The Wreck Of Rio Grande Southern Engine No. 217

rio Grande Southern, Denver and Rio Grande railroad, engine 217, Lightner Creek, Ralpf Peake, train wreck, bridge collapse, fatal crash

Durango to Ridgeway

The Rio Grande Southern operated between Durango, Colorado, and Ridgeway, Colorado from 1890 until 1951. It handled freight and passengers during this time. It was originally built to reach the mines in Rico and Telluride. After the Silver Panic of 1893, it became key in transporting oil from the Fruitland oil fields to the Midwest Refinery in Salt Lake City.

The line was constantly plagued with rock slides, avalanches, floods, and fires. After the Silver Panic of 1893, money issues became a problem. The line constantly operated with second hand and refurbished equipment.


Wreck of Engine No. 217

Rio Grande Southern, Denver and Rio Grande, train wreck, engine No 217, engineer Ralph Peake
Inspector at the site of the crash of No 217 (photo in public domain)

On the days preceding the accident, heavy rains fell in the eastern La Plata Mountains. Lightner Creek, four miles west of Durango, Colorado became a raging torrent. Engine #217, on lease from the Denver and Rio Grande railroad, had been to Millwood Junction to help with a heavy freight. They were returning to Durango,  running light.

The Mancos (Colorado) Times reported that at 1:40 AM on the morning of September 8, 1919, Engine #217 approached the bridges at Lightner Creek. Engineer, Ralph Peake stopped and made a hasty inspection the bridges. He determined them safe and slowly crossed the first with no problem. On the second bridge, #162B,  the last two pilings gave way, turning the engine into the water on its right side. Peake was unable to free himself from the cab and drowned. His fireman, John Adams escaped without injury.

Safety concerns highlighted

The wreck of Rio Grande Southern engine No. 217 highlighted the growing conerns among carriers about railroad safety. It underscored the Rio Grande Southerns attitude toward safety. Two theories prevailed within the RGS management. One that accidents were caused by carelessness. The other that management was responsible for rail safety. The accident occurred amid a growing “Safety First” movement in the industry. Carriers were becoming more proactive in the maintenance of equipment and operating practices.

The notation on the first photo refers to engineer Harry Hurley. Harry  was an engineer killed in a train collision east of Sublette in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico on December 14, 1919.  It is possible that Harry was a friend or acquaintance of the person making the notation and there was confusion about the two accidents.

My sincere thanks go to the family of Linda Bonds for the use of the first photo. Additional thanks to the members of the Narrow Gauge Discussion Forum for their help in the discovery of the time and place of the wreck.

Wreck of Engine no 217west of durango (photo in public domain)

Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed this little piece of our history. Comments and suggestion are welcomed.






Clarkdale, NM-The Mystery Is Solved

Clarkdale, NM, Riverside, NM, Hendrix, NM, adandoned building,
Clarkdale, NM

The mystery of “Clarkdale” solved. For almost four decades I have been driving US Hwy 550 fromDurango, CO to Farmington, NM. Just passed the state line, one mile into New Mexico is a building with “Clarkdale” painted on the facade.

Part of Denver & Rio Grande Western?

It is within a quarter of a mile of the right of way of the Farmington Branch of the abandoned Denver & Rio Grande railroad. I always assumed that it might have been linked someway with the railroad. I have Googled Clarkdale and everything I could think of to find out about this mysterious building.

The Mystery Solved

Clarkdale abandoned guildings, ghost towns, abandoned america, Riverside New Mexico, Hendrix New Mexico
Clarkdale building from the rear

I finally found the answer in a new booklet “Place Names of San Juan County NM”, by Stephen Lane Wood.  Lane’s book is available at the Aztec Museum or the San Juan Historical Society. This unincorporated area is called Riverside, also called Hendricks or Hendrix, and was established as early as 1876 and actually had a Post Office from 1905 until 1938.

A Brief History

As for the building in question, it was owned by E E Clark. With the new highway and the booming railroad business brought on by the discovery of oil in the San Juan Basin, he saw what he thought was a great business opportunity. He opened a restaurant and envisioned the further development of the property. He named it “Clarkdale”.

 One  local resident remembered it, from the 1950s, as a “little store where you could get sodas, candy and other goodies”. Another life long resident remembered it as a grocery store.

Many people have passed by  in the ensuing years, wondering about Clarkdale. But E E Clark’s prosperity never came and his building still stands and a monument to his vision.


The Denver And Rio Grande Railroad- The San Juan Extension Pushes Westward To The Mines In Silverton

Denver & Rio Grande , San Juan Extension, narrow gauge
Baldwin 2-4-0 D&RGs first locomotive (photo in Public domain)

The railroad was instrumental in the settling of the American West. With the railroads came prosperity to the towns and territories it serviced.

Railroad building was  complicated and incredibly confusing. Companies merged, were taken over by larger roads, went bankruptcy, went into receivership or were abandoned. Some tracks were removed. Owners simply walked away from others.

One of the more important lines was the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. It filled the needs of the mountain communities of Colorado. It went “Thru the Rockies. Not Around Them”

General Palmer and his “baby road”

General William Palmer, a Civil War veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and civil engineer. He founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1870 with the purpose of tapping the perceived lucrative markets in New Mexico.  Palmer’s first-hand knowledge of the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales led him to choose the, never before used in the United States, narrow gauge rails due to lower cost of construction and equipment. Palmer aggressively promoted his idea and it turned out to be a major selling point for his funding efforts.

The “Rio Grande’s” original plan was to push south to Pueblo then up the Arkansas River to it’s confluence with the Rio Grande River. From there the poute would follow the Rio Grande River to Albuquerque and on to El Paso, Chihuahua, Mexico. There he hoped to connect with the Mexican Central Railway and open a trade link with Mexico.

His plan “B” was to expand south from Pueblo over Raton Pass, through Santa Fe and on to El Paso. Due to aggressive competition, particularly from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, he was forced to adopt this alternate plan.

