Ride the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad from Durango to Silverton, Colorado in 1965
On August 12, 1965, my father, Dr. L.N. (Duke) McGillis and I arrived in Durango, Colorado. At the time, we were midway through a Grand Circle Tour of the Four Corners region. Early that evening, we saw news reports that much of South Los Angeles was in flames. On our black & white motel TV screen, “The Watts Riots” were playing out live. Each evening, for the next several days, we watched our native Los Angeles represent racial, political and economic unrest in America. The contrast between the TV images and our idyllic sojourn to Durango was obvious.
In 1881, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had organized the town of Durango for business, not for pleasure. In fact, Durango, Colorado was named after Durango, Mexico, one thousand miles to the south. In keeping with the exuberance of the times, the company planned a rail link that would one day connect the two Durango towns. As with so many Steam Age plans, that route never came to pass. The southern branch line never extended beyond Farmington, New Mexico, fifty miles to the south. In Durango's heyday, tracks ran south to Farmington, New Mexico, east to Alamosa, and west to Mancos and Dolores, Colorado.
The original purpose of the railroad hub at Durango was to serve the San Juan mining district. For seventy-five years, ore trains, smelting and the transportation of refined metals dominated the Durango economy. Although both gold and silver mining played out by the turn of twentieth century, as late as World War II uranium was still the hot
mineral in town. In several of our 1965 Durango Depot photos, a large white mountain sits in the background. The old American Smelter tailings pile, along with its attendant chimney was still a dangerous reminder of the uranium business in Durango.
Until the early twentieth century, the Rio Grand Railroad and horse trails were the only ways to reach Durango. In fact, the first automobiles to enter Durango did so by train. Ringed by high mountains, watered by a perpetual stream, Durango fits nicely into the green and verdant Animas River Valley. From its beginning, Durango ranked as the dominant commercial and transportation center within the Four Corners region. Despite its strategic location, Durango did experience trouble. In the 1950s, as rail transportation and mining crashed, only the tourist trade kept Durango alive. During the 1960s, the population of Durango slipped from 10,530 to 10,333.
By the time of our 1965 visit, there were three “must see” attractions in and around Durango. Thirty-six miles to the west on U.S. Highway 160 was Mesa Verde National Park. Stretching north, the “The Million Dollar Highway” (U.S. Highway 550) connected Durango and Silverton, Colorado. Third and most interesting to me was the narrow gauge railroad that also linked Durango and Silverton.
Often called simply the “Rio Grande”, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGW) was then a company in transition. By 1968, Durango lost both its eastern and southern rail connections. Only the Durango & Silverton line remained operational. With little ore to transport and the Million Dollar Highway replacing its passenger service, the precursor to today’s Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad struggled to survive.
After visiting Mesa Verde and driving the Million Dollar Highway, there was only one thing left for us to do in Durango. On our third day there, we traveled on the steam train from Durango to Silverton, and then back again. In those days, there was no motor coach alternative. Today, passengers can take the bus from Durango to Silverton and then ride the train back to town. Alternatively, they can ride the train up to Silverton and then return by bus. Stalwarts and diehards ride the train in both directions..
Although we had reservations on the second train that day, we arrived early to see Engine 476 preparing to pull the early train out of the Durango Depot. Pulling a line of mismatched passenger cars, the forty-two-year-old engine continued to serve its original purpose, which was to pull passenger trains. Until DRGW ended its Durango-Alamosa passenger service in 1968, Engine 476 likely served on both the Silverton and Alamosa lines.
In 1923, the Schenectady Locomotive Works built ten 470 Series (or 2-8-2 K-28) for the Rio Grande Western Railroad. With its 2-8-2 wheel-plan, the 470 Series engines had both a lower center of gravity and higher capacity boilers than is possible with older style 2-8 wheel-plans. Sporting a diamond chimney shroud, the locomotive evoked the style of the Orient. Thoroughly modern when constructed, in 1965 Engine 476 looked every bit the “Mikado” that it was.
