by Greta Hanson Maurer
For anyone who has traveled or currently travels State Highway 78 (SH 78), which runs southwest from Pueblo to Beulah—the drive can seem quick if lost in conversation or the views; or the drive can feel extra long when traveling through snowstorm. Today, the full length of the highway is 26 miles to the end of the pavement at the top of South Pine Drive, before it turns into dirt and is known locally as 12 Mile, eventually connecting with State Highway 165.
The ribbon of land known as SH 78 became a well-worn path for the simple reason of folks being drawn to the area. Elizabeth Cairns aptly describes the attraction in a 1934 WPA interview. “The early development of the region centers itself around the St. Charles River and its tributaries. For it was along the river trails that the early white trappers and the Indians ventured. Usually exploration, profit or adventure brought these men to this route, which was an avenue of heavy travel.” Cairns continues,“Many settlers were attracted by the advantages of homesteading, timber grants and other privileges granted by the government after the war. Some came, not for the lure of riches, nor the hopes of wealth, but just because of the unusually fine climate, the health-giving altitude, and the desire to conquer the unexplored.” The following is a timeline of events that have influenced SH 78, outlining how a primitive path was transformed through the years by the human spirit, ingenuity and tenacity.
Pre-1860’s - Early Native Americans, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Ute, Spanish Conquistadors, Mexican Sheepherders, French trappers, and mountain men, begin carving out the road by following the natural topography of the land, guided by rivers, streams, arroyos, and geographic points.
1862 (Commerce, albeit illegal) - The Beulah Valley was called Mace’s Hole after notorious bandit Juan Mace. Known to rustle cattle from the plains, he utilized the narrow trail into Beulah to secret the cattle away, and prominent Signal Mountain for spotting travelers still miles away from the valley.
1868 (Road Development & Commerce) - U.S. Marshal Peter K. Dotson, and his flour milling partner John Leonard are credited with enhancing the road at Beulah Hill by blasting rock away at the top; the result would expedite hauling lumber from Dotson’s sawmill located on Squirrel Creek.
1870 (Road Development) - Job Davis was remembered as the builder of a well known ‘wagon road’ used by early people.
1873 (Land) - Land grants in 160 acre parcels were offered, and homesteaders began to move into the area, increasing population and bringing more commerce.
1887 (Health) - The springs of Beulah became a destination for healing. The Rocky Mountain News reports “Locales of two mineral springs (Beulah and Red Creek Springs) have facilitated a stage line that runs regularly to Beulah and it has become another Manitou of the southern part of the state. Mountain drives extend from it in every direction. The place is crowded with people much beyond the capacity of the buildings. One house of two rooms, shelters 16 women!”
1889 (Railroad) - Railroads had a keen eye on the trajectory of the road, with The Denver Republican newspaper reporting “Rock Island railroad agrees to build a road to Beulah, providing the property owners will agree to give the railroad company .51 percent of all the lots in the original town and its additions that remain unsold. Majority of owners have agreed to the railroads proposition and it is believed it will be carried out.” Despite the optimistic report, and another push by D&RG line to haul marble, the railroad never came in, which could have been the best thing that ever happened to Beulah.
1895 (Post & Recreation) - A.W. Klipfel carried the U.S. mail from Pueblo to Beulah by four-horse stage. In a time with few luxuries, it was a treat to ride the passenger stage, which made the trip in one day, leaving Pueblo at 7am and starting the return trip from Beulah post office at noon. Horses were changed on both trips at the Ruddy Ranch (now the Allee Ranch) at the bottom of Rock Creek Hill.
1894-1900 (Commerce) - Beulah Red marble was selected for the new Colorado State Capitol in Denver. Charles Klipfel's teams and wagons hauled the large chunks of marble from Beulah to Pueblo, where it was loaded onto freight trains headed for Denver. In 1975 Leila Curtis recalled the arduous effort by her brother Frank to haul the precious stone. “The first day they loaded and went as far as the bottom of Rock Creek Hill, where they stayed over night, then on to Pueblo the second day, the third day they came back to Beulah.
1900 (Recreation) - With more folks settling in the region, Beulah became the ideal retreat spot for Pueblo families. An early account from the Bragdon/Knepper family who built their cabin on Pine Drive in 1901, noted that it took several days for the family milk cow to walk to Beulah for the summer.