The first spike

The first spike for the fledgling Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was driven at the bottom of 15th Street in Denver on July 28, 1871. Construction progressed as far as Colorado Springs by October 25, 1871.

The new railroad planned to tap into the rich agricultural, lumber and mining resources of the new Colorado Territory, as well as passenger traffic. Palmer planned to connect the mineral-rich territory of Colorado with the Rio Grande Valley which was described as” a garden only to be benefited by the presence of rail service”.

Financing the railroad

Palmer was plagued throughout his empire building by a lack of funds. He was, however, a master of fundraising. He would sell stock in the railroad, holding controlling shares. He would then sell bonds for construction and Palmer’s own construction company would build the lines.

One of his other techniques was to offer subscriptions to pools that formed land companies up and down the railroad. These land companies offered predesignated townsites to subscribers and conveyed in railroad stock. Thus, towns were formed in locations decided upon by the railroad from lands granted to the railroad by the federal government for the right of way. If a neighboring town was in the way they were merely bypassed. Towns would then be built by Palmer’s construction company.

Denver & Rio rande Railway,maps,Sna Juan Extension, southwest Colorado
Denver & Rio Grande Railway Sytem-1886

Palmer builds his empire

The Rio Grande railroad reached Pueblo, which had been established by General Palmer’s Central Colorado Improvement Company, in 1872.  The   Central Colorado Improvement Company established the first steel mill in the area in 1881. The Colorado Coal & Iron Company would become the largest employer in Colorado. Palmer built the facility to produce the rails for his railroads.  It utilized local resources; coal from Trinidad, iron from the San Luis Valley, limestone from Pueblo and water from the Arkansas River.

From Pueblo, the Rio Grande extended its line up the Arkansas River. It arrived in Canon City on July 6, 1874. Canon City became the staging point for all shipments of goods going south and west. Palmer’s Central Colorado Improvement Company now had control of the lucrative high-quality coal deposits and was operating at full capacity.

From Pueblo, Palmer extended his line to El Mora, just north of Trinidad in 1876. The Santa Fe Railroad’s terminus was only as far west as Las Animas, Colorado, 80 miles to the northeast. Palmer wanted to take advantage of the lack of freight service available to the coal fields around Chucharas and El Mora and the goods coming north out of New Mexico. Trinidad would serve both purposes.

The Panic of 1873 slowed expansion of the railroad and all of Colorado’s economy for the next three years. However, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe did push on reaching Pueblo in 1876. The fight was now on!

Palmer proceeded west arriving in Chuchara in February of 1876 and on to El Mora in October of that year. From Chuchara, he began to push west toward La Veta Pass and Alamosa in the San Luis Valley, arriving in July of 1878 as per his original plan.

Palmer loses the race to Raton Pass

Meanwhile, the Santa Fe headed for Raton from Las Animas to tap the coal deposit between there and Trinidad. In 1878, they beat the Rio Grande crew to the pass by only hours  and laid claim to the right of way.

A great deal of legal maneuvering ensued. There were acts of sabotage and threats of further violence. Finally, the Santa Fe hired local gunmen to protect their interests.

Faced with financial difficulties and armed resistance, the Rio Grande gave up its fight for Raton Pass. The dispute appeared to be over, but the battle heated up the following year.

The Royal Gorge Railroad War

With the discovery of silver in Leadville, both railroads made a dash for the Grand Canyon of  the Arkansas, the Royal Gorge, in the spring of 1878. The Rio Grande already had a track into Canon City, two miles east of the mouth of the gorge. The Santa Fe rushed to the same spot.

Royal Gorge,Grand Canyon of the Arkansas,Denver & Rio Grande Railroad
Royal Gorge-1892

Both railroads began grading west of Canyon City. The Santa FE crew actually arrived at the mouth of the gorge, once again, before the  Rio Grande crews and laid claim to the right of way.

Court orders were issued, gunfighters were hired by both sides. Acts of sabotage destroyed equipment and track. Threats were made, but there was little violence and little bloodshed.

Over the next two years, through injunctions and restraining orders, possession of the gorge went back and forth no less than four times. During this period, the Rio Grande had possession but no funds to operate or build. So the rights to operate and build in the gorge  were leased to the Santa Fe.  The Santa Fe continued to make improvements.

Finally, on March 27, 1880, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Rio Grande making the lease null and void. Unwilling to continue the battle, the Santa Fe agreed to relinquish rights to the Royal Gorge and a settlement was reached.

The Tripartite Agreement, known as the “Treaty of Boston” awarded the right to the Royal Gorge to the Rio Grande. The D&RG would pay $1.4 million to the Santa Fe for work completed plus “court costs”. The Rio Grande could not build east of its current north-south lines or south of the 36th parallel and east of the Spanish Range (Sangre de Cristo Range) in New Mexico or to Trinidad. The Santa Fe could not build, in Colorado, west of the Rio Grande’s existing north-south line or north of the 36th parallel west of the Spanish Range except for their line already to CanonCity. New Mexico was open west of the Spanish Range. Both sides were banned for a period of 10 years.

Thus ended the Colorado Railroad War. It opened up the way for the Rio Grande to move into the mining districts and the territory west of the front range.

Over La Veta Pass

La Veta Pass, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, Up Top Depot
The Rio Grande Cross La Veta Pass

Anticipating competition, Palmer had planned the route following the Arkansas River from the very beginning of his push to El Paso. In 1876, fearing pressure from the Santa Fe railroad at Raton Pass, he started his expansion over La Veta Pass and on into the San Luis Valley. He planned not only to tap into that region’s rich mineral and agricultural markets but this was his backup plan. If his plans to reach El Paso via Raton Pass failed he would simply head west to Alamosa and follow the Rio Grande River south through Albuquerque.

With the failed attempt, in 1878, to reach Raton Pass ahead of the Santa Fe, Palmer was deprived of the lucrative New Mexico traffic. Pressured by competition from the standard gauge competitors Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe and the Kansas Pacific, Palmer knew he couldn’t stand still. He pushed west out of Chuchara Junction, Colorado arriving in Garland, Colorado on July 1, 1877, and in Alamosa, Colorado July 10, 1878.

