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The orphan of orphan county

by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — Poor old Highway 10 – for many decades it was the orphan of Huerfano County.
As far back as the ‘teens, the chambers of commerce in Walsenburg and La Veta began plotting ways to bring tourist traffic into their downtown areas. Oh sure, Walsenburg had Highway 85-87 and La Veta had 111, but surely, they figured, there must be more.
In 1932, this dream began taking form when a new right of way was surveyed between La Junta and Highway 50 to Walsenburg and Highway 160, which was coming to the fore as a convenient east-west route. Otero County got right to work and built southwest, with a good road all the way to and over the Apishapa River completed by that October. Huerfano County was anxious to finish her share but times were tough. Even tougher were Pueblo and Las Animas counties, each of which would be responsible for building sections of a road that would not benefit them in any way.
Both La Veta and Walsenburg agitated for the road to be designated a state highway, which would force the two reluctant counties to join in construction. This was accomplished in 1933, and State Highway 10 became a reality – on paper. In early 1934, a relief project was planned to work on the road. Nothing happened.
La Veta officials and backers were highly incensed when a new federal highway followed Highway 160 through Walsenburg and then bypassed the town to the north in 1936, effectively cutting the community off from interstate travel.
The county received some funding and 30 men with 10 teams and a tractor tackled the work, building the grade and a bridge. They toiled many months, but made progress and finished the bridge of concrete and steel. By the end of June, their work was done and the road was said to be “straight as an arrow” between the Rattlesnake Buttes and La Junta. Most folks thought it was more of a trail “across the virgin prairie”, however, than a highway.
On September 9,1936, the Works Progress Administration finally announced the approval of a project to complete the road. A crew of 150 men began grading and graveling a ten-mile stretch from Walsenburg northeastward. Meanwhile, Otero’s bridge over the Apishapa washed out.
The WPA lost interest in the project in the summer of 1937, so it was up to the state and counties to complete the work. But they were too poor to concentrate funding on this byway when more important highways required maintenance.
The powers that be evidently were convinced the road was as good as it was going to get, despite the fact there were miles of unimproved prairie to cross here and there. In the summer of 1937 the WPA relented and began another project, this one to build a 200 foot steel bridge over the Cucharas River east of Walsenburg. The project employed no less than 155 men.
In May 1938, the WPA, State of Colorado and Huerfano County were approved for a $140,000 project to complete the west end of the road. One hundred and sixty men were hired in May, but by June there were 225 employed. Work was continuing, but . . .
Pueblo County completed and graveled its measly share of the roadway in August 1939, about the same time an announcement was made that only a mile and a half of the road was unfinished. Oh, and seven bridges. Nevertheless, those still dreaming chamber of commerce types were now asking for federal designation and pavement.
Work was still ongoing in January 1940. And then it was done.
Or was it? Local businessmen and travlers were not convinced. The bridges were mostly jerry built affairs. Some arroyos weren’t bridged, and were impassable during high water. Stock ran at large and every property line sported a cattle guard, some rickety, some washed out, some missing rails.
Motorists were often stymied by dead cattle in the midst of the cattle guards, run over by trucks or dead of broken legs and dehydration. Still, the state insisted, the entire 73 miles was graveled, though, in reality, the gravel was sparse and of no assistance during rain or snowstorms.
In the early 1950s some of the road was paved. The Navajo Trail Association, innovators and advertisers of Highway 160 from Kansas to the Four Corners region and beyond, asked the state to pave the final 21 miles. The route did, after all, cut traveling time from western Kansas to Walsenburg so tourists could cross La Veta Pass on their way west. Otherwise they would stay on Highway 50 and do all their shopping in Pueblo. Not acceptable!
In August 1957 it was announced the road would be paved from Walsenburg city limits to the county line. In August 1958 it was. In 1959 a project to finish paving all the way into La Junta was begun. It wasn’t finished. It may have been that pesky stretch in uncaring Pueblo County that was not completed, but several miles of gravel and dirt road remained until the late 1960s.
So, for nearly 40 years, Highway 10 was the orphan of Orphan County. Alas, it passed this dubious honor to Highway 69 between Gardner and Westcliffe.