Chuck Mack: We had a fun day: Part 1
October 4, 2008
It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day, so this morning we decided to take a drive to see how the fall colors were coming along. Our son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Deb, went with us.
On the way to Steamboat, we decided to turn off the main highway and take a drive up through Butcherknife Draw. Or that’s what they called it when I was a kid. It used to be a coal mine; well, actually more than one coal mine, but one was large enough that it had a railroad spur and processing tipple. The mine itself was located aways up in the draw. What I remember about the Butcherknife mine; U.S. Highway 40 went right under part of the mine tipple. The highway was not near as wide back then, but still it barely squeezed between the timbers supporting part of the tipple.
Today, there’s no sign for the tipple or a coal mine up the draw. However, there are lots of houses and those weren’t there when I was a child, and I don’t remember the road going so far back and finally reaching the very top of the mountain. From the top of that mountain, the view is fantastic, looking off in all directions. We found that the chokecherry and sarvis bushes on the mountain hillsides were just lovely with their autumn hue, in places.
On up the highway a few miles from Butcherknife is the site of the old McGregor coal mine. The Routt County Landfill is now in the same place. We turned off and went over that way so I could get a picture of the two old houses that still stand on the old McGregor site. These were part of the McGregor mine camp. The McGregor underground mine was a large operation with a railroad spur and processing tipple. It closed in the 1940s, and the Osage Mining Company later started a strip mine in the same location; the landfill is now part of the old strip mine. The McGregor power plant was taken over by private control after the McGregor mine shut down. The power plant continued in operation supplying electricity to all of the Yampa Valley until 1964 when the Hayden power plant started. Today, there is nothing left to indicate a mine and power plant existed in that location, other than a few crumbling concrete foundations.
Then we drove up Rabbit Ears Pass and across to the old monument marker on old U.S. 40, where we stopped long enough to eat our picnic sandwiches. The highway over Rabbit Ears Pass first became a major link between Denver and the Yampa Valley in 1919. The monument was erected in 1929. Highway 40 has been changed many times since 1919 or 1929, for that matter, and the monument is now several miles from present-day Highway 40. They are cutting some of the beetle-killed pine trees and sawing them into firewood length blocks. There were several piles near the monument. I understand that you can purchase a permit from the Forest Service to haul some of that home for firewood. I’m glad some use is being made of all the beetle-killed pine.
We then drove back to present-day Highway 40 and continued eastward a couple of miles until we came to the Buffalo Park road. The Buffalo Park road is the Forest Service road which connects Rabbit Ears Pass and Gore Pass. Most all Forest Service roads are open for most any kind of travel including ATVs and motorbikes. However, the Buffalo Park road is listed as a Forest Service highway and it is closed to this mode of travel. That is a big disappointment to us because we would love to travel it with the ATVs. There are people who ignore the rules and ride their ATVs where it’s not allowed. Glad to say with honesty, we won’t do that.