National Geographic : 1954 Aug
Colorado by Car and Campfire his trip: "We run tours over the old stage route from Lake City to Ouray. I'm on my way to pick up passengers." "Is the road accessible by car?" I asked. He shook his head. "I'm surprised you got this far. You'd better get a jeep if you plan to drive in the mountains much. They'll take you anywhere that tracks go." Sheep Range Above Timber Curious as to the sheep bells we had heard, we hiked up a narrow ravine where snow bridges spanned the stream. In a high basin above us thousands of sheep ranged beyond timberline. Pastured in these alpine meadows during the summer months, they are driven down in the fall and the lambs shipped to mar ket. Denver, I learned, is the United States' largest receiving market for sheep. Threatening clouds ended our exploration. Later, as we took leave of our friends in Lake City, Enid advised us to go by way of Slum gullion Pass. "Miners," she said, "used to stop there to prepare slumgullion-you know, meat-and-vegetable stew. The pass gets its name from the stew, and I guess the stew took its name from a mining term; slumgullion is the word for the muddy deposit found in sluices. Anyway, watch out for the road. It's clay, and slippery in a rain." By the time we reached the road leading to Cannibal Plateau on our way to Slumgullion Pass, the sun had come out. But the plateau's history was enough to give us chills just the same. In the winter of 1873 a party of six pros pectors, led by Alfred Packer, vanished in the mountains near by. Packer later reappeared alone, claiming he had been deserted by the rest of the party. Suspicion, roused by his robust condition and possession of a large sum of money, was crystallized when the bodies of his companions were found in the spring with strips of flesh missing. Packer then claimed that one of the men had gone insane and killed his companions; Packer had shot him in self-defense. Nobody be lieved his yarn, and he was convicted of mur der by a Lake City court. Beyond, we mounted a steep grade. On the right lay beautiful Lake San Cristobal, for which Lake City is named. On all sides loomed mountain giants, dominated by Un compahgre Peak. At the top of Slumgullion picnic tables in vited a stop for lunch. Rocky Mountain jays scolded from the pines. When I held a piece of bread in my hand, one bird boldly alighted on the table and bore the morsel away. "Better not leave the car keys on the table," warned Joanne, whose hobby is bird watching. "These are 'camp robbers.' They're likely to snatch up any loose articles." From Slumgullion we wound downward past streams tiered with beaver dams. Here aspens provide building material and food green twigs and bark. As the beavers exhaust the groves near one pond, they move upstream to new supplies. Result: another beaver dam. Dams like these perform a valuable service in flood and erosion control. Mountain storms and spring thaws send torrents of water down Colorado streams. The dams check the force of the runoff and hold the water, letting it seep through gradually. Soil torn loose by the flood is deposited in the ponds, eventually filling them. Many fertile beaver meadows are thus formed to enrich mountain glens. In secluded valleys we saw farmers stack ing fragrant new-mown hay. Lower down, sagebrush appeared. We emerged in the flat San Luis Valley that stretches 30 miles to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Like Pike, we had described an arc and were again in familiar territory. Prairie Wagon with Sails Denver, our home base, owes its start in 1858 to reports of "color"-traces of gold found in the sands of Cherry Creek where it joins the South Platte. Men promptly con verged on the area with anything that would move: covered wagons, strings of pack ani mals, wheelbarrows, and handcarts. Some came on foot, with supplies on their backs. One enterprising inventor even rigged sails on his wagon to catch the prairie wind. Unfortunately, the reports had been exag gerated. Disillusioned thousands turned back. When new and more substantial discoveries of gold were made in the mountains, however, an even greater wave flooded into Denver. The crude town served as a way station and supply center. But Denver's permanence was doubtful-until silver became king. Passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890 ensured a steady, profitable demand for all the precious metal Colorado's silver lodes could produce. Bonanza miners brought their wealth to the city, lavished it on elaborate homes and hotels, and founded business enterprises and banks.