The REAL Raton Pass

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by GoThere@50, Jun 18, 2012.

  1. GoThere@50

    GoThere@50 I'm Going

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2005
    Oddometer:
    162
    Location:
    Southern Colorado
    If you have driven I-25 from Colorado to New Mexico or the same route north you have seen what is now known as Raton Pass. As part of the Santa Fe Trail, Raton Pass is known more for it's historical past than for it's height at only 7,834 feet above sea level. Not overly impressive by Colorado standards but it does have a good view to the west just after the summit heading north. Here is one view from the valley below the summit on the north side.
    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>

    Current day I-25 through Raton Pass may have received National Historic Landmark status but it is about one half mile east of where all the fascinating history associated with the pass took place. The point of this ride report is to help you find the original unpaved historic pass or at least a part of it. It's not as easy to do as a cursory view of Google Earth would lead you to believe. My experience has taught me that unpaved mountain passes make great dual sport rides so that was the motivation.
    <o:p></o:p>
    The dirt road now known as "Old Raton Pass" is actually the original pass, Wooton's toll road of the old west, a key part of the actual Santa-Fe Trail and here's one you may not have known, it was part of the original Pre 1937 US Route 66. There are other things as well that make the road significant not only locally but nationally. Known to have wrecks of covered wagons along it's ravines in the 1800's it's full of geographic anomalies and for train buffs Amtrak's Santa Fe Chief runs through the pass, at least for now. Throughout it's history it has gone from private in the 1800's with tolls being extolled at the point of a gun in some reports, to open for public access, and even part of the national highway system. The original pass was known to take up to 7 days to pass by wagon train and in it's earliest days those wagons were subject to Indian attack. Like most mountain passes in the western United States it developed because it was perceived to be the most logical way to cross a mountain range or in some cases, to access natural resources via mining.
    <o:p></o:p>
    This pass also contains the ghost town of Morley Colorado and the old St.Aloysius Church.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>

    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>

    The I-25 portion of the pass starts from the north at Colorado exit 8 and then exit 6. It would be logical to conclude that you could access Old Raton Pass from exit 6 as you can see it to the west of the interstate. What is not logical is that this historic road was pawned off to a developer who proceeded to do this.
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Yes, they blocked access to the road, not just the private property along either side of it. They even put up a guard shack.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    So not wanting to admit defeat, I chased down every dirt road off of the remaining Colorado exits to find scenes like this.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    There were other access points along the valley floor but every one was blocked. So much for the Colorado side of the pass. On to New Mexico exit 454 (2nd Street Raton). This is the exit you want but don't be fooled by the first right off the exit. It looked promising as I followed it but it's not the genuine article and it dead ends at private property.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>

    Stay with me, we WILL find it.
    <o:p></o:p>
    Continue on down 2nd street for a quarter mile or so to the Budget Host Melody Lane Motel, turn right and look for this street sign.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Turn right and continue up the hill staying on Moulton Ave which turns into Hill Street. Stay on Hill Street and keep climbing as the pavement ends, up and up. You will eventually find Goat Hill.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Goat Hill is not the destination (why make it easy, I could have just supplied a map) but it offers a nice vantage point for looking around.
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    <o:p></o:p>
    OK, go back down Goat Hill and continue up the mountain. Your on the original pass now.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The riding is easy and along the way there will be some points of interest.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The old New Mexico Port of Entry is still there with an old Model A body parked near it.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    As is typical with these passes, watch out for erosion on the downhill inside corners.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Unfortunately the New Mexico side of the pass is only about 8 miles long before it hits the Colorado state line. No surprise what's waiting there.
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Subtle isn't it. Nothing says welcome like an unexplained road block. Unfortunately the best parts of the pass lay beyond this.
    <o:p></o:p>
    So that's the story of the real Raton Pass and how to get to the New Mexico side. It may not merit a dedicated trip, but if you're in the area it could be a nice diversion. Oh and as a side note, the developer who blocked access to the Colorado side has assigned the ghost town of Morley a lot number and has it up for sale.
    #1
  2. DurtKlod

    DurtKlod Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,524
    Location:
    Solsberry, IN
    That's disappointing to see that it's all blocked off like that. I've traveled Raton pass twice... The first time headed north on the Interstate in a U-haul towing a trailer with a car on the back. I think I got down to 20mph in that gutless wonder. The second time was coming back south but this time it was on Amtrak.
    Thanks for taking the time to post the pictures.
    #2
  3. HayDuchessLives

    HayDuchessLives Loquita

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,219
    Location:
    Anchorage
    Thanks for posting these photos and including some of the interesting historical information. It's too bad your persistence didn't pay off and you could locate a trail that wasn't blocked off.

    I grew up in WY and have always been a Western history buff and am still very interested in the old trails. My mom wrote a book about the Oregon-California Trail and is pretty active in the Oregon-California Trail Association. If you like riding on and exploring the old trails, you might try to hook up with this group (www.octa-trails.org). They go out on trail-mapping trips and use GPS's to locate sections of various trails that haven't been adequately mapped yet. This involves getting permission from ranchers and property owners to access sections of their land that the old trails may have traversed. My mom's group has been trying to map sections of an old trail in southern New Mexico that Col. Stephen Kearny and Kit Carson used. That's pretty fascinating! I'm not sure if motorcycles are allowed on these mapping trips, but I'll find out next summer when I try to go on one or two of their trips (after I get my motorcycle down there). Most people drive 4X4s as they're out on the prairie on in the desert, but, that's where dual-sports have fun!