The original narrow gauge line over La Veta Pass crossed the Sangre de Cristo Range at an elevation of 9,380 feet above sea level. At the time, it reached the highest elevation of any railroad built in the United States at that time. It was an engineering marvel, steep and winding. The Rio Grande railroad billed it as “The Scenic Line of the World”.

Between the years of 1890 and 1899, the line was converted to dual gauge and then  to standard gauge and was moved south 9 miles to better accommodate the larger heavier equipment and to better work with the standard gauge lines servicing the territory.

The years from early 1878 to early 1880 saw little expansion on the Rio Grande. All of Palmer’s funds were going to fight the “Royal Gorge War”.

Santa Fe or bust?

Prior to the Treaty of Boston, the Rio Grande had laid track as far as Antonito, 29 miles south, with plans of going to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and El Paso. With the agreement not to build south of Espanola, NM, Palmer switched his attention westward to the mining districts in the San Juan Mountains. He would continue his Chili Line on to Espanola arriving there  on December 30, 1880.

Now that Palmer had lost his bid for the New Mexico trade he turned his focus to the mineral wealth of the central and the southern Rocky Mountains. Alamosa Colorado became the hub of this expansion. He went west to Del Norte, Colorado, through Wagon Wheel Gap and into Creede, Colorado in 1891. He headed north to connect with his Royal Gorge branch in Salida, Colorado. His main focus became the line west from Antonito, Colorado to Durango and Silverton in the San Juan Mountains.

San Juan Extension, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad
On to the San Juans


On to the San Juans

In November of 1879 contracts were let for the grading of the new San Juan Extension of the Rio Grande. Work on the line began in early 1880 and pushed west towards Cumbres Pass and Ogier, Colorado. The new line was to run from Antonito, Colorado, through Chama, New Mexico and on to the Animas River near the town of Animas City, Colorado.

The line snaked along the New Mexico /Colorado border on the north side of the Los Pinos River. The line followed the natural drainage of the Los Pinos River through narrow canyons and valleys and through the Toltec gorge where the line clung to the side of the canyon 600 feet above the river. It continued on through two tunnels and over  the 400 foot long Cascade Creek trestle to Cumbres pass at 10,015 feet. From that point, the line followed an old wagon toll road downhill following the Wolf Creek drainage. Where Wolf Creek joined the Rio Chama, the line crossed the deep drainage on the 300 foot long Lobato trestle.

Durango CO, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, San Juan Extension
Durango and Smelter Mountain

Next stop, Durango.

The railroad reached Chama, New Mexico on December 30th 1880 and established a division headquarters. Chama was the midway  point between Antonito and Animas City making it an ideal service point. Here they constructed a roundhouse, oil house, sand house, coal tipple, water tank and bunkhouse. The line now proceeded west from Chama, through the high desert of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Elevation changes between, and the Animas River and Chama are relatively minor so construction proceeded rapidly. The line arrived in what was to become Durango, Colorado on July 27, 1881.

As a side note, the small town of Animas City was the original destination of the Durango and Rio Grande, San Juan Extension. As excited as the residence of Animas City were to have a rail connection to the outside world, they were unwilling to meet Palmer’s demands for free land for the new town. So, in typical Palmer fashion, he simply built a new town 3 miles south of Animas City naming it Durango, after Durango Mexico and Durango, Spain.

In its early days, the line crossed numerous timber bridges over nameless creeks and rivers. Over the years many of the smaller

Hermosa Creek bridge, denver & Rio Grande Ralroad, San Juan Extension
Surviving timber bridge at Hermosa

bridges were replaced by fills and culverts. A few of the timber bridges survived. The rest were replaced with steel girder construction to facilitate heavier engines and rolling stock.

The Riches of the San Juans

The rail line between, New Mexico and Durango Colorado was rich in natural resources. The ore mined around Red Mountain and Silverton was shipped by rail to smelters in Denver and Pueblo. Coal mined near Herserus was used to fire the locomotives, for the coke mills in Silverton and for home and business heating.

Gato Colorado, Pagosa Junction, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, San Juan Extension
Pagosa Junction 2014

Timber was another valuable commodity shipped on the rail lines. Logging spurs sprouted off the mainline at Gato(Pagosa Junction) and Chama. Other spurs branched off at Lumberton and around Taos.

Oil also became a factor. In 1935 oil was discovered 13 miles west of Chama in the “Gramp’s” oil field. Oil was piped to Chama and sent by tanker car to the Oriental Refinery in Alamosa. Oil was discovered near Farmington ad oil field freight kept the road open into the 1960s.

The Farmington Branch was opened in 1905 to haul produce and

Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, Farmington Branch, San Juan Extension
Trestle bridge on the Farmington Branch

livestock to the miners and eastern markets. It was also built to prevent the Santa Fe from building a line north from Gallup.


A great deal has been written about the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. My focus, going forward will be on the abandoned rail spurs that split from the Rio Grande mainline.

I hope you have enjoyed the article and I hope that you will come back for future articles on the small but very important abandoned spurs and branches.

This narrative is but a brief overview of the history of the Denver and Rio Grande in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. I have tried to be as accurate as possible in my portrayal of the events of the time. Please leave any comments in the comment section. Any suggestions or any additions are greatly appreciated. If you would like to be notified of any new additions to this website you can subscribe using the form in the right sidebar.

You can also contact me on my profile page.

Thank you for visiting,










Hermosa, Colorado-“The Beautiful Place”

Red Cliffs, Hermosa, Animas Valley
Red Cliffs in Hermosa
Hermosa, Hermosa Peak
Hermosa Peak






Standing at the Hermosa Creek Bridge, one has only to slowly turn a full circle to know why Hermosa is called “the  Beautiful Place”. Across the Valley are the majestic Red Cliffs. Behind you, Hermosa Peak silently watches over it’s the fertile valley filled with orchards, farms, and ranches. A quiet, peaceful, “beautiful place”. It has been so since it was settled in 1873.

