After reading Ouray my interest in learning more about local history was piqued and I dove right into Otto Mears and the San Juans by E. F. Tucker. I knew that Otto Mears was involved in the Rio Grande Southern and in the building of a lot of toll roads including one up and over Red Mountain Pass. Outside of that I’d heard that he was a little bit eccentric and that was all.
Otto Mears was into everything. Mears was born in Latvia (then part of Russia) before he was sent to live with family members in England and then to another family member in New York. When they sent him to San Francisco to live with yet another family member at age 11, he arrived to find that the relative had departed for Australia. From then on, Mears was on his own.
Mears eventually became an American citizen and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He was discharged in Northern New Mexico and used his money to enter business as a merchant. Mears slowly migrated north towards the Saguache area where he continued to operate businesses and became more and more involved with local politics.
As I’d learned in Ouray, Mears also got involved in Native American policy by both by accepting government contracts for supplies but later in helping negotiate treaties with the Ute Nation. As with most actions of whites towards Native Americans Mears actions when seen through a modern lens are really problematic. E. F. Tucker makes a good argument that while Mears was involved in the final expulsion of the Uncompaghre and Weeminuche bands from Colorado that he pushed for them to move directly to the reservation in Utah rather than settling near what is now Grand Junction because he believed that they’d be asked to move yet again.
Mears briefly served in the Colorado legislature but didn’t stay long, opting to operate behind the scenes and start building his famous toll roads first over Poncha Pass and most famously over Red Mountain Pass, now the route of the “Million Dollar Highway” US 550. Later, he progressed to railroads including the Rio Grande Southern and a handful of smaller railroads servicing mines in the Silverton area.
Mears worked most of his life and only slowed down a little bit towards the end of his life. In his later years, as his wife Mary suffered from ill health, he traveled back and forth from Silverton to California. Aside from a couple of short stints in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. Mears spent most of his adult life in Colorado.
I loved reading about Otto Mears. I drive Red Mountain Pass regularly to access recreation and have come to love and appreciate the ridiculousness of its precarious position above the Uncompahgre Gorge. While Mears never stopped looking out for his own business ambitions, he was instrumental in the development of the San Juans.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Any money I make via Amazon goes to buy more books about the West so I can read them and tell you all. All opinions are my own.
I have always loved learning about the area where I live. Growing up, I looked forward to the fourth grade study of Washington history very intently and continued to build my knowledge of the area into high school. I was initially drawn to Idaho’s Silver Valley by its history (mostly through reading Tim Egan’s The Big Burn) and then purchasing the cabin drove my research into the specifics of mine development in the upper valley. I have been pretty slow to develop my understanding of the history of the San Juan Mountain region. Lately, I’ve been doing better at delving into books, some of which I’ve talked about here recently.
One of the more enlightening things that I’ve read lately is Ouray: Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith. Inspired partly by the ongoing renovation of the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, I picked this up at the library. I wanted to have some background knowledge before visiting the museum when it reopens this spring. (Recent political events have also inspired me to read more about not white men… I violated this by reading about Otto Mears so I guess I’m going to have to put Isabella Bird next…or perhaps Chipeta?)
>The San Juans were settled relatively late, with the initial gold placer gold finds happening in the Eureka area (near Silverton) in 1860. Ouray spends some time discussing Chief Ouray’s early life but Smith wisely spends most the book discussing Ouray’s time as one of the leaders of the various Ute bands during the multiple treaty negotiations for the San Juan Mountain region and the Uncompaghre Valley.
As might be expected, the discovery of riches on lands granted to the Ute tribe (a loose confederation of approximately seven bands) lead to the US government continually renegotiating treaties with the tribe and shrinking their holdings. I am curious to see how the Ute Indian Museum presents the story of the tribe (the redesign of the museum features input from the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Tribe, and the Northern Ute Tribe) because Smith’s interpretation of Ouray is extremely favorable.
