Early Mesa Verde center included cabins, a shop and a bear

Thursday, May 31, 2018 5:42 PM
Fred Hallar and Howard Wattles developed the Point Lookout service station, and coffee and gift shop to accommodate early visitors to Mesa Verde.
Point Lookout service station in 1954 after a fire.
Nehi the bear at Point Lookout Camp.

If you were to ask the man on the street, “Where is Hallarville?” You would get a blank stare. Old-timers know it was a 40-acre roadside business on the north side of U.S. Highway 160, opposite the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. There was also 270 acres of farmland and forest located on the south side of the highway. These two parcels were jointly owned by Fred Hallar and Howard Wattles. Only the 40 acres was commercially developed – the other was partially dryland farm.

Mesa Verde was designated a national park in 1906. The first roadway to carry vehicles was developed about 1913. It entered the park via a set of switchbacks on the northeast shoulder of the park about 1.5 miles south of the current road. This road was steep and muddy with limited access. In the 1920s, the National Park Service decided to build an all-weather highway in its current location. They acquired a 100-foot-wide right of way for Hallar and Wattles to go up the east side of Point Lookout.

With the intersection assured, Hallar and Wattles began to build what was to be a visitor accommodation facility. The main building contained a store, café, office and a contract U.S. Post Office operating under the location name “Point Lookout.” There were underground fuel storage tanks in front that served regular service station pumps. Conoco was the brand name.

An attraction was added in the form of a live bear. He was kept in a wire cage just east of the main building and fed food scraps from the café. The bear’s name as Nehi. He liked to drink Nehi beverage, which was a soft drink in bottles. The beverage was sold in the store, and they charged a 20-cent deposit on each bottle. Over time, a big pile of bottles built up in the cage. Two Mancos men estimated the dollar worth of deposits and decided the risk was worth the damage. Bad decision; they paid dearly for trying.

Seventeen cabins were constructed on the site. Seven or eight cabins were complete with bath, and several had simple kitchens. The balance of cabins had only running water and a sink (no bathrooms). A central bath and toilet house were constructed in the center to serve those cabins.

All construction was frame covered with stucco. Hallar had a portable sawmill and made rough foundation timbers and framing lumber from the local forest. Ancient stumps have been found indicating that a few large ponderosa trees were in the area. The roadways were surfaced with rough “pit run” gravel from a Mud Creek source.

Water was always a big problem. Initially, they hauled water from Mancos in a tank truck. It was dumped into a concrete cistern, which held several thousand gallons. A pressure pump and a chlorinator distributed the water to the main building and all cabins via a galvanized pipeline. The trucking made it very expensive water.

Fred Hallar had a portable cable drill rig. He worked continuously to find water. He drilled 12 wells and only found bad water at about 250 feet deep. He continued to drill deeper, and at 711 feet found a layer of low-pressure natural gas. This he quickly utilized as fuel for all the buildings. Gas was found in seven of the 12 wells drilled, so gas was utilized on the property. Good water was discovered by a later manager at 1,250 feet that raised the pipes to the 500-foot level.

A clause in the park entrance easement allowed the property to tie into the New Park water line. This served until the Mancos Rural Water System was established years later.

A gas well on the 40 acres provided fuel for all buildings. Free! But not trouble-free. The low-pressure gas layer was very moist. Water would build up in the well stem and eventually shut off the flow of gas. This meant that the well had to be opened and baled out using a bucket on a cable. This usually happened when the temperature was below zero. If everything went smoothly, it meant that the heat was only off for two or three hours.

A second problem with the gas was that none of the appliances and water heaters had safety valves! When a pilot went out, the raw gas continued to flow. Several buildings were lost to fire because of this. It is suspected the main building went this way too.

Hallar’s daughter, Vida, married a Mancos man. After Hallar died, they managed the property but were active in their own business in Mancos. World War II was very hard on travel and business in Mesa Verde. Soon, “Hallarville” was sold and went through a couple of ownerships. The war ended, and travel resumed to Mesa Verde. Then came the devastating fire, with fire departments from Mancos, Cortez and Mesa Verde responding.

With the main building gone, all income from that unit ceased, and the business was put up for sale.

Ansel Hall formed a new company, Mesa Verde Enterprises Inc. In 1957, they purchased the Point Lookout Lodge plus the 270 acres south of Highway 160. William Winkler was employed to head the development. The first job was to clean up the burned wreckage. This was buried in slit trenches and covered with topsoil. But first – safety valves for all gas appliances. Complete bathrooms were added to those cabins without plumbing, and all cabins were remodeled.

The gas well right in the center of the cabins was cleaned out and sealed into the gas producing strata. A pump was installed to remove water and ran on a time clock. A stock pond was built on the north property and also one on the south end of the 270 acres south of the highway.

Mesa Verde Enterprises purchased 600 acres north of the main 40-acre site for a later development of Point Lookout Wilderness Ranch. Architect James E. Norman designed a new service station, garage, gift shop, dining room and coffee shop on the front of the original 40-acre section. Winkler built it utilizing the cut stone purchased in McElmo Canyon.

Two four-unit motel blocks were built west of the new stone building to reflect the type of architecture proposed for the new Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde.

All these new facilities functioned well for a couple years, and then the Colorado Department of Highways built a new overpass exchange to Mesa Verde 100 yards south of the existing highway. This cut off the customer flow to Point Lookout Lodge, and plans changed.

Mesa Verde Co. obtained a new 20-year contract. The two four-room units were moved to Far View, and Point Lookout became a support unit for all the new development in Mesa Verde.

Article and the photographs are courtesy of Bill and Merrie Winkler, who were at Mesa Verde Park for about 41 years. June Head, historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for comments or corrections.