Pagosa Springs looks almost too beautiful to be true: A historic downtown, a beautiful riverfront, an elaborate hotel complex with bubbling and steaming hot springs, all surrounded by the San Juan Mountains.
It is true, however, and the small town is convenient to many other tourist destinations as well. The area is attracting a number of second-home buyers who take advantage of its mild summers and scenic surroundings.
A 1,000-foot-deep geothermal hot spring, thought to be the world’s deepest, gives the town its name. That spring, called the Mother Spring, is located at The Springs Resort & Spa and feeds pools at local hotels. The Utes called the sulphur springs Pah Gosah, meaning healing waters or boiling waters.
The Ancestral Puebloans lived in the area more than 10,000 years ago, in pit houses, cliff dwellings and pueblos. Later, the Navajos, Utes and other tribes frequented the hot springs. French and Spanish explorers found the area in the 1500s, and in 1776 an expedition from Santa Fe seeking a route to California explored the area. Their route became the Old Spanish Trail, running just south of Pagosa Springs. Trapper and scout Kit Carson led a party in 1833 from Abiquiu, N.M., through Pagosa to Ouray. A section of a tree with his name carved in it can be found in the Fred Harman Museum, but its authenticity is unproven.
Camp Lewis, later Fort Lewis, was built on the San Juan River across from the Mother Spring in 1878 but was moved west in 1880, to the La Plata River, nearer to where miners and settlers were arriving in Durango and Silverton.
The hot springs brought soldiers and travelers to the town, along with more of a Wild West atmosphere. Legend says the owner of the Rosebud Saloon built a wall of railroad ties to protect his living quarters from stray bullets.
Now, the atmosphere is much quieter. In addition to the hot springs, arts facilities and museums, winter activities include downhill skiing at Wolf Creek ski area, as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Fishing, hiking, rafting and hunting also attract visitors. A historic walking tour is available through the downtown.
Harman gained fame in the 1930s as the creator of Red Ryder and Little Beaver, a cartoon strip disseminated by Scripps-Howard. He helped found the Cowboy Artists of America. His parents moved to Pagosa Springs in 1902 when he was 2 months old and he remained connected to the area throughout his life, maintaining a ranch and studio there until his death in 1982.
Fred Harman Art Museum
85 Harman Park Drive
Pagosa Springs CO 81147
Phone (970) 731-5785
The 105-foot falls are 15 miles east of Pagosa Springs, off U.S. 160 near the Wolf Creek Pass summit and a short hike from the parking area. The name comes from Treasure Mountain, where French explorers allegedly found gold in the late 1700s. Only two of the 300 survived the expedition.
Pagosa Springs facts
Population: 1,727 (2010 Census).
Land area: 4.88 square miles.
County: Archuleta (Pagosa Springs is county seat).
Altitude: 7,126 feet above sea level.
Climate: Pagosa Springs has a mild climate, especially in the summer months. Rainfall averages 20 inches per year, with 101 inches of snow. An average of 287 days a year are sunny. The average high in January is 38 degrees with a low of 4 degrees. July’s average high is 83 degrees with a low of 45 degrees. More information >>