The portrait painted by Smith is of a man that fought hard for his people while grasping the futility of the situation. While the story clearly shows a man that was able to coordinate diverse interests within the larger Ute Nation the picture seems entirely too cut and dried to me. Ouray himself was promised a salary for the remainder of his life while the reservation became smaller and smaller and predicated some negotations with the government on their willingness to search for his son who had been abducted by the Sioux. His actions (and the actions of his wife Chipeta) during and after the Meeker Massacre were certainly admirable―they welcomed the surviving women from the Indian Agency into their home while the recovered from the ordeal. Certainly, Ouray was a man of his time that did the best that he could with what he knew.
This book served as a great introduction to Ouray’s life. I was fascinated to learn that the hot springs that are now Orvis Hot Springs were considered holy to the Utes which lead to them attempting to hold onto the land that is now Ridgway for a long time. I’m sure that forming a complete picture of the man is difficult given the circumstances but I’m looking forward to reading more about his life.
Last spring, I devoured Muriel Marshall’s Uncompahgre: A Guide to The Uncompahgre Plateauin just a few evenings. I had put off writing a review of it hoping to have some time this summer to drive the plateau from north to south along the divide road from Whitewater to Highway 62 as described in the book. And then I started working all the time…
Sadly, that drive never happened this summer (although I did make a rather hair-raising muddy drive across the Plateau from Montrose to Nucla this fall) but I did want to return to this book before it faded into the recesses of time.
Marshall does an excellent job in this book of blending history, geology, and a travel guide all into one. The guide starts by describing the drive up to the plateau from Highway 141 near Whitewater. Heading south down the Divide Road, the reader learns more about Fathers Escalante and Dominguez, about Fort Uncompahgre, and Antoine Robidoux.
As major side routes are encountered, Marshall describes where they go and why they came to exist (and make me realize that I have tons of exploring to do along the Plateau).
Driving the length of the Uncompahgre is still on my list. And you can bet when I go, I’ll be taking my copy of Uncompahgre with me. Just reading it without even driving the route really helped me to make sense of how the far West End fits in with the rest of the Uncompahgre Valley. For anyone curious about the history of Western Colorado this would be a good read and for anyone who has spent some time between Grand Junction and Moab it’s a great one.
Not having internet at home has been excellent for diving into some deeper reading material. I recently dived into The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History. Edited by a professor of geology at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, The Western San Juan Mountains has three sections exploring each of the topics mentioned in its subitites. Each section is divided into chapters written by experts in their fields (most authors hold doctorates).
While the book isn’t necessarily written for an academic audience, it is detailed and uses a significant amount of technical language (particularly noticeable in the geological section). The chapters all conclude with a reference section. These reference sections pose an immense threat to my book buying ban but that’s a personal issue of mine. I found it more than readable but for some readers it might be a sort of dense slog.
The geological section was probably the most condensed broad sweeping geological overview of the San Juans (or at least their western portion) that I’ve read so far. I definitely want to do more to make this all fit into an organized schema in my mind but knowing more about the deep history of my home mountains makes me really happy.
The biological section was detailed (and contains one chapter that will probably make an appearance as a reading in my biology class next fall) and as someone inimately aquainted—ahem, scratched to bits—with the “mid” elevation horrors of Gambel oak (more commonly known as “scrub oak”), I found it interesting if not particularly groundbreaking. The human history section was more adequately covered by Exploring The San Juan Triangle, recently reviewed on this blog.
The Western San Juan Mountains, published by University Press of Colorado, is probably only of interest to big old nerds like me. Since this is my blog, I’m assuming that at least some of you fall in my camp and, in that case, you might really enjoy this book before a visit to the region. Each of the sections could be read separately which means that it can be fit into a busy life before a trip. Theoretically, each chapter stands alone but I think they made a lot more sense when grouped with the other chapters in their section.
I picked up a copy of Terry Tempest Williams Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place at a garage sale quite while ago. (You’ll remember I’m on a book buying freeze until I finish the books I’ve acquired and not read…) When I picked it up the other day, I must have been in the perfect frame of mind to be open to it.
In this memoir, Williams discusses her family’s experience with cancer through the lens of the Great Salt Lake’s historic high levels in the 1980s. Somehow, Refuge seems to be about Williams’s connection to the Lake, her relationship to her family, historic sources of cancer, and the saga of the rising lake all at once.
