B. Travis Wright, MPS is published as the primary author or co-author of academic research, including documenting archaeological discoveries he has made or contributed to on Rollins Pass, in addition to the titles published and available on Amazon. Travis’ Rollins Pass writing samples include published long-form articles and chapter introductions, image captions supported by historical research and fieldwork, and academic/field research:
RAIL AGAINST LOSING TRACK OF OUR HISTORY
From time immemorial, the lands comprising Grand County were occupied by Native Americans. The original caretakers and teachers revered this land known as Grandmother Earth. In the mid-nineteenth century, early maps of Colorado began referring to the sinuous ridge of mountains west of Denver as the “Gold Bearing Region.” While western Colorado does have a vast mining history, the lands of Middle Park consisted of a relatively flat basin perched astride the Pacific Slope of the Continental Divide with a different sort of precious metal in its not too distant future: rail. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862, accelerating the westward expansion where 160-acre parcels overlapped and overran ancestral, unceded lands displacing the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ute, and many other indigenous peoples.
In 1874—the year that the Territory of Colorado established Grand County, the Cozens family were the first to homestead in the Fraser Valley. Two years later, a stage stop, restaurant, and inn were opened for weary wagon voyagers. The Cozens Ranch House and Museum, operated by the Grand County Historical Association (GCHA), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was recently added as a Distinctive Destination of the National Trust.
The same year the Cozens established their homestead, Margaret Emerine Bourn Crawford, along with her husband, made their way across Rollins Pass (east of present-day Winter Park) in a wagon pulled by oxen. After a stopover in Hot Sulphur Springs, the Crawfords ultimately settled in Steamboat Springs, where Margaret’s fame of being first made her a local icon—she is considered the founding mother of Steamboat. Margaret recalled her journey into Grand County over Rollins Pass for the Steamboat Pilot newspaper and her fiery displeasure about the trip was palpable: she encountered a 2-hour blizzard in June and emphasized, “the bumping was so hard I thought I was nearly dead.”
It seems Margaret Crawford was not exaggerating. Each year, John Rollins and his team would toil to improve the condition of the toll wagon road over the pass, but their arduous work as the area’s first developers often failed to be effective. In fact, fully two years later (the same year that Colorado achieved statehood) a critical description of Rollins’ road was penned for the Colorado Springs Gazette, “…the rocks, mud-holes, bogs, creeks, boulders and sidling ledges of that road, can only be appreciated by being seen, the only wonder is that a wagon can be taken over at all…”.
Grand County was beginning to flicker to life and indeed, the wagon roads represented a navigable, albeit slow method for entering the county. However, the same views that beckoned those early travelers and settlers represented an almost impassable barrier for the railroad; Grand County’s story was almost altered forever as railroad routes were surveyed through Wyoming. It was David Moffat’s vision that a lengthy tunnel could one day be bored through the immovable stone of the Continental Divide and into the county.
By 1904, the track had been laid from Denver, across the Continental Divide, and to the town of Arrow on lower Rollins Pass. Arrow was an advanced frontier town and, in its heyday, had a higher population than the towns of Winter Park and Fraser combined (as of the 2010 census). Arrow had modern gas lamps seen only in larger cities such as Chicago and at least eleven saloons as well as cafés, restaurants, several hotels, a post office, schoolhouse, grocery store, pharmacy, four sawmills, and stockyard. Despite these advancements, Rollins Pass has a way of rebuffing progress and reclaiming its natural state: Mart Wolf, owner of The Elk Saloon, set fire to his establishment in hopes of collecting a sizable insurance payout. Unfortunately, his avarice had an unintended chain reaction: the fire quickly spread, and Arrow was almost all but snuffed out of existence.
Below Arrow, the rails descended 3.7 miles to Irving Spur (where the pass now meets US Highway 40), turned north, and wound towards Hot Sulphur Springs, through Kremmling, and into Eagle County. (The 1906 Kremmling Depot needs your help—GCHA is looking to stabilize and restore this incredible part of our county’s history.) Rail provided a way for commerce to glide in and out of the county with ease: mallets—compound locomotives—pulled railcars with cattle, timber, wool, coal, chickens, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, mail, and newspapers. The development of the railroad and its expansion west into the ranching areas in the county made it possible for farmers, ranchers, and breeders to compete in a growing marketplace and easily send product to Denver and beyond.
Trains were also filled with smartly-dressed riders who came to settle, work, or vacation in Grand County and along the Moffat Road. One of the most famous riders, Susan Anderson MD—Doc Susie—made her way into Fraser by way of the rails over Rollins Pass and was one of the first women to practice medicine in Colorado; she was posthumously inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997.
