Nipple Mountain. A week or so later, the same friend with the same Tennessee walking horses, took me explorin’ the Weminuche country.

To reach the Weminuche country, you start from Pagosa Springs by driving north on Piedra Road, and just before reaching Williams Creek Lake, you turn left on a dirt road and cross a small mountain ridge into the Weminuche Valley, where we parked at the end of the road. We entered what is now known as the Weminuche Wilderness Area. At the time of our trip, we were just riding into a wilderness known to be home to grizzly bears. The Weminuche Wilderness Area was created later.

If you share my enthusiasm for word origins, you might be wonderin’ about the word “Weminuche.” We learn from Wikipedia that the Weminuche were a band of Indians living in southwestern Colorado when white men first arrived. That tribe still has a reservation near Cortez. They were the last of the Four Corners Indian tribes to hang up their weapons. The meaning of the word Weminuche is unknown. The Weminuche Wilderness Area is the largest wilderness area in Colorado.

It was a steep, uphill climb as we ascended into the wilderness. The trail was narrow and rocky and protruding branches threatened our worn but comfortable Stetsons, not fit for a dance, but great for protectin’ our eyes from sun and rain. The horses were accommodatin’, slurpin’ up drinks when we splashed through an occasional pond or creek and ears erect and pointin’ at a nearby elk showin’ its unrest at our invasion of its territory with a loud snort.

We camped that first night by a small pond from which I caught a pan-sized cutthroat trout, a tasty addition to the biscuit I toasted over the camp fire. Our hobbled horses grazed in a nearby meadow, undisturbed as my compadre snored loud enough to scare off any kind of four-legged threat.

Early the next morning, we topped out over a small ridge where we could look down at the Pine River snakin’ its way up to the divide. An unoccupied Forest Service log cabin on the river bank reminded us that we weren’t the first to enjoy this wilderness. The sparkle of the creek was a-beckonin’ and an urge to limber up my fly rod was a tantalizing temptation, but my compadre didn’t care none about fishin’. He was ready to skedaddle home. I took one last look, feelin’ the urge to follow the Pine to the top and cross over to Creede or Silverton. Oh, well, maybe next time?

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Pagosa’s Past: Horseback trailin’ on the Continental Divide http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-horseback-trailin-on-the-continental-divide/ Tue, 21 Jul 2020 11:00:09 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=207271

Photo courtesy John Motter
The 1901 Fourth of July celebration in Pagosa Springs was beefed up by Jicarilla Apache, Southern Ute and Navajo Indians. The festivities included bucking horses, races, drinking, gambling and a declamation by one of the leading town fathers.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Last week’s column described a hike to the Continental Divide up the East Fork of the San Juan River Trail. This week, I’m describing my first trip up the same trail, but with a difference. A big difference. That first trip was horseback.

I had a friend named John Ross who owned two Tennessee walking horses and had nothing to do for a while but ride Pagosa Country mountain trails. When he invited me to go along, he got an excited yes. He’d been bragging about those horses and here was a chance to find out if it was all talk or for real.

According to Wikipedia, a Tennessee walking horse is a gaited horse known for its unique four-beat running walk, flashy movement and sure-footedness. You also need to know this Motter-guy has owned and ridden horses most of his life starting with plow horses and, despite the cowboy hat, always rode with one eye looking for the best place to land in case my horse decided to unload his cargo.

And so, the eventful day arrived and we loaded the two gray horses into his trailer, an uneventful event. About an hour or so later, we park the trailer along the road beside the source of the Nipple Mountain Trail, cinch up the saddles, give the horses a handful of grain, climb aboard, point their noses uphill, and poke a flank with our spurs. Yipee! Away we go!

As the Tennessee walkers wind around sharp turns, scramble across rocks and keep a sharp eye out, it seems my mind is full of mullings. Mulling No. 1: How did I get here? Mulling No. 2: Why did I get here? Mulling No. 3: How do I get out of here? Mulling No. 5: What if the horse falls? Mulling No. 6: What if we meet a bear? Mulling No. 7: Why is my right stirrup scraping the cliff going up on the right side and my left stirrup silhouetted against a creek 2,000 feet below on my left side?

After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the top. Looking west, we could see mountain ranges in far-away Utah and Arizona. Looking east, we could see the Front Range about 75 miles distant across the San Luis Valley. Looking down was scary far on either side.

