Water

Water Articles

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon
A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

The idea of a water passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean had long captivated the imagination of early explorers.  Soon after the Territory of Colorado was established, the United States government made a standing offer of $3,750 to anyone who could demonstrate such a route.

In 1869 a dreamer named Sam Adams convinced some people in the town of Breckenridge that goods could be sent upriver via the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and South Platte Rivers to South Park.  Then, with a short portage over Boreas pass, they could continue down the Blue River to the Grand (Colorado) River and then through Gore Canyon the Sea of Cortez.

Volunteers were told they would share in the prize, and they built four boats of green lumber for the voyage.  The flotilla was launched with great celebration, the lead boat bearing a banner proclaiming "Western Colorado to California ? Greetings!"  A little dog was given to the crew to keep up morale.

As the boats went down the Blue River, the waters were a bit rougher than expected. When the men arrived at the Grand (Colorado) River, the crew set up camp. However several of the "sailors" declared they had had enough and began a trek, via dry land back home to Breckenridge.

When the boats reached Gore Canyon, they encountered violent upsurges and dramatic drops.  The wild waters smashed all four of the vessels on dangerous rocks.  Fortunately, all members made it to dry land, even the little dog.  No reward was ever given for the attempt.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project
Colorado-Big Thompson Project

The idea of diverting water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide to the productive farmlands of the eastern plains had been a dream of planners as early as 1929.  Subsequently,  a long period of drought and the sagging economy of the “Great Depression” whetted demands for what became the largest trans-mountain diversion project ever built.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  The water flows through a 13 mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.  In order to supply the residential and farming needs of Northeastern Colorado, the project was begun in 1938 and continued through the years of World War II.  The first water flowed though the tunnel, named for Senator Alva B. Adams, on June 23, 1947.

In order to assure an adequate supply from Grand Lake, a dam was built creating Shadow Mountain Reservoir.  A larger lake, Granby Reservoir was then built below, with a unique pumping plant that forces water into Shadow Mountain.  The Farr Pumping Plant cost over $9 million and provides an additional 700,000 of irrigated land to northeastern Colorado.  Further reservoirs were added, both to supplement the diversion and to compensate the water needs of Western Colorado.  These include Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs in Grand County.

While most legislators were enthusiastic about the project, U.S. Representative Edward Taylor was vehemently opposed to the reduction of water flowing down the Colorado River.  A compromise was reached in the creation of Green Mountain Reservoir (on the Blue River), which reserves water to replenish the Colorado River.   The city of Denver later claimed upstream water on the Blue River for the massive diversion project of Dillon Reservoir

Claims on the water of the Colorado River range from the fruit and wine regions of the Grand Valley in Colorado all the way to Los Angeles and Mexico.  It can be said that every snowflake which falls in Western Colorado had already been over-appropriated, especially during drought periods in the arid West.

Early Water Disagreements
Early Water Disagreements

As fast as settlers arrived in the county, conflicts arose over water use.  George T. Bell, an early rancher on the Blue River in the 1890's, had water rights coming out of Deep Creek, Spring Creek, and Soda and Iron Springs.  Daughter Maud Bell had married James Mugrage and when her father died in 1925, she and James stayed on the ranch of about 800 acres, to operate it.  She reported years later that when Noonen, a large rancher also on the Blue, built his ditch, he took much of the Bell water and used it for his own benefit.  Many years later, Maud discovered that although her father was long dead, those early water rights still belonged to the Bells, not the Noonens. 

Another family, that of George Henricks, settled far up the Troublesome Valley, about 1900, in what was truly an inaccessible spot.  What possessed him to pick such a remote area for his ranch?  Because when he and his wife Aurille lived in Nebraska and tried to make a living on their farm, farmers upstream stole their water to the point that they couldn't keep their crops alive.  Aurille actually had to use the same batch of water for two or three purposes!  As water fights escalated, George vowed to find a place where nobody could be above him and his water source. Rancher Will Call took him far up the Troublesome valley to a large meadow, reachable only by foot or horseback.  Life wasn't easy, for George and Aurille had to do everything from scratch, and they lived in a cabin with a dirt floor for many years.  But nobody took his water! 

