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Tracking the Rio Grande River

Posted in Events on October 1, 2011
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On January 30, 1807, Zebulon Pike stood on the banks of the Rio Grande River and declared he had found the Red River. One website stated he was hopelessly lost but making good time. In reality, his entire group was starving, suffering from frostbite, and otherwise fighting off the grim reaper. On the other hand, they are believed to be the first Americans to see that valley.

The Rio Grande River flows across wide-open country.

Zebulon Pike was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. His mission was to explore the new lands acquired from France by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. At the time he found the Rio Grande, he was looking for the border of that purchase, which was defined as the Red River.

Pike built a stockade near the river and sent scouts to find Santa Fe. When they returned they were escorted by a small Spanish army that informed Pike he was a long way from the Red River and trespassing on lands owned by imperial Spain. His tattered band of soldiers was escorted back into their own country.

Those same lands became the property of Mexico in 1821. They took it away from Spain in a war that lasted several years. Fifteen years later, Texas became its own nation and claimed all the land between the boundary of the United States and the Rio Grande River. In 1836, the Rio Grande River became the boundary between the Republic of Texas and Mexico.

Lasauses is a small community with the characteristics of a ghost town. This church has one lone grave near its front door. The actual graveyard is a mile further down the road.

Texas joined the United States in 1845. That established the Rio Grande River as the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico contested the annexation of Texas into the U.S., which resulted in the Mexican American War. It was a short war ending in 1848.

During that war, the U.S. conquered the entire country of Mexico and even occupied Mexico City. If any other country had done that, Mexico would have become owned by the victor. The U.S. has never taken over lands it conquered in war. Instead we gave Mexico its country back and paid them $18 million dollars for the lands Mexico claimed north of the current border between the two countries. Our inflation calculator calls that a half trillion dollars in today’s money.

Lone Writer and Happy Jack had been following the Rio Grande all the way from Stony Pass with the intention of tracking it to the New Mexico border. In the October issue of this magazine, they followed the river to Creede. They left that town on a sunny Colorado morning following the river by using Highway 149. It passed through Wagon Wheel Gap.

Wagon Wheel Gap was explored in 1848 by railroad scouts looking for a possible route into the newly-acquired territory. They were welcomed by a ferocious winter storm. Ten people in the expedition died.

This small herd of horses is living a wild and free lifestyle in lands that were once owned by Spain.

In 1863, another group found an abandoned wagon wheel in the gap. It has been known as Wagon Wheel Gap since that discovery. In the early 1900s, a hotel was built at the site of a hot springs near the gap. The hotel became a stop on the newly-built railroad. Today, it is simply a rest stop with a historic marker.

When Lone Writer and Happy Jack arrived in Alamosa, Colorado, they spent a few minutes in the visitor center and learned the city was first established as a railroad town in 1878. That would be 71 years after Zebulon Pike’s troop crossed the river near there. The Rio Grande River flows around the north side of town and then takes off across wide-open country toward New Mexico.

Following the river out of town begins on gravel roads through farms and ranches. The road passes through one community that has some characteristics of a ghost town. TopoUSA calls it Lasauses. There is a building that looks like a church and has a lone grave planted outside its front door. There are some other buildings that appear to be occupied and some that do not. We were unable to find any information about the town.

PhotosView Slideshow

Eventually the gravel roads gave away to two-track and dirt. Staying as close as possible to the banks of the river kept the patrol on less-traveled paths and rewarded them with the most scenic views. There were several nice campsites along the way. They were small and not adequate for any larger groups but work fine for a family outing.

The wide-open country divided by the river is bordered by mountains that are always in view from one angle or another.

At the point where the river flows into New Mexico, it is flowing at the bottom of a deep canyon. The road comes to an abrupt end at the border and is high above the surface of the river. According to our GPS, the end of the road actually crossed into the state by a few hundred feet but we did not find any markers to verify our location. We considered trying to follow the river all the way to Mexico but were unable to find any river roads heading that way.

The two states join in a location far away from anything else. Most of that land is managed by the BLM so finding a place to set up camp was rather easy. When night fell, coyotes sang their ballad under a clear sky filled with twinkling stars.

Checking out a campsite on the banks of the river.
PhotosView Slideshow

Lone Writer’s Xterra Pro-4X is equipped with BFGoodrich tires and GPS/Mapping software from DeLorme. For more information, check out

Navigation: GPS Positions This route begins in Alamosa, Colorado, at the visitor center located at 600 State Street. The odometer readings are continuous until a /0 appears. Reset at that point.
Trip Meter Latitude position North Longitude position West Landmarks & other locations
0.0 N37 28.0174 W105 51.8600 Go east on State St. Do not turn when Route 160 turns left. Go straight.
0.2 N37 28.0204 W105 51.6043 Right at stop sign.
0.6 N37 27.6175 W105 51.6006 Left at stop sign.
9.1/0 N37 21.3918 W105 49.1810 Historic marker. Continue straight on gravel.
2.9 N37 18.7658 W105 49.1515 Left at stop sign.
7.2 N37 18.3365 W105 44.8156 Right on Road 28.
11.7 N37 14.3970 W105 45.4159 After cattle guard, turn left.
11.9 N37 14.1820 W105 45.3298 After first graveyard, turn left.
12.4 N37 13.9698 W105 45.1418 This left turn is followed by a right turn.
13.9/0 N37 13.0482 W105 45.0552 Left is a campsite with a nice view.
0.9 N37 12.2633 W105 45.1509 Right on BLM 5003.
1.5 N37 12.0812 W105 45.7341 Left on graded road.
3.2 N37 10.8654 W105 44.7190 Left on Highway 142.
3.8 N37 10.8512 W105 44.0508 At milepost 14, turn right on River Road 5010.
0.4 N37 10.4628 W105 44.1015 Left fork.
7.6/0 N37 4.7507 W105 45.4146 Straight. Left is a bridge going to the other side of the Rio Grande.
1.0/0 N37 4.0959 W105 45.9693 Right fork. Left is a campsite with a nice view.
1.6 N37 2.8746 W105 46.4241 Left fork.
2.8/0 N37 1.8863 W105 46.5548 Left turn at the corral.
1.2 N37 1.2205 W105 45.6664 Right fork.
2.4 N37 0.7380 W105 44.6199 Left fork. Follow this to the end, which is the New Mexico state line.

There is only one section steep enough with a loose rocky surface to require shifting into low range.

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