Since the sun was settling in the west, I set up my camping gear, tent, stove, etc., cooked biscuits and beans, and hit the sack. We got home safely the next day, which emboldened me to ride with him a week or so later into the depths of the Weminuche Wilderness area. I’ll tell the tail of that trail next week. 

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Pagosa’s Past: Trailin’ the Piedra River East Fork http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-trailin-the-piedra-river-east-fork/ Mon, 13 Jul 2020 11:00:50 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=206959

Photo courtesy John Motter
Henry Gordon was an old-time cowboy who homesteaded on Gordon Creek in O’Neal Park. He was a bachelor who lived to an old age, raising beef on his ranch.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Have you ever had a strong yearning that wouldn’t go away? A few years ago, I had a good job at Disneyland and a nice house in a nice neighborhood in southern California. I was living the epitome of the American Dream. But, I had grown up in rural southern Oregon picking wild blackberries and exploring wilderness trails. The yearning to move back to the country wouldn’t go away; you could say the yearnin’ kept’a yankin’.

I had the start of a young family with its attendant responsibilities. I knew jobs in the country were scarce and low paying. Flash! My solution was to enroll in and complete correspondence courses in wildlife management and parks management. 

Shortly after I completed the courses, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Management Department announced their intent to hire managers for about a dozen state parks. Along with several hundred other applicants, mostly with college degrees, I underwent oral and written testing for the positions. I finished eighth and chose to go to newly opened Navajo Lake State Park. You didn’t ask, but that’s how I got here.

As I settled into my new job at Arboles, I couldn’t help yearning, staring eastward at the long range of mountains making up the Continental Divide. One of the part-time employees told me how to find the trail following the East Fork of the Piedra into those mountains. My first adventures into the mountains were into that East Fork canyon. It was a tough hike starting with a steep climb. I carried a 40-pound pack. Once the trail leveled off beside a spectacular waterfall, there was a tin cup, hanging from a tree beside Tin Cup Creek. The sparkling creek supplied a better drink than any bar anywhere.

Fishing was great because not many folks were willing to burn the sweat necessary to get up there and so the stream was not fished out. No fish tastes better than a cutthroat trout cooked over a campfire. Drifting an American Beauty or mosquito fly tied on a number 22 barbed hook worked every time. Many a night, I poked a willow stick into a biscuit, balanced a frying pan on a rock at the edge of the campfire, feasted and then climbed into my sleeping bag.

An owl hooted and coyotes barked as I dozed off, stretched out on my back watching for shooting stars in the night sky. I woke at first light, fried eggs and bacon, washed the dishes, put out the fire and did some exploring. Rumor had it that a cache of gold had been hidden in that canyon. I never found it, but enjoyed looking at the wildflowers, rocks, etc. I did find a flint arrowhead which someone told me was the kind used by Pueblo Indians to hunt birds.

As time went by, I ascended, fished in and slept beside all of the rivers in this area. I fished the lakes as well, but without much success. Even today, when this old man daydreams, fishing up the Piedra East Forks tops the list.

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Pagosa’s Past: The Owl Hoot Trail http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-owl-hoot-trail/ Tue, 07 Jul 2020 11:00:53 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=206634

Photo courtesy John Motter
Crowds, horses and wagons, and rodeos have been part of the Pagosa Springs Fourth of July for a long time.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

I heard an owl hoot the other day. It must have been about 9 in the morning, an unusual time to hear an owl. Owls are not expected to hoot during the morning, unless they don’t give a hoot.

Since I have been writing about trails, hearing this owl reminded me of a story I once read wherein a cowboy, let’s call him Bill, was riding the “Owl Hoot Trail.” He’d just gunned down a yahoo who’d just been visiting Bill’s gal, and Bill was getting out of town at night so it would be harder for the law to follow him.

As often happens, my mind drifted off and I remembered a time when I decided to travel at night. I wasn’t runnin’ from the law, I just wanted to do some trout fishing at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Piedra River. By the time I got my backpack filled, night was beginnin’ to fall. Being an experienced mountain man, I used a soft pack for tough trails and my pack had a place for everything, including survival gear in case I broke a leg or some other catastrophe happened.

