Buy the DVD

Denver Area
Denver to Pueblo
Colorado Springs Area
Royal Gorge Route
Marshall Pass Area
Gunnison River
Uncompahgre River
Tennessee Pass Area
Eagle River
Colorado River
Grand Jct.- Green Riv.
Green Riv.- Provo
Provo- Salt Lake
USGS History



Denver to Pueblo

(U.S.G.S. Bulletin 707, 1922)


Denver Area

Soon after leaving the Union Station at Denver, on the main line of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, the train crosses Cherry Creek near the place where Gen. Larimer built the first house, in 1858 (See Sheet 1). As this creek heads out on the plains it is intermittent in its flow; in dry seasons little or no water runs in it at the surface, but when "cloudbursts" occur on its upper course a tremendous volume of water comes down, engulfing everything in its way. Such a catastrophe occurred in May, 1864, when great damage, was done. Recently the channel of the creek, where it passes through the city, has been cemented, so as to prevent the loose sandy soil from washing away, and a, boulevard bordered by trees has been constructed along it, giving its banks here the appearance of a park.

The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad traverses the, manufacturing part of Denver, and at Burnham, 2 miles out from the city, it passes the shops of the railroad system. About half a, mile beyond the shops is the interesting though unpretentious laboratory building erected by the National Radium Institute for experimental work in cooperation with the United States Bureau of Mines to devise a cheaper method of extracting radium salts from the ores found in Colorado. This work has been accomplished, and the plant has now passed into the hands of a private company to, continue the work of extracting radium.

A short distance farther along South Platte River may be seen on the west (right), and the railroad runs up its valley for a distance of about 15 miles. The valley is well irrigated and contains many fine f arms and country places. Loretto Academy stands out clear and distinct as one of the landmarks of the upland on the farther side of the river. Fort Logan, just beyond, is a regimental Army post established about 25 years ago.

Littleton Area

Littleton is the county seat of Arapahoe (a-rap'a-hoe) County, so named from a tribe of Indians that formerly inhabited this part of the country. It stands in the, midst of a rich agricultural district and has become, popular as the suburban home of many of Denver's business men. Near Littleton are the W. F. Kendrick pheasantries, which are said to be the largest game preserve in the world. Here all kinds of wild fowl are raised, and golden pheasants may be seen wandering by the roadside like chickens on an ordinary farm.

A short distance beyond Littleton the traveler may obtain a charming view on the right, across the broad, well-tilled valley of the South Platte, studded with clumps of cottonwood trees, to the Front Range, towering in the distance. Wolhurst, a fine country place built by the late, United States Senator Edward Wolcott, is farther along on the right, just beyond milepost 13. After the death of Senator Wolcott the place was purchased by the noted mining man the late Thomas F. Walsh. It is now occupied as a country home by one of Denver's richest citizens.

At the small station of Acequia the railroad crosses the High Line Canal, one of those great irrigating ditches that are characteristic of the semiarid regions, which takes water from the South Platte and carries it far to the northeast, irrigating at least 100,000 acres of land that would otherwise be and and unprofitable. The railroad follows the valley of South Platte River to a point a, little beyond milepost 15, where, it leaves the main valley and turns to the, south (left) up Plum Creek. This creek also flows in a broad, flat valley, and the traveler, unless he observes closely, may not realize that the railroad has turned from the main valley into that of a tributary.

Near milepost 15 the entrance to South Platte Canyon may be seen in the mountain front, on the right. Here, in 1820, the exploring expedition of Maj. Long first came to the mountains, although it had traveled from the north for many miles in front of and nearly parallel with them. The men were eager to climb the mountains, explore their wonderful peaks and valleys, and see the country that lay beyond, but a few days of hard climbing up the rocky slopes satisfied them that they could not reach the summit of the range in a short time and that mountain climbing was not so easy as it appeared from a distance; so they were content to proceed southward along nearly the route that is now followed by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. The entrance to the canyon may be seen from the train, but, owing to its many bends, the canyon does not appear to be an open cut through the mountain front.

In many places at the foot of the mountains the steeply dipping sandstone forms sharp hogbacks, which may be seen from the moving train, and, as the sandstone is mostly red, the traveler will soon learn to associate red sandstone and hogbacks with the foothills of the mountain front. These beds are very prominent near the mouth of Plum Creek and may be seen to good advantage from milepost 17, about 1 1/2 miles up the creek.

