Pagosa’s Past: Adventure on the Nipple Mountain Trail

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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This story was posted on June 15, 2020.