The Gold Rush

Cinnamon Pass, Charles Baker,Hermosa
Cinnamon Pass

With the discovery of gold,  near Denver in 1859, the rush to the Rockies was on. Captain Charles Baker led a group of prospectors west and south through the Gunnison River valley and over Cinnamon Pass into a high mountain valley. This would become Baker’s Park and the site of the mining boom town of Silverton.

The party searched for placer gold through the summer with limited success. Baker and 15 members of his party worked their way south down the Animas River valley and wintered at the north end of the lower Animas Valley. There they set up what they hoped to be a permanent town.They constructed the first bridge in the area. It was named Baker’s Bridge.

The new town, Animas City, was located on land owned by the Ute Indians. The Ute land reached west from, roughly where the hot springs at Pagosa are located. This land was legally off limits to mining and homesteading. Not trusting the whites, the Utes were not happy with the incursion on their land and tensions mounted.

With the outbreak of the Civil War and fearing for their lives, the Baker party abruptly abandoned the settlement in July 1861, leaving everything behind.

Effect of the Brunot Treaty

The end of the Civil War brought a renewed interest in the San Juan mountains and the lure of quick wealth. In 1872, the rush to the southwest Colorado mountains began. The army was sent to keep the trespassers out, but little effort was made to stop the rush. The need for a treaty was evident.

The Utes seldom hunted the higher reaches of the San Juan mountains so were willing to trade land for an annual cash payment and hunting rights. The Brunot Treaty was negotiated in September 1873. It provided for the Utes to cede land in the “mountaintops, not the valleys”. They would retain hunting rights “as long as the game lasted”. The whites were to stay off of Ute land. The Brunot  Treaty was ratified in April 1874.

Brunot Treaty map, homesteading La Plata County
1873 Map of The Brunot Treaty

This treaty opened the doors to settlement in the San Juans. Quickly the mining districts opened up. Miners flooded into the mountains. This created the need for supplies.

Hermosa was probably the first permanent “town” settled in the Animas Valley. There are references to a “Hermosa Townsite” but no known plats exits. Hermosa was located at the confluence of the Animas River and Hermosa Creek, 12 miles north of what would be Durango.

The mouth of the Hermosa Canyon provided a sheltered “pocket” with a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. Orchards would grow marvelously in this part of the valley.

The new community

By 1873, some farmers and ranchers  were already beginning to settle the Animas Valley, in advance of the ratification of the Brunot Treaty. In 1874 crops were already planted and by fall food was being harvested.

Two members of the Baker party returned in 1874. Seth Sackett and John Turner homesteaded near the site of the original Animas City. Early deeds refer to some of the early settlers John Dunn, Andrew Richardson and Billy Quinn.James Pinkerton acquired 160 acres of land straddling the river south of Baker’s Bridge and including the hot springs. He purchased dairy cattle and began producing dairy products for the mines. Pinkerton built a bath house at the hot spring for his family and friends. It would later become the Pinkerton in the Pines Resort.

James Pinkerton acquired 160 acres of land straddling the river south of Baker’s Bridge and including the hot springs. He purchased dairy cattle and began producing dairy products for the mines. Pinkerton built a bath house at the hot spring for his family and friends. It would later become the Pinkerton in the Pines Resort.

Hermosa House, Trimble Hot Springs, Frank Trimble
Hermosa House

Frank Trimble moved into the Animas Valley in 1875 and settled at the hot springs there. These waters were renowned for their healing powers. Trimble suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and injuries received during the Indian Wars in Oregon. He used the hot springs to soothe his wounds. He swore that they cured his ailments in the first month of living at the springs. In 1882, he built the Trimble Hotel, a two story hotel with fourteen guest rooms.

In 1875, goods began to arrive in the Animas Valley from the T. D. Burns stores in New Mexico. Burn’s daughter Rufina was married to Frank Trimble, so it is thought that Trimble’s homestead was used as a distribution point for these goods.

Also, in 1875 C.A. Trippe opened a general store in the “township” of Hermosa. In 1876, the first post office was opened in Trippe’s general store, with Andrew Fuller as the first postmaster. The post office would be in operation until 1929.

The agricultural community

Alfalfa was nutrient rich and helped improve the soil. Alfalfa was rotated with other important crops, such as potatoes, oats, barley, corn and garden vegetables. Orchards become the major crop of the area. “Bee yards” located throughout the alfalfa and clover fields  kept the crops in the area pollinated and local honey was as popular as the fruit.

In 1875, produce and supplies began flowing out of Hermosa to the mines via the Animas Canyon Toll Road and to the Army at Fort Lewis, near Hesperus.

T.A. Kerr established the first grist mill in Hermosa in 1876. He was followed by C.E. Dudley with a mill on his property near Hermosa by 1877.

The first grange in the county was established in Hermosa on April 1, 1911. The grange was one of the country’s oldest agricultural organizations. They were designed to help with loans, insurance and other economic problems of farmers.

Animas Valley Grange
Animas Valley Grange #194

Hermosa’s Orchards

Feller Farm, orchards, Hermosa
The Feller Farm

Because of its location at the mouth of Hermosa Canyon, the area provided a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. In 1876, Charles Dudley planted the first orchard in Hermosa. He produced apples and cider for the mines and the local market.

T.A. Kerr purchased land in 1883 and planted apples, pears, plums and sweet cherries. Between 1900 and 1903 Ole Lee, Andrew and Edgar Buchanan, Ervin Mead and Charles Dudley became fruit growers. The orchards became renowned throughout the region and earned numerous awards for quality and varieties.

A shocking development

The quiet little community of Hermosa was shocked in April of 1876 a water dispute broke out between neighbors Hugh Lambert and John Lamb. Lambert accused Lamb of diverting water from his land. Lambert threatened Lamb and a warrant was issued for Lambert’s arrest. While Deputy Edward Harris and his posse attempted to serve the warrant, gunfire broke out. Deputy Harris was shot and killed.