Yes, I know the books telling us how to camp say don’t go out alone. Personally, I’ve packed up mountain trails in Oregon, California, Arizona and Utah and figured I could write one of those books myself.

And so, by the time I’d stuffed a few days’ grub, a tiny camping stove with some extra fuel, and my fishing gear into my pack, made sure my knife was strapped around my waist, double-checked the water-proofed San Juan National Forest map and a topo map, the sun was droppin’ behind the western-most mountains.

“Not to worry,” I says to me. I’ve done this trail several times and it’s a piece of cake. This trail is wide enough for horses, I can surely follow it on foot in the dark. There are a couple of lakes near the top, which is also near the Continental Divide. That’s where I planned to camp.

I climb out of the truck, lock the doors and follow the river up to where the Middle Fork Trail leaves the river and veers off to the right and starts to climb the mountain. I see the trail and start walkin’. I hadn’t gone far when the trail turned and I didn’t. The truth soaked in along with the rain and soon enough for me to realize that I’d made a mistake. I couldn’t see in the dark. I fumbled my way back to where I could hear the river, set up my backpack tent, and that’s where I ate breakfast the next morning. It was a lesson well learned.

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Pagosa’s Past: Getting from here to there and back http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-getting-from-here-to-there-and-back/ Wed, 01 Jul 2020 11:00:22 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=206319

Photo courtesy John Motter
Back in the late 1890s, Edith was a thriving community with more than 300 residents.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

I’ve been told by people who should know that the English language is one of the hardest of all languages to master. I’ve spent a good part of my life earning a living by using my ability to explain how to get from here to there and back by way of the English language.

First, I’ve learned it’s very helpful to own several good dictionaries, a thesaurus and a number of other writing guides. Among this multiplicity of references is “The Chicago Manual of Style” which claims on its cover to be “The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers.”

In recent columns, I have been focusing on using plain English to explain how to get from here to there, or, if you are lost in the “Great Outdoors,” from there to here.

I began with the word trail and a number of synonyms such as way, path, course of action, process, procedure technique, system, plan, strategy, scheme, means, mechanism, routine and manner. Since I am a backpacker, I also used terms such as thoroughfare, route, path, journey, road, highway, by-way and last week “back road.” During this linguistic travelogue, I ran across the word “wayfare” such as used in the song “Wayfaring Stranger.”

Curious about the word thoroughfare, I logged into Google for a definition. Now I am confused, if not totally flabbergasted. According to Google, thorough means “carried through to completion” and fare means “what you are eating.” When I put those two together, I think it should mean “I ate it all.” But Google claims the word “thoroughfare” means “a road or path between two places. It’s time for that silly idiom, “Go figger!”

Getting back to describing “back road,” I can think of several. There is a back road connecting Lumberton, N.M., with Pagosa Springs. Years ago, the Denver and Rio Grande railroad followed that route as part of getting trains from Chama to Durango. When the train company shut down and the tracks were removed, it became one of my favorite “back roads.” Not only is it the shortest way between Dulce and Pagosa Springs, there is a good chance to see wildlife, i.e. deer, elk, bear, raccoons and such.

It also tickles some of my history brain cells as it crosses the Navajo River down at Edith. Once upon a time, Edith had a population of over 300 and was being pushed as the county seat by the Archuleta family and their friends. The Archuleta family is the source of the county name. The battle over choosing Pagosa Springs over Edith as the Archuleta County seat resulted in a shoot-out between Anglo Pagosa cowboys and Edith Hispanics led by the Archuleta and Martinez families. During the 1890s, the largest lumber mill in Colorado and the first flour mill and electricity generating plant in Archuleta County were in Edith.

More back country trails next week. The county is covered with them.

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Pagosa’s Past: Stories of Nipple Mountain Trail http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-stories-of-nipple-mountain-trail/ Tue, 23 Jun 2020 11:00:49 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=205871

Photo courtesy John Motter
Several fires did a lot of damage in old Pagosa. The lack of a town water system complicated firefighting. The usual method was to form a bucket brigade, a row of men stretching from the fire to the river. Several buckets filled from the river passed from hand to hand as the townsmen battled the fire. Fires are one reason none of the first buildings circa 1876 remain.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

I’d been in Mullin’s barbershop, getting my weekly trim. We’d been talking about paths. Mostly, I’d been bragging about all of the paths I’d climbed in Pagosa Country. I’m living proof that the first liar doesn’t have a chance. The “I remember when” crowd was just getting started. “I remembers” were piling up higher than a barnyard manure pile as the three or four old-timers sipping a cup of joe took turns trying to prove they’d climbed the highest cliffs and lost the biggest stashes of gold that ever existed.

