Heritage of the Colorado Trail- all about the segments

** The information below on the CT came from “The Colorado Trail” guidebook by the Colorado Trail Foundation whose volunteers work diligently to educate the public and maintain the trail – thank you!




The Heritage of The Colorado Trail


For Thousands of years, this land was their land-- the towering peaks, the expansive intermountain parks full of game, the cool mountain streams. The southern Rockies were home to a succession of cultures that left little impact upon the land other than the paths through the mountains that defined their seasonal wandering, some of which we still travel today as part of The Colorado Trail.

          By the 1600, the Ute Indians, whose forebears probably arrived from the Great Basin a few centuries earlier, had established themselves in the mountains of west-central Colorado. Perhaps the first tribes to acquire horses, they pursued a nomadic existence following the movement of game, seeking spiritual guidance on mountaintop vision quests, and engaging in sporadic warfare with other tribes-- the Arapahos, Navajos, and Comanche’s--who encroached on their mountain territory.


          By the time white settlers arrived in the nineteenth century, two tribes of several bands of Utes dominated western Colorado, the Tabegauche and the Uncompahgre. A succession of mostly failed treaties were signed that eventually would exile these bands to a small corner in the southwest part of the state and a reservation in Utah.


          One of those treaties, negotiated in 1858, prohibited the Utes from entering areas where valuable minerals had been discovered, in effect limiting them to the western and southern Colorado. Soon after as miner continued to push west, conflicts erupted, resulting in the so-called Kit Carson Treaty of 1868. It was negotiated by a delegation of Utes, including Chief Ouray, who were led by to Washington,D.C. by Carson, the famed scout and American Indian fighter. This treaty pushed the Utes farther into an area corresponding with the San Juan Mountains, west of the Continental Divide.


          Chief Ouray, who had attempted to walk a fine line between two clashing cultures never saw the heartbreaking removal of the Utes in Colorado. He died while traveling to confer with other tribal leaders and is commemorated by a mountain peak bearing his name along the Continental Divide near Marshall Pass. (seg. 15,16) (16,20).


          Come and walk on the ground where our American history still imprints this wonderful land before the trails are no more. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn our history and support a cause of great importance, Westcliffe Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center (www.lighthousewestcliffe.com).

Cowgirls Ride for Life, ( www.cowgirlsrideforlife.com) will ride the complete Colorado Trail from start to finish, 486 miles, to support this wonderful cause. We ride for the UNBORN WHO CANNOT CHOOSE LIFE for themselves and we feel there is not a better way or place to do that than on the Colorado Trail.

Please consider sponsoring a segment or more and share this wonderful adventure with us by following us on our website at www.cowgirlsrideforlife.com and by following our weekly blog.


Segments 1-5:  Waterton Canyon Trailhead to Kenosha Pass. Most of this section is at lower elevations. Plants from the plains zone merge in Platte Canyon with foothills zone residents. Blooms begin early as late as April and extend until June (our ride begins July 8th). The flowers will be at their peak. The dry gravel soils beyond the canyon support sand lilly, while you may find Pasqueflower, in the damp ravines close to Kenosha Pass, wild Iris burst forth in the meadows of South Park.

If this is something that you would love to see and experience segments 1-5 are for you. Maybe the location is perfect also with the lower altitudes.

Segments 6-10:  Kenosha Pass to Mount Massive Trailhead. Most hikers or riders travel too early for most flowers to appear. Look forward for the sweet smelling alpine forget-me-nots in the fell fields and rock crevices. As the snow melts snow buttercups spring out of retreating snow banks. (I do believe a lot of the snow will be gone by our ride). Once in the shadow of Mount Massive, alpine wallflowers and Ryberg penstemon are common.

Entering the Continental Divide, segment 6 is the longest segment of the Colorado Trail at 32.9 miles. Segments 6-10 are some the most beautiful areas on the trail. These four segments also climb to the tree line and above. We will be close the town of Jefferson along segment 6 - maybe this is the place you will choose to sponsor this wonderful cause and come ride for the day on the segment you sponsor or meet us in town for a cup of coffee.


Segments 11-15:  Mount Massive to Marshall Pass, most of these segments travel through the forest of lodgepoles and aspens. The wild flowers shadowing the forest make this a wonderland of awesome! The halfway point of our ride -at segment 13, Avalanche Trailhead- is where the Cowgirls will take a break and hope to share it with you. We will arrive on July 29th at the trailhead at 12:00 noon for a picnic fit for all. Please join us and have a bite prepared by our wonderful volunteers (requesting a donation of 10.00 per plate with all donations going to the Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center in Westcliffe). Come and walk or ride your horse out for the day along the CT. We will be happy to tell you of our adventure up to this point so come and join us.

Segments 14-15: After a 2 day break the cow girls will be back on the trail on Monday where we start are decent to US Hwy 50. We will start our 100 mile stretch to Creed Colorado. Three distinct peaks frame the view on the route to Marshall Pass-Mount Ouray named for Chief Ouray; Chipeta Mountain named for Ouray's wife; and Pahlone Peak named for their son. Chief Ouray’s portrait hangs in the State Capital. After crossing HWY 50 we enter a new world facing the hardest segments of the trail. Do you have what it takes? We have to tell you at this point the other cowgirls will be so tired of hearing Deb’s stories we need you all to come save them for hearing them again.


Segments 16-20: These are the trails that still hold our American History. Winding along the long section of the Continental Divide known as the Cochetope Hills the Colorado Trail crosses several historic passes. For centuries, the low backbone of the Continental Divide was used by both American Indians and animals. Cochetope means buffalo, presumably because the beast migrated to and from the San Luis Valley. Explorer John C. Fremont's expedition to cross the Divide in the winter of 1848 ended in a disaster which has rumor of cannibalism –and not the only time that cannibalism was charged in these mountains. In 1874 a party of miners disappeared in this same area with only one person surviving. That person, Alfred G. Packer, was later convicted of murdering and dining on his companions.

These are the segments we can't wait to cross. Many of us may have learned some of this history in school - So maybe now ask yourself “What does this have to with me?" Come walk on the ground where American History was made!


Segments 21-28: Along segment 24 we will hear the long mournful whistle of a train before we see it as we near the bottom of Elk Creek and the Animas River Canyon. It is the Silverton and Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, completed in 1881. This will be the first sounds of civilization we have heard for many miles. These segments are steep and a challenge for even an experienced horse person. The views are breath taking along with the terrain. Spring Creek Pass, Carson Saddle, and Molass Pass are very challenging and with the steep terrain comes splendid beauty and a waterfall where you can soak your feet in on segment 28. Then comes the long decent to the end of the trail in Durango.

Join us at the end of our journey as we reflect on the last 40 plus days of challenges we faced, majestic beauty we witnessed and cowgirls’ comradery we experienced. The Saturday after we return to Westcliffe we will ride down main street to the Silvercliff park where festivities begin with food and fun. This will be our last fundraising opportunity for the Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center until our next ride.

Cowgirls Ride for Life would like to thank you for your sponsorship of our cause.


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