The scenery of the lower part of the valley of Plum Creek is smooth and uninteresting. The surface is a rolling upland, which can not be irrigated from the South Platte because it lies too high above that river, and it consequently appears rather barren to those who are accustomed to a more humid climate. The only railroad station in this part of the valley is Louviers, which is merely a shipping point for the DuPont Powder Co., whose plant for the manufacture of high explosives is on the west (right) of the track.

Above Louviers Plum Creek swings eastward, and it is bordered on its east side by bluffs and mesas of white sandstone. Although but a short distance from the upturned rocks along the mountain front, these sandstones lie practically horizontal, a fact which indicates that they are near the middle of the great downfold of the rocks east of the Front Range. The Figure below represents the edges of the upturned rock beds as they would appear if they had been cut by a giant knife at right angles to the trend of the mountain range.

gs24fig6.gif (4873 bytes)

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which has been on the east (left) side of the train since it left Denver, passes over the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad at the town of Sedalia. The upland on the east is here nearer the track than it is farther north, and it stands out as a plateau with a steep or even vertical front. Some of these steep slopes are merely projecting points of the highland, but others are parts of hills that have been isolated from it by the cutting of the streams. Such isolated remnants of a once extensive plateau are very conspicuous on the west (right) of the road. A hill of this kind in the East would not be called by any special name, but in the West, and especially in the Southwest, a flat-topped hill is almost universally called by the Spanish name mesa, meaning table. Near Sedalia are the forks of Plum Creek, one of which comes from the south and the other from the east. The one that comes from the south offers the more direct course for the railroad, but the one that comes from the east is the longer and has the better grade, so it was selected, even though its course is more roundabout.

Castle Rock Area

The most prominent of the mesas is Castle Rock, which may be seen far ahead on the right soon after the train passes Sedalia. When first seen it is so far away that it seems to be only a small hill, but as the train proceeds it becomes more conspicuous, until at a siding called Plateau it appears on the right as a very prominent conical hill surmounted by a thick, square block of rock. This mesa was first mentioned in the report of the exploration of Maj. Long, in 1820, and on account of its resemblance to an old ruin was called Castle Rock.

As the train approaches milepost 32 the traveler may see that the railroad is built around the foot of Castle Rock mesa, which is about 300 feet high and has a cap rock 60 or 70 feet thick. This mesa is shown in Plate XI, A. The lower part of the mesa is composed of soft, friable beds of the Dawson arkose, but the cap rock is a coarse conglomerate of pebbles and boulders of crystalline, rocks of all sorts that have been washed out from the mountains and of a volcanic rock (rhyolite) which caps also some of the adjacent mesas. These materials were washed out of the, mountains by streams of water and dropped as sheets of gravel and boulders upon the surface of the land. The county seat of Douglas County, named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, stands at the base of the mesa and bears the name Castle Rock. It was formerly noted for its stone quarries, the remains of which still disfigure the mesas, but the increasing use of cement in construction work has so depressed the market for ordinary building stone that the quarrying industry has nearly disappeared. Samples of the stone may be seen in the Douglas County High School building, on the right as the, train enters the town, and in the station building of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. This stone was once molten lava that was poured out as a thin sheet over the surface of the, country, after the Dawson arkose was deposited but before the coarse materials of the Castle Rock conglomerate were spread over the plain.

In following the valley of Plum Creek from Sedalia to Castle Rock the railroad swings far to the east of a direct line from Denver to Colorado Springs. After passing Castle Rock it turns back toward the mountains, its course being nearly due south to Palmer Lake, and the prolongation of this course would lead almost directly to Pikes Peak. This majestic mountain is too nearly straight ahead to be visible at many points, but here and there as the train swings around some of the numerous curves it may be seen in the distance towering far above the surrounding summits.

To those accustomed to the more humid regions of the East, with their dense cover of vegetation, the open spaces of the West, the red rocks, and the strong yellow light of the plains are here the most striking features. The wonderful color effects of this region are beautifully expressed by Helen Hunt Jackson, Colorado's most gifted author:

Colorado is a symphony in yellow and red. And as soon as I had said the words, the colors and shapes in which. I knew them seemed instantly to be arranged in my thoughts; places miles apart began 'to knit themselves together into a concerted and related succession; spots and tints I had only vaguely recognized became distinct and significant, each in its order and force; and more and more as I looked from the plains to the mountains and from the mountains to the plains, and stood in the great places crowded with gay and fantastic rocks, all the time bearing in mind this phrase, it grew to seem true and complete and inevitable.

