Pagosa’s Past: Snow, snow and more snow

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.

This story was posted on February 26, 2020.