COBWEB CORNERS: Ute Pass: From trail to 4-lane road
By Mel McFarland
Today hundreds of people drive Ute Pass without much thought of what it was like before it was a four-lane road. I have had a few questions about the route, and today I will share a bit of the answers I have found.
When the first settlers arrived in Colorado City in 1859, what we think of as U.S. 24 was impossible! The Indians used a trail that we can partly follow today. Starting in Colorado City their trail followed Colorado Avenue into Manitou along the creek. Once in Manitou it went up what is now Ruxton to the location of the Cog depot. At that point, it turned north along the mountains high above Fountain Creek. There is still a trail up that way as far as French Creek, just below Cascade. They rejoined Fountain Creek up through present-day Cascade, Chipita Park and Green Mountain Falls. Up above Crystola they headed west toward Divide with a branch that went north toward Deckers.
The early settlers used the same path until around 1873 when the first crews started carving away the rocks along Fountain Creek above Manitou. General Palmer financed the first work on the better road. Not that it was really "better," but it was shorter. The main reason was to access the timber up in the area now called Manitou Park. Big wagons hauled down lumber to build Colorado Springs and Manitou.
There were improvements to the trail in 1879 when Leadville became a gold and silver mining hot spot. Several years later, it was overgrown and seldom traveled, but when the Colorado Midland Railroad was built in 1886 and 1887, the idea of resorts came up. The towns in the pass mainly date from that time.
The road was improved a bit again in 1890 when gold was found in Cripple Creek, and in the 1920s and '30s it became a highway. In the 1940s, the highway became U.S. 24. The first four-laning was done in the mid-1960s.
Some of us remember the days before four lanes - the Sunday-afternoon-Aspen-viewing headaches as a long line of cars slowly returned to Colorado Springs.