South Fork; Shaw Creek Rest Area - Rio Grande County, CO
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member cldisme
N 37° 40.832 W 106° 32.723
13S E 363729 N 4171493
Quick Description: A four-panel discussion of the history of the South Fork, Colorado area.
Location: Colorado, United States
Date Posted: 7/6/2010 1:04:36 PM
Waymark Code: WM96K7
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Miles ToGeo
Views: 10

Long Description:
Just east of South Fork, Colorado, visitors can find this historical display in the Shaw Creek Rest Area on US Highway 160. The four panels that make up this marker read as follows:

Panel #1:

Few Spaniards glimpsed the uppermost reaches of the mysterious Rio Grande del Norte — and those who did, did so by chance. In 1694 Diego de Vargas came nearly as far north as present-day Alamosa while detouring around hostile Pueblos, and Juan Bautista de Anza passed within a few miles of here in 1779 on his way to the Arkansas Valley, but that was the extent of Spanish exploration. In 1807 Lt. Zebulon M. Pike led the first U.S. investigation of the upper Rio Grande; unfortunately, the river still belonged to Spain. Pike supposedly mistook it for the Red River — but might he have "erred" on purpose in order to spy on a continental rival. Spanish officials certainly thought so, hauling the entire party off to a Mexican prison.

The search for a cross-country railroad route finally led white explorers toward the remote sources of the Rio Grande. Lt. John C. Frémont entered the San Juan Mountains about fifty miles northeast of here in 1848, but heavy December snows turned the expedition back and killed eleven of its thirty-three members. In 1853 Edward Beale and Gwin Heap led a scouting party sponsored by private interests who favored a southern Colorado rail corridor; no surprise, then, that these pathfinders-for-hire declared the San Juans eminently railworthy. But Capt. John Gunnison came to the opposite conclusion after leading an arduous trek over Cochetopa Pass later that year. Gunnison's findings snuffed out Colorado's transcontinental rail aspirations and left the southern Wyoming route as the only viable option.

Panel #2:

The Stagecoach
Bunker Hill Station, established not far from here in 1876, anchored the last bastion of the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Company. Railroads had supplanted most of the company's routes in the San Luis Valley by the mid-1880s, but the line from Alamosa to Lake City prospered through this decade. Rattling over the crater-pocked Rio Grande road, these six-horse Concords hauled passengers, mail, and freight to Colorado's most distant corner, pausing here briefly before the nerve-wracking trip to Wagon Wheel Gap. Riders sat in sometimes stifling, sometimes drafty coaches and braced themselves for storms, bandits, busted wheels, and worse. But until 1891, when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad finally pushed through to Creede, Barlow and Sanderson's stage remained the best way to reach the San Juan mining districts.

The Railroad
Though it has stood empty for decades, South Fork's wooden water tank brims over with symbolic connections. Both the town and the tower owe their existence to the Denver & Rio Grande railroad, which paused here in the winter of 1882 on its way to the thriving silver mines of the San Juans. Though already loosely settled, South Fork was born during that season at the end of the line, sprouting a knot of lumberyards and sawmills to supply the rapidly expanding D&RG with railroad ties. The timber industry has sustained South Fork ever since, tapping the prolific forests of the San Juans. Though the railroad has ceased operations to Creede and has limited service to South Fork, the old water tower survives, clinging to the tracks east of town.

Panel #3:

Cascading through the town of South Fork just west of here, the Rio Grande serves as a portal between two radically different worlds. To the west lie the rough-hewn peaks and cloistered canyons of the San Juan Mountains. For centuries an impregnable Ute stronghold, this wilderness was transformed after 1880 into a hotbed of mining, railroading, and town building, witnessing some of Colorado's most dramatic episodes. Out of these hyperbolic heights the Rio Grande tumbles onto the open, austere floor of the San Luis Valley, which gave rise to modern Colorado's first settlements and remains rooted in Hispano traditions that date back centuries. Taken together, these neighboring domains represent a microcosm of Colorado's past, a complex mosaic of cultures and landscapes bound by a mighty river.

The Rio Grande runs 1,900 miles from the snowmelt of the San Juan Mountains to the salty surf of Texas. Generations of Utes lived off the river's fish and game; white mountain men and fortune hunters walked its banks searching for furs, gold, and timber; and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad used it as a key transit corridor. But more than anything, the Rio Grande has served as a catalyst for agriculture. The farmers of New Mexico have drawn upon it for thousands of years; in Colorado, Hispano pioneers in the San Luis Valley tapped the river as early as the 1840s. Today, the Rio Grande waters fields from South Fork to the Gulf of Mexico, ranking as one of the world's most heavily used irrigation resources.

Panel #4:

A regional map with text identifying places of interest.
Group or Groups Responsible for Placement:
Colorado Historical Society Colorado Department of Transporation US Department of Transportation

County or City: Rio Grande

Date Dedicated: 1998

Check here for Web link(s) for additional information: [Web Link]

Visit Instructions:
In your log, please say if you learned something new or if you were able to take any extra time to explore the area once you stopped at the historic marker waymark. If possible, please post a photo of you at the marker OR your GPS at the marker location OR some other creative way to prove you visited. If you know of any additional links not already mentioned about this bit of Colorado history, go ahead and include that in your log!
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Recent Visits/Logs:
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SnailMan1 visited South Fork; Shaw Creek Rest Area - Rio Grande County, CO 8/5/2014 SnailMan1 visited it