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D&RGW Guide Book

thru the rockies cover.jpg (41022 bytes)"Rio Grande Guide to Romantic Rocky Mountain Wonderlands"
by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad circa 1936

Summarized Reproduction 2000 Sandia Software All Rights Reserved

THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, reaching loftiest heights and sublimest beauty along the crest of the Continental Divide, have exerted a profound influence upon development of transportation in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. The horse, first brought to amazed Indians by Coronado when he rode north from Old Mexico in 1542, became a pack animal because the crude travois (an Indian tepee stretched across poles fastened at one end to the sides of the horse) was not suited to mountain trails. Horses, mules and burros remained the sole means of commerce in the mountains until 1822, when wheeled vehicles appeared at Santa Fe, New Mexico, then the most populous western trading post. When the Mormon migration in 1847 and the California gold rush in 1849 established the two great cross-continent wagon routes, both touched the eastern corners of Colorado territory. But the Overland Trail veered north and the Santa Fe Trail turned south around the Rockies.

The blue horizon of distant peaks was a mysterious veil isolating this vast mountain empire when the first transcontinental railroad followed the Overland Trail around Colorado. Though the gold discoveries of 1858 and 1859 had lured treasure hunters, rail transportation into the mountains did not come until 1870 , when General William J. Palmer conceived the idea of a trunk line beginning at Denver and terminating at Mexico City, capital of the Republic of Mexico. Since the projected route was quite clearly defined along the Rio Grande del Norte, it was natural that the name should indicate the initial point and some principal objective. Hence the original designation, Denver and Rio Grande.

Sometimes transportation leads, sometimes follows the march of civilization. Between Denver and Pueblo, a territory then populated by less than 500 persons, the Rio Grande led . Grading started in March 1871, the road extending to Colorado Springs January 1, 1872; to Pueblo June 15, 1872. General Palmer founded Colorado Springs to become a national recreation center, a destiny richly fulfilled. He was responsible for formation of the Colorado Coal & Iron Co., predecessor of the modern Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation, top-ranking industrial organization of the Intermountain West. First steel rails rolled at Pueblo were purchased by the "baby road."

Called the "baby road" because its builders had decided upon narrow gage track (3' 0" wide) instead of standard gage (4' 81/2" wide), the Rio Grande was able speedily and economically to push its lines west and south, reaching Canon City in 1874 and El Moro (four miles from Trinidad) in 1876. It was now ready to lay rails over Raton Pass and tap the Rio Grande river valley, but prominence of the Leadville district as a mineral region created a clamor for rail transportation which could no longer be ignored. The Rio Grande chose to follow the march of men into the Rockies, and all efforts were centered on extension west from Canon City.

Both the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe were struggling for a southern outlet through Raton Pass and a western outlet through the Royal Gorge. (See detailed description page 17.) By agreement Raton Pass was left to the Santa Fe, but clash of ambitions on the western front finally terminated in the Royal Gorge War, a vivid chapter in railroad history. On the same day that Rio Grande graders started work in the Grand Canon of the Arkansas, a local subsidiary of the Santa Fe also began construction at the same place. A hand-to-hand conflict was precipitated, fortunately without casualties, and three weeks later, May 8, 1878, the U. S. Circuit Court handed down an opinion upholding the Santa Fe company. An appeal was taken to the U. S. Supreme Court, which on April 21, 1879, reversed the decision of the lower court and confirmed the rights claimed by the Denver & Rio Grande. Final settlement of the controversy came in February, 1880, when an agreement was executed prohibiting the Santa Fe, for a period of ten years, from building west from Canon City and prohibiting the Rio Grande for a like period from building south from Trinidad, or south from Espanola, New Mexico. Thus was the course of the Rio Grande permanently turned west.

In the meantime construction engineers in the heart of the Royal Gorge answered the roaring challenge of the Arkansas River with one of America's outstanding railroad engineering achievements. Finding nothing but the raging torrent of the river between sheer walls just thirty feet apart, they suspended a bridge paralleling the river and hanging to walls of the canon on either side. Considered one of the engineering marvels of the age, the Hanging Bridge has been a major factor in firmly establishing the Royal Gorge as America's best loved travel wonder.

Once the eyes of its founders had been turned west, every possible location through the mountains was surveyed, as the Rio Grande laid rails to almost every spot in the mountain region where mining development demanded transportation. The spirit of high adventure lightened hardships, the romance of achievement bolstered bold courage, the empire of the Intermountain West was reclaimed from a territory described in the '60s as an "impenetrable wilderness." Serving more of Colorado than any other railroad, the Rio Grande blankets southwestern Colorado and north central Utah with a network of steel highways.

