Traversing Wolf Creek Pass in 1916

2020/01/oldtimer-010220-scan0080-300x248.jpg Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Lionel and Ruby Archuleta were the parents of Margaret Daugaard, the lady who operated the La Cantina on Pagosa Street in Pagosa Springs for many years. Daugaard was in the direct line of the Archuleta family who traced their family back to Spain, including Antonio D. Archuleta, for whom the county is named.

Last week’s column about the first public crossing of newly built Wolf Creek Pass when it opened during the summer of 1916 ended with the sentence, “Six men held the cables while David drove to level ground.” To launch this week’s column, our writer begins:

“While they were working, I carried drinking water in a pint cup from the creek below up that bank for the men, for now it was mid-day in a July sun. It was forty feet to the nearest to stop the car’s rolling, had it gone down.

“When the task was nearly completed, I took photographs, then the three of us went on down the two miles, where Marguerite sat waiting all these hours alone — not knowing what had happened to any of us.

“As my family was reunited, and no one was hurt, I began to weaken, and became so shaky I couldn’t stop trembling. Kept growing weaker and more frightened as the miles passed until we were within two miles of Pagosa Springs and home. I did as some other women in the past have done — fainted. At the Todd Ranch, they stretched me out on the grass beside the highway, and with water and spirits of ammonia, I was soon revived. I have heard of people being scared to death. This was the next thing to it.

“Even with such experiences. I love our Wolf Creek Pass, with its forty-seven years of memories and happy associations.”

And there you have the completion of a memory recorded for posterity by Myrtle Hersch. Since that 1916 crossing of Wolf Creek Pass, an untold number of travelers have crossed what may be Colorado’s most notorious and well-known pass. The adventure is certainly something to write home about.

As a sports writer for The Pagosa Springs SUN, I regularly crossed the pass to cover Pagosa Springs Pirate high school sports events with high schools to the east of the Continental Divide. Many a time I wished I was somewhere — anywhere — else. Not only is the iciness a threat, during blizzard conditions it’s hard to see where the edge of the highway and a sudden, unforeseen downhill plunge is lurking.

One late afternoon as the sun was setting and I was enjoying the view and the appearance of stars sparkling through the high mountain atmosphere, I rounded a sharp curve in my westward journey upward and, lo and behold, a blizzard completely obliterated my view. All I could see where tiny, twisting snowflakes covering my hood and testing the ability of my windshield wipers to help me see through the window pane, now a pain. Fortunately, the tunnel appeared and, ignoring the no parking sign, I pulled over the right side of the tunnel where I could look through the western opening and waited for the snow to stop. Finally, daybreak spread across the mountain highway and I could see where high way stopped and wilderness began.

Slowly and carefully, I crept around and down until full daylight resumed dominance over all things I needed to see and the highway returned to a reasonable amount of levelness. I sure enjoyed that cup of coffee at the café that used to welcome folks on U.S. 160 east of town.