History tells us that before the Spanish exploration of Western Colorado, the native inhabitants had a variety of routes for traveling on the Western Slope. With Spanish exploration those routes were utilized along with native guides, bringing explores up from such colonial outposts as Santa Fe into our region. Rivera, exploring in the summer and fall of 1765 being the first in Western Colorado with travel along the western San Juan Mountains north into the Delta area. Rivera’s travels with the assistance of native guides would expose the Spanish to the many trails and topography of our region. These explorations would lay the foundation for individuals like Antione Roubidoux to trap furs, host trappers, trade with the Utes prior to the Mexican War in 1846.
The movement of trade goods and livestock over the Northern Branch during the Spanish, as well as the Mexican period provided the foundation for later American exploration starting with the Gunnison Expedition in 1853. Gunnison described the route from crossing the present day Gunnison River westward, in the fall of 1853:
“Ascending from the river bottom, our route passed, parallel with it, over a district of pulverulent clay, the surface occasionally incrusted with salt, with small broken crystals of gypsum scattered freely about. This soil is formed from the wash of impure clay-slate bluffs, our animals sinking in it to their fetlocks. These bluffs rise one above another until they attain an altitude of 1,000 feet, their summits presenting the appearance, as we descended Grand river, of an unbroken plain; but as we pass in front of them they are seen to be cut into deep ravines by the small streams which descend from them during rains. In a few miles, however, we passed from this soil to a hard one, covered with small fragments of black vesicular volcanic rocks scattered over the surface. The men sent forward to select a camp, failed to find access to the river; and having travelled 20.33 miles at dark, we encamped without water, and on so limited a supply of grass, scattered over the hills, that the most of our animals were tied up to secure their presence in the morning. Our elevation was perhaps 150 feet above the river and during the afternoon we had repeatedly to cross deep ravines entering the river in canons, in trap-rock or in sandstone and clay- slate, where they overlie the trap. The land rises from out camp to the river, distant half a mile, and beyond it is soon elevated into a mountain: the stream flowing, consequently, in an immense chasm along the mountain side, made doubtless, by volcanic action.”
Gwinn Harris Heap, with his second in command Edward F. Beal traveled through this area just months before Gunnison, during the June and July, 1853:
“Traveling down Grand River (todays Gunnison River), at some distance from its right bank, we came to where it flowed through a canon (sic). The ground on either side of the river was much broken by ravines. The country, about a mile from the river, was barren and level, producing nothing but wild sage and prickly pear. After a harassing day we encamped on a rapid, clear and cool brook, with good pasturage on its banks, called in the Utah language, the Cerenoquinti; it issues from the Pareamoot Mountains (Grand Mesa) and flows into the Grand River.”
It was not until the removal of the Utes, a result of the cession of land in 1873, that settlement was opened up in Western Colorado. With the discovery of gold in the San Juan Mountains large numbers of American miners surged into the area to seek their riches. With the growth of mining related population, growth occurred in the Uncompahgre Valley with farmers and merchants arriving to support the mines. The Wagon Road is quite visible in the Fool’s Hill area of Delta County. The Road was constructed in the mid 1870’s as a way to move freight from Grand Junction over to Delta. Ruts from the Road are visible along the top of Fool’s Hill, as well as the stretch into Wells Gulch. There are also ruts form the Gunnison Expedition that are visible from Wells Gulch to the top of Fool’s Hill.
Report of Explorations for a Route for the Pacific Railroad, by Capt. J.W. Gunnison, Topographical Engineers, near the 38th and 39th Parallels of North Latitude, from the Mouth of the Kansas River, Mo., to the Sevier Lake, in the Grate Basin. Report by Lieut. E. G. Beckwith, Third Artillery. Washington: 1855, Volume II, pp 55- 57.
Heap, G W. Central Route to the Pacific, from the Valley of the Missippi to California, 1854, 78-79.