Lambert was arrested, charged and convicted in a courtroom in Lake City. He was sentenced to prison in the State penitentiary in Canon City. He was pardoned shortly thereafter by governor Routt. He did not return to the Animas Valley and his family sold their Waterfall ranch to Thomas Wigglesworth, the surveyor for the Denver &Rio Grande.

 The coming of the railroad

Denver and Rio Grande railroad, Hermosa water tank
Hermosa section stop

In November of 1881, the Denver&Rio Grande railroad arrived in Hermosa. For the next year, Hermosa became a full-fledged section camp. It included a 50,000-gallon water tank, a siding, a wye, coal house, bunkhouse and a depot.

The lumber for the railroad was provided by T.C. Graden’s sawmill located on the west side of the Animas River near Baker’s Bridge. The lumber for the original Hermosa Creek Bridge most likely came from Graden’s mill

Hermosa boasted three schools during its history. The first school was a log building built at Trimble in 1879. In 1882, a one-room school was established in an abandoned railroad building. In 1890, Richard Gaines donated land for a one-room school built on his ranch for grades one through eight. In 1925, a second room was added for grades nine and ten. The school was open until 1948 when it was consolidated into the Durango school system.

Hermosa Cemetery

The Hermosa cemetery is located about a mile north of the Hermosa settlement ( today it is located about a mile passed the  Hwy550/railroad crossing) It was officially established in 1906 on land purchased from and located on part of the Richard Gaines Ranch. Although this is the official date of the cemetery, the graves of several  settlers from as early as 1888 are found at this location.

Hermosa today

The old railroad yard still exists as a maintenance yard for the Durango and Silverton Railroad. The water tank still stands but is not in use, It has been replaced with a storage tank made from an old tanker car. There is an old mail car (numberX66), a maintenance shed containing a speed car and other repair equipment. The work yard replaces the other buildings, the siding, and the wye.

Immediately south of the work yard is the Hermosa Creek Bridge that crosses Hermosa Creek. It is a Howe pony truss bridge built in 1914 to replace the original bridge.

Hermosa Creek Bridge, Howe truss bridge, pony truss bridge. Denver & Rio Grande railroad
Hermosa Creek Bridge

Today the north part of the Animas Valley is showing the signs of rapid growth. There are mobile home parks and subdivisions with both spec and custom homes.  Along the west side of the highway and among these subdivisions, pioneer homes, and a few small orchards still exist. Many of the large farms and ranches in the Valley have been subdivided over the year. Some like the James ranch still exist. Some original pioneer families still live in the area.

pioneer home, Animas Valley, Hermosa
Pioneer home in the Animas Valley

In 1993, the Dalton Ranch Golf Club opened. It is now a 4-star golf course resurrected from alfalfa fields. The club includes a restaurant and pro golf shop.

Just west of the Hermosa Creek Bridge is the small community established by Albert and Jennie Cometti in 1960’s. They purchased the strip of land along Meade Ln in Hermosa. The property grew from a gas station/convenience store to a gas station convenience store, liquor store, and restaurant.

At Trimble Springs, a “shopping center ” was built in 2009. It includes a gourmet grocery store, a liquor store, and a hardware store.

The Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs is still in operation. It is open year around. Today it offers soaking pools and a single room and a two bedroom guesthouse.

The Culhane’s family owned Honeyville bee farm has been in operation since 1918. It is located about a mile north of the Hwy 550 and railroad crossing north of Hermosa.

The James Ranch located just up the road from Honeyville is a two generation 425 acre fully functional ranch. It features grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses,  pork, chickens, and eggs.  Organic vegetables are available in the summer. The Harvest Grill features a menu prepared with goods from the ranch.

James Ranch, grass fed cattle,
James Ranch







I hope you enjoyed my article. I strive for accuracy of content. If you have any suggestions or comments please leave them in the comment section. If you would like updates sent to you as they are published you can subscribe with the form in the right side bar.

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The author of this article was a resident of Hermosa from 1981-2009. The current photos are from my collection. These and others are available for viewing or sales at


Aztec Restaurant-A locals favorite restaurant

Wealthy Affiliate successful online business
Wealthy Affiliate successful online business

My wife and I like to visit the locals favorite diners and restaurants when we’re on the road. I like to find the best family restaurant near me.  There is no better way to find out about a town than to eat at a “locals” hangout. You see the “real” people of the community.

Real Down Home Cookin’

Aztec Restaurant
Aztec Restaurant

Recently, we went to the Aztec Restaurant here in Aztec, NM. It is  located  just east of the intersection of US Highway 550 and New Mexico  Highway 516.

We’ve lived here in Aztec for three years. It was our first time to eat at the Aztec Restaurant. The parking lot is always full at the meal hour, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. This is always a good sign.

A very pleasant surprise

The restaurant doesn’t look big from the outside but is quite spacious once you walk in. An old style counter that seats four  sits in the middle with a large dining room to the left. A smaller dining room is to the right. It’s a seat yourself, so pick a table and enjoy.


Our server was a very friendly young lady. She was quick, efficient and knew her menu. Our dinners came out quick and hot. This is always a good indication that the coordination of front of the staff and the kitchen is good, especially at the busy time.

The bill of fare

I had the Southwest combo with enchiladas and tacos. My wife had the stuffed sopapilla. I like my food spicy, but my wife does not. The Southwest fare is not too spicy for the weak of heart. For those of us who like a bite, they have some spicy salsa that will let you know you’re in New Mexico, but not curl your hair. As usual, the red chile sauce was a bit hotter than the green. And of course, they use only New Mexico certified green chili from Hatch, NM. 

The rest of the menu was basic with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner fare. There weren’t any fancy twists to the menu, but we weren’t there for French cuisine.  Prices were reasonable and portions ample. As I said before the food came out quickly and was hot. All in all very pleasing.

