Pagosa’s Past: Trailing San Juan Mountain trails

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    Photo courtesy John M. Motter
    During the early days, buildings on Pagosa Street were built from lumber. Fires burned many of those buildings. This picture shows survivors from one of those fires. Downtown businessmen finally got wise and built using bricks.

    By John M. Motter
    PREVIEW Columnist

    Have you ever entertained company from out of town and gone through the following scenario? Visiting friend Waldo has loafed around the house for a couple of days, the fried chicken is gone, the drinks are drunk, most of the war stories have been repeated until, when you clear your throat, open your mouth and start with “have you ever heard …?” a chorus of groans generates silence.

    Waldo has been staring out the window when the idea bulb lights up over his head. “You know what?” says he. “Think I’ll just go over there and take a little hike through those pine trees. Won’t be long.” And out the door he goes.

    Won’t be long gets longer and longer; everybody is tired of snackin’ and no Waldo. Eyes meet eyes and someone says, “Maybe we better go look for Waldo.” About the time three or four men are on the front porch zipping up their jackets, Waldo shows up.

    “You didn’t have to worry,” Waldo asserts. “Might’ve been out there a little longer than you expected, but I lost the trail.”

    Think about it. Truthfully, trails don’t get lost. People do. It’s not so rare as you might think. I heard a story once about a hunter lost in Maine. When one of the local guides found him, his excuse was, “I lost my compass.” The guide builds a fire to warm things up before starting home. Lost hunter hovering over the fire quips, “That feels toasty. Think I’ll slip off my boots and warm my feet.” As the second boot drops to the floor, the lost compass reappears and bounces across the floor. Every eye focuses on him, busily rubbing his hands together over the fire, a silly grin on his face.

    In Pagosa Country, hunters get lost almost every hunting season. I remember when a group of hunters asked for help finding a buddy lost on Wolf Creek Pass. Finally, he was located on a mountain shoulder up above Treasure Falls. “I lost the trail,” he uttered. We locals looked at each other knowingly, but kept quiet. We all knew we could hear and see cars and trucks crossing Wolf Creek Pass from the place the lost man was found.

    That’s not to say I couldn’t get lost. Back in the day, when I’d head out on a fishing expedition, I’d tell friends where I was going followed up by, “Don’t worry. I’ll come out somewhere.” I knew if I went down-hill, I’d eventually hit a road.

    Most of my trout fishing expeditions followed a branch of the Piedra or San Juan rivers up a canyon. To come home, I just had to retrace my steps down the river. On my San Juan National Forest map, I’d noticed that somewhere not too far from where I was fishing — whether north, west, east or south — there was a road.

    One of my favorite history persons was Kit Carson. Kit couldn’t read or write, but if you wanted to go anywhere in the USA West, Kit could take you there and get you home. His most famous trips came about when he made two trips from California to Washington, D.C., and back, horseback, 60 days per trip. One trip was in 1847, the other in 1848.

    I did see the name “Kit” carved in a rock near the remains of one of the old museums in Arizona. The man really got around.