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      Close to Heaven… Down to Earth

 



 

Come visit Southern Colorado’s Scenic Highway of Legends

The Scenic Highway of Legends
A Colorado & National Forest Service Scenic Byway

From Cuchara Pass to La Veta

 

The road descends quickly from the pass, through the aspen groves to a hairpin turn
across the Cuchara River where
it flows out of the mountains. At that hairpin turn is the road going west to Bear Lake, Blue Lake and Trinchera Peak.
Between here and Blue Lake is 4 miles of excellent stream fishing.

Bear Lake
Bear Lake
Blue Lake
Blue Lake
Cuchara, Colorado
In Downtown Cuchara

The paved road continues on to the town of Cuchara.
Just before town itself is the left turn that takes you to Cuchara Mountain Resort,
a 4 season family resort. Downtown Cuchara is a wonderful rendition of a turn of
the century Colorado mountain town, complete with slabwood siding and some full
log construction.

The earliest records of the Cuchara Valley show that it was not called Cuchara at
all, but rather Nunda Canyon (Nunda is a Native word for potato). Sometime in the
late 1800’s it was first referred to as Cuchara Valley. The first Anglo settlers
were homesteaders of the “rush” days. Land was free for the taking as long as the
homesteader built a house with a door and at least one window on the property.

Those first settlers found the climate and soil in the high meadows between Stonewall
and Cuchara well suited for growing potatoes, a crop that was also raised by the
Native Americans. The farmers spent their summers growing potatos to sell in Trinidad
in the fall, and then spent their winters making cheese from their goats’ milk to
sell in town in the spring. But they failed to rotate their crops and soon the soil
was depleted of the nutrients necessary to grow potatoes and most of these farmers
moved on.

In 1908, George Mayes and his wife moved to the Valley for Mayes’ health. Seeing
the beauty here, Mayes was convinced the area would make a great summer resort.
He named his resort Cuchara Camps and by 1910, several summer cabins had been built
and Cuchara was a community, at least in the summer.

The West Spanish Peak through the Gap in the Dakota Wall
The West Spanish Peak from the Gap in the Dakota Wall

This is the same Dakota Sandstone Wall that you passed through in Stonewall. This
same “break” in the North American continent stretches from Canada to Mexico along
the fault line that marks the eastern edge of the upthrust that created the Ancestral
Rocky Mountains during the Laramide Orogeny, some 65 million years ago. This sandstone
was originally deposited on an ocean bottom and compressed over time by the weight
of layers of rock, gravel and stone deposited above it. While this exceptionally
hard layer of sandstone was tilted upright when the ancestral mountains were first
pushed up, those softer mountains have mostly eroded away and left only these vertical
walls behind in testament to their passing. While the rock of the Sangre de Cristo’s
is older than the Dakota Sandstone, the Sangres were pushed up only about 27 million
years ago, roughly along the same fault lines as the Ancestral Rockies in this area.
This particular gap in the Wall was created over the years by the Cuchara River.

The West Spanish Peak in the Fall
The West Spanish Peak rising above the Devil’s Stairstep

The Devil’s Stairstep is one of the grandest dikes in the area. Over 400 dikes radiate
out from the West Spanish Peak like spokes on a wheel, and continue either above
or below ground for as far as 25 miles. There is another set of similar dikes radiating
outwards from Silver Mountain, across the valley to the north. These geological
formations are unique to this area.

Great Dikes of the Spanish Peaks
Profile Rock

For those with a sharp eye, the profiles of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
(or some say Martha Washington or a Native American) can be seen in Profile Rock.
There is also a train on a trestle and a rearing horse (or deer).

the Long Wall, one of the Great Dikes
The Long Wall, of which Profile Rock is only a small part
The Cuchara Valley in the fall
Looking up the Valley toward Cuchara
Goemmer Butte, a volcanic plug
Goemmer Butte, near La Veta
a volcanic plug between Mt. Mestas and the West Spanish Peak,
Silver Mountain to the left, Greenhorn Mountain to the right

It is said that Colonel John M. Francisco looked down upon the future site of La
Veta and declared, “This is paradise enough for me.” In 1862, shortly after his
first viewing of the Valley, Francisco and his partner, Henry Daigre, began construction
of a fort for commerce and protection purposes.

By 1871, there were enough settlers in the Valley to warrant a Post Office, so they
called it Spanish Peaks. With the coming of the railroad in 1876, there was much
land speculation and one group formed the La Veta Town Company. How “La Veta” (meaning
“the vein” in Spanish) was chosen is anybody’s guess but the name of town was changed
and the La Veta Post Office was opened in 1876. As part of this speculation, the
railroad station was constructed a couple of blocks north of the Fort and the center
of business in town slowly spread in that direction.

Looking south in La Veta
Looking south in La Veta

Just northeast of La Veta the highway merges with US 160 and takes you into
Walsenburg. Or, in downtown La Veta you
can go west on Ryus Ave. and follow the pavement about 4 miles to US 160 and head
on up past Mt. Mestas and into La Veta Pass on the way to Fort Garland, the
Great Sand Dunes and the San Luis Valley.

You are in the “Cuchara Pass to La Veta” section – follow the links below –

The Scenic Highway of Legends – Map and descriptions of sections:

Scenic Highway of Legends Map
Trinidad to StonewallStonewall to Cuchara PassCuchara Pass to La Veta
La Veta to WalsenburgWalsenburg to Trinidad
Aguilar to San Isabel NFSan Isabel NF to Cuchara Pass