Buy the DVD

Monarch Branch
Poncha Springs
Mears Junction
Marshall Pass
Crested Butte
Lake City
Black Canyon
Grand Junction

Royal Gorge
Moffat Route
Tennessee Pass
Marshall Pass
La Veta Pass
San Juan Area
San Luis Branch
Santa Fe Branch




Marshall Pass Route: 
Salida to Grand Junction



The Marshall Pass Route was part of the original narrow gauge transcontinental line connecting Denver with Salt Lake City. Construction on this section of track began in 1880 at Salida and moved west over Marshall Pass. On both sides of Marshall Pass the grades were a steep four percent, and helper engines were required on the trains. Furthermore, the winters were severe and snow removal was a constant battle for the crews. Near the top of the pass an extensive system of snow sheds was built and at the crest, most everything was enclosed in some form of snow shed at one time.

On the west side of the pass, Sargent was a helper station at the lower levels of the mountain. From Sargent the line followed Tomichi Creek west to Gunnison. Construction of the Marshall Pass track to Gunnison and the branch line to Crested Butte was done in a race with the Denver and South Park railroad for first rights to coal fields in the Elk Mountains. By utilizing the existing toll road built by Otto Mears over Marshall Pass, the D&RG was first on the scene at Crested Butte beating the D&SP who choose a more difficult route across Alpine Pass.

From Gunnison the tracks continue west into the Black Canyon. This rocky, semi-arid region is the site of hauntingly imposing canyons carved by the Gunnison River. Much of the original line in the canyon is now covered by impounded waters of Blue Mesa and Morrow Point reservoirs.

Near the town of Sapinero a branch line was constructed to Lake City and its mining prospects. This line was short lived and did not produce tremendous revenues for the railroad.

West of Sapinero the tracks pass Curecanti Needle, a giant rock pinnacle that became the logo symbol for the railroad. Beyond this point the canyon was once considered impassable by lesser engineers. But, the crews of the D&RG developed a system of lowering men down the 1000 foot rock canyon face on ropes to dangle above the raging river, pounding holes into the stone for support decking. Hand drilled holes for charges would be cut into the rock and long fuses attached to allow the workers to be pulled out of harms way before the blast went off.

At Crystal Creek, near Cimarron, the railroad climbed out of the canyon and began its long four percent grade to Cero Summit. From the Summit the grades ranged from two to four percent down into the Uncompahgre River valley at Montrose. The valley is a beautiful agricultural area that thrives on the waters from the reservoirs on the Gunnison River in Black Canyon. 

A branch line from Montrose to Ouray serviced the many mining areas in the awesome San Juan mountains. On the way another connection at Ridgway with the Rio Grande Southern provided access to Telluride and more mining revenues.

The main line left Montrose heading north to Grand Junction. This portion of track was converted to dual gauge in 1906 and continued to run both gauges until 1953 when the narrow gauge lines were abandoned through Marshall Pass. 

The transcontinental traffic across the Marshall Pass route was diverted onto the Tennessee Pass route after it was constructed in 1887. This left only the coal shipments out of Crested Butte as the major revenue for the Marshall Pass route until the 1950's when the CF&I steel works at Pueblo began purchasing coal from the Trinidad area and put the last nails in the coffin for the narrow gauge over Marshall Pass. It was not long before the route shut down completely and the tracks were torn up.


marshall pass ouray peak gs p69b.jpg (75175 bytes)
Marshall Pass c1880


curecanti needle atr.jpg (66225 bytes)
Curecanti Needle c1880


black canyon truss bridge B locomotive tlh cab.jpg (114807 bytes)
Black Canyon c1880


ouray town view mt abram pc c1890 pc.jpg (141357 bytes)
Ouray town view c1880




Copyright 2005 Sandia Software All Rights Reserved