The decision to build Wolf Creek Pass

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
As shown here, logging was often performed with ox teams around the beginning of the 20th century. Oxen were also used to haul freight and perform farm tasks such as plowing. One will occasionally run across an old, heavy, wooden ox yoke in this part of the country.

Colorado Highway Department Engineer J.E. Maloney left the following written account of how the decision was made to build Wolf Creek Pass instead of restoring the flood-damaged Elwood Pass Road.

“In describing the location of the Wolf Creek Pass road and the incidents which lead up to it, I begin with the first trip the State Highway Commission made over the range in 1910. In that year, during the month of July, Messrs. Allen, Tully, and myself made a trip from Denver by way of Tennessee Pass, Grand Junction, Montrose, to Placerville, Naturita, and to the West and South of Lone Cone to Dolores, thence to Mancos, Durango, Pagosa Springs to the junction of the East and West forks of the San Juan River, up the East Fork Road which was a travelled road at that time, and on up over Timber Hill.

“We were compelled to put up at the foot of Timber Hill over night, obtaining a span of mules the next day to help us over Timber Hill. From the top of Timber Hill, we went to Elwood Pass, then down the Alamosa River into the San Luis Valley, thence to Alamosa. This strip of the road, the East Fork of the San Juan River to the top of Elwood Pass, contained a great many stretches of very steep grades, especially the grade up Timber Hill.

“In 1911 a flood washed this section of the road out from the base of Timber Hill to the junction of the San Juan River. There was much discussion as to the rebuilding of this road, many routes being proposed, the people of the southwest corner of the state being very much interested in having an outlet to the east, and were pushing this outlet.

“Mr. Herr, who was a member of the State Highway Advisory Board at that time, was a resident of Durango, and he and Senator West and others were active in Divide, and urging the rebuilding of the connection from the San Juan Basin to the San Luis Valley.

“The first state highway designated by the Highway Advisory Board followed the line of the East Fork of the San Juan River to the top of Elwood Pass, thence down to the Alamosa River to a connection with Road 15, thence on to Alamosa. This was afterward changed so as to read — the West Fork of the San Juan River to Wolf Creek Pass, then up Wolf Creek Pass to the top of the Divide, and the connecting road was declared from the top of the Divide down to meet the Alamosa-Creede Road at South Fork, which is the present location.”

This story was posted on March 10, 2017.