Wednesday, July 21, 2010

El Huerfano

There’s lots of stuff in America that people just don’t know about. Not big enough to garner national notoriety but interesting nevertheless. As a service to my fellow Americans, when I find this stuff I’ll tell you about it here.

Driving north on I-25 in southern Colorado is mostly a boring exercise spent looking at endless rolling plains with far off mountains it the distance. However near the town of Walsenburg is a curious rock formation erupting from the grassy plains.

Named “El Huerfano”, or “The Orphan” by Spanish explorers in the late 1700s, it is a volcanic cone of large blocky gaseous basalt several hundred feet high.

The butte was used as a marker by early travelers and first appears in Spanish documents in 1