Progress was rapid after 1881. The line from Leadville was extended west over Tennessee Pass to Glenwood Springs, but the original main line crossed Marshall Pass at an elevation of 10,856 feet, following the Gunnison River to its confluence with the Colorado at Grand Junction near the Utah border. In Utah, the Rio Grande Western, closely affiliated with the parent company, was formed in 1881. Small disconnected lines in the Salt Lake City region were unified and new lines were pushed east toward the Colorado border. The through narrow gage railroad, Denver to Ogden via Marshall Pass, 756.6 miles in length, was placed in operation May 21, 1883. It was thoroughly equipped with elegantly appointed passenger cars, including both standard and tourist Pullmans. So well was the new service received, that travelers christened the Rio Grande "Scenic Line of the World" a designation now universally recognized.

Standard gaging was imperative as it became evident that the Rio Grande was destined to become an important transcontinental railroad. The Royal Gorge Route, a through standard gage railroad, Denver to Ogden via Tennessee Pass (10,240 feet elevation), 782 miles in length, supplanted the original narrow gage route November 14, 1890.

The entire system is now standard gage with the exception of the lines from Alamosa to Durango, Silverton and Farmington, N. M.; from Alamosa to Salida; from Salida to Gunnison, Montrose and Ouray in central Western Colorado. These lines, 562 miles in length, constitute the longest narrow gage system in the United States. Because of the type of power and equipment used, they are considered the model pattern for all narrow gage operations in the world.

During all these years the high front range of the Rockies remained a relentless barrier to Denver's ambition for position on a transcontinental line directly west through the mountains. As early as the first year of the Civil War, Colorado's first territorial governor, William Gilpin, prophesied that some day trains would glide through a great bore under the Continental Divide in the vicinity of James Peak. Such a tunnel could not he privately financed, but the dream persisted and in 1902 David Moffat started building the Denver & Salt Lake Railway, crossing the divide at Corona Pass, 11,660 feet in elevation, then the highest standard gage railroad in the world. Construction was costly and the extreme expense of operation hindered the new line, which by 1913 reached only to Craig, in northwestern Colorado, far short of its Utah objective.

Then came decision by the people in the Denver area to finance the Moffat Tunnel (see detailed description page 23). The great bore, 6.2 miles in length, was started in August 1923, and was completed in February 1928.

Denver's ambition for a direct transcontinental railroad was realized June 17, 1934, when the Denver & Rio Grande Western completed the Dotsero Cutoff, a new 38 mile railroad along the Colorado River, connecting tracks of the Rio Grande at Dotsero and the Moffat road at Orestod (Dotsero spelled backwards).

With inauguration of service via the Moffat Tunnel Route the Denver & Rio Grande Western made good a prophecy which had remained only a dream for 75 years. Finally the last barrier of the mountains was conquered. The direct transcontinental railroad, Denver to Ogden, 606.9 miles in length, became a reality.

No single factor has meant more to development of the Intermountain West; no railroad more adequately serves its local territory. The Rio Grande is a vital link in the several great transportation chains making up the direct central transcontinental routes. Through Salt Lake City and Ogden (see map center of book) people and goods are transported to and from the Pacific Coast; the Royal Gorge route via the Pueblo gateway most important to Kansas City and St. Louis; the Moffat Tunnel route via the Denver gateway most important to Omaha and Chicago. Impressively entering the transportation scene through the Rockies, not around them, the Denver & Rio Grande Western has gained a leading role among American railroads, emerging from a glamorous past to a future promising increased usefulness.


COLORADO, 38th to gain statehood, was admitted in 1876. Tho popularly called the Centennial State, it is more fittingly described as the Mountain State of the Union, since the highest peaks of the U. S. Rockies lie within its borders. There are 1,078 mountains rising higher than 10,000 feet above sea level, 624 above 13,000 and 50 peaks towering over 14,000 feet.

With an area of 103,948 square miles, Colorado ranks seventh in size, but in population (1,123,296 -1940 census), it ranks 33rd. Almost a perfect rectangle, Colorado is about the same size as New York, Ohio, Connecticut and New Hampshire combined.

The discovery of gold in 1858 started the development of Colorado, soon found to possess vast mineral sources. Practically all the useful minerals are found within its borders. From 1858 to 1940, total production of gold, silver, lead and zinc approximated two billion dollars. Gold has yielded $821,013,544. Silver output is estimated at $553,181,518. Colorado ranks first in production of radium and molybdenum; second in tungsten. Among non-metallic minerals, coal is first in value, with a total production from 1864 to 1940 of $854,110,359-exceeding the income from gold. The state ranks first in coal reserves, according to metallurgical engineers of the Colorado School of Mines.

