Do you ever feel you need a short break just to get out of town, but you don’t have the time to be gone for long? Just 22 miles to the east will take you to the little burg of Cimarron, a quiet peaceful place to be.
The small unincorporated town is situated on the Cimarron River, totally surrounded by mountains. It is the nucleus of a fascinating history of the early railroad, ranching, water development, even tourism. The town’s adjoining canyon is where Morrow Point Dam is situated, as is the original 1895 narrow gauge train trestle complete with the newly renovated Engine #278 and several train cars — a whisper of the past for visitors to view and enjoy. The trestle was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Almost as soon as the Denver and Rio Grande tracks to Montrose were laid in 1881, it was known that extra engines would be needed to inch the little narrow gauge over Cerro Summit, a 17-mile perpetual grade. Cimarron became a railroad helper town where three crews were stationed year ‘round.
Three engines were required to get a fully-loaded freight train over Cerro, originally called Squaw Hill, while two engines were sufficient for the passenger trains. Part of the route wound through a section of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison with its unsurpassed scenery.
Tourists enjoyed riding in observation cars, but unfortunately there were many accidents due to falling rocks and collapsed bridges; a very hard line to maintain.
Most of the original families who occupied Cimarron were employed by the railroad and some by the Rio Grande Eating House which served dinner to both east and west bound trains. The restaurant was well-known for its fresh trout dinners.
There was also a Rio Grande section house, depot, water tower, freight house and a five-stall roundhouse fully equipped to repair engines.
A Mrs. Gates ran the boarding house, while W. O. Brower operated a general store which sold groceries, dry goods, tinware and even hay and grain for stock. Brower also served as the local postmaster.
With an increase in ranching around the Cimarron area and many ranchers using the surrounding public grazing lands, Cimarron became an extremely busy shipping point for sheep and cattle. A number of corrals comprised the stockyards from which hundreds of carloads were shipped every fall.
The roundhouse at Cimarron was totally destroyed by fire in 1920 and the popular eating house burned in 1923. Before the line was abandoned in 1956, it had become the Denver and Rio Grande Western. Railroad buildings were sold or given away — some torn down and others moved.
Cimarron was reborn during the construction of Morrow Point Dam which was built between 1963 and ‘67. It is an amazing arch-design dam, 469 feet high, creating the Morrow Point Reservoir whose main function is to produce hydroelectricity.
Twelve miles above Morrow Point, is Blue Mesa Dam which was completed in 1965, creating the 20 mile-long Blue Mesa Reservoir. Crystal Dam, a double curvature thin arch dam, is 6 miles downstream from Morrow Point, located near the site of the historic 1909 Gunnison Diversion Tunnel, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark that channels water to much of the Uncompahgre Valley.
All three dams are within Curecanti National Recreation Area, shared by Gunnison and Montrose counties.
Another interesting Cimarron attraction is the historic cemetery featuring around 68 graves, many unmarked — some children — some killed in gun fights. One of the most famous would be that of Captain Cline who came into this country in the 1870s, dying in 1911. He ran a stagecoach stop known as Clines Corner, near the present Cimarron.
Cline was well-respected by the local Ute Indians who provided wild meat for the train passengers. In turn, the Utes were welcome to bed down on Cline’s floor at night.
Cline is historically remembered for escorting Chief Ouray’s wife, Chipeta, to Meeker to assist with the release of the white women who had been taken hostage by the Utes during the White River Agency uprising.
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.