Even more recently there was a case on Crooked Creek, where a ranching family that owned quite a good spring and used it to water their hay, discovered that a new neighbor was diverting the water from the spring over onto his own land, to water his own hay!  The rancher protested and diverted the water back where it belonged.  The newcomer turned around and stole it again.  This situation went on for many years without good satisfaction.

The Kirtz Ditch development on the Troublesome began about 1890.  In 1911, an Elias T. Copelin homesteaded land, later adjacent to the Alexander and George Murray Baker ranches.  One day Copelin and Murray Baker, one of the brothers, got into an argument over water rights in the Kirtz Ditch, each accusing the other of stealing his water.  Murray, who was a little guy with a fierce temper, picked up a shovel and gave Copelin a mighty whack with it.  Copelin fell to the ground but after a bit picked himself up, climbed on his horse, and headed toward his home.  However, the blow must have damaged his brain because he was found the next day, dead on the ground at his own gate

High on Meadow Creek, in the early 1900's, lumber activity began in the area later known as Sawmill Meadow.  About 1910, the Western Land and Flume Co. put in a little dam near what is now the trailhead to Columbine Lake.  The resulting lake, today filled with water lilies, was used as a holding pond for logs that would be moved by flume to the main mill downstream in Tabernash.  This lumber company sold to Western Box & Lumber Company in 1912.  Business flourished.  There was even a short railroad going into the woods, with the tracks made of logs about 6" to 8" in diameter.  Prospects looked good.  However, from the beginning water rights were an issue. Some people say it was Nathan Hurd who broke the company.  Western Box had lost some of its water to the Strawberry Ditch (going to Granby) in 1914.  More trouble was looming.  Hurd wanted to keep the water from the little reservoir for the ranchers and lettuce farmers below.  The timber folks wanted to use the water during the summer months to keep the flume going.  Nobody was willing to give up anything, so in 1915, the big mill closed.   Still, efforts continued.

Then in 1919, the planing mill at Tabernash burned.  In the early twenties, further contention led to the withholding of more water from the lumber companies who wanted permission to ditch Trail Creek water across into Meadow Creek, replacing water taken higher up for the flume and Strawberry Ditch.  This would have been quite easy because, about seven miles out of Tabernash is a nearly flat saddle that exists between the two creeks.   Nevertheless the Hurds wouldn't hear of it.

Then one Henry Jarvis showed up on the scene.  He was known to all the timber men.  In 1923, Jarvis, using a box of TNT, "blew the dam" of the irrigation reservoir at Western Box.  People suspected that he did it for T.S. Huston, one of the big lumber powers of the area.  The feeling was that "if the lumbermen couldn't have the water, neither could the ranchers and the Granby farmers."  In any case, that basically was the end of Western Box Company. 

Grand Lake
Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

Moving Water from Point A to Point B
Moving Water from Point A to Point B

Most serious ranchers had more than one ditch and most built one or more reservoirs. Hilry Harris, Munroe C. Wythe, Samuel H. Burghard, and John A. Coulter entered the first water claim in the county on September 20, 1874. This came out of Sheep Creek above the head of Gore Canyon.

There usually was some natural irrigation; but the challenge of getting the water from the creek required laborious construction of diversion dams, headgates, and ditches, the earliest ditches being dug by hand and often taking up to four years to complete. Later, ditches were dug using teams and scrapers. The grade was figured out initially by simple gravity flow, letting a trickle of water move down the ditch. Soon ranchers refined the process, using a 16’ long board placed with a 1/8" slope, determined by a carpenter’s level. A.F. and Roy Polhamus surveyed a great many of the water ditches, especially those impressive ones in West Grand County, some of which even had tunnels involved. Most small ditches supplied just one ranch, but if a ditch had to cross another ranch, that rancher usually got a share. And some of these ditches were long!