I’d just climbed out of town barber Earl Mullin’s barber chair as Earl swished the white cloth loaded with hair clippings from my shoulders. Before sweeping up the remainder of my tresses spread across the floor, he pointed the straight razor gripped in his right hand toward the mountains outlining the eastern skyline, cleared his throat, and began to talk. Everyone stopped to listen. Earl was a good storyteller and some of his stories were true.

“See that little slip of a mountain up there?” he looked at me as he pointed. “We call it Nipple Mountain. It’s shape defines the name. There’s a trail, we call it Nipple Mountain Trail, that follows along the Little Blanco River up to about parallel with Square Top Mountain. From there it swings north and then east up to Nipple Mountain, where it connects with the Continental Divide Trail which goes north and south and the Conejos River Trail dropping down the mountain on the eastern side. Well, if you turn left on the Continental Divide Trail, you’ll swing around a small lake and up the mountain behind the lake I’ve heard there is an old mine full of buckets of gold. Been up there myself, but couldn’t find it.” Earl swung the chair around and, as if he hadn’t stirred up a bunch of curiosity, looked around and said, “Who’s next?”

I’d forgotten what I’d planned to do that day as I cranked up Sputterbug, the old Studebaker truck still running with more miles than I knew because of the nonfunctional speedo. I munched on the green chili burrito I’d just bought for 50 cents from Helen’s Elkhorn Café, and watched almost helplessly as old Sputterbug turned up Mill Creek Road enroute to the Nipple Mountain Trail. 

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Pagosa’s Past: Adventure on the Nipple Mountain Trail http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-adventure-on-the-nipple-mountain-trail/ Mon, 15 Jun 2020 11:00:46 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=205591

Photo courtesy John Motter
Pictured here is the work crew that built Wolf Creek Pass in 1916. They are camped at the foot of the pass.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Sometime when you’re standing with a cup of joe in your hand, watching the sun come up over the eastern skyline, take a look at Nipple Mountain. It’s easy to recognize if you analyze its name. Better yet, if you follow the Nipple Mountain Trail, you’ll discover a whole new world of adventure.

An old-timer by the name of Earl Mullins pointed out the landmark to me one morning as he shook my cut-loose hair from the white cloth he’d just removed from my shoulders after cutting my hair. Earl had a barbershop on Pagosa Street adjacent to the Elkhorn Café (now it’s the Lost Cajun) on Pagosa Street.

Earl was a good storyteller and some of them were true. Tales of lost gold top the list of tall tales almost anywhere you go in the West, especially if you’re sitting in a barber shop.

“Look at that skinny little mountain,” Earl said as he pointed with his straight razor to the eastern horizon. “They say if you go up there and circle to the left when you hit the Continental Divide Trail, on the first mountain you reach there is a big vein of gold. I’ve looked for it myself, but couldn’t find it.”

I had to go see for myself. There is a lake just after you turn left. The Continental Divide Trail continues northward (left) all of the way to Canada. You can drop off at Wolf Creek Pass or various other points. It continues south (right) to the Mexican border. You can get off at Cumbres Pass or other points.

 From the Nipple Mountain juncture, there is a trail dropping down eastward along a branch of the Conejos River to Conejos. A few years back, I was talking with old-time Pagosan Faye Brown about the Nipple Mountain Trail. She had invited me over for dinner. While doling out a huge slice of homemade apple pie, she told me the following story.

“Back in 1941, I got out the .22 and headed up that trail with one of our sons. My husband Ray was not so good at those kinds of things. Well, when we got up there, a grouse flew up in front of us and I shot it. I didn’t have a license and I didn’t tell anybody, but I cooked it for dinner. Do you think if I tell anybody they will arrest me?”

Faye’s husband Ray was also an old-timer. It seems while he was still a young man, he climbed on his horse and started down the road from the house in a gallop. He didn’t notice the branch hanging down from a tree that swept him from his saddle. He slowly struggled up from his crumpled position, counted body parts and staggered back to the house. Starting with that debacle, he never again rode horseback.

