Natural resources and a glimmer of wealth

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter Shown in the center of this photo is a plume of water shooting into the air. This was the first geothermal well in Pagosa Springs. The photo is dated in April of 1901.
Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown in the center of this photo is a plume of water shooting into the air. This was the first geothermal well in Pagosa Springs. The photo is dated in April of 1901.

Back in the day, 1901 to be specific, Pagosa Country had its first glimmer of wealth when oil was presumably discovered. Local folks were excited because Pagosa never shared the gold and silver bonanzas enjoyed by many of the other San Juan Mountain communities.

We read the following article taken from the Pagosa “Weekly Times” published in July of 1901: “Last winter about February 1st, an oil company of Oregon called Archuleta began work on the Navajo about twelve miles from Edith … numerous locations were made taking the land by placer claim.”

Several other companies soon joined the search. The paper noted that several oil springs were discovered including one on the Navajo, one in the Blanco Basin and one on the West Fork (of the San Juan) “ … the one on the West Fork contained gas which has been known to burn, when lighted, for a period of three weeks.”

From early historical society meetings I attended circa 1970, I listened to the old-timers talk about oil seeping from the ground in the upper Navajo River area and also from a seep on Engineer Mountain. Starting with pioneer times, settlers used oil from these seeps to lubricate their wagon wheels.

In 1936, oil in paying quantities was found on the Banded Peaks Ranch located near the headwaters of the Navajo River. Called the Gramps Field, considerable quantities were pumped and hauled from this source before it closed in 1996.

Also in July, a franchise was granted to F.A. Collins to drill a hot water geothermal well and construct bathhouses and a hotel. Collin’s well was drilled near the west bank of the San Juan River behind Town Hall. The successful well was the first geothermal well on record in Pagosa Springs. We find no record that Collins developed a spa or other bathing facility. His contract with the town granted him the exclusive right for 25 years to dig or bore for the development of artesian water, hot mineral water, agreed he must provide free drinking water for the public (he provided a drinking fountain of geothermal water from his well which remains to this day in the parking lot on the river side of Pagosa Street downtown), would pay the town $100 per annum after three years, and could build stone or brick buildings in the northern part.

On Dec. 6, 1901, Collins tapped hot mineral water “at a depth of 162 feet … pressure 55psi … sufficient to be transported by pipes throughout the town of Pagosa Springs.”