THE EARLY DAYS
Taming this high mountain county was a task for the hearty. Early homesteaders and miners often lived in tents before building log cabins. Settlers hastened to civilize the wilderness with frame buildings finished with lace curtains and wallpaper. Towns sprang up with wood stores, saloons, mills, post offices and schools which were prone to fires that frequently leveled early boomtowns. Towns rebuilt with more sophisticated and less flammable building materials provided by the new railroads and local brick factories. These Victorian business blocks and homes form today’s historic town centers.
ZEBULON MONTGOMERY PIKE
In 1779 the expedition of Spanish General Juan Bautista de Anza entered the valley. In the summer of 1806, the expedition of Zebulon Montgomery Pike explored and mapped the Arkansas headwaters of the Louisiana Purchase before being detained in Mexico under suspicion of espionage. The ill-provisioned party wandered the area and spent a very cold Christmas Eve just north of Poncha Springs, commemorated by the Zebulon Pike Interpretive Wayside.
TROUT CREEK PASS
By 1826 mountain men and fur trappers were on many of the Arkansas’ tributaries, supplying beaver pelts for gentlemen’s top hats. Kit Carson collected the thick pelts in the spring and fall seasons for several years before guiding Lieutenant John Charles Fremont’s first expedition, passing through the Upper Arkansas Valley in 1843. The following year the group traversed Trout Creek Pass from South Park on their way northwest over Fremont Pass north of Leadville. Today’s Trout Creek Canyon Exploration Route follows their steps.
COLLEGIATE PEAKS SCENIC OVERLOOK
Ivy League professors named our 14,000’ Collegiate Peaks in friendly competition. In 1869 Professor Josiah Dwight Whitney led his geology students to a summit and called it Mt. Harvard. Running north to south Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Princeton grace the western viewshed of the Collegiate Peaks Byway and the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Overlook. These dramatic peaks are the core of the Sawatch, the highest continuous mountain range in North America.
HOME ON THE RANGE
A 150-year ranching heritage lines the Byway with authentic working family ranches. Early homesteaders found many advantages: fertile bottomland, public domain grasslands, a temperate climate, water for irrigation and a good market in the mining boomtowns and new Front Range cities.
The 1868 Hutchinson Homestead with its Carpenter Gothic ranch house, possibly the oldest frame dwelling in the county, is one of the longest, continuously-owned family properties in Colorado. Seven generations have been in ranching, as well as mining, commerce, politics and veterinary medicine. On the Byway between Salida and Poncha Springs, the ranch buildings are listed on the National and State Historic Registers and are open for tours.
In 1912, the Turners bought an 1880 homestead and produced dairy, fruit and vegetables for 80 years on this typical small farm on Buena Vista’s West Main Street. Today the Turner Farm is a working farm and living history museums and celebrates Applefest every September. The first commercial lettuce in Colorado was grown west of Buena Vista in 1918. Every winter Buena Vista’s Ice Lake supplied ice for refrigerated boxcars that hauled “Buena Kist” lettuce to market. Eventually 13,000 acres were under cultivation and an annual Buena Vista parade celebrated the “Lettuce Capitol of the World” until after WWII.
COLLEGIATE PEAKS STAMPEDE RODEO & CHAFFEE CO. FAIR
Today, two notable vegetable farms with new ideas till the soil. The five-acre Weathervane Farm produces eggs and vegetables for local markets in Buena Vista. In Salida, Farm to Table grows corn, squash and cabbage for donation to regional food pantries. The annual Collegiate Peaks Stampede Rodeo and Chaffee County Fair continue our ranching heritage.