Mesa Verde was designated a national park in 1906. William C. Winkler reported the first roadway to carry vehicles was developed in 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 1930s, the park service decided to build an all-weather access highway to its present location. They acquired a 100-foot-wide right of way from Hallar and Wattles to go up the east side of Point Lookout.
In May 1914, Superintendent Thomas E. Rickner of Mesa Verde National Park applied for a permit to allow automobiles to make the trip into the park. He knew this permit would increase the number of visitors to the cliff ruins.
On June 4, 1914, five automobiles from the Montezuma County Motor Club made the delightful round trip. Four were from Mancos and one from Cortez. The road went as far as Spruce Tree House and easily made it in a day. In two days, you could see other ruins. Good meals and accommodations were to be had in the park so that one can travel light.
Ira Kelly said his father, C.B. Kelly, also took tourists to Mesa Verde National Park by car but discontinued this in 1916 or 1917.
In 1916. Tim Jones of Dolores said the telephone system at Mesa Verde wouldn’t amount to much today, but it was “classy” for the time.
“In those days, the road would take one-way traffic and that’s absolutely all. Fridays used to be great days at the Dolores Livery and Garage – that was Mesa Verde Day and they were never without passengers,” he said. “We’d get to the park entrance, take down the phone an holler, ‘Anybody comin’ down?’ If they were, you waited. Even though the cars going up had the right of way, the poor guy coming down had to back all the way up, and on that road it would have been a pretty good way to get yourself killed. Then, if you were on top and ready to start down, once again you unhooked the phone and yelled, ‘Anybody comin’ up?’ If you didn’t get any answer it was safe to start down”.
C.R. (Roy) Beers from Mancos had a contract with Mesa Verde National Park to take the mail and passengers to the park. He would pick up his passengers at the depot in Mancos and travel the one-lane road to Mesa Verde. There was a telephone a few miles into the park to all for clearance to continue. Of course, if a car was already on the way down, he would have to wait until the car came by before continuing on. His first car was a Studebaker and before long, there were many more tourists going to Mesa Verde so he had to buy another car and hire a driver. After he no longer had the passenger concession to Mesa Verde, he did accounting for different companies.
A few years later, a caravan of 1917 Oldsmobile cars went to Mesa Verde via Mancos. It was reported the cars were placed on flat cars from Denver to Mancos. They entered the Park via the old original switchback highway. The banners read: “2nd Annual Sociability Run, Oldsmobile Owners Denver to Mesa Verde National Park”.
The Cortez Journal Herald (Oct. 20, 1921) reported that Cortez Day at Mesa Verde Park occurred the previous Sunday and resulted in a registration of nearly 150, about a 130 them being from the Cortez area:
“The weather was faultless, and the roads splendid. Superintendent Nusbaum being now equipped with power to haul a huge road drag over them, which keeps them in fine order, they being dragged after each rain. This park, while the season officially closes November 1st, will be open as long as the weather permits, and we urge all who have not visited the park of late to go and help swell the registration. It is important that we show a big percent increase in attendance this season, as a large appropriation will be asked for next season.
“A ride from Cortez to the park emphasizes the need of the road as surveyed from Cortez to accommodate the people from this side thus cutting the distance in half. This is something that will be done as soon as possible, the necessity being recognized by the department. Supt. Nusbaum has done some strenuous work on the park this season, which is now yearly improving, and being rendered doubly attractive to visitors.
“The whole day was without accident except for the fact that the government truck that came down for a load of our high school girls, chaperoned by Miss Downing and Miss Welch, had tire troubles that made them quite late in getting to the park. All took it good naturedly, however, and they arrived in time to have a brief view of the interesting features. The White trucks covered themselves with glory, making good time and no stops. The writer was a passenger in the Dick Wilson White truck along with nine others going up and with twelve others coming down.”
It was reported in the Mancos Times in October 1921 that a new public camp was established at the park. The site was about 150 yards west of the Spruce Tree Camp and was laid out for immediate use. Pipe were ordered, and water from the tower of Spruce Tree camp was to be piped to this camp. The old camp, three-quarters of a mile from Spruce Tree, was to be abandoned.
June Head, Historian of Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for comments. She thanks William C. Winkler, Jean Kelly Bader, Betty Beers Alexander and Jerry Bauer grandson of Thomas Rickner for their help in past years.