Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Looking east in this busy 1901 picture of Pagosa Springs, we see the railroad station along 7th Street in the foreground. The white plume in the center downtown on the bank of the river is the first geothermal well drilled in town. The pile of geothermal deposits on the downtown parking lot today is a reminder of the location of this well.

I’m in the midst of describing the path of the 1776 Dominguez/Escalante expedition. The footsteps these adventuresome Franciscan fathers left eventually became known as the Old Spanish Trail, a historic trade route connecting 18th century New Mexico with California.
At the end of last week’s column, the two padres were sick, bogged down by heavy rain and camped along a nearly impassible road. With great difficulty, they slogged along westward for two more leagues, finally setting up camp on the San Lazaro River, otherwise called Rio de los Mancos.
Their accomplishments prove exploring is not for sissies. Not only were the padres suffering from a cold or flu or pneumonia, one of the men fell into the river, injuring his hand. Mancos means one-armed or one-handed or crippled in Spanish.
Near present-day Dolores, the party found and recorded Anasazi ruins, the first white men to do so in southwestern Colorado. Anasazi is Navajo for “the ancient ones,” a people who lived in the area from ca. 100 B.C. to 1200 A.D.
With an eye out for future Hispanic settlement opportunities, Escalante noted the beautiful surroundings supplied with water, pasture, timber for construction and firewood. The explorers continued north, staying west of the San Juan Mountains. They crossed the Dolores River several times and camped along its banks northeast of the site of present-day Cahone. Here they met two Native American slaves they called Genìzaro and Coyote. One man was renamed Felipe and the other Juan Domingo. The men were added to the expedition.
As they continued west and northwest through a cañon while crisscrossing the Dolores River, they passed through an area currently known as Egnar and followed the San Miguel River to an area about 5 miles west of Nucla. The land became increasingly arid with less pasture land in the cañons and insufficient water for the horses. They had seen signs of settlements which they called rancherias. And realizing they needed help, they searched for natives to serve as guides.
Continued next week.

This story was posted on March 20, 2019.