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Escalante and Dominguez make an epic journey through Pagosa Country

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter Judge J.T. Martinez supervises the spring shearing of the sheep. The judge was a pioneer Pagosa Country settler. Martinez came with his father from Tierra Amarilla, first to Durango, and then to Pagosa Springs, before Archuleta County was named. They owned land at Pagosa Junction, and also north of Pagosa Springs.

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter
Judge J.T. Martinez supervises the spring shearing of the sheep. The judge was a pioneer Pagosa Country settler. Martinez came with his father from Tierra Amarilla, first to Durango, and then to Pagosa Springs, before Archuleta County was named. They owned land at Pagosa Junction, and also north of Pagosa Springs.

The Franciscan Fathers Escalante and Dominguez made an epic journey through Pagosa Country in 1776. They traveled north following the Chama River, crossed the river at today’s Los Ojos, passed Horse Lake on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, and then crossed that reservation to Carracas on the San Juan River in today’s Archuleta County.

The party rested at Carracas, which they named Nuestra Senora de las Nieves, translated “Our Lady of the Snows.” Escalante led an expedition upstream to the juncture of the Navajo River with the San Juan River, a location known in recent times as Juanita. He found it “three leagues as the crow flies due east of Las Nieves,” and that “on the banks of both rivers, right at the junction, there were good advantages for a fair-sized settlement.”

Escalante continued, “The San Juan carries more water than the Navajo, and they say (his guides) that farther north,” in the vicinity of Pagosa Springs, “it has fine … meadows because it runs through more open country. Now joined, the two streams form a river as large as the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande) in the month of July. This stream is called the Rio Grande del Navajo because it separates the province of this name from the Yutah nation,” who lived farther north in the vast regions that are now the states of Colorado and Utah.

He adds, “Downstream from the meadow of Nuestra Senora de las Nieves,” that is, at Carracas and farther west, “there is good land with facilities for irrigation and everything else necessary for three or four settlements, even though they might be large ones.”

With an eye for natural beauty, as well as for practical assets, he commented, “On either bank of the river there are dense and shady groves of white cottonwood, dwarf oak, choke-cherry, manzanita, lime, and garambullo. There is also some sarsaparilla, and a tree that looked to us like walnut.”

On the afternoon of Aug. 6, the party left Carracas and continued west. They crossed Rio de la Piedra Parada (River of the Standing Rock) near today’s Arboles. Here they noted a large meadow which they named San Antonio, of which Escalante wrote, “It has very good land for crops, with opportunities for a settlement — firewood, stone, timber, pasturage, all close at hand.”

From Arboles, Escalante passed the sites of the present-day communities of Allison and Tiffany and continued westward — out of Pagosa Country and out of our local history.

This story was posted on February 20, 2014.