David Moffat quickly realized that Rollins Pass was unkind to the developer as John Rollins had learned more than a generation earlier. Moffat’s “Hill Route” was plagued by colossally expensive and intractable issues: multi-week delays because of avalanches, rockslides, and derailments; plus, incessant wind and snow possible in any month of the year. At the end of the quarter-century experiment, the Moffat Tunnel finally opened in 1928 and the rail journey into Grand County became significantly easier and drastically faster. This engineering feat brought skiers to the slopes via Ski Train within a dozen years of opening; the Moffat Tunnel also proved crucial to helping win World War II as at least thirty defense and troop trains passed under a shoulder of James Peak daily. The Ski Train—now the Winter Park Express, Amtrak’s California Zephyr, and countless freight trains continue moving along the rails into and out of the county along tracks still known today as the Moffat Road.
Neighboring counties found their fortunes as foretold in the period maps, spirited from adit to assayer in ore carts run atop rickety rails. However, it was in Grand County where eight-foot-long hand-hewn wooden ties perpendicularly supported long segments of rail as well as the trains that would bring—and continue to bring—much fortune to both ends of this county, enabling people to settle and thrive. From the echoes and artifacts of an historic wagon road and railroad over the Continental Divide to the parallel tracks piercing the mountains of the “Gold Bearing Region” and entering the county beneath the unassuming concrete arch of the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel, track now stretches forever west—glinting into the sunset at the distant shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Photo captions written for this article: 1) Middle Park as seen from Arrow on lower Rollins Pass. 2) The Moffat Road over Rollins Pass pushed the limits for running trains over steep mountains. 3) The straight shot through the Moffat Tunnel eliminated more than 10,800 degrees of curvature over Rollins Pass.
—Published in the 75th Anniversary Edition of the Sky-Hi News and written on behalf of the Grand County Historical Association
Horse and Wagon: 1862–1880
In the decade where Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization and Alfred Nobel created dynamite, the first recorded crossing of a wagon train on Rollins Pass was accomplished in 1862. There are relatively few photographs from this era—and judging from the photographs that do exist, traversing Rollins Pass must have been a staggering and formidable task. The travels and travails are well documented by Samuel Bowles, who speaks bluntly of the summer storms that interfered, “Hell was pleasanter and safer than a thunderstorm on [that] range.” He talks of mules and horses in the storm that “winced under the blast” and of “difficulties [being] frightful”—Bowles goes on to explain that very few wagon wheels “remain[ed] whole” after encountering the mud, rocks, and rivers on Rollins Pass.
Despite the difficulties encountered on these wagon journeys, the sensory feast casts a permanent spell on its visitors. Bowles captures, in writing, the first impressions of the beauty of which Rollins Pass has always been known: “Everywhere about us, where the snow and the rocks left space, were the greenest of grass, the bluest of harebells, the reddest of painter’s brush, the yellowest of sunflowers and buttercups. All, with the brightest of sun and the bluest of sky . . . that we were in raptures with the various beauties of the scene, and feel still that no spot in all our travel is more sacred to beauty than this.”
Colorado pioneer John Quincy Adams Rollins began his exploration of what would become Rollins Pass, and he wrote the editor at a Denver newspaper of his findings. Rollins speaks of “beautiful, quiet pools, fringed by overhanging willows, where speckled trout ‘most do congregate,’ alternated by rushing cascades and by wide-spread, pebble-bottomed shallow stretches, where the waters glimmer in the sun.” Ironically, Rollins claims that he is “neither a ‘literary’ [n]or ‘scientific gent’ ” yet his reports of the lands beyond Rollinsville are filled with euphony and literary genius; it is no wonder the place would soon be named after him: Rollins Pass.
“This phantasmagorical image of Needle’s Eye Tunnel was meticulously restored from the original, revealing much about the scene. On the left side of the image below, a man stands in front of a ladder. In the background, near the entrance of the southwest portal, is a surveyor’s tripod; the nearby case likely contains a theodolite. On the tracks, a tool rests on a tie mid-ground, while two human silhouettes stand in the background. On the right side, drill steel bits and buckets rest on the tunnel floor, while six workers stand—some with their tools. The conspicuous absence of ballast in between the wooden ties suggests the photograph was taken shortly after the track was laid through the tunnel.”