Mesas composed of white arkosic sandstone are seen on both sides of the railroad, but one on the right, 2 or 3 miles beyond Castle Rock, is the most prominent. This mesa, which is known as Dawson Butte, furnished the, geologic name of the formation-the Dawson arkose. Just beyond milepost 37 there appears, seemingly from behind this mesa but in reality far beyond it, a jagged mass of red granite, which towers 1,000 feet above the general level of the Front Range plateau. This rugged mountain, known as Devils Head, is utilized by the Forest Service as a lookout station for the detection of forest fires. On its lonely summit is stationed, throughout the summer, an observer whose duty it is to scan continually the, surrounding mountain region for forest fires, and if he discovers one to notify at once, by telephone, the superintendent of the Pike National Forest, so that all the rangers can be called together to fight the fire.

Above Dawson Butte the railroad continues up the valley of East Plum Creek, winding around a projecting spur of the plateau on the cast to the village of Larkspur, from which a stage line, runs to the resorts in Perry Park, 4 miles to the west. This is a natural parklike arm at the foot of the mountains, made picturesque by natural monuments of tilted and highly colored sandstone. Although less known than the Garden of the Gods, near Manitou, it is similar in general appearance and by many is regarded as fully equal to it in natural beauty. In these castellated rocks those, who have a, vivid imagination can see mystic monuments and towers, battlemented walls, minarets and steeples, and the remains of vast cities that still reflect in the massiveness of their ruins some of their former grandeur. To the geologist these buttes and plateaus are also, the ruins of a former age, but instead of being carved by man and representing cities that have passed away they were carved by water and wind from an older and higher land surface that carried its own particular types of plants and animals and that had a climate which may have been very different from the climate of today. Compared with these remnants of this old land surface the most ancient ruined cities are as the works of yesterday.

Palmer Lake Area

Larkspur Butte on the east and Raspberry Butte on the west are small remnants of this old surface. Beyond them the upland has been cut away, leaving a. rather broad valley in which stands the hamlet of Greenland. After passing this village the train turns more toward the southwest and pursues a direct course toward the low gap which separates the headwaters of East Plum Creek on the, north from those of Monument Creek on the south. This gap is at the foot of the mountains and is marked by Palmer Lake, the highest point on the line between Denver and Pueblo. This lake and its relation to the mountain front are well shown in Plate XVI, B. The lake and town were named for Gen. Palmer, the organizer, first president, and inspiring genius of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The town of Palmer Lake is composed largely of cottages for summer guests who come here for health and recreation. The railroad station is 1,957 feet higher than Denver and 1,248 feet higher than Colorado Springs. Glen Park, an assembly ground modeled after the famous Chautauqua of New York, is about a mile from the station. The mountain front west of the lake rises abruptly, as shown in Plate XVI, B, to a height of 1,800 feet above the level of the lake. The summer cottages nestle in the ravines at the, base of the mountain and afford the, inhabitants the advantages and attractions of both the plains and the mountains.

The mountain front rises abruptly from the plain without foothills of any kind. The reason for the absence of foothills is that the rocks of the plains, when they were bent by the upthrust of the mountains, could not stand. the strain to which they were subjected, and in many places they broke and the lower crystalline rocks of the mountains were forced up into direct contact with the broken edges of the soft, flat-lying rocks of the plains, forming what is called a fault. The positions of the rocks and their relations are shown in [the figure below].

gs32fig8.gif (6170 bytes)

From Palmer Lake to Colorado Springs the railroad extends down the, valley of Monument Creek, so named from the pinnacles and columns of white sandstone (Dawson arkose) that are left by the irregular weathering of prominent outcrops. The first conspicuous example is on the east (left) of the road, where a mass of the sandstone has weathered into a form resembling an elephant. On account of this resemblance it is generally known as "The Elephant." The valley immediately south of Palmer Lake is narrow, but in a short distance it swings to the east and at the village of Monument is broad, irrigated, and well farmed.

The next station on the railroad is Edgerton (see sheet 2), which is the point of departure for those who wish to visit Monument Park 2 miles to the west, near the foot of the mountains. This park is also noted for the fantastic forms assumed by the rocks as they are cut away by the elements. A few of the columns in which iron oxide has cemented certain layers, forming a cap that protects the layers below from rapid decay.