    Happy Solstice!
    #3
  4. ChadHahn

    ChadHahn Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2010
    Oddometer:
    520
    Location:
    Tucson, AZ
    Wild Bill Hickok killed a bear with a knife while driving wagons on the Raton Pass.

    Chad
    #4
  5. katbeanz

    katbeanz earthbound misfit, I

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2005
    Oddometer:
    8,200
    Location:
    Kansas City
    I admire your gumption, old port of entry is way cool! Thanks for sharing the history and pics! :thumb
    #5
  6. TheRedOne

    TheRedOne n00b

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2015
    Oddometer:
    2
    Location:
    Ohio
    Hello

    I read with great interest your post with explanation of where the old Raton Pass road went and what's become of it today. However, all the photos that you included seem to have been deleted. If you still have them, can you put them someplace so I can retrieve them?

    I am researching a book written by a guy who drove his 1919 Henderson motorcycle over that pass in the summer of 1919 and I would like to, if at all possible, nail down the exact route he took almost 100 years ago. If it simply cannot be done today, so be it, but I would at least like to be able to see what might be possible.

    Thanks in advance.
    #6
  7. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2008
    Oddometer:
    7,202
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
    +1

    I'd love to see these photos if available or maybe an online link to them?
    #7
  8. Countdown

    Countdown Long timer

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2003
    Oddometer:
    6,738
    Location:
    Carson City/Ridgecrest
    +1 Must see photos!

    In 09, I did the Santa Fe Trail from the east in motorhome and was pretty burnt out by the time I got to the pass. Must have stopped at more than 100 monuments. Old Bent's Fort is a must.
    #8
  9. GoThere@50

    GoThere@50 I'm Going

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2005
    Oddometer:
    162
    Location:
    Southern Colorado
    Gee, where was all this interest three years ago when I posted this RR? Back then it fell off the page instantly. In the last three years the links have not only been broken but the photos have all been removed from the host server. I did keep the photos up for almost two years. Sorry.... :huh
    #9
  10. bomose

    bomose Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,940
    Location:
    Dixie
    I wish I had seen your report back then. I was there in 2013 and will be there this August. I wondered about the original pass. I wanted to see this church but passed by the exit. Do you know anything more about it? I see it's called the Aloysius church
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    #10
  11. bomose

    bomose Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,940
    Location:
    Dixie
    I found some info. The church is for sale for $80k.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morley,_Colorado

    . Morley Church

    Located 10 miles south of Trinidad off Exit 6 on 1-25. Morley Church is located at a former mining camp, in operation from 1907 until 1956. The remains of the adobe walls of the St. Aloysius Church along with building foundations from Morley, the once-thriving mining camp, still can be seen today. The mountain slopes just north of the Raton Pass were bustling with activity in the early 1900s. Even on the coldest of mornings, sounds of miners were clearly heard echoing through the hills. Mule teams stood shuddering on the outskirts, as men geared up for a long day in the mine. Morley Mine was known for its clean, easily mined coal. Mule teams were hitched to long rail cars and they hauled coal even from the deepest cavities. With the prosperity of the community there became a need for a church and the community raised enough money to build it nearby on a high peak. John D. Rockefeller, owner of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, was moved by the miner's efforts and contributed to the project. Total funds raised were $2,300. The front faced east and as the sun arose over the mountains, rays would glisten through the belfry hollow. The men and women of the camp completed St. Aloysius Church in 1917. Its old mission style architecture was constructed of cement blocks covered in earthen stucco. Literally a labor of love, the miners and their families took great pride in the church, dedicating it to St. Aloysius. In 1950 the Morley mine began to phase out operations when costs of coal removal made operations there no longer economically feasible. By 1956 St. Aloysius Church, most of the homes and businesses stood abandoned. Although the camp is just a memory, the face of St. Aloysius has not missed one day of standing and smiling to the rising sun.
    #11
  12. refokus

    refokus Hmmmmmm

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,853
    Location:
    North Phoenix
    Repost the photos to another host server please. I wish I had seen the post 3 years ago.
    #12
  13. TheRedOne

    TheRedOne n00b

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2015
    Oddometer:
    2
    Location:
    Ohio
    Folks

    Here is a single image of a three-page compilation of the "turn by turn" description in the Volume 7 of the 1918 The Official Automobile Blue Book. Although it is not as detailed as one might want, I think it was produced well before even U.S. 87 or 85 went up over the pass to the East of the railroad.

    Attached Files:

    #13
  14. kojack06

    kojack06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    606
    Location:
    TX
    I love this stretch of highway and have been over it many times.
    #14
  15. em2

    em2 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2009
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Addison TX
    seems cool. I'm heading that way in a few days, and would like to take this route back (north to south). As I get pretty bored with the same old raton pass... Everything I read, basically said it was blocked off... and them it seems others have traveled it... anyone know if it is open? I would basically be riding through north to south on my way back to Texas.
    #15
  16. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2008
    Oddometer:
    7,202
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
    The old Raton Pass is not open as a through road anymore. I finally got up there to check it out in July. You can ride it from Raton north for 6-7 miles before the road is barricaded as stated by the OP in post #1.
    [​IMG]

    It is a scenic ride and the old Port of Welcome building is interesting!
    [​IMG]

    Here is the old road north of the barricade...
    [​IMG]
    #16