Every Old West town had saloons and bawdy houses. How many, though, had an observatory?
Del Norte, the southern Colorado mining town near the San Juan Mountains, was home to an 1885 observatory built on Lookout Mountain by the Presbyterian College of the Southwest. Its telescope—9.5 inches in diameter—was one of the largest west of the Mississippi. The San Juan Prospector described it as a “monster in comparison to those of other observatories.”
Today’s Lookout Mountain Observatory Association is working to locate the original telescope and rebuild the observatory, which fell into disrepair after the college closed in 1901.
Arthur Pond was a stagecoach robber. Not, it seems, a particularly accomplished one, but a nuisance to the region nonetheless.
On May 18, 1881, Arthur, his brother, Sam, and another man held up the Barlow & Sanderson stage near Clear Creek Station.
Rio Grande County Sheriff Lew Armstrong led a posse that captured Arthur (widely known as Billy LeRoy) and his brother. The third outlaw, never identified, escaped.
In the early morning hours of May 23, a mob broke into the Del Norte jail, and before you could say “vigilante justice,” the brothers were swinging from a nearby tree.
The Rio Grande County Museum and Cultural Center holds a slew of exhibits on the region’s early history, including the fringed buckskins of Col. Albert Pfeiffer, who fought Indian campaigns under his commander Kit Carson. Afterwards, head to his grave site; the folks at the museum should be able to point you in the right direction.
Hikers will enjoy the trails around Lookout Mountain. A few miles east of Del Norte, you can walk a branch of the Old Spanish Trail, which served as a major trade route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles from 1830 to 1848.
The 1874 Windsor Hotel occupies nearly half a city block on Grand Avenue. The landmark hotel, one of Colorado’s oldest, has 20 renovated rooms.
Drop by the Three Barrel Brewing Company for a smoked salmon pizza; wash it down with a Trashy Blonde ale or another of the microbrewery’s many selections. For locally produced bison and organic cheeses, try the Dining Room at the Windsor.
Del Norte celebrates Covered Wagon Days every August with a parade featuring historic wagons and buggies.
John Stanley, the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s 2007 Conservation Media Champion, is a former travel reporter and photographer for The Arizona Republic.