Henrietta Hay Column December 05, 2008
Gunnison was a favorite spot for a young girl in the 1920s
Once upon a time a young man and his new wife arrived at a little village of Cebolla on the Gunnison River. They were spending a few days in one of the rustic cabins and fishing the river. The story is that she caught the first fish. Fortunately, it did not destroy the new marriage.
Several years later they visited Cebolla again, with their infant daughter — me. That was my first visit to the Western Slope, but I don’t remember very much about it.
Cebolla no longer exists. It is peacefully rotting under the water of the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The name, however, still lives. Cebolla was on the Old Spanish Trail, parts of which the early Spanish explorers may have followed in their search for the Seven Cities of Gold. In the early 19th century, the Old Spanish Trail was used for commerce between New Mexico and California.
The Gunnison area was a favorite of my parents, and we made lots of trips there in our Hudson when I was a kid. That old car served us well.
In the late 1920s, to get from Denver to the Western Slope we had to go southwest to Leadville and over Monarch Pass.
In the town of Gunnison, we often stayed in the LaVita Hotel. The LaVita was famous for a sign in the lobby. It offered three free meals to its guests for every day the sun did not shine.
According to Gunnison historian Abbott Fay, there were said to be only 10 sunless days in over 15 years. Now the hotel too is gone, but the sunshine is still there.
Some miles west of Gunnison, beyond the underwater cabins of Cebolla, lies the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I am ashamed to say that I have never climbed down to the bottom of the canyon, but I have looked down to the river and up to Black Mesa looming above.
Eighty-five years after my first visit to the Western Slope I stood on the edge of the Black Mesa and looked down at Sapinero and the west end of the Blue Mesa Reservoir.
I was spending a weekend at the X Lazy F Ranch. Charlie, the ranch manager, gave me a wonderful tour over the mesa.
In the early part of the 20th century, somebody had carved out a road from Sapinero up Corral Gulch onto the Black Mesa. And a man named Billy Knott had homesteaded a ranch up there, the beginning of the X Lazy F.
He built a barn and a cabin, hauling everything he needed up from Sapinero by horse and wagon. I stood in what is left of the big barn and looked up at the sky through the skeletal remains of the roof. I rubbed my hand on the huge pieces of rusty farm machinery still there and thought about Billy Knott.
In the winter he would strap a 5-gallon can of cream on his back and snowshoe down to Sapinero, returning with the supplies the cream had bought. I wondered about Mrs. Billy Knott, who she was, where she came from, how she survived the isolation.
Later, back at the ranch house, Charley’s wife filled me in on the very checkered history of a working cattle ranch.
The present day house was built in the ’30s. All the logs were cut with a double-bladed ax by a man they called the Ax Man.
There are no longer cattle on the Mesa, and the wild animals have taken over.
The Seven Cities of Gold are now only a myth, but the Old Spanish Trail is still remembered and maintained. Part of it goes through Grand Junction.