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Way back when in Cuchara Camps

by Nancy Christofferson
CUCHARA- Had any of us been in Huerfano County 100 years ago, chances are we’d be heading for a little resort called Cuchara Camps for our 4th of July celebration.
In 1911 Cuchara Camps was just three years old. George Alfred Mayes had purchased the former W.J. Gould ranch in 1906 with the intention of starting a resort both beautiful and healthful. Gould himself had purchased the property and did some development for the same reason – to rent rooms and camp supplies to tourists. Mayes stocked some lakes for fishing. He added a few rooms onto the Gould ranch house, which was already 32 by 32 feet, and began renting them to summer guests. A café was started the next summer but Mayes’s primary goal was to provide camping equipment and activities to keep visitors busy and enjoying their stay. If they were kept happy, perhaps they would buy a cabin or real estate.
Mayes bought a number of burros and saddle horses for the tourists. Beginning in 1908 he began building “cottages,” or shacks with one or two rooms, sleeping porches and outdoor facilities. Gradually these replaced the tents for lodging.
In those early days, a great many visitors came by carriage or wagon for their stays. They already had horses, but their children must have been delighted to ride the little burros up and down the mountainsides. As automobiles replaced the real horse power, saddle horses became more popular, and still are.
Another early innovation Mayes tackled was building a sizeable dance pavilion, and hiring musicians for weekly dances, both old fashioned and new fangled. Outside of the Saturday night dances, the visitors often amused themselves with impromptu talent shows, musicales, masquerade parties. With no electricity, events were held by gasoline, oil or kerosene lamp light, and visitors made their way home through the dark making plenty of noise to keep the skunks away. In those days bears were scarce, preferring the quiet mountains and not reliant on garbage. Skunks were common and found homes under the shelter of the “cottages” which invariably were built without foundations.
Mayes also ran a commissary with basic supplies such as fishing gear and foods to supply the residents in his campground. Once a family arrived and settled into its tent or cabin, everything needed was at hand just a short walk away. A favorite of the campers was the breakfast trout fry, and the same fires that cooked the fish were used in the evenings not only for cooking and light but for gathering around for community sings and wienie roasts.
By 1911 Mayes had a number of “regulars” visiting each summer. Since 1908 he had been building an average of six cottages per year, and he sold them as fast as they went up. Some families, especially those from Walsenburg and Trinidad, had “custom cottages” built, some with as many as three rooms AND a sleeping porch! Life was simpler then. A stay in the mountains meant rusticating, and rustic tourists got. At least they were out of the heat and breathing in good fresh air.
By 1909 a column entitled “Cuchara Camps Notes” was a regular summer feature in the La Veta Advertiser. Arrivals, activities, weather and departures were standard items. While many of those making the news were familiar names to La Veta and Walsenburg people, others had heard of the popular resort and came from the east on the train, then were met at the depot by livery wagons and carriages to be driven the 12 miles up the Cucharas to spend their vacations. Once settled, these people needed no transportation because Cuchara was just a fraction of what it is now, spread on just 40 acres around where the village center is now, and where the hotel, commissary and dance pavilion were then.
By 1911 Mayes was building his resort by the day. An ad in the Walsenburg World read, “Drive up in your auto and have dinner at Cuchara Camps” and offered cabins and tents to rent by the day or month. His ad in the La Veta paper at the same time touted furnished rooms, café, cold drinks, commissary, saddle horses, burros, croquet, lawn tennis, target and trap shooting. With the advent of car travel, local day trippers became a new market to attract, and the dinners and dances did the trick.
Both newspapers noted there would be a big picnic and “dancing day and night” for the 4th of July. Quite a few from Huerfano County attended the festivities. Naturally, a long drought was broken over the holiday with heavy rains, so being inside a dance pavilion may have been much desired.
After the 4th, the routine of the campground returned and a month later 54 visitors were said to be in camp.
They stayed in one of the dozen rental cottages, brought or rented tents, or lodged in the hotel. Others traveled with a tent that attached to and covered their cars, so the children could sleep in the vehicle while the parents took over the tent. The recreational facilities of the resort were in great demand, and besides those listed above, soon Cuchara Camps would boast tennis courts and a golf course.
Mayes assured his would-be guests that Cuchara was “no fashionable resort, just a place of rest and natural enjoyment.” Luckily, some things don’t change through the years.

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