The class name "Mikado" originates from a group of Japanese type 9700 2-8-2 locomotives, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Nippon Railway of Japan in 1897. The Gilbert and Sullivan opera "The Mikado" had premiered in 1885, so the name was still on the minds of many in America, where the opera achieved great popularity. Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General’s Song”, in “The Pirates of Penzance”, had helped popularize the word “modern”.
With great optimism about the future, the 1920s represented the epitome of modernity in American Life. As soon as the ten new K-28 engines joined the DRGW fleet, those powerful, compact Mikados became the favored engines for short-haul passenger and freight routes throughout the system. In a nod to the nacient Streamline Moderne style, their forward mounted air brake systems and their Japanese Mikado-style chimneys fit the modernity of their time.
It is sad to say that somewhere along the line; all three of the Durango & Silverton K-28 engines have lost their classic chimney shrouds. In each of their places now stand a vertical pipe and cylindrical black shroud. In the interest of historical integrity, it would be nice to see the D&SRR add historically correct diamond-stack chimney shrouds to all three remaining 470 Series Mikados. As these utilitarian engines approach their hundredth anniversary, the recreation of an authentic historical style should be a priority.
That day in 1965, as we waited for the early section to leave the Durango Depot, there was tension in the air. Upon arrival, we observed a steady stream of black coal smoke emanating from the chimney of Engine No. 476. Before we arrived that morning, the yard crew had attached the engine to the train. When the engineer finally climbed aboard Engine No. 476, we knew that the action was about to begin. With his Nikon F 35-mm film camera ready, my father stood astride the tracks. Standing behind him and to his left, I held my vintage Mamiya 16-mm film camera at the ready. Not wanting to miss the action, we soon walked across West College Drive and then along the tracks. From our new vantage point, we would see the engine coming toward us, almost head-on.
On that day in August 1965, Engine No. 476 appeared historically correct and ready to go. First, the steam powered whistle wailed. As the fireman stoked the firebox, the engineer opened the throttle valve, sending superheated steam into the cylinders, thus driving the pistons and turning the wheels. Another valve sent steam up the blast pipe and out through the chimney. That blast of steam increased the draft across the fire grate. As this powering-up took place, steam and coal smoke shot high into the morning sky. Already “up to steam”, the locomotive soon began to move along the tracks.
In order to capture the scene, my father had positioned himself astride the tracks. Not being as brave as he was, I positioned myself off the tracks, behind him and to his left. In those days, after snapping a picture, the photographer had to advance the film with a thumb-lever. Only after advancing the film could he snap his next picture.
Once the train began to move, it accelerated more rapidly than either of us had expected. To my surprise, my father stood his ground, snapping a photo of the train as it headed straight for him. Somewhere in all of that excitement, he was able to get one more close-up of the approaching engine. For my part, I got one shot of my father astride the tracks and another as he turned and ran. Although he was smiling in my second shot, he also appeared giddy with fear.
To this day, I am not sure how close Engine No. 473 came to my father and me. Being one who has observed the sheer power of a K-28 Mikado steam engine coming toward him on the tracks, I can say that the experience is enough to instill both respect and fear. Once we had calmed down, we sauntered over to the depot. There we boarded our own train, pulled by the venerable K-28 Mikado Engine No. 478.
at 03:30 PM |
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The Old Red Lake Trading Post Begins Its Second Century - Along "The Rainbow Trail"
In the first chapter of author Zane Grey’s “The Rainbow Trail”, he opens his 1915 novel at Red Lake, Arizona. “Shefford halted his tired horse and gazed with slowly realizing eyes. A league-long slope of sage rolled and billowed down to Red Lake, a dry red basin, denuded and glistening, a hollow in the desert, a lonely and desolate door to the vast, wild, and broken upland beyond. Red Lake would be his Rubicon. Either he must enter the unknown to seek, to strive, to find, or to turn back and fail and never know and be always haunted.”
One hundred years ago, Red Lake, now called Tonalea (Navajo for “gathering place of waters”) held great foreboding for the drifter named Shefford. Zane Grey, a master of mood, went on to describe the Red Lake Trading Post. “Suddenly, Shefford became aware of a house looming out of the barrenness of the slope. It dominated that long white incline. Grim, lonely, forbidding, how strangely it harmonized with its surroundings! The structure was octagon-shaped, built of uncut stone, and resembled a fort.”