Dinner and dancing

The real surprise was the live entertainment we had during dinner at 7 pm. Live 50’s cowboy music featuring the likes   of Marty Robins, Hank Williams, and Ray Price. What a crowd. I don’t think there was a person there under 60 years old, all local ranchers, and their wives. Talk about dinner and a dance! Cowboy hats everywhere and two steppin’ couples all over the dance floor. And this was at 7 pm. Hot night in Aztec!!!!

I talked with a long time local who told me this is a regular Friday night occurrence. It has been a happening for quite a number of years. What a great time. Good classic cowboy music and dancin’ on  a Friday night. Us old folk can boogie and still be home for bed by 9 pm!!

So grab your best gal or guy and make it down to the Aztec Restaurant for dining and dancin’ on Friday night. And since you were home early you can make it back for breakfast too!

Come down for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The food is good, hot and priced to keep you comin’ back. You’ll be happy you did!

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Riding the Narrow Gauge

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The whistle of the narrow gauge steam locomotives can, once again, be heard in the mountains of southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico.The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad are steaming their way into another season.


Two generations of steam
Two generations of steam

The D&SNGRR and the C&TSR are all that remains of the San Juan Extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The rest of the Alamosa, CO to Durango line  was abandoned in 1968 and dismantled by 1971.

General Palmer’s” baby railroad”

The San Juan Extension was built by General William Palmer of the D&RGRR to tap into the silver and gold-rich mining district of southwest Colorado. The line was built on narrow gauge (3 foot) tracks. Narrow gauge was less expensive and was ideal for operating in the mountains. The line reached Durango by 1881 and Silverton by July of 1882. The Silverton Branch has been in continuous operation since then.

4-4-0 wood burning locomotive
Eureka & Palisade 4-4-0 wood burner

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway, from Antonito, CO to   Chama, NM, was purchased by the states of Colorado and New Mexico. It began passenger service in 1970.

Hollywood comes to the mountains

Over the years, Hollywood has used both lines in movies. The “Silverton ” has seen the most attention, starting in 1950,  with such titles as “Ticket to Tomahawk”, Rio Grande”, “Around the World in 80 Days”, “Night Passage”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Support Your Local Sheriff”. The Cumbres & Toltec had scenes from “Where the Hell’s That Gold” and the opening scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

Highest and Oldest

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge has the distinction of being the longest, continuously operated narrow gauge railroad in the  United States. It began operation  in 1882 and still runs year round today. It makes the daily 42 mile trip in the summer and fall.  In the winter, it runs half way to the Cascade Wye.

On the highline
On the Highline

The Cumbres & Toltec is the highest (in elevation) operating narrow gauge in the United States. It climbs over the 10,015 ft Cumbres Pass and through the Toltec Gorge on it’s 64-mile journey between Antonito and Chama.

Cumbres Pass
Cumbres Pass

So, for an experience not to be forgotten, come ride the rails for a glimpse into the past. Feel what it was like to make the trip to town in the 1880s.

For detailed information on schedules and rates, contact the individual lines. Bring your family, your camera and smiles. Remember to bring a jacket as it can get chilly at 10,000 ft.

Please visit the other pages of this site for more events, happenings and photos of the Four Corners.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please leave any comments and suggestions.





Which camera should I buy?

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You have your trip to the Four Corners planned. You’re getting everything together. Don’t forget  your camera. Do you already have one? Is it what you need? Do you need to purchase one?

Pentax K50
Pentax K50

I recently faced this same dilemma. I have an older model               Pentax DSLR, that I want to upgrade. Do I buy a new DSLR or add a point and shoot to my equipment bag? I will walk through the process I went through, trying to explain things on an entry level basis.

What are your needs?

I start by asking two questions.

1. What is your budget?

2.What type of photographs  will you be taking?

Will you be taking landscape, portrait, candid people or a mix of all these? How much walking and hiking will you be doing? Will you be in the water?  How much control of your camera do you want? Try to imagine any situation you may encounter. Hot and dusty? Cold and rainy? Crowds of people or desolate?   Four wheel drive roads or paved highway? Video or not?

Simple or more control?

Do your interests lie in recording your trip to the Four Corners in photos to show on social media, a family scrapbook or in prints and a more artistic approach? Are you concerned about weight and bulk? What options do you have?

DSLR, Point and Shoot or my Phone?

A DSLR is a digital single reflex camera. With a DSLR, you see what the lens sees. You can change lenses with a DSLR. They have larger image sensors for higher quality pictures. It has zero lag time (when you push the shutter button the photo is taken immediately) making it ideal for action shots. It is much more versatile than other styles. It is also heavier and bulkier.

A Point and Shoot is also called a compact camera. It is designed for simpler operation. Except for higher end cameras, they are designed for operation in Automatic mode or a “semi” Automatic mode (landscape, action, portrait, night modes). The camera still has most of the control. They are lighter, less bulky and easy to use. The mid to upper-end cameras have more features and do take exceptional pictures as with the Sony DSC- RX100iii.

Sony DSC RX-100iii
Sony DSC RX-100iii

Some phone cameras do take good pictures. They are very convenient, lightweight and your galleries of photos are readily available. Except on upper-end phones, the lag time is slow and can cause image blur. The image sensor is also extremely small making high-quality photos for printing difficult.

What about Pixels?

In today’s market, there seems to be a race to add more and more pixels. Pixels are a measure of quantity, not quality, so more is  not always better. Pixels are like little buckets on your sensor that collect the light your lens sees. Pixels also can vary in size.

Image sensor with pixels
Image sensor with pixels

Image sensors are more important. The image sensor is the digital equivalent of film. The  larger the sensor the larger the pixels can be, thus collecting more data per pixel. This makes for a higher quality picture.

T o give you rough pixel comparison, take three cameras with 8 megapixels. A smartphone, a point and shoot and a DSLR. The smartphone has a sensor the size of a baby aspirin, the P&S the size of your little fingernail, the DSLR the size of a postage stamp. So the pixels in the P&S are bigger than the smartphone and the DSLR bigger than the P&S. So the larger the pixel, the more data that is collected and the less data that spills out of the bucket.