1909-1915 (Post) - Rock Creek Post Office was established near the base of Rock Creek Hill. Local resident, Gary Martino grew up in the area, “It was a stage stop, located near a small pond, it was a good place for horses and autos to get water to make it the rest of the way up the hill. Many from Beulah never went further up to Pueblo, because they did all their trading and meeting at this location.”
1914 (Road Development) - Labor by prisoners from Canon City was used at this time, they camped out along the road for two years, starting at Sand Hill, according to Goodpasture resident Lee Roper, “They were given permission to pitch their tents east of the large barn, for about 18 months before moving on into Beulah. A large kitchen tent and a large animal tent were put up for the stock during this time.” Colorado State stopped using convict labor by the late 1920s in response to private contractors’ complaints and Federal Bureau of Public Roads’ regulations prohibiting the use of prison labor on federal-aid projects.
1917-1926 (Recreation) - Goodpasture is the site of the first Pueblo County Fairs, and hundreds traveled the road to participate in a host of events that included 206 classes in 14 departments!
1919-1924 (Recreation) - Squirrel Creek Recreation District in San Isabel National Forest was one of the earliest recreational developments in a national forest, and a model for others to come. The City of Pueblo was convinced to purchase the piece of land by the San Isabel Public Recreation Association to develop basic recreational facilities in Squirrel Creek Canyon near the forest boundary, they partnered with famed US Forest Service’s first Recreation Engineer, Arthur Carhart, who developed the idea of recreation zoning in the national forests, and wilderness protection. The site was in use until 1947, when a flood destroyed parts of the road leading to the area.
1923 (Designation) - The road to Beulah received designation as Colorado State Highway 76 West, after a nationwide move to renumber all state’s highways under Commission Resolution A-65. Officially described as No. 76 - Pueblo via Beulah to connection with No. 96.
1930-1940 (Road Development) Roy Roper recalls his first memories of the road were when he was five years old. “The road in those days was unimproved, topped with loose limestone for gravel and much narrower than now. Around 1934, much road reconstruction was done, soon after it was finally paved.” Louise Even remembered trips up Beulah Hill as a young girl with no guardrails, curving, steep, and rocky, the road came very close to the rock wall on the north side of the road. “Sometimes we could make it on the first try, other times, Daddy would have to go up the second half in reverse,” a well-known way to implement front-wheel drive.
1947 (Road Development) Carol Wright recalled that during the cold war, the Civil Defense allocated funds to help cities with evacuation plans. At that time, Beulah was considered an evacuation route for Pueblo, so they improved the road in preparation. The highway department straightened the road out at Sand Hill, Rock Creek Hill, Muldoon and Beulah Hill. the expansion also resulted in the removal of the Goodpasture general store, blacksmith shop, Methodist Church and the Community Hall; two stone pillars remain near the road by the Goodpasture Barn.
1950 (Road Development) - Squirrel Creek Road was studied and deemed beyond repair, at that time the only way out of the Valley on the south end was by way of Oldham Road, so plans were made to extend SH 78 to SH 165, through a series of impressive switchbacks over the mountain. Known locally as ‘12 Mile’, the project would take a total of three years to complete.
1960 (Road Development) Agnes Coleman notes in her diary/farm log “Beulah Hill Tube was 320 feet long, and cost $65,000, requiring seven tons of bolts.”
1975 (Designation) Despite outcry from the Beulah citizenry, State Highway 76 was renamed Colorado State Highway 78 (SH 78), to avoid duplication when I-80S was renamed I76 (Interstate 76).
1976 (Recreation) - Beulah Valley Saddle Club celebrates the 100 Year Anniversary of the town by recreating a pony express ride the length of SH 76 !
2007 (Road Development) After the Mason Gulch fire of 2005, the area received heavy rains that ultimately took out the bridge at the bottom of Beulah Hill, over the St. Charles River, it was replaced shortly thereafter.
General guidelines for determining whether a highway has historical significance is to evaluate events, person, buildings, and geographic significance, which has contribution to the broad patterns of our history; surely the ‘Beulah Highway’ meets the criteria. With gratitude for the sustained physical effort over the years to build and maintain access; with reverence for the souls who tragically passed away on the road; and with respect for the remarkable scenic vistas the path has granted; we celebrate State Highway 78 West, the Beulah Highway.
Know a fact, or interesting story about Colorado State Highway 78 West? Send it in, and we’ll add it to this timeline. email@example.com