Pagosa’s Past: Stories of Nipple Mountain Trail

Photo courtesy John Motter
Several fires did a lot of damage in old Pagosa. The lack of a town water system complicated firefighting. The usual method was to form a bucket brigade, a row of men stretching from the fire to the river. Several buckets filled from the river passed from hand to hand as the townsmen battled the fire. Fires are one reason none of the first buildings circa 1876 remain.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

I’d been in Mullin’s barbershop, getting my weekly trim. We’d been talking about paths. Mostly, I’d been bragging about all of the paths I’d climbed in Pagosa Country. I’m living proof that the first liar doesn’t have a chance. The “I remember when” crowd was just getting started. “I remembers” were piling up higher than a barnyard manure pile as the three or four old-timers sipping a cup of joe took turns trying to prove they’d climbed the highest cliffs and lost the biggest stashes of gold that ever existed.

I’d just climbed out of town barber Earl Mullin’s barber chair as Earl swished the white cloth loaded with hair clippings from my shoulders. Before sweeping up the remainder of my tresses spread across the floor, he pointed the straight razor gripped in his right hand toward the mountains outlining the eastern skyline, cleared his throat, and began to talk. Everyone stopped to listen. Earl was a good storyteller and some of his stories were true.

“See that little slip of a mountain up there?” he looked at me as he pointed. “We call it Nipple Mountain. It’s shape defines the name. There’s a trail, we call it Nipple Mountain Trail, that follows along the Little Blanco River up to about parallel with Square Top Mountain. From there it swings north and then east up to Nipple Mountain, where it connects with the Continental Divide Trail which goes north and south and the Conejos River Trail dropping down the mountain on the eastern side. Well, if you turn left on the Continental Divide Trail, you’ll swing around a small lake and up the mountain behind the lake I’ve heard there is an old mine full of buckets of gold. Been up there myself, but couldn’t find it.” Earl swung the chair around and, as if he hadn’t stirred up a bunch of curiosity, looked around and said, “Who’s next?”

I’d forgotten what I’d planned to do that day as I cranked up Sputterbug, the old Studebaker truck still running with more miles than I knew because of the nonfunctional speedo. I munched on the green chili burrito I’d just bought for 50 cents from Helen’s Elkhorn Café, and watched almost helplessly as old Sputterbug turned up Mill Creek Road enroute to the Nipple Mountain Trail.