So, how many megapixels do you need? What are you going to do with your photos? Here is a rule of thumb;

Quick, easy social media sharing, up to 3MP

Everyday use up to 5MP

Printed photos, art, professional, minimum 12MP

Many factors enter into the pixel debate. For more detailed information visit, How Many Megapixels Do You Need?

A few more questions

Is the viewfinder an LED Screen or TTL (through the lens, viewing with your eye to the camera, old style). I find there is too much glare for me to see the LED screen on bright sunny days. So I prefer a TTL viewfinder. These are becoming harder to find in compact camera except in a few models. Because of phone cameras, people are accustomed to using LED viewfinders.

I look for the ability for the camera to shoot in “RAW”. All cameras are programmed to do a certain amount of processing in the camera. It will adjust your picture for color, sharpness, contrast and white balance among other corrections. . RAW makes no in camera corrections. It’s similar to the negative from an old film camera. It needs to be “developed” in your post processing software. Using RAW will help you do more with your photos., It does require more work.

I like to shoot in Manual mode. I have more control of what I can do with my camera.I can adjust it for long exposures, low light or night photography. In short I look for more control.  My wife says I have control issues?

Which Brand?

Nikon and Canon are the icons of the industry. There will be an  eternal argument over which is best. Both have their pros and cons. Both are excellent cameras. But, don’t overlook other brands such Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung,  Fuji and the list goes on. Take a look beyond the big names as there are some wonderful cameras by other manufacturers.

New, Refurbished or Pre-owned?

If you are not on a strict budget, new is fine. I recommend buying from a reputable dealer. Good deals can be found on Amazon. If you prefer a specialized camera outlet I recommend Adorama.

You can find some great deals on refurbished gear. Refurbished gear is gear that the manufacturer has returned to original factory specifications. Most manufacturers offer  warranties ranging from 90 days to one year. Once I have decided on a camera, I go to refurbished first. It easier on the budget and you get a warranty.

Pre-owned can be an option. Be certain you know your seller or that it comes from a reputable dealer. Always look for a warranty of some kind. Just remember, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.


Don’t forget your accessories. If you have decided on DSLR you will certainly need a tripod or monopod, a camera bag and/or carrier.

Manfroto tripod
Manfrotto tripod

For high-quality photos, a tripod is a necessity. An inexpensive tripod is like not having one at all. A gust of wind or even your shutter release will cause the camera to shake. Manfrotto tripods and monopods are among the best and affordable.

Camera bags are also a necessity, not only for transporting your gear but protecting it from the elements and drops. Bags come in all shapes and sizes. The bag you choose is strictly a matter of personal preference depending on your needs. I have multiple lenses and I like to hike the trails here in the Four Corners. I use a backpack style so I can carry the gear I have. So that I can have my camera “at the ready”, I use a Cotton Carrier harness for my camera and extra lens.

Cotton Carrier
Cotton Carrier

Bottom Line

If this seems daunting, have faith, with a little homework you will find what you are looking for. A good site for camera reviews is Digital Photography Review. Spend some time, think about what your needs are and do some research. The important thing is to keep shooting and have fun.

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Animas River Days-A Whitewater Rodeo 2015

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Over the Memorial Day weekend, Durango, CO, celebrates the Animas River Days. This year

River Rafting
Animas River Days

all events being held on Saturday,June 4, 2016. There will be something for everyone including our canine friends.

Whitewater Park

Events will be held at the New Whitewater Park just south of

kayaking on the Animas River
Taking a Break

downtown Durango. Whitewater Park is one of only a handful of year-round Olympic training sites. It boasts 12 rapid features, the larger of these are rated a Class IV in high water.


The Animas River Days began in 1982 when local Nancy Wiley put on the first “Whitewater rodeo”. Over the years, the Whitewater Park was built and improved. The events have expanded  and attendance has grown. New events have been added for SUP’s (stand up paddle board) and “fetch” contests for our furry retrievers.

If it floats

You will see a wide variety of watercraft participating. All types of inflatables, kayaks, canoes, dories and SUPs will be represented. If it floats and the judges deem it “river worthy”, it is welcome.

There will be events all day beginning with the Kayak Slalom at 8:30 AM and ending  with the Late Night Dance Party at the Balcony Bar and Grill. The outrageous River Parade is scheduled at 5 PM.

Event Schedule
Music & Entertainment
  • Americana de Animas – acoustic folk & Bluegrass, 11:00 am at Santa Rita Park
  • Stillwater Faculty Band – jazz, funk and latin music, 11:30 am at Santa Rita Park
  • Groove Casters – Classic disco, funk, pop and rock,12:00 pm at Santa Rita Park
  • Soul What – Classic and modern soul music, 1:30 pm at Santa Rita Park
  • 32nd Street Latin Allstars – Classic salsa, latin jazz/rock, 2:30 pm at Santa Rita Park
  • The Crags – Retro rock, surf and alt-country, 4:00 pm at Santa Rita Park
  • Soul Atomic – 5:30 pm during the Parade Viewing Party at Santa Rita Park
  • Late Night Dance Party – Featuring Soul Atomic and DJ, Producer and Unicorn Wrangler straight from LA, divaDanielle, 10:00 pm at the Balcony Bar & Grill – Backstage, $5 cover

For more events throughout the Four Corners region, this summer pleases visit us at

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Visiting the Four Corners this Summer?

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With the unofficial start of summer only two weeks away, it is a good time to talk about visiting the Four Corners. The list of events, attractions and activities seems endless, if not exceedingly diverse.