“Faye,” I replied, “This is the best piece of apple pie I ever ate. You know what? That was over 20 years ago. I’m pretty sure nobody is gonna throw you in jail.” 

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Pagosa’s Past: The Old Durango Road http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-old-durango-road/ Wed, 10 Jun 2020 11:00:22 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=205113 By John J. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

A lady recently asked The SUN, “Where was the old Durango Road?” Since I have been writing about trails, it seems appropriate to write about a road. After all, a road is just a fancy trail.

I’m assuming we’re talking about the connection between Pagosa Springs and Durango. Here is the long version of the answer to her question. The location of trails can change with time. As is true for most of our roads and highways today, most of them started out as animal trails which were also followed by the Native Americans of those days.

The first white man to use that route was probably Juan Maria Rivera, who came up from Mexico looking for gold in 1765. Another expedition from Mexico was led by the fathers Dominguez and Escalante in 1776 who were looking for a road to San Francisco. There was no Durango or Pagosa Springs at that time. Pagosa Springs as a town dates from circa 1876-1891 and Durango 1881. It seems reasonable to assume the expression “Old Durango Road” did not exist before Durango existed. Consequently, I’m starting with 1881.

In 1881, people leaving Pagosa Springs would have been going west on what became 8th Street when the town was platted in 1883. The road passed the old town cemetery and continued west into a narrow cañon where an Old West stage holdup was pulled off by the Allison gang in 1881. Westward from this cañon, the road passed through a mature Ponderosa pine forest and crossed Smith Cañon about 8 miles west of town. From here the road went westward pretty much as it is today. North of Chimney Rock and after crossing Devil Creek, the road dropped down to the east bank of the Piedra River and turned north until reaching a bridge at the Old Peterson place.

The Peterson place was a stage stop with a fascinating history. Gen. Grant once spent the night there while touring the West. From the Peterson place, the road followed Yellow Jacket Creek to the bottom of Yellow Jacket Hill where it branched, one branch going northward before swinging west and the other branch more directly west across Yellow Jacket Pass. The two branches reunited near Beaver Creek and continued westward to today’s Bayfield, a stage stop in those days.

Here the road branched again, one route turning north along the Pine River and winding its way into Animas City, later the north part of Durango. The other branch continued westward pretty much on the same route as today. Upon reaching today’s Durango, (nonexistent until 1881) the road branched again, one branch going north to Animas City, and the other branch westward to Fort Lewis at Hesperus. I failed to mention that Fort Lewis started at Pagosa Springs before being moved to Hesperus.

Fort Lewis was the launching pad for today’s Fort Lewis College in Durango.

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Pagosa’s Past: Trailing San Juan Mountain trails http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-trailing-san-juan-mountain-trails/ Wed, 03 Jun 2020 11:00:57 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=204607

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
During the early days, buildings on Pagosa Street were built from lumber. Fires burned many of those buildings. This picture shows survivors from one of those fires. Downtown businessmen finally got wise and built using bricks.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Have you ever entertained company from out of town and gone through the following scenario? Visiting friend Waldo has loafed around the house for a couple of days, the fried chicken is gone, the drinks are drunk, most of the war stories have been repeated until, when you clear your throat, open your mouth and start with “have you ever heard …?” a chorus of groans generates silence.

Waldo has been staring out the window when the idea bulb lights up over his head. “You know what?” says he. “Think I’ll just go over there and take a little hike through those pine trees. Won’t be long.” And out the door he goes.

Won’t be long gets longer and longer; everybody is tired of snackin’ and no Waldo. Eyes meet eyes and someone says, “Maybe we better go look for Waldo.” About the time three or four men are on the front porch zipping up their jackets, Waldo shows up.

“You didn’t have to worry,” Waldo asserts. “Might’ve been out there a little longer than you expected, but I lost the trail.”

Think about it. Truthfully, trails don’t get lost. People do. It’s not so rare as you might think. I heard a story once about a hunter lost in Maine. When one of the local guides found him, his excuse was, “I lost my compass.” The guide builds a fire to warm things up before starting home. Lost hunter hovering over the fire quips, “That feels toasty. Think I’ll slip off my boots and warm my feet.” As the second boot drops to the floor, the lost compass reappears and bounces across the floor. Every eye focuses on him, busily rubbing his hands together over the fire, a silly grin on his face.