Grey went on, “As he approached on horseback, no living thing appeared in the limit of Shefford’s vision. He gazed shudderingly at the unwelcoming habitation, at the dark, eyelike windows, at the sweep of the barren slope merging into the vast red valley, at the bold, bleak bluffs. Could anyone live here?”
In the book, Shefford soon meets Presbrey, the fictional trader who owns and runs the Red Lake Trading Post. Almost inadvertently, Shefford saves a young Navajo woman from an attack by a missionary who is visiting the store. From there, Shefford and the Indian woman travel separately toward Kayenta. Grey’s description of Kayenta indicates that it was then another trading post consisting of two buildings and a corral. To discover what happened next, along "The Rainbow Trail", one must read the novel.
In October 2013, as I approached Tonalea from the north, along U.S. Highway 160, I knew none of Grey’s story. Although I had often seen the dark and foreboding structure described by Zane Grey, I had no idea that its history stretched back more than one hundred years. I saw it as a somewhat forlorn convenience store, frequented by local Navajo residents and by tourists intrepid enough to enter the dark structure. Having never stopped there before, I resolved that day to do so.
The reason for my stop was to photograph the elusive Red Lake, which supposedly lay downhill from the old trading post and general store. While researching an earlier story about Cow Springs, a few miles north, I had found a Google satellite image of Red Lake. With its copyright date of 2013, I assumed that the map accurately depicted Red Lake, which appeared to be nothing more than a dry meadow to the east of the old trading post.
To my surprise that October day, I saw a shimmering pool of water at the bottom of the hill. A century earlier, Zane Grey described it thus: “In the center of the basin lay a small pool shining brightly in the sunset glow. Small objects moved around it, so small that Shefford thought he saw several dogs led by a child. But it was the distance that deceived him. There was a man down there watering his horses. Shefford went on with his horse to the pool.”
The only difference in my visit to Red Lake was the time of day and the passage of one hundred years. As before, the shallow pool, rimmed by a wide swath of wet sand shone in reflected light. With my travel trailer in tow, a trip to the far pool was out of the question. Although Indian Route 21 took off from the highway on the south side of the building, I knew that turn-around spots were rare on such routes. Instead, I contented myself with a few telephoto images of the far-flung, shimmering pool. After taking pictures of the lake, I had a decision to make. Should I enter the dark and foreboding building or travel on to Flagstaff, where I planned to spend the night? With the sun sinking low and no fellow visitors in sight, I decided to travel on.
As I swung my rig around the back of the building, I hoped to find an exit there. Although the way was not easy, there was an exit loop around the back. Before departing, I marveled at the huge water tank ensconced behind the building. It featured a Navajo language inscription and a Navajo maiden, with water flowing from her basket. Seeing the huge supply tank, I realized that Tonalea and the old Red Lake Trading Post were to this day a “place where the waters gathered”.
After taking a deep breath, I drove down a rock-strewn slope, with my travel trailer bumping slowly along behind. Turning back on to Indian Route 21, I spotted some street art on the door of an old metal garage. Although I could not discern what deity or devil the artwork represented, the panels that held the painting seemed to reflect each other from left to right. Upon further study, I realized that my impression of a mirror image was incorrect. Some details on the left side of the painting were different on the right.
As I departed Red Lake, heading south on U.S. Highway 160, I let out a sigh of relief. As I drove, I wondered who now ran the general store at Tonalea and what the place was like inside. Again, I turn to Zane Grey for his first impression of the trading post interior. “Shefford had difficulty finding the foot of the stairway. He climbed to enter a large loft, lighted by two lamps. The huge loft was in the shape of a half-octagon. A door opened upon the valley side, and here, too, there were windows. How attractive the place was in comparison with the impressions gained from the outside!”