In its course down Monument Valley the railroad is built on the Dawson arkose, but the lower part of that formation is composed of sandstone that decays easily, and the rocks do not form buttes or mesas. Near Pikeview the arkose is cut through, and the Laramie, or underlying formation, is exposed. Its outcrop is not conspicuous in the valley, but it forms a line of white sandstone cliffs that may be seen for a long distance to the east (left). This formation is the same as that which carries coal northwest of Denver, and were overlying formations removed it would be possible to walk on this sandstone continuously from Pikeview to Denver. It also carries coal beds in the Monument Creek valley, and the principal business at Pikeview is mining coal. The coal is mined by a shaft about 250 feet deep, but a short distance to the south it comes to the surface. It is of low rank and slacks or falls to pieces quickly when exposed to the atmosphere. As it comes from the mine it carries a large percentage of water, which makes its heating power low, but despite its inferior rank it competes as a domestic fuel with coals which are of a higher rank but which have to be shipped a much greater distance. Pikeview was so named on account of the magnificent view that may be had here of Pikes Peak, about 10 miles distant (Pl. XVIII). On a clear day the smoke of ascending trains can be clearly distinguished, and even part of the "Cogwheel Road " to the summit can be seen.

The position of the coal-bearing rocks beneath the surface, as well as the relation of the rocks of the plains to those of the mountain on the west, is illustrated in figure 9, which shows that in the uplift of the mountains the rocks have broken and those of the mountains have moved up with relation to those of the plains.

Colorado Springs Area

Below Pikeview the valley is cut in soft shale (the Pierre) and for that reason it is broad and shallow, and the mount-tins rise majestically a short distance to the west. Colorado Springs is at the, point where Monument Creek joins Fountain Creek, or Fontaine qui Bouille (bubbling fountain), as it was first named by the French explorers, and the railroad runs directly down the valley to that city. Colorado Springs is the most noted health resort in Colorado and, indeed, in the entire Rocky Mountain region. It was organized by Gen. William J. Palmer as a model city on July 31, 1871, the same year that the first railroad- the Denver & Rio Grande, then a narrow-gage line-was built into the valley. It has far outgrown the ideas of its founder, however, and has become the great tourist center of the mountain region as well as an attractive residence city, a railroad point of considerable importance, and the site of Colorado College.

The name Colorado Springs is somewhat of a misnomer, for there are no large springs in the city, but it is closely connected by steam railway and by trolley with Manitou, which has springs of different kinds that have a world-wide reputation. Despite its clean, wide streets and its wealth of green lawns and shrubs and trees Colorado Springs offers little of special interest to the tourist, but it is a stopping place from which other and more interesting localities may be visited and a. gateway to the attractive features of the mountains. It is built on the edge of the plains, which sweep away eastward farther than the eye can see. Few travelers who visit Colorado Springs think of the plains as worthy of their attention or as having any beauty that is at all comparable with the beauty of the mountains, but Helen Hunt Jackson, who is buried here in Evergreen Cemetery, saw beauty in all the landscapes, and she likens the plains about Colorado Springs to the wide expanse of the sea, ever changing, yet always the same.

Between it [Colorado Springs] and the morning sun and between it and the far southern horizon stretch plains that have all the beauty of the sea added to the beauty of the plains. Like the sea they are ever changing in color, and seem illimitable in distance. But they are full of tender undulations and curves, which never vary except by light and shade. They are threaded here and there by narrow creeks whose course is revealed by slender winding lines of cottonwood trees, dark green in summer, and in winter of a soft, clear gray, more beautiful still. They are broken here and there by sudden rises of tablelands, sometimes abrupt, sharp-sided, and rocky, looking like huge castles or lines of fortifications; sometimes soft, moundlike, and imperceptibly widening, like a second narrow tier of plain overlying the first.