I’ve read Ms. Williams book Red and really enjoyed it and I raved about the short but profound The Open Space of Democracy but found Refuge to be incredibly powerful. The writing was raw but accessible. I felt carried along with Williams emotional journey as her mother and her grandmother faced cancer.
Maybe I’m becoming soft in my old age but Williams honest look at relationships throughout the book made me cry multiple times. It was the sort of book that you’d have to put down after each chapter and ponder it awhile but at the same time, you were drawn right back in wanting to know what came next for her family.
I am a mountain girl at heart but having some time in the desert has become really key to my happiness. While looking at maps of the deserts of the 4 Corners region, I’ve traced the length of Comb Ridge with my finger, marveling how far it extends. Browsing the adventure travel section of the library, I found Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridgeby David Roberts.
Knowing a little bit about the terrain of the area, I was impressed that someone would have done this (although I still dream about The Hayduke Trail which is even more impressive). Traveling with two friends, the author describes the slow going over the tricky terrain, tensions of traveling in a group, and ruins found throughout the ridge.
My bar for a good travel book is one that either makes you see an area you know in a different light or desperately want to travel to a new area. I’ve spent some time around Comb Ridge both on the Butler Wash side and on the Comb Wash side but never really explored the canyons of the Ridge. This book makes me want to go wander canyons so badly.
Roberts very lovingly describes the Anasazi and Basketmaker ruins that he, Greg, and Vaughn explore along their trek. He pulls in just touches of his understanding of the history of the human occupation of the area, mentioning Robert S. McPherson’s work as well as some of his earlier books (it also made me want to revisit Craig Child’s House of Rain).
Sandstone Spine excellently combines history, travel, and human history for a very readable book. I am also excited for fall desert season. Anyone up for adventure?
This post contains affiliate links that help fund 3Up Adventures. All opinions are my own.
Last spring, I placed myself on a book buying freeze to try and save money and also to force myself to finish reading everything I’ve bought that has just been decorating my shelves. I still can’t resist browsing books, though, so the only safe place to do that is the library. On the new book shelf, I found Dan Flores’s Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.
I was quickly grabbed by Flores’s exploration of coyote’s mythological representations in America but was pretty much whole-heartedly sold on the genetic discussions of how coyotes diverged from wolves. The scientist in me really loved this since I’ve heard a lot about the connections between wolves and dogs but lots less about the connections between wolves and other canids.
A large amount of the book was devoted to the (very interesting) story of how wildlife managers tried to remove coyotes from the ecosystems after wolves had been largely eradicated. Current research by government scientists surrounding coyote behavior and control was discussed. While Flores’s personal disagreement with some of the research was apparent, but since his biases seemed to be for more stringent science with a stronger advocacy for ecosystem effects align with my own, I didn’t really mind. (For some more interesting coyote reading, check out this piece in High Country News about Wildlife Services.)
Another piece of this book that really reached to my heart was the acceptance that “coyote” isn’t always pronounced “ky-oat-e” but sometimes it’s a “ky-oat.” When I was growing up, I knew that some people said “ky-oat-e” but in my house it was most often “ky-oat” and I was never self conscious about it until a friend in college pointed it out. In the most rural parts of the west, it’s also “ky-oat” with things being more mixed in western cities, and then the east coast being nearly only “ky-oat-e.” Somehow, Flores’s casual mention of what pronunciation people used really helped me to connect with them and their perspectives.
I really enjoyed this book. My summer has been crazy and all over the place but Coyote America inspired me to read when it just hadn’t been a priority. Flores’s book is great for readers no matter where you live. Urban and rural residents have distinct relationships with coyotes but they’re all discussed in the book. If you’re at all curious about coyotes, check this book out. I enjoyed it a lot.
This page contains affiliate links that help support 3Up Adventures in my adventuring and book buying habits. This book was checked out from the wonderful Ridgway Public Library and all opinions are my own.