Since I did not go inside the ancient building that day, I cannot describe it here. On my next trip along the “The Rainbow Trail”, I will stop at the Red Lake general store and see for myself. Meanwhile, wouldn't it be nice for the State of Arizona to honor a business that has operated continuously there for more than a century?
at 04:04 PM |
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Sledgehammers and Spray-Paint Now Dominate the Art Scene at Cow Springs, Arizona
In September 2013, I wrote about the state of the art at Cow Springs, Arizona. The term “Cow Springs” has a triple meaning. It stands first for the elusive springs once used to water cattle. Second, it stands for the small Navajo community that occupies a space between Cow Springs Lake and U.S. Highway 160, thirty miles south of Kayenta, Arizona. Third, the name is synonymous with the long defunct Cow Springs Trading Post and service station, which once stood across the highway from the settlement.
Being too small to rate its own U.S. Census district, no one knows how many Navajo actually live in Cow Springs. There are no discernible commercial services available in the settlement. With that, the “Cow Springs Head Start” nursery school appears to be the most prominent enterprise in town. To see for myself, in October 2013 I took a quick driving tour of Cow Springs. After looking around, I would guess the place has a few hundred residents.
After inspecting the ruin of the former Cow Springs Trading Post, I then drove across the highway, over a railroad grade crossing and into a tiny hamlet of mostly well-kept frame houses. Turning south on what appeared to be the major road in town, my path paralleled the highway. With my travel trailer in tow, I could not locate Cow Springs Lake, which I knew lay to my southwest. Although I could see the growth of a tree line upstream of the dwindling lake, I could not risk becoming stuck on some dead end road.
Despite the fact that the Cow Springs Trading Post closed over forty-five years ago, human activity in and around the ghost-building remains high. The two artistic implements of choice remain spray-paint and the sledgehammer. Almost equal in their usage, paint covers old art as the hammers continue deconstructing what little remains of the building. Since my previous visit, in the spring of 2013, the rate of destruction was astonishing. Even the paint on the old Standard Oil Products pole-sign appeared more flaked and baked in the sun.
When observing public art, most humans tend to like older, more traditional works. Although portraits of warriors and braves once adorned the concrete block walls of the ruin, most are now gone or covered with many layers of seemingly random words and images. If we can surmise any underlying theme within recent art at Cow Springs, it is that those in power will fall some day. Apocalyptic art and poetry, accented by the hammers of destruction create accidental cubist works.
Perhaps the best example of "sledgehammer cubism" is the Prophet, seen here in a time-lapse animated GIF image. Not many years ago, the Prophet appeared on a prominent wall of the ruin. Evocatively painted with both brushstrokes and spray-paint stencils, destructionist wrecking crews soon targeted the work. On my 2009 visit to the ruin, the concrete slab that held the Prophet’s image no longer stood. Although the image of the Prophet remained largely intact, it was now lying on the concrete floor. During my most recent visit, I noted that the visage of the Prophet had become a jumble of unrecognizable fragments. After an extensive sledgehammer attack, portions of one haunting eye and a bit of a skullcap were all that I could recognize. although rotated or tumbled into a chaotic pattern, most of the fragments remained in their places.
The dramatic spray-paint profile titled “Navajo Warrior” had suffered a similar fate. Over the course of a decade or so, the female warrior mythos had suffered various graffiti-induced indignities. On this visit, I found her image obliterated by elaborate graffiti monikers. In the afternoon sun, only her red-accented left eye shone through to me.
As recently as 2012, local artist Jetsonorama’s photo-mural depicting a young Navajo girl graced a prominent south-facing wall of the ruin. Resplendent in her finery, but with one eye torn mostly away, her youthful energy and optimism still shone through. A year later, beneath a welter of angry words and misogynistic art, her visage now hides from the world.
As I indicated at the beginning of this story, most people opine for the day when art was beautiful and easy to appreciate. A century ago, the likes of Pablo Picasso deconstructed beautiful images into their cubic components. Likewise, unseen hands continue to deconstruct the remaining walls and art at the Cow Springs Trading Post. Those works not yet obliterated, are festooned with colorful fragments of the deconstructionists' aching souls.
at 06:50 PM |
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The Trading Post and Art Gallery at Cow Springs, Arizona Return to Their Sandstone Origins
After witnessing the disappearance of Black Mesa Mine, I wondered what else might be fading away within sacred Navajo and Hopi lands. Thirty miles south of Black Mesa, for almost a century, Cow Springs Trading Post survived and prospered. The documented history of Cow Springs is spotty, at best. Most references to the place are in footnotes or old field-notes. Around 1970, when the last Cow Springs Trading Post closed, the place began its slow-motion disappearance.