In Pagosa Country, hunters get lost almost every hunting season. I remember when a group of hunters asked for help finding a buddy lost on Wolf Creek Pass. Finally, he was located on a mountain shoulder up above Treasure Falls. “I lost the trail,” he uttered. We locals looked at each other knowingly, but kept quiet. We all knew we could hear and see cars and trucks crossing Wolf Creek Pass from the place the lost man was found.

That’s not to say I couldn’t get lost. Back in the day, when I’d head out on a fishing expedition, I’d tell friends where I was going followed up by, “Don’t worry. I’ll come out somewhere.” I knew if I went down-hill, I’d eventually hit a road.

Most of my trout fishing expeditions followed a branch of the Piedra or San Juan rivers up a canyon. To come home, I just had to retrace my steps down the river. On my San Juan National Forest map, I’d noticed that somewhere not too far from where I was fishing — whether north, west, east or south — there was a road.

One of my favorite history persons was Kit Carson. Kit couldn’t read or write, but if you wanted to go anywhere in the USA West, Kit could take you there and get you home. His most famous trips came about when he made two trips from California to Washington, D.C., and back, horseback, 60 days per trip. One trip was in 1847, the other in 1848.

I did see the name “Kit” carved in a rock near the remains of one of the old museums in Arizona. The man really got around.

 

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Pagosa’s Past: San Juan Mountain trails http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-san-juan-mountain-trails/ Tue, 26 May 2020 11:00:24 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=203920

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Old Joe Mann cabin is located on one of the more popular hiking trails in Pagosa Country. Following the San Juan East Fork River, this trail has a colorful history as a Native American trail before the coming of the white man, a wagon trail for pioneers, a military road for the Army, and access to the mines in the nearby mountains and a state highway before construction of Wolf Creek Pass.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Mountains matter. Mountains are one of Pagosa Country’s major assets. Everybody knows that folks come here to enjoy the mountains. Pagosa Springs, with its world-famous hot springs, is a favored destination for folks visiting the Southern San Juan Mountains. Historically, the reasons attracting Pagosa Springs visitation are varied and colorful.

Before white men came, Utes, Jicarillas and other Native American men hunted for game in the San Juans while the distaff side of their families grubbed for roots and berries and such.

When snow blanketed the mountains, the native people hunkered over small fires where the womenfolk seared strips of meat while abuelos surrounded by los jovenes fingered grains of corn and told tales of the ancestros.

The first mountain visitors from across the Atlantic Ocean were Hispaños, who landed on the eastern coast of Mexico in search of gold and forayed as far as the San Juan Mountains in that search.

For a few years, beaver trappers took “gold” in the form of beaver hides from the many streams in the San Juans. Soon after came the San Juan Mountain ‘49ers, also hunting for gold. These pioneer prospectors developed prosperous silver mines, ergo Silverton, but found little gold. They were succeeded by “gold on the hoof,” herds of longhorns driven from Texas to take advantage of the lush San Juan Mountain grasses. Arch enemies of the cattlemen were sheepmen. Cattle grazed in the lower mountains and tens of thousands of sheep in the higher mountains, say above 10,000 feet.

The San Juan Mountains were covered with marketable timber, mostly ponderosa pines. Enterprising timbermen made fortunes cutting and marketing lumber from those pines.

Next, wouldn’t you guess, in the early 1900s, the U.S. Forest Service was created to manage the forests. They established and enforced rules for use of the land and trees and identified and marked trails. And here’s where our story has gone full circle. The mountains are beautiful, but to enjoy that beauty beyond just sitting at the bottom and looking out of the window, trails are needed. And trails aplenty are available. Next time you are hiking up a trail to a favored lake or camping spot, remember the history we’ve just outlined. You owe thanks to all of the people groups we have described. Very likely, a Native American hunter, a Hispanic treasure seeker, a prospector, a cattleman or a sheepherder with thousands of sheep and, finally, a government forester cleared the path you are following.

It’s fun to imagine, just as Lewis and Clark were first on the Oregon Trail, you are first on the trail you are following. But, you need to remember: That wilderness you are in echoed many oohs and aahhs long before you arrived. 

 

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