—excerpt from Rollins Pass: Past and Present (2022) by B. Travis Wright, MPS & Kate Wright, MBA | Chapter 2, A Great Gate: Traversing Rollins Pass: page 43
“The Moffat Tunnel is a cathedral to engineering. Its simplicity occludes its sophistication, with the creation of nothing from something—the deliberate absence of rock amid incalculable weight. The finalized engineering marvel has a ventilation system that performs a complete air exchange within the tunnel in 18 minutes. The seemingly endless stone archway has intricately designed and perfectly positioned “umbrellas” to disperse alpine lake seepage to either side of the tracks. During construction, on February 15, 1925, tunneling progress stalled 1,100 feet directly under Crater Lake as 1,800 gallons per minute of water began flowing into the tunnel. At the suggestion of electrician K.S. Weston, crews ventured to the lake, cut through three feet of ice, and poured in 10 pounds of chloride of lime. Shortly thereafter, the presence of lime was detected inside of the tunnel. In an attempt to close the seam, a stick of dynamite was tossed into the lake, and the flow rate dropped drastically to 150 gallons per minute and then slowed to a trickle. Multiple times per day, the visceral vibration of mechanical thunder reverberates through the bowels of the earth.”
—excerpt from Rollins Pass: Past and Present (2022) by B. Travis Wright, MPS & Kate Wright, MBA | Chapter 3, Piercing the Divide: The Moffat Tunnel, page 89
“A rotary snowplow projects a magnificent white arc of snow while the coal needed to power this high-altitude enterprise is burned, providing quite a show. Ironically, the rotary snowplow was first invented by a dentist, confirming the fears of many regarding the ambitions of those in the dental profession! In short, the rotary snowplow works similarly to regular residential snowplows used by many on their sidewalks and driveways. A large circular blade assembly in the front rotates at a high degree of speed, the blades cut through snow and ice, and once behind the blades, the processed snow is forced through a chute where it is tossed aside. Below, workers pause for a photograph as their equipment is topped off with water.“
“Days turned to weeks when Rollins Pass was blocked by snow, despite the use of rotary equipment. Period newspapers regularly note blockades lasting weeks; these frozen impediments required the railroad to stock extra provisions aboard trains. There was also frustration with first- and second-class mail held up in the blockades. ‘Why not then after 48 hours block of . . . Corona Pass send [mail]. . . by sleds?’ a 1918 post in the Routt County Republican asked publicly. That same year, the Oak Creek Times had a front-page bulletin, ‘Only Four Pages This Issue: The Times this week consists of but four pages, due to the blockade on [Rollins Pass], which prevented the arrival of the ready-print from the Western Newspaper Union. We hope to issue a paper of regular size next Friday.“
“Few know of the thousand-year-old Native American hunting structures scattered across Rollins Pass. C.A. Deane, a government surveyor, first interpreted the Rollins Pass game drive complex in 1869, and his interpretation was rounded out by ‘Commodore’ Decatur, a trader familiar with Native American traditions. John Rollins himself described the walls in 1873. Archaeologists Byron Olson and James Benedict worked on Rollins Pass through the 1960s and 1970s, and in 2009, professional archaeologist Dr. Jason LaBelle, assessed the Rollins Pass region for archaeological reinvestigation. Since then, Dr. LaBelle has documented miles of rock walls and hundreds of hunting blinds, pictured above and below, strategically placed by the indigenous peoples to prey upon migrating animals. He stated these game drives are ‘one of the greatest concentrations of ancient hunting structures documented in North America.‘”
“Despite the removal of the rails more than eight decades ago, coal slag between railroad ties can clearly be seen on the road today in an alternating pattern of light and dark bands. Many foreign objects can be found in the road prism, including railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, washers, cotter pins, sun-colored amethyst glass, wagon-road era horseshoes, and more. As a reminder, please take only photographs, leave only footprints.“
“…Both the measurable depth of the railcar (3.313 feet) as well as the four-rung iron ladder on the corner of the car helped to immediately center on the type of build for the railcar: a wooden gondola*—a sort of half-height open boxcar. Additionally, one of the maker’s marks on an unknown part of the railcar “C1826, T (in an upside down triangle)” also proved helpful to determine the type and purpose: ‘the inverted triangle could indicate removable or ‘Drop Ends’. That is, the ends may be rigidly attached or may be dropped down to load long cargo’ (Feather River Rail Society/Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society 1999). This wreckage was of a drop-end wooden gondola. It is assumed that the gondola was either empty at the time of the crash, carrying materials easily camouflaged with the crash site (granite), decomposable or temperature-sensitive**, or the cargo is beneath the upturned car…”
* Important to note here is that period gondolas generally have a depth of 4’1” (Bollinger 1979; Griswold 1995; Gurdak 2013). It is reasonable conjecture that the remaining 9.24 inches have decayed, broken off, or are buried under rubble.
** As an advertising scheme for the Moffat Road in the summer, Moffat would typically bring rail cars full of snow and distribute it in downtown Denver to emphasize their slogan, “From Summer’s Glow to Winter’s Snow” (Bollinger 1979, 125).
—excerpt from Reconstructing the Wreckage: An Inside-Braced Drop-End Wooden Gondola (2013) by B. Travis Wright, MPS, page 2