In 1983, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 27 stated, “The unusual light gray Entrada Sandstone in the area was named Cow Springs Sandstone by Harshbarger and others in 1951. They described it as, “a cross-stratified bleached sandstone that lies between the Entrada Sandstone and Dakota Formation”. It is entirely older than the Morrison Formation and the Romana Sandstone, found elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau.”
The Cow Springs sandstone occupies a considerable interval in the Jurassic Stratigraphic Period. The Jurassic period existed long before the Tertiary Stratigraphic Period, when most of earth’s coal deposits appeared. At more than 150 million years in age, Cow Springs occupies an ancient place in geologic history.
The earliest historical mention of Cow Springs involves the Spaniard, Vizcarra, during his 1823 campaign. In an obvious reference to the nearby Elephant's Feet pillars, Vizcarra and his compatriots named Cow Springs Wash "El Arroyo de los Pilares". For almost one hundred fifty years after Vizcarra's visit, Cow Springs disappeared from historical consciousness. Decades later, perhaps in the early twentieth century, someone again documented the existence of the place. “East of the sandhills, bordering Red Valley runs Cow Springs Canyon and Wash. Up this canyon from the springs, George McAdams set up a summer and fall trading camp 1882”.
During a brief period when Indian trader J. L. Hubbell Jr. owned it in the 1930s, Joe Isaac managed the Cow Springs Trading Post. Son of Joe Isaac, Lawrence Isaac Sr., ran the coalmine at Cow Springs from the 1930s until the 1950s. According to Geological Survey Professional Paper, Volume 521, the mine operated on coal-rich Black Mesa, seven miles east of Cow Springs. By the 1970s, coal extraction attributed to the old Peabody Western Coal Company would come to dominate the economies of both the Navajo and the Hopi tribes.
In 1889, David, George, William, Charles, and Edward Babbitt established the Babbitt Brothers Trading Company in Flagstaff, Arizona. Later, they owned a series of trading posts and other businesses in the northern part of the state. Babbitt's Wholesale, Inc. and the Babbitt family have been distributors of Pendleton blankets and accessories across the Southwest for more than one hundred twenty years. Some of the best-known Babbitt posts were located at Tuba City, Willow Springs, Canyon Diablo, Cedar Ridge, Tolchaco, Indian Wells and the ancient town of Oraibi.
Notably absent from that list is the Cow Springs Trading Post, first operated by the Babbitt's in 1895. “So by the time I became involved in our trading operations, it was already becoming a dying part of our family’s business. From the time I started in the business, we had five trading posts. Today, 1999, we are down to only two—Tuba City and Red Lake. We closed down Cedar Ridge Trading Post, we closed down Cow Springs Trading Post” - Jim Babbitt, Babbitt Brothers Trading Co. oral history.
On August 14, 1938, there were recorded bird sightings at “Cow Springs Lake”, which was not far from a similar sighting at Red Lake (now Tonalea, elevation 5010) in Coconino County, Arizona. Red Lake was another old trading post site, just south of the Elephant's Feet pillars on U.S. Highway 160. At that site today, there is a general store, which provides Pepsi and hay bales to local residents. Today, there is no flowing water at Cow Springs, nor is there much of a lake at Red Lake. Only a seasonal pond, which stands south of the highway at Tonalea, hints at Red Lake's historical status as a year-around lake. With the long-term drying of the local climate, Red Lake disappears into a dusty plain. Now, Cow Springs Lake faces the prospect of a similar fate.
At the crossroads of Begashibito (Béégashi Bito'), or Cow Springs, and the old road to Shonto, is the possible location for "Luke Smith's store". Even in the early days, traders looked to create catchy names for their trading posts. Begashibito plus Shonto morphed into the new Navajo word, . In a larger version of the circa 1929 image (above right) on this page, “Begashonto” appears on the sign in front of the store.
