Choosing the route for Wolf Creek Pass

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter
These pelts displayed by the Chapson family are evidence of the wilderness condition of the mountains through which Wolf Creek Pass was built circa 1914 through 1916. The Chapsons provided horses and guide service for the engineer planning the route.

We are repeating the words of J.E. Maloney, the engineer who conducted the surveys and provided the information that led to the building of Wolf Creek Pass as a replacement for the Elwood Pass route across the south San Juan Mountains. Continuing from last week:

“… Mr. Erhart, State Highway Commissioner, instructed me to meet with the Construction Board of Alamosa, and go over the several locations proposed with them, and after making investigations of the different routes, to decide upon the location of the road before coming back to the office.

“Following these instructions, I went with the Construction Board during the months of June and July, over the surveys that had been made, and in July took a trip from Pagosa Springs up the West Fork of the San Juan River to Elmer Chapson’s ranch. Mr. Chapson outfitted us with horses and pack animals, and we made the trip. Mr. Wyman of Silverton, who at that time was supervisor for the State Highway Department, accompanied us.

“We started from the West Fork of the San Juan River, climbed the hill to Windy Gap, and from that point we followed the survey line around the base of Treasure Mountain, Mr. Chapson taking his horses and camping outfit over the top of Treasure Mountain. Mr. Wyman and myself made our way around the base of the mountain, and the following night we camped in the vicinity of Silver Pass.

“The following morning we made our way to the top of the Mesa, and joined Mr. Chapson and the outfit. We then proceeded to Silver Pass, thence from Silver Pass to the South Fork of the Rio Grande River. We made this trip the latter part of July, 1914, camping on Treasure Mountain. We then went down to Box Canyon of the South Fork. Coming back, we left the South Fork and went over Pass Creek, up the trail to the headwaters of Wolf Creek Pass on top of the Divide — from there we intended to go back to Windy Gap, thence down to the county road on the West Fork of the San Juan River.

“However, upon arriving at the head of Wolf Creek Pass, I asked Mr. Chapson the name of the creek, and if there was a trail down we could travel with horses. He said there was not; that if we wanted to go down, we would have to take the horses around another way. Mr. Wyman and I left him at that point in the morning, and started down Wolf Creek Pass on foot. I had an aneroid barometer with me which gave us our approximate altitudes and by timing ourselves going down we could make some approximation as to the fall of the creek. Climbing up and down the canyon and over fallen timbers we reached the West Fork of the San Juan about 5:30 p.m. Then we walked to Chapson’s house for supper. That evening we met with the Construction Committee at Pagosa Springs, and discussed the various routes.”