Sights on the way to Gunnison

OK, we’re still in Plan C, meaning all Plan A and B area campgrounds are booked until the third week of October. So Plan C places we are interested in visiting are Gunnison and Crested Butte Colorado and they aren’t too far from Fruita. So off we go first backtracking a ways to Grand Junction, then south on US following the valley that the Gunnison River has carved. It’s wide, long and in sage country.

In about an hour we stop in Delta (8900 souls), elevation 4900 feet, seat of Delta County, to stretch and visit a reconstruction of historic Fort Uncompahgre. The town lies at the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers.

The fort, really a trading post, was constructed in 1828 in what was then Mexican territory by Antoine Robidoux, a trader based out of Mexican Santa Fe. This area offered abundant timber for construction purposes and firewood as well as pasture for pack animals. It was also a favorite gathering place for Ute Indians.

The Ute Indians apparently encouraged the presence of a trader deep in their territory so they could obtain firearms and items/tools made from iron or steel as the Utes up until then had been in the stone age. Firearms had been introduced to other tribes to the north which upset the balance of power among the western tribes. Although both Spanish, then Mexican law prohibited the sale or trade of firearms to Indians, such trade at a remote location in a difficult country to traverse was most likely conducted without much fear of official sanction.

Although the fort was located on the Old Spanish Trail, Robidoux established several other trails for supplying goods to Fort Uncompahgre. The Mountain Branch came up from Santa Fe and Robideoux’s Cutoff was used to import goods from St. Louis. Interestingly, the cutoff bypassed Santa Fe making it shorter than going through Santa Fe and it avoided Mexican customs, where taxes could be as high as 30%.

The fort employed 15-18 people, all Mexican. Cottonwood pickets formed the perimeter and that fence was meant to keep animals inside the fort and was not for protection. The common articles of trade were horses along with beaver, otter, deer, sheep, and elk skins, in barter for ammunition, firearms, knives, tobacco, beads, awls, etc. Over time Robidoux built two more forts, Fort Uintah for trade and Fort Robidoux, built to ward of the intrusion of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Cottonwood pickets formed the perimeter and that fence was meant to keep animals inside the fort and were not for protection. Over time Robidoux built two more forts, Fort Uintah and Fort Robidoux, a fort built to ward of the intrusion of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the mid-1830’s beaver pelt prices dropped rapidly due to style changes in the East. To make up for lost revenues Fort Uncompahgre increased its trade in California horses and in Indian slaves although the practice was prohibited but not enforced by Spanish and later Mexican authorities. More powerful tribes would capture the women and children of their weaker neighbors and sell them in the northern colonies (New Mexico) where demand for laborers and wives was high. In the 1830’s boys between the ages of 8 to 12 years were valued at $50 to $100 in trade goods and girls were worth approximately twice as much.

By 1841 the Oregon Trail had been opened up and became a major route for immigrants, hauling freight and supplying posts such as Fort Hall and Fort Bridger. The effect was that Oregon Trail freight costs were lower and goods manufactured in the east were less expensive than what Robidoux could offer. The Indians didn’t understand the logistical and industrial economics and felt they had been cheated for years by the Santa Fe and Taos traders, including Robidoux.

War broke out in the summer of 1843 between the Utes and Mexicans and it spread into the Gunnison River basin. The fort was defenseless as it was designed more as a holding area for livestock. All but one Mexican were slaughtered by the Utes with women taken hostage. One Mexican trapper escaped carnage arriving fourteen days later hungry and exhausted in Taos. A visiting American was captured and later released with a message for Robidoux that all furs, hide and buildings were intact at the fort, that the Ute’s quarrel was with the Mexicans, not Americans, nor French. No one knows if the Ute’s were trying to lure Robidoux back to the fort so the could kill him or they truly wanted to resume trade.

The fort was left standing and vacant for two years before it was destroyed by local Utes. Robidoux never returned to the Uintah Basin to trap or trade for furs. In 1990 Fort Encompahgre was reconstructed upriver from its presumed original location on land owned by the City of Delta, CO.

The fort was located right next to a big city park which had a couple of bark parks. The dogs didn’t run much preferring to sniff the perimeter and greet other dogs through a chain link fence.

We continued on to Montrose (19,500 souls), elevation 5800 feet, the seat of Montrose County and gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We headed southeast towards Gunnison still on US50. After a few miles a sign indicates that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is to the left so that’s the direction we go. We arrived in the park and find zero parking for RV’s as all RV spots were taken by autos. Sheesh! So I double parked, jumped out and took a couple of photos of the 2000 foot deep, black walled canyon. From what we saw that canyon is right up there with the most impressive natural sights we’ve seen.

The road has us gaining altitude fast. We climb to Cerro Summit, elevation 8042 feet, then drop down a ways, the road now twisting and turning through cuts and draws between ridges and steep sided cliffs, eventually leveling out as we reach Blue Mesa Reservoir. We are only a few miles from Gunnison now and coast into our home for three nights.

Home base here in Gunnison is the Gunnison KOA Journey. More on the park later. Our next post will include our adventures in and around Gunnison and Crested Butte. See you then!

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