For instance, Dr. Henry Hoagland, on the Blue River, anticipated getting water close at hand from Spruce Creek. Instead, he discovered an old timer had previous rights that forced him to go back into the mountains and build a 13-mile long ditch. Hoagland had figured on spending about $7000; in the end, the actual cost was $26,000! His crew dug the ditch around side hills and across valleys using flumes and siphons. Then his real troubles began. Terrible leaks and washouts occurred everywhere. Finally he hauled in adobe and put this in the bottom of the ditch, rented sheep, and drove them day after day up and down the ditch to pack it. After a couple of years of using this tamping process, the ditch held. Other ditches were even longer. The Church Ditch at Willow Creek and the Wheatley Ditch on the back Troublesome were both 16 miles long.

The Company Ditch (aka the Williams Fork Ditch), eight feet wide on the bottom, was another long one. Built between 1903 and 1907, it cost $44,000 and had a decree for 150 cubic feet / second. The ditch went uphill and down, requiring many flumes and bridges. One flume was actually 1200 feet long! Subsequent breakdowns, leaks, and slides were so frequent and repairs so extremely costly that old-timers have said the reason the Company Ranch went broke about 1920 was the expense of The Ditch. The Lyman Ditch (or the Curtis), started about 1891, was just as complicated as the Company Ditch. Crossing high above the Williams Fork River, the ditch eventually needed cement piers to carry the pipe (1928). This ditch had so many slides, leaks, and washouts, that it had to be inspected once or twice daily! Siphons were required over draws. Flumes, sometimes ¼ mile long, might be 25-30 feet high, and one flume was actually 177 feet high; but these heights were necessary to maintain the elevation.

Flumes, being of wood, rotted and were guaranteed to leak. Sometimes wind blew a portion of the flume down. Finally the county put in big pipes to help the ditches across the Williams Fork. It might be noted that, when water leaked out of ditches, a side benefit was that ranchers along the way could use the "lost" water. Along with the ditches came reservoirs.

Fred DeBerard had four reservoirs on the Muddy: the Albert, the Binco, Milk Creek, and a low one that flooded the Jones place near Kremmling. All were dirt, of course. The Hermosa Ranch on the Little Muddy had water rights through the Sylvan Ditch and Reservoir Company and they built the Sylvan Reservoir dam and the Hermosa Ditch starting in 1911 and completing it by the spring of 1916. The Stein Ditch, started in 1897, was another large ditch, this one later purchased by the Taussig family. These ditches were all built originally to provide water to meadows and fields for ranching purposes. For years, people hauled in water for baths and household use, but that gradually changed. Leon Almirall, near the Horseshoe Ranger Station on the Williams Fork, decided that he wanted water for his home, so he built a 1700’ pipeline to his house, added an inside bathroom, and was shocked when the line froze the first winter – it was only three feet deep. He called in workers who dug down and insulated the line with manure and straw. It froze again. Finally, Almirall gave up and buried the line six feet deep. Now he had his water!

On Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, E.D. Shew cut a ditch upstream from his house, placing it along the edge of the creek, but directing the water back into the main channel near his house. At that point, he put a little water wheel that pushed the water up the hill to his cabins -- and furnished electricity besides. Eventually he replaced the water wheel with a gas engine. There was a similar water wheel, used for the same purpose, up in Hideaway Park.

Water was used to transport lumber as well. A flume ran down the mountain into Monarch Lake, in the days when the Monarch Company was timbering there. There was a flume along St. Louis Creek, carrying lumber from the camps upstream. Perhaps the most ambitious flume ran from Western Box Sawmill. This area is now under Meadow Creek Reservoir. In 1906, the Deisher Lumber Company paid Nathan Hurd for a right of way through his land and built a flume with a 2% grade down Hurd Creek. Logs were placed in the flume and a horse harnessed to the last log. The horse then pushed the logs down the flume with the help of the water. Three years later, the mill was moved to "Sawmill Meadow" on Meadow Creek.

In 1911 construction on the seven-mile-long Vaver Flume began, with 117 cubic inches of water allotment. This flume ran down Meadow Creek and over to Tabernash, carrying partially processed logs for further manufacture. A flume rider checked along the way, making sure there were no jams, and phone line allowed the rider to report troubles. Hikers can see remnants of both the St. Louis Creek flume and that one coming down Meadow Creek today.

