Last week, we pointed out that the first settlers in Archuleta County built their homes along existing travel routes. Then we began a discussion of the first north/south routes through Pagosa Country. All of these routes entered Colorado Territory and what was to become Archuleta County from the New Mexico Territory.
Parts of the earliest route into Pagosa Country, ca. 1820-1850 and known as the Old Spanish Trail, are still in use. Mostly the section of that route running across the southwest part of the county from Carracas to La Plata County a little southeast of Ignacio is little used today.
Highway 84 from Chama to Pagosa Springs by way of Chromo has been the most heavily used route since the 1930s. This route reaches Chromo by way of Spring Creek and was used by the Army in 1877-1882, when Fort Lewis was still in Pagosa Springs. The Spring Creek route was also used by the Army’s Macomb exploration party in 1859.
Early on, a variety of routes were used to reach the southern end of Halfway Cañon from New Mexico. The Spring Creek Route was one of these. An earlier route branched off of the old Spanish Trail near Horse Lake on the Jicarilla Reservation and meandered north to Edith on the Navajo River, then crossed Coyote Park to unite with the Spring Creek route just south of Halfway Cañon.
After Cumbres Pass opened ca. 1877 connecting Chama with the San Luis Valley, a road from Chama ran up the East Fork of the Chama River to the Navajo River in Colorado, where the first bridge going up stream from Chromo still is. The road then went to Chromo, where it connected with the Spring Creek Road on its way to the south end of Halfway Cañon. This route was the main route used from the south until the Spring Creek Route was improved during the 1930s.
I’ve just given a general description of the main north/south roads leading from New Mexico to Pagosa Springs. These routes were affected by stage coaches and early railroads.
The earliest settlements in Archuleta County were along the southern border with New Mexico along these routes at Chromo and up the Navajo River to the first bridge, at Edith (not named until later) and at Carracas.
I’ve described the southern entry points first because, even if you were coming from the east, rather than cross the San Juan Mountains, it was generally easier to circle south around the San Juan Mountains into New Mexico and then travel north up the west side into Pagosa Country. Consequently, the first settlements in Pagosa Country were along these routes.
Next week, we’ll talk about the most used route into the county from the east.