Teetering on the edge of Wolf Creek Pass

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The building on the left located on Lewis Street and called the Arlington Hotel burned last fall. The adjacent building on the right was attached to the Arlington and contained geothermal baths fed by a geothermal well located on the property. Then owned by Bryce Patterson, this photo shows the business at its zenith. I don’t know when the owners abandoned the geothermal bath business and the building housing the baths came down.

Once again, we continue with a narrative of the first trip over Wolf Creek Pass in July of 1916, the year it opened. Our narrator is Myrtle Hersch, a member of the party participating in the harrowing trip.

“The high altitude and excitement of the day, besides the wet and cold, was more than I could take. The cook and his buddy moved their beds into the dining tent, and fixed a place for me to lie down and rest. My family didn’t get to camp until 8:00 p.m. I was too tired to eat, and didn’t get warm all night.

“When morning came, I still couldn’t eat, but the sun came out and we were ready to make a fresh start. Mr. Logan sent a crew ahead early to fill in a one hundred foot bog with spruce boughs. Still, every car had to be pulled through. We still had rough going to the top of the pass, which is over ten thousand feet high. We were told that our troubles were all over, as it was down grade, and work done the previous fall was well packed by highway equipment. We were all in good spirits, for we knew no one would meet us today. Each car took its own pace coming down, not too close because of the sharp curves — Joseph and I still following at ten miles an hour and in low gear. We came to a section of the road which was supported by a build-up rock wall, and noticed that the tracks of the cars ahead were only four or five inches from the rocks, but it looked safe enough, when CRASH! that entire wall gave way and the left side of our car down and hanging in mid-air. Only a very small rock below our left front wheel kept us from going down. As we carefully slipped out on the upper side, the car teetered as if it were on its way down. Only a miracle caused it to hold, for it seemed that a puff of wind could set it off. We stood and looked — all the cars had gone ahead, and we were alone with miles to any work camp. We knew that my husband would stop soon, if Marguerite didn’t see us coming behind them. After about fifteen or twenty minutes a wagon with two men and carrying heavy cables and a bicycle came along. The men tied the car to the trees on the upper side with ropes. One man rode the wheel down two miles where he met David walking back with some of the work crew. The men cut down several small trees and built cribbing which they filled in with rocks. Then they jacked up the car little by little, built again, until it was near level position. Six men held the cables while David drove onto solid ground.

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 midday in a July sun. It was forty feet to the nearest tree 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 down the two miles where Marguerite sat waiting all of 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. I 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.”