Pagosa’s Past: Riding through the Weminuche wilderness

Photo courtesy John Motter
Horses and mules did most of the back-breaking labor back when logging first started in this country. These two- and four-legged loggers pictured here were working in the Edith area.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

This week, I’m describin’ one of my most memorable trail rides. Last week, I described how an old-time friend took me on a trail ride up Nipple Mountain. A week or so later, the same friend with the same Tennessee walking horses, took me explorin’ the Weminuche country.

To reach the Weminuche country, you start from Pagosa Springs by driving north on Piedra Road, and just before reaching Williams Creek Lake, you turn left on a dirt road and cross a small mountain ridge into the Weminuche Valley, where we parked at the end of the road. We entered what is now known as the Weminuche Wilderness Area. At the time of our trip, we were just riding into a wilderness known to be home to grizzly bears. The Weminuche Wilderness Area was created later.

If you share my enthusiasm for word origins, you might be wonderin’ about the word “Weminuche.” We learn from Wikipedia that the Weminuche were a band of Indians living in southwestern Colorado when white men first arrived. That tribe still has a reservation near Cortez. They were the last of the Four Corners Indian tribes to hang up their weapons. The meaning of the word Weminuche is unknown. The Weminuche Wilderness Area is the largest wilderness area in Colorado.

It was a steep, uphill climb as we ascended into the wilderness. The trail was narrow and rocky and protruding branches threatened our worn but comfortable Stetsons, not fit for a dance, but great for protectin’ our eyes from sun and rain. The horses were accommodatin’, slurpin’ up drinks when we splashed through an occasional pond or creek and ears erect and pointin’ at a nearby elk showin’ its unrest at our invasion of its territory with a loud snort.

We camped that first night by a small pond from which I caught a pan-sized cutthroat trout, a tasty addition to the biscuit I toasted over the camp fire. Our hobbled horses grazed in a nearby meadow, undisturbed as my compadre snored loud enough to scare off any kind of four-legged threat.

Early the next morning, we topped out over a small ridge where we could look down at the Pine River snakin’ its way up to the divide. An unoccupied Forest Service log cabin on the river bank reminded us that we weren’t the first to enjoy this wilderness. The sparkle of the creek was a-beckonin’ and an urge to limber up my fly rod was a tantalizing temptation, but my compadre didn’t care none about fishin’. He was ready to skedaddle home. I took one last look, feelin’ the urge to follow the Pine to the top and cross over to Creede or Silverton. Oh, well, maybe next time?