Onahu Creek
Onahu Creek

Onahu Creek was called Fish Creek and is a tributary of the North Fork of the Colorado River. The name refers to one of the Indian race horses who came up to a campfire to warm himself, and the name means “warms himself“.  The horse ultimately died on Fish Creek and gave his name to the waterway.

Water
Water

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River — the river that brings water to five other arid Western states. Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.

On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers — all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem. 60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.

Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.

Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch
Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch

 Though few, high altitude water ditches have had a major impact on Grand County's history and economy, there were many early valley ditches transporting this precious commodity from water-right sources to the owner's ranch. However, the threat of transporting great volumes of water from our county to Boulder County via high altitude ditches appeared back in 1889.  Certain interests east of the Divide talked the Legislature into appropriating $25,000, for surveying and developing a 20-mile-long canal over South Boulder Pass to South Boulder Creek.  Amazingly, neither Grand County residents nor very many others opposed this notion.  Luckily the state engineer found the terrain so difficult that not even $2000 was ever spent on the project.


The next effort occurred also in 1889.  This privately financed plan was to develop a two-branched canal system that would move 700 second feet of water to a half-mile tunnel just beneath Berthoud Pass at over 11,000 feet, thence down to Clear Creek and on to the Golden area.  Initial surveys were begun that fall and roads laid out the following year.  The effort bogged down but was resurrected in 1900 under the Agricultural Ditch Co., supplemented in 1902 with the Berthoud Canal Co.  The canal was partially completed by the Frank Church family ranching interests of Jefferson County by 1906.  The ditch, which can be walked today, runs from Second Creek to Berthoud Pass, though it no longer carries much water.  However, the Church Ditch water rights coming from Clear Creek still exist and today are owned by Northglenn.

Proposed in 1890 by the Water Supply and Storage Company of Fort Collins, a greater canal was to be built 1000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley, that would tap the high tributaries of the North Fork of the Grand River, sending the water over Poudre Pass to a reservoir and then into the Cache La Poudre River and on to agricultural areas east of the Front Range.  The water company, later known as the Grand River Ditch Company, appropriated 525 second feet at the time of the initial diversion in 1892.  (When the Grand River was renamed the Colorado River in 1921, the company was changed to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.)  The ditch was dug by hand, primarily by Japanese and Mexican laborers.  By 1900, water was flowing eastward.  

By 1906, this major canal, known as the Grand Ditch, and draining water from the Never Summer Range, had a capacity of nearly 358 second feet with 12 headgates within 8 miles, running from Baker Creek to the pass at 10,179 feet, plus a smaller canal carrying 183 second feet within 11 miles, coming from Specimen Mountain.  In 1936, using machinery, the ditch was lengthened to 14 miles.  The Grand Ditch is about 20 feet wide and 6 feet deep, though the water is rarely more than 3 feet deep, and this water irrigates some 40,000 acres in Weld and Larimer counties.&gt>

The National Park Service has argued against the allocation of all this water to the canal as it is needed to support plant life and animal habitat.  Becuase river water flow was cut in half, the immediate effect was a reduction in the fish population in the Colorado River.  More recently, a major washout in the ditch caused devastating damage to the slopes below the ditch and to the Colorado River itself.  Hikers climbing up from the valley use the Grand Ditch as a route to the high peaks and lake.  But as viewed from below, the Grand Ditch is often considered an ugly scar on the landscape.

Williams Fork Reservoir
Williams Fork Reservoir

Article contributed by Liz Church

 

Williams Fork Reservoir plays an important role in water conservation, while being an asset in revealing archaeological data of earlier existent peoples in the region. The reservoir is located about 12 miles southeast of Kremmling at an elevation of 7874 ft. in Grand County, Colorado, near the center of Middle Park. Williams Fork is a tributary of the Colorado River, extending from Clear Creek to Vasquez Creek, with the Vasquez Tunnel running through and its completion in 1959.

 

Williams Fork is a water source to the Denver Metro Area, with diverted water from high elevation tributaries of the Williams Fork River to the Gumlick Tunnel for departure to the Moffat Tunnel system. Standing 217 feet above the Williams Fork River streambed, the dam backs up a reservoir of 97,000 acre feet of water.

