COBWEB CORNERS: Trails that became roads
By Mel McFarland
No one knows when the first person made their way along what is now Fountain Creek, but long before the White Man, animals probably followed the stream at the edge of the plains. The Indians in their travels tracked the herds of buffalo and other animals as they traveled this way. The Utes followed the creek down, sort of, from its start north of the big mountain. The first trappers used both the Fountain and Monument creeks as routes along the front of the mountains. The spot we know as Manitou is best known as a legendary campsite. To the north, spots we know as Garden of the Gods, the Air Force Academy, Monument and Palmer Lake were also popular campsites. Each had the needed elements.
Trappers and Spanish explorers recognized the importance of the Indian trails. The Trappers largely found their way to this area from the north, while explorers such as Cortez and Uribarri traveled from the south. A few French trappers followed the Mississippi River from Louisiana north to the Arkansas then up the Fountain, giving the creek its name. The route was well established when the area became part of the United States. Lieutenant Pike made camp on the north side of the Arkansas at the Fountain in 1806, in a spot that the earlier visitors had used. When he investigated the Grand Peak, he followed the trail north to the meeting with Jimmy Camp Creek before heading across the hills toward the mountains.
No one lived in this area year-round until the 1840s. Most of the visitors before that time were just passing through. The Rocky Mountains were a barrier that only the hardiest souls could master. Many paused on their eastern slopes waiting for good weather. Traveling through the mountains required a great deal of skill. When gold was discovered in Denver, the immigrant numbers exploded, and towns sprang up at the popular campsites such as the one here on the Fountain.
Old mountain trails became roads in the 1870s. The best known was the Leadville Road, but Ute Pass was also used. In the 20th century the roads became highways. The old two-lane paving eventually made way for the multilane road, still more or less following the ancient mountain paths.