A day at the lake
An afternoon sail
The Four Corners awakens

The region seems to awaken after a long winter’s nap. Cities, towns, and communities all seem to have their own special celebration. Silverton hosts Hardrockers Holidays, Pagosa Springs hosts the Four Corners Folk Festival and Farmington, NM presents the Outdoor Summer Theater.  Everywhere you go something is happening.

early flowers
Spring is here
A festival for everyone

From Telluride to Pagosa Springs, Moab to Durango and Farmington,  a festival can be found to satisfy anyone’s taste. Music, film, food, flowers, wine, craft beer, and local spirits are there for you to enjoy.

“Here they come!”
Fishing, boating, and golf.

If you’re looking for an outdoor activity or adventure, visit the  Four Corners. The Colorado, Rio Grande, San Juan, Animas and Dolores Rivers offer all the rafting, kayaking and fishing you could want. The San Juan River Quality waters offer some of the best in the world!

Lake Powell, Navajo Dam, Vallecito Reservoir, along with numerous  smaller lakes provide all the fishing and water sports a person could want.

Golf enthusiasts have a choice of over 30 municipal and public courses. You have your choice of 9, 18, 36 and 72 hole options. All levels of difficulty are addressed. Pinion Hills Golf Course has been rated one of the best municipal golf courses in the country by Golf Digest.

White Water Rafting on the Animas River
Smelter Rapids

All of the many Telluride Festivals and Durango events,  the Pagosa Folk and Bluegrass Festival, Music in the Mountains and the Gallup Inter-tribal Pow Wow provide something  for everyone. All types of music and cultural experiences are presented.

The Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride and the Telluride Film Festival  afford an excellent opportunity to view the works of independent filmmakers. The Moab International Film Festival rounds out the season in November.

Native dancer
Southern Ute dancer
Wine, craft beer and local spirits

For the connoisseur of fine wine, craft beer, and local specialty spirits, one only has to go to the Telluride Wine Festival, jump on board the Durango Brew Train or join the San Juan Brewfest in Durango’s Buckley Park to enjoy a taste of local and international excellence.

local brewery
Durango Brewery
Flea and farmers markets

Many towns have weekly flea and farmer’s markets.  Hidden treasures may be lurking on one of the many tables. If it’s Navajo weaving or jewelry you are looking for the markets in Gallup and Shiprock are a must!

Weekly farmer’s markets in Cortez, Farmington, Aztec, Durango and Telluride are a great place to pick up fresh produce if you are camping or cooking for yourself. In some areas, local farms have their own stores such as Sutherland Farms in Aztec, NM.

Near Aztec
Animas Valley Ranch
Hiking, backpacking, and biking

The Four Corners  region offers some of the most diverse hiking, backpacking and biking trails to be found anywhere. If it’s desert, 14,000 ft peaks, or what lies in between, you’ll find it here. Moab and Durango have both host World Championship mountain bike races. Trails for all levels are found throughout the Four Corners.

Over 30 National forests, National Monuments. National ParkService, state parks, and other public land offer thousands of miles of trails of all difficulties. Within the Four Corners region, there are also no less than 18 designated Wilderness areas.

Weminuche Wilderness 2001
Chicago Basin
National Parks, Monuments state parks, and tribal parks.

All of the parks in the region have special days and events to offer the public. Some offer guided tours to closed and partially or excavated ruins. Some, such as Chaco Canyon National Historical

Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Chimney Rock National Monument have solstice programs as well as other workshops. Check with the park for the date and times. 

Remember the county fair!

Don’t forget the county fairs! It signals the winding down of summer activities and the coming of fall and the next season. Colors in the high country!

I have tried to cover a great deal of material and links in this entry. There is a great deal more that I can’t touch in one sitting. In the days and weeks to come, I will add more and go into more detail on some events and activities.

You can find more links on the pages of my website under UPCOMING  EVENTS and ATTRACTIONS. In my STORE,  there are books I recommend and have used in the past.

I hope you have enjoyed my latest post. As always, thank you and please leave a comment or suggestion.

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Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

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As we approach the Memorial Day Weekend, I thought it would be time to address the first big event in the Four Corners for the summer. That for, for me, would be the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

Iron Horse History

The IHBC is a bicycle event held in and around Durango, CO. It is in

Iron Horse Bicycle Classic
The first Iron Horse Classic

its 44th  year and held over the Memorial Day weekend.

It started a bet between two brothers, Tom and Jim Mayer. Which could reach Silverton, CO first, the steam-powered train or a man on a bicycle? It was all “uphill” from there.

My connection

It’s ironic how things happen. My first participation in the IHBC was on a bet! On an afternoon, in 1986, during a “lively discussion” over a few beers, a friend bet me I couldn’t beat him to Silverton on a bicycle. Not realizing what I was getting myself into and never being one to turn down a challenge, I accepted.

The ride itself is not for the faint of heart. It is just short of 50 miles and climbs over two major mountain passes over 10,000 feet.  The

Elevation chart
Iron Horse elevation chart

altitude ranges from 6,500 feet in Durango to 10,910 feet at the top Molas Pass.

I rode in the IHBC Citizens Tour four times from 1986-1989. My best effort was 2:45 and yes I did beat the train!

The whole experience of the IHBC was a memory of a lifetime. There were months of training in some of the most spectacular country in the world. The friends that I rode with


are still, great comrades. It was a major accomplishment in my life, not once, but four times.

A bicycle event

The IHBC has grown from a road race to a bicycle event drawing over 3,000 participants from all 50 states and worldwide.>Mountain

Water hazard!
Water hazard!

biking added a new dimension to the weekend. Many events have been added and some dropped over the 44-year history.

Downtown Durango becomes race course as riders navigate the cross-country course through the streets and, alleys and even a brewery. The Morehart Murphy Subaru Circuit Race takes racers through the streets of Durango and up and around Fort Lewis College on the mesa overlooking downtown. The BP Time Trial takes riders north out of Durango through the scenic Animas Valley to the Old Shalona Hill.  There are even races for kids ranging in age from 3-12 years.

There really is something for everyone. Check out the full schedule of events. I hope you enjoyed my post. Please leave any comments or suggestions and please join us for a great weekend in Durango, CO!

Visit my Upcoming Events page for more activities in the Four Corners