Although known as a mining state, Colorado's annual agricultural and livestock production value is almost seven times that of its mines. Normally, the total annual crop, livestock and livestock products income exceeds $145,000,000. Colorado leads all states in the production of sugar beets. Other crops in order of importance are wheat, truck crops, potatoes, hay, corn and fruits. Livestock and livestock products, listed in order of importance, are cattle, sheep, dairy products, poultry and eggs, hogs and wool.

Manufacturing, with products averaging about $200,000,000 yearly, is rapidly increasing. Packing plants, flour mills, sugar factories, iron and steel mills, and plants making explosives and chemicals lead in production.

Colorado has a wonderfully invigorating climate because of its high altitude. The air is dry, exhilarating and healthful. Nights are cool even during warm summer months. Mean annual precipitation is 16.38 inches. Colorado is rightfully known as the Playground of America-summer or winter. Summer and fall there is lake and stream trout fishing, bird and big game hunting, horseback riding, hiking, swimming, boating. With snow, sun and mountain slopes ideal for skiing, and with a high altitude area six times that of Switzerland, Colorado is rapidly gaining fame as the nation's favorite winter sports center.

There are two national parks, Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde, six national monuments and 15 national forests in Colorado.

The Denver & Rio Grande Western, the all-season Scenic Line of the World, serves more of Colorado than any other railroad.


UTAH, admitted to the Union in 1896 as the 45th state, has an area of 84,990 square miles, ranking 10th in size, and 41st in population (550,310-1940 census). The greater part of the state is a plateau averaging 6,000 feet above sea level, broken by canyons and narrow valleys. Principal mountain ranges are the Uintas extending east and west, and the picturesque Wasatch Range stretching north and south down the center of the state.

The history of Utah, the state that arose from a desert, is dramatic and stirring. Two Franciscan friars first explored the region in 1776. Jim Bridger in 1824 discovered the Great Salt Lake. Kit Carson and Gen. Fremont explored Great Salt Lake in 1843. All these explorers declared the region unfit for settlement. Then on July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and his 143 Mormon emigrants arrived at the site of Salt Lake City and successfully began to make "the desert blossom as the rose."

Although first settled by an agricultural people, the principal wealth of Utah is in its minerals-gold, silver, lead, copper, manganese, gypsum, petroleum, sulphur, zinc, salt and coal. Since 1864 the total mineral production has exceeded $2,000,000,000. Utah, until 1932, was first in the production of silver, is third in copper and sixth in gold. The coal resources of Utah are enormous, with one-fifth the state underlaid by coal, estimated to be enough to supply the entire United States for 250 years. An apparently unlimited supply of iron ore gives Utah high rank as a steel state.

Grouped within 50 miles of Salt Lake City are concentrating mills and smeltersthe largest non-ferrous smelting center in the world. Utah attains industrial prominence thru petroleum products plants, iron and steel works, sugar factories, flour mills, and canneries. Manufactured products have an annual value in excess of $200,000,000.

First to develop modern irrigation, Utah has over 1,300,000 acres of irrigated land. The average annual value of all crops, livestock and livestock products approaches $55,000,000. Hay is a leader, both as a cash crop and as feed for thousands of dairy and beef cattle. Sheep raising is a major industry, with the average crop of lambs and wool yielding more than $20,000,000 annually. Dairy and poultry products are next in importance, then wheat, cattle, vegetables, sugar beets and fruit.

The climate is dry, stimulating and wholesome. Skies are remarkably clear. Average annual precipitation is 16.23 inches.

Most unique of Utah's many natural wonders is Great Salt Lake (for detailed description see page 56). In Utah there are two national parks, seven national monuments and nine national forests. With natural attractions of unique beauty and ideal conditions for summer and winter recreation, Utah is truly a Western Wonderland.


NEW MEXICO, forty-seventh state of the Union, was first explored by the Spaniards in 1536-37, nearly two and a half centuries before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Santa Fe, ancient capital of far-flung Spanish America, was founded in 1610. New Mexico was ceded to the United States as a part of Texas in 1848, and admitted as a state in 1912. Population in the census of 1940 was 528,687, ranking forty-second in size.

With an area of 122,634 square miles, New Mexico consists of a series of high, level plateaus and fertile

valleys, separated by mountain ranges. The climate is dry and stimulating. Annual rainfall ranges from 12 to 16 inches. Mining, agriculture and stock raising are all principal industries.

New Mexico has about 30,000 Indians on government reservations. On every hand are relics of pre-historic races, the Cliff and Cave Dwellers, the Aztecs and later Indian tribes. Carlsbad Caverns, an underground fairyland with 35 miles of fantastic caves and corridors, is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world.

Historic Santa Fe and Taos are popular with tourists as well as artists and writers interested in depicting the many Indian and Spanish types.


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