 

Williams Fork is also a Paleo-Indian site.  Archaeologists believe that 12,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, people migrated from Asia into North America. Most Paleo-Indian sites are identified by an existence of projectile points. The Williams Fork Reservoir was dominated by James Allen projectile points, a categorized set of points, or better known as a categorized set of stone tools. The reservoir allows archaeologists to access the extent in which the James Allen points and perhaps earlier existent groups were bestowing the mountains during the Holocene period, the name given to the last 10,000 years of the Earth's history.

 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips-Williams_Fork_Reservoir _Site

 

Articles to Browse

Ute Legend of Canyons

Major John Wesley Powell was in the first party to make a recorded climb of Pikes Peak in 1868.  Later, he would lead the first expedition of the Green and Colorado (Grand) Rivers. He was very interested in the Indian tribes that he encountered and later became head of the new U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.  He recorded this legend as told by the Utes on his first visit to the Colorado mountains, during his Pikes Peak climb.

A chief of the Utes mourned the death of his beloved wife, and his grief was so deep, that no one could console him.  Then the Great Spirit, Ta-Vwoats, appeared to him and promised to take him southwest to where he could see where his wife had gone, if he would promise to grieve no more.

Ta-Vwoats rolled a magical ball before him and it crushed mountains, earth and rocks, making a trail to the land of the afterlife.  Following the ball was a rolling globe of fire which the Great Spirit and the chief followed.  At last they were in the happy land where all was blessed with plenty and joy.  This was where the chief's wife had gone and he was glad to see it.

When they returned, Ta-Vwoats told the chief that he must never travel that trail again during life and warned all the people against it.  Knowing that those who had lost their loved ones would be tempted to make the journey, Ta-Vwoats rolled a river into the canyons so that no one could enter.

Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

Topic: Agriculture

Worm Farms and Other Gardens

Have you ever heard of a worm farm? Harry French Sr., who lived for many years at Azure, on the Colorado River, loved to fish, anywhere and anytime.  He had brought the first angleworms into the valley from Iowa.  At his Azure homestead, he made a worm bed and got his worms established. Pretty soon, everybody came by to get some worms for their own needs.  

Worms can’t be found just anywhere in these high mountain valleys. However, at the Arkell place (Diamond Bar T) on Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, luckily someone had planted worms in a corner of the garden plot and this was the only place the Arkells could find worms.  At one point, Gertrude Arkell’s cousin Rose started a small business, digging worms from the garden and selling them to fishermen who happened by.  She even charged the rest of the family if they wanted worms!  

Gertrude described planting their own garden in 1916 after they moved to the ranch.  Papa spread several loads of well-decayed fertilizer from an old corral onto the garden and plowed it, creating a fine base for his vegetables.  Of necessity, pioneers coming into Grand County started immediately to see what would grow here.  They had to eat, and gardens were one of the first items on anyone’s agenda.  Coming over Dice Hill from the Blue and into the Sheephorn area about 1880, Joseph McPhee, a Scot, homesteaded the grass-covered McPhee Flats in Garden Gulch, site of the first garden in the area.  There were only two other homesteads on the Sheephorn at that time.  

Possibly Nancy Veatch Schissler, (Mrs. Henry Roric) planted the first garden on the Williams Fork in 1883.  She asked the men to plow her a bed, but they were positive nothing would grow.  So, undaunted, she planted lettuce, onions, and radishes on her dirt roof and potato peelings along the ditch bank, all of which grew!  Her little daughters fetched pails of water to hand to her up on the roof for irrigation.  

George Henricks, on the farthest reaches of the Troublesome, rarely had access to stores.  His wife, Aurella, bravely started radishes on her sod roof before the ground thawed, later transplanting them to a sheltered spot along with other vegetables.   What were the usual high altitude crops?  Lettuce, green onions, peas, root vegetables, and beans generally grew well.  Willis Call near Kremmling brought the first white potatoes to Grand County. 