On leaving Colorado Springs the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad follows down the valley of Fountain Creek, which is irrigated and under intensive cultivation. For a number of miles Cheyenne Mountain is the most conspicuous object on the west (right), and the abruptness with which the mountain ends and the plains begin is striking. As explained before, this abrupt junction of plain and mountain is due to a great fault, which bounds the mountain on the east and brings its hard rocks into contact with the soft, flat-lying rocks of the plains. (See [below]) Consequently there are no hard sandstones to form foothills, as there are about Manitou and many other places along the Front Range.

gsfig13.gif (3098 bytes)

The railroad continues its southerly course down Fountain Creek, and the traveler whose destination is the Pacific coast or some intermediate point is apparently getting no nearer his destination than he was at Denver or Colorado Springs. He may have wondered why it is that the Denver & Rio Grande Western, an important link in one of the great transcontinental railway systems, should, after starting from Denver, go due south 119 miles, to Pueblo, before attempting to cross the mountain range in a westerly direction. It is generally assumed that the road was built southward in order to reach the valley of the Arkansas and that this valley affords the best route through the mountains. This can hardly have been the reason for the southward extension, however, for other roads cross north of Pueblo and Canon City, and hence there must have been some other reason for the course pursued by this road. The explanation of this southerly course is bound up in the general railroad history of this mountainous region, a, brief account of which is given in the footnote.

Fountain Area

Near milepost 85 the Santa Fe Railway crosses the Denver & Rio Grande Western by an overhead bridge, and a short distance farther on it crosses to the right bank of Fountain Creek. Three miles below the overhead bridge is Fountain , the largest village in the southern part of El Paso County. The lower part of Fountain Creek valley is not particularly interesting to the traveler. There is little or no irrigation, and success with dry-land crops depends upon the amount of precipitation, which, according to the Weather Bureau, is only about 11.6 inches annually. In time of drought the valley is brown and desolate, but when showers are abundant all the plains are green and smiling. On a clear day the traveler may obtain glimpses of the distant mountains. Toward the northwest he can see Cheyenne Mountain, dominated by the towering summit of Pikes Peak, fading into the blue and hazy distance; on the west he may be able to distinguish the outline of the Wet Mountains, showing faintly in the distance; and f ar away to the south he may catch the faint blue of two peaks which are commonly known as the Spanish
Peaks but which might more properly be known by their poetic Indian name Wahatoya, (meaning twin breasts).

Pueblo Area

As the train approaches the point where Fountain Creek joins Arkansas River the, traveler is made aware of the presence of Pueblo by the pall of smoke that overhangs this "Pittsburgh of the West," as the citizens like to have it called. Pueblo is essentially a manufacturing community and is the largest town of this kind in the Rocky Mountain region. Indeed, it is generally considered the greatest manufacturing center between Missouri River and the Pacific coast. Pueblo is in the Arkansas Valley, which is well watered and capable of supporting a large population. Already the valley is well farmed, but with the construction of storage reservoirs to hold the water in the upper courses of the river and deliver it as it is needed below for irrigation the valley would support many times its present population. Pueblo has abundant railroad connections, both for the receipt of crude material to be manufactured and for the distribution of the manufactured products. Coke can readily be obtained from the Trinidad field, on the south, which is the greatest field of good coking coal in the West, and coal for fuel can be obtained from the same field or from the Canon City field, on the west. Iron ore is available in southern Wyoming and possibly in other parts of the mountain region, and altogether Pueblo is remarkably well located to become a large and prosperous manufacturing city.

At Minnequa, a suburb of Pueblo, on the mesa to the south, is the great plant of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. There also are smelters for the reduction of the gold and silver ores of the mountain region, as well as other manufacturing plants. Pueblo is the county seat. of Pueblo County. Here is the State Asylum for the Insane, a "palace" for the display of the mineral resources of the county, and numerous business blocks, hotels, and amusement parks.

Pueblo is one of the historic places of Colorado. The first record of occupation of this region by the white man is that of the exploring party of Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, -which camped at "The Forks," as he called the confluence of Fountain Creek and Arkansas River, in November, 1806, and built a log breastwork for defense. The party made this camp before they attempted to scale the great peak which they saw far off and which is now known as Pikes Peak. The next American party to visit the site of Pueblo -was that of Maj. Long, in 1820. After this time it was visited by many explorers and hunters, and James Beckwourth-a mulatto who had lived among the Indians, claimed the honor of establishing in 1842 the first permanent settlement where Pueblo now stands. Here was built an adobe fort, called Fort Napeste, which is said to have been the Indian name for Arkansas River. In 1859 a settlement was begun on the east side of Fountain Creek, which was called Fountain City. A year or two later a rival town was laid out on the banks of the, Arkansas and named Pueblo. For a number of years the growth of these pioneer settlements was slow, and it was not until the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached the Arkansas in 1872 that the settlements consolidated and began their phenomenal growth.

Copyright 2005 Sandia Software All Rights Reserved