I finally go smart this summer and made a box specifically of “books I haven’t read” since I’m on a strict “you can’t buy any more books until you finish the ones you already have” budget. One of those books was Exploring The Historic San Juan Triangle by P. David Smith. I bought this book back in 2013 when I first moved to Ridgway and it just never seemed to be accessible when I needed a book. I definitely missed out due to my procrastination!
Smith’s history of the San Juan Triangle, the area roughly bounded by Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, is an excellent crash course in the history of settlement and mining in the region. The first chapters of the book describe the histories of the main towns in the region: Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, and Telluride. (My beloved Ridgway sits just outside the triangle and has some definite ranching vs mining roots.) Just a few pages into the history, as Smith described how miners started to drift into the San Juans while they were still officially Ute lands, I realized I know nothing really about this area. Since the book is written partially as history and partially as a travel guide there was some emphasis on the locations (past and present) of key buildings but I really enjoyed that since I could picture each of the towns.
After the histories of individual towns, there is a series of chapters that give a fairly exhaustive explanation of mines and ghost towns that existed along Jeep routes in the area. I can picture many of the places he mentions but I’m just itching to get back out and check out the rest of them! In addition to covering the “classic” routes (Imogene, Black Bear, Cinnamon, Engineer, etc.) Smith talks about spur roads and lesser known routes as well.
As I mentioned, the book is written as a guide to travel so sometimes the narration is a bit clunky. Dividing the history up into specific locations is helpful when you’re driving or visiting one of the towns but sometimes that also makes for a bit of repetitiveness to the history. That being said, however, if you like history and context for your exploring and you plan on visiting the San Juans (or if you need some inspiration to come check out my gorgeous mountains), Exploring The San Juan Triangleis an excellent place to start diving in!
Part of being prepared while traveling or adventuring is knowing what to do in an emergency. A couple months ago, Firefly Books sent me a copy of Outdoor Medical Emergency Handbook to check out and holy cow it is packed with information!
I’m still trying to put my finger on exactly the best use of this book: it’s a little big to be a reference in your pack on day hikes or even for backpacking. The Handbook makes reference to expedition planning and, although an expedition leader would ideally have taken a course in wilderness medicine or similar, the book would make for a great primer in handling just about anything that might happen along the way.
Although some of the treatments recommended are advanced (and it is noted in the text when medical consultation is necessary), the text is organized in a really readable way. I found the use of flowcharts really effective and easy to understand. (A pocket edition comprised just of the charts would be a really great thing to have and carry in a pack! I always find the “if this, then” the hardest things to remember!)
If you’re interested in brushing up on how to handle backcountry medical emergencies (or perhaps even emergencies while traveling internationally) but you don’t have the time or money to take a full blown medical course this is a really awesome crash course in what to do when things do not go as planned.
The Outdoor Medical Emergency Handbook was provided to 3Up Adventures by Firefly Books for review. All opinions are my own. This post also contains Amazon affiliate links which help support my adventures!
A lot of my reading gets driven by books I find in thrift stores. I’m a sucker for a fifty cent book about a topic I might care about—Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittlesey is one of those books and I’m really glad I picked it up. (I read the first edition, the affiliate link above and the photo below are from the second edition that includes updates from deaths throughout the 2000s.)
The book is a little bit dry at times and gets a little bit stuck on enumerating all the deaths that the author can find record of but more often, I found myself amazed by the wide variety of ways that people found their demise in Yellowstone. They managed to fall into hotsprings (quite a few people, actually), got too close to bison, were attacked by bears, froze to death, and drowned.
Whittlesley also explores the human caused deaths within the park although I found these substantially less exciting; many of them were from the earliest days of the park and details were definitely sketchy. It was certainly clear that Yellowstone was once part of the “Wild West” though!
As I mentioned, sometimes the prose is a little bit lacking but this was a fascinating way to look at our first National Park. Maybe I’m a little bit morbid but I would love to read similar books for other national parks and famous outdoor recreation areas. Again, a little macabre but pick up this book for some interesting reading before your Yellowstone adventure: you certainly won’t want to step off the boardwalk to pet a bison.
I purchased this book myself and all opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.