Now, the Arkells on Ranch Creek had been told that at 8900 feet altitude, beans would freeze, and they did.  So did the potatoes, except those planted high up the hill in a spot where the soil was deep and black.  An aspen grove had grown there once, maybe for hundreds of years.   The family anticipated a good crop, but in early September or even in late August, a heavy frost completely melted the patch down.  That crop yielded bushels of small potatoes, few larger than golf balls.  Still, the Arkells stored them in their so-called ice-house, because until Papa got a cellar dug, there was nothing else.  They hoped the ice-house would keep the cold out, as it did heat, but the potatoes froze as hard as rocks.  Mama would bring in enough for a meal and immediately put them into a kettle of boiling water.  When done, they tasted like fresh potatoes! 

Before July, the family had early green onions, lettuce, and radishes, since these didn¹t mind the frost.  They froze every night but still lived, grew, and were good.  The white radishes grew long, slender, and crisp.  Head lettuce could be eaten early as leaf lettuce, or later as a fine firm head.  Peas didn’t mind the cold either but grew fast and tall. The package advertised them as “Telephone Pole Peas.”  They bloomed, set on peas ready to pick, and kept right on blooming and growing more peas, producing right up till early frost.  By late July, the Arkells had small rutabagas to eat, a crop new to them.  Turnips in late July were already large, and by fall they were gigantic but still sweet and good to eat raw. Turnips were pulled in the fall and stored in a great pile. Rabbits chewed off the outer skin and ate it but left the rest.  The remaining skinless turnips soon froze and made good cow feed.

Actually, a number of ranchers grew turnips for cattle food, particularly for show cattle.   Over on the Sheephorn, Helen Anghern Curry related that families shipped plenty of potatoes and peas out of Radium to Denver.  Farmers had to get up very early to pick the vegetables in order to get them on the train. That was almost fresh!  

Grain was grown more commonly than one might expect, especially on the west end.  For instance, a young English chap on the Blue River, Tom Pharo, experimented with growing vegetables and grain as early as 1877.  The Company Ranch on the Williams Fork planted many acres in grain.  And Dr. Hoagland, on the Blue, regularly put in oats and barley for two years, before planting seed for hay crops, in order to break up the soil and gradually level the rough ground.  Others raised many grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, as well as hay.   High altitude lettuce became a main crop to be shipped out of Grand County about 1920.  Before this decade, lettuce sent by train was grown, especially on the upper Sheephorn and on the Blacktail. 

Later, centered around Granby, farms spread to the Williams Fork and the Troublesome, as well as Ranch Creek.  Japanese laborers harvested much of the crop.  In 1919, there had not been a single truck farm in the county; in 1929, there were 34.   On the Troublesome, Roy Polhamus was famous for his lettuce.  His daughter, Catherine, lined the crates with heavy paper in the packing shed. After being cut in the fields, trimmed of bad outer leaves and packed, the crop was shipped to Denver by truck. It depended on how big the lettuce was as to how many dozen would fit into the crate.  Roy also grew enough potatoes that he could spare many for Granby stores in the winter.  

Encouraged by Nathan Hurd, a Mr. Henderson, on a little ranch straddling the shoulder between Hamilton Creek and Ranch Creek, tried growing lettuce long before the lettuce craze the west end of the county. Nobody had thought of growing it before and people were quite sure he was crazy.  His lettuce was as sweet as any ever tasted, but when the big craze hit, for some reason he gave it up.  Before he quit, he had some 2000 crates of Los Angeles Head Lettuce to sell and planned for 40 acres the following year.  Everyone laughed at him two years before when he started, but the laugh was on them now.  His 2 1/2 acres of jackpine paid him over $750/acre.   The lettuce was grown on new ground and no water; ­dry land farmed.  He called his place “The Happy Lettuce Farm”. 

In the same area, a group of Basques did all the work.  They irrigated at night, little lights at hand to show them the way.  This local lettuce was stored in Tabernash in a shed, before being put on the train.  This shed was later hauled to Granby and became the Grand Old Inn.   Other crops were raised, too. 

