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A trip to Pagosa Springs from the south

Continuing with Army Engineer Lt. McCauley’s report on the Four Corners area, especially Pagosa Springs, in 1878.

“Up to the present summer (1877), the only mode of access from the railroad to the Lower San Juan was from Conejos southward to Ojo Caliente, and northwest to Tierra Amarilla, a distance of 150 miles. A cutoff above Ojo Caliente via Cueva, shortening the distance to 120 miles, has diverted travel in its favor. It is in general a good and easy road, being largely over a hard and level surface, having been the scene of some volcanic eruption; some mesas passed over present difficult points, the chief objections, however, being the absence of grazing and the long distance between water making it a succeedingly hot summer route.

“Crossing the Chama at Los Ojos, where it is about 75 feet wide, 2 1/2 feet deep, the ‘upper’ route is over a natural road, through low valleys or over gently undulating hills, covered with fine grass wherever sheepherders have not tarried. The Continental Divide is here a line of sharp mesas of the steepest kind, 400 to 600 feet in height, with sandstone outcroppings and sides timbered with scrubby piñon. The road winds so gently through an easy pass between that one can scarcely realize the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific watershed. A dearth of water existed in July last between the Chama and the Navajo, and for 35 miles no running water was found, although many dry beds of streams were met with, which heavy rain-storms of the previous day and night had failed to fill. The soil is to some extent alkaline, and upon pools of rain-water our camp depended. From the Navajo to Pagosa, 23 miles (Motter — not far enough), water is abundant, the Blanco and tributaries being passes en route. Pagosa being 56 miles from the Chama at Los Ojos, necessitated a journey of 206 miles to reach it from Conejos — reduced to but 176 via Cueva — a long and tedious trip.

“From Conejos two roads are now constructing, both following the general lines of survey examined by Lt. Anderson, Sixth Cavalry, in 1874, in obedience to instructions from the chief engineer of the department.

“The first, which may be known as the Chama route, ascends the Conejos for 11 miles in a fertile and cultivated valley over a natural road-bed…Leaving its westerly course the road passes southwest for 13 miles, following first a tributary and then the Chama itself, and in a southerly direction by the banks of the river, some 16 1/2 miles, to Tierra Amarilla, as the main plaza, Los Nutritas (2 miles beyond Los Ojos), is generally called … The entire route is well supplied with grazing, timber, and water … Via this line, the distance of Pagosa from Conejos is reduced to 114.7 miles.

“In the spring of 1876, a settlement called Park View was located 2 miles above Los Ojos, in the valley of the Chama, by a Chicago and Santa Fe company. Circulars with information of an enticing character to promote immigration were circulated. The town was passed on the 9th of July last, in a lovely valley with about 8 acres, not exceeding 10 at the most, under cultivation; eight cabins of the settlers being scattered about in the fine forest adjoining. The charter for the road from Conejos to Los Ojos was taken out with the view of making it a feeder in the colony, diverting trade of the vicinity from Las Nutritas to the present site.”

Next week, McCauley describes a personal trip over Cumbres Pass in 1877, the year that Pass opened.