In the early 1960s, highway engineers realigned old Arizona 264. The new U.S. Highway 160 bypassed the tiny hamlet of Cow Springs, thus forcing relocation of the old Cow Springs Trading Post. Even with its prominent new location on a busier highway, the trading post did not survive for long. Today, a pole-sign, some graffiti covered walls and a stone-topped chimney are all that remain. With its business lifespan cut short, there are no published pictures of the Highway 160 Cow Springs Trading Post while in operation.
With its imposing pole sign declaring “Standard Oil Products”, the ruin helps break the monotony along that stretch of highway. In 2009, I stopped at the Cow Springs Trading Post. Until they changed corporate colors in the 1960s, the old Standard Oil Company of California utilized white lettering on a brown background for signage on their west coast service stations. After decades exposed to sun, rain and wind, large portions of brown and white paint now fly away. Like the stratification record for the Cow Springs Sandstone, layers of paint intermingle as they erode through paint and primer. Completing a cycle, in 2013 the original words “Cow” and “Post” reasserted themselves at either end of the sign.
In the 1960s, improved highways and reliable automobiles meant that motorists had greater range and options. With its unusual name and remote location, tourists often bypassed places like Cow Canyon Trading Post. They might, however be attracted to an iconic brand name, like “Standard Oil Products”, thus stopping there for fuel and provisions. Even today, the size, height and immensity of the Cow Springs sign create an imposing sight. Only the height of its steel poles has prevented untold repainting with graffiti art.
At various times over the years, I have stopped to investigate the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post. By the time I first stopped in 2007, there was no roof and various partition walls were missing. There were no signs of a fire, so someone may have removed and repurposed the roof beams elsewhere. Also absent was almost any form of scrap lumber. Known for its cold winter nights, local residents may have collected and burned any scraps of wood remaining at Cow Springs.
Despite the derelict nature of the building, a spray painted combination of angst-ridden poetry and high art filled various panels. With each subsequent visit, more holes appeared in the walls. Successively, additional hits of graffiti obscured or defaced many of the more artistic panels. Additional sections of block wall tumbled, some with their artwork still intact. In one case, wall art became floor art.
In order to topple walls or make new holes, ad hoc wrecking crews employed sledgehammers. With less space to express new poetry and art, the hope and pride expressed in the early artwork later turned taciturn and reticent. Visionary sights of a Navajo warrior and a Golden Eagle disappeared under gang-style monikers and random bursts of paint. In a stroke of spontaneous irony, a spray-paint cartoonist used several of the holes to elucidate facial features in his characters. Dystopian anger at the human condition ran through several muddled poems.
Just when artistic expression at Cow Springs reached an all-time low, a new artist with a new medium arrived on the scene. Almost overnight, he covered several walls with his wheat-paste photo murals. Hailing from Inscription House, elsewhere on the Navajo Reservation, that artist goes by the name of Jetsonorama. He selects photos from his collection, enlarges them at a print shop, and then cuts them out on his kitchen floor. Utilizing wheat paste - a mixture of Bluebird flour (favored by Navajo grandmas), sugar and water - he attaches them, pane by pane, to places like the Cow Springs Trading Post. His photo murals echo life on the land, almost as fleeting in the wind and weather as the moments captured in the photos themselves.
Although not a Native American, Jetsonorama is the only permanent physician at an Indian Health Service's clinic. In his blog and elsewhere Jetsonorama said, “I’m trying to present especially positive images of the Navajo on the reservation - to inject an element of beauty, an element of surprise and an element, hopefully, of pride." From the first moment I saw Jetsonorama’s Cow Springs work, it inspired me. His photo murals can be vibrant on one visit and completely gone on the next. In July 2013, when I last visited Cow Springs, not a trace of Jetsonorama’s original work had survived.
Although I have no problem visiting the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post during the day, I would not stop at night. Apparently, a few latter-day graffiti artists still frequent the place, along with the ad hoc wrecking crews. Recent poetic evidence tells me that Cow Springs is now a hangout for the “down and out” or disaffected. Once, Cow Springs supported vibrant trade. Later, it supported highway art. With one wall after another now falling to ruin, soon the site shall support nothing more than spirits and pre-ancestral memories.
at 03:47 PM |
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