At Radium, sweet corn and strawberries were grown for sale.  Harry French’s wife, Mary, had a very green thumb, and at the 1914 County Fair, special mention was given to “Mrs. French of the Sheephorn area, then age 77, for her splendid display of Brown Australian onions, raised from seed.”  In addition, “she had a very handsome display of crabapples and tomatoes.”  Mike Leroux, also in the Sheephorn area, said that his family almost always won a prize at the county fair in Kremmling, because they had one of the few spots in the county where one could grow apples!   Women and children gathered wild berries for jams and pies.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries went into these treats.  The residents on the Troublesome picked chokecherries, and service berries, currants, in addition.  

Marie Craven George remembers growing rhubarb at their cabin.  Some of it still grows there.  Many years later, after Marie married, she and her husband dug up some of that rhubarb and took it to their own garden in Kremmling.  Marie remembers that, as a little girl, she stuck a gooseberry up her nose once and they had to hang her upside-down and spank her, until she sneezed the berry out.  She decided gooseberries were for pies and jams, not noses!  

Getting off the train, the Arkells often walked from Arrow, to check on the raspberry crop, for great quantities of bushes grew along the tracks.  The wild strawberries, though very small, were so full of unexcelled taste that one cup would be enough to flavor a shortcake for all of them, with whipped cream on top.  Using a kind of rake, they also gathered gooseberries, wild currants, and wild blueberries, which grew everywhere.  Bob Peterson maintains the best berry patch for blackberries or red and black currants was on Cabin Creek a mile of so above Devils Thumb Park.

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Topic: Towns

Parshall

Parshall was informally laid out by Alonzo Polhamus in about 1905 and is said to have been named for Ralph Parshall, an irrigation engineer at the State College of Agriculture and inventor of the widely used Parshall flume.

The original primitive store operated by Walter Dow was the drawing card for visitors. Parshall was the headquarters of the “Williams Fork Telephone Company,” a highly informal operation that is said to have transmitted its subscribers’ voices along barbed wire fences.

Parshall remained a small town, in part because of its inadequate railroad terminal facilities, but has kept its original charm and is famous for its Gold Medal fishing.

 

Topic: Regions

Church Park

George Henry Church and his brother John had a substantial ranch in Jefferson Country, prior to Colorado Statehood.  When the Timber and Stone Act of 1878 was passed, it permitted the purchase of land unfit for agriculture for $2.50 an acre.  Thus the Church brothers obtained land in Middle Park for summer grazing.  They would move their cattle into the Park by driving them over the Rollins Pass.   The area they used is just west of the town of Fraser and became known as Church Park.

In 1910, the Church Ditch was created to divert water across the Continental Divide for irrigation.  The remains of this early trans-mountain project can still be seen today at mile marker 241.5 on U.S. Highway 40.

Topic: Ranching

Ranching in Western Colorado

Article contributed by Nichole Fuqua

 

Ranching in western Colorado first began in 1866 when Texas cowboys began moving cattle into western Colorado. With this rising growth of cattle into Colorado, ranching was forever changed and became a natural part of Colorado's society.

Although the idea of establishing cattle operations in the mountains did not appeal to many, the cattle and ranching industry in western
Colorado began to flourish in 1882. Three causes greatly influenced this move. First, the flat grass lands from Texas to Montana were unavailable. Second, the Ute Indian tribe were being run out and soon removed from the mountains of Colorado. Third, the grasses in western Colorado were abundantly nutritious, especially in the autumn.

 

When cattle ranches first began, it was organized chaos. Up until the 1930's, all of the land used by cattle ranchers was open-range land. During the winter months the cows lived in the lower valleys where snow accumulation was small. Once spring began the cows were then rounded up and moved to the high mountain tops. This spring round up usually took place in the early part of June, between the first and second hay cutting. The main goal of the spring round up was to gather and sort all of the cattle into their respective herds; unfortunately many herds intermixed because of the open-range. Along with the sorting of the cows, the calves that had been born earlier that spring were branded.

 

During the open-range era, brands on cattle were very important. Brands were used as a marker to distinguish between herds. Today, branding is still used along with ear tags. The fall round up usually began in the early fall and was completed in stages. The first stage, involved the gathering up of cows that were going to be sold at the market. These were the first to descend from the mountains. The rest of the cattle were then taken down from the mountain and released into the lower valleys to live during the winter months. The 1930's ended the open-range era which also brought an end to fall and spring round ups.

 

Family life on a cattle ranch was very different from normal life in a town. The cowboy's job demanded a lot of devotion and self motivation. The men of the family were often away from the house for days sometimes weeks at a time moving and tending to the cows.

 

The women of a cattle ranch lead very isolated lives. During the winter months traveling was unheard of. Once the snow began to melt the water's run off caused creeks and rivers to overflow, which caused traveling in the spring to be tough.  During the summer and early fall, gardening, food processing, house keeping, raising children, and the general ranch duties kept a woman busy.

 

The children of a cattle ranch were treated very maturely. By the age of five to the age of twelve kids were considered miniature adults. By the age of thirteen or fourteen most kids were able to perform heavy labor tasks around the farm. Ranch families exhibited very strict discipline toward the children of the house and felt very strongly in a child's education.

 

Cattle ranches are still found all over western Colorado. The attitude has changed throughout the years since the first cattle ranch began but some of the same traditions still exist. 

 

Sources: Reyher, Ken. High Country Cowboys. Montrose: Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2002.

Peters, Aaron. Cattle Drives & Trail Drivers. 2003. 8 Mar. 2008 http://www.co.wilbarger.tx.us/cattle.htm.

 

Topic:

Granby

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

Granby was settled in 1904 and incorporated the next year. The town was created along the railroad line being built by Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, and was a connection with the stage route to Grand Lake.

The Granby site was also chosen because of the dry ground and and good view of the surrounding mountains. The town was named in appreciation of the services of Denver attorney Granby Hillyer, who worked to lay out the town site.

Its central location makes it a natural trade center for east Grand County. Specialty truck farming, principally lettuce, became a major crop for Granby. At the peak of the market, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City proudly advertised Granby Head Lettuce on its menus. Later, after WW II, Granby was called the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Today the town offers a mix of recreational amenities and residential charm.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969

Topic: Skiing

Skiing

Grand County was one of the first areas in Colorado to enjoy sport skiing.  While mail carriers, loggers and other workers used the "Norwegian Snowshoes" as necessary winter transportation, it was a natural progression to begin racing down the slopes for fun.

An 1883 newspaper noted that in Grand Lake "Coasting on snowshoes has taken the place of dancing parties.   Quite a number of ladies are becoming adept at the art.  First class snowshoers, B.W. Tower and Max James are the best; or at least they can fall more gracefully then the rest".

According to famous Hot Sulphur Springs champion Barney McLean, that town had three jumping hills in the 1920s and held the first Winter Carnival in the West there in 1911.  By 1925, Denver sent special "snow trains" there for the recreating tourists.  Skiers such as Bob McQueary and Jim Harsh competed in statewide events along with skiing "veterans" Horace Button and McLean.  Grand Lake's Jim Harsh became the first Coloradoan to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.

In 1932, the Grand Lake Ski Club held its first winter sports week on Denver 25-January 1st.  Featured was a motor sled with an airplane engine which pulled skiers over the frozen lake are speeds of 90 miles per hour.

Colorado's first ski tow was opened at the summit of Berthoud Pass in 1936.  Berthoud Pass operated on and off throughout the next 60+ years but was finally closed and the lifts dismantled in 2002.  

What became the resort of Winter Park featured skiing at the West Portal of the Moffatt Tunnel and the Winter Park Ski Area opened as a result of efforts by Denver Parks & Recreation Director George Cranmer. Early lodging resorts in the area, then known as Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), included Sportland Valley, Timberhaus Lodge, and Millers Idlewild Inn.  Eventually trains made daily runs to Winter Park, loaded with intrepid skiers.  Steve Bradley invented the first effective snow packer on the slopes of Winter Park.

With a strong record of winning high school ski teams, Grand County accounted for a remarkable number of skiers who later took park in FIS (International Federation of Skiers) meets and U.S. Olympic teams.

A later ski area, now know as Sol Vista Ski Basin (formerly Silver Creek Resort) opened in Granby in the 1980's.  World class cross country ski areas in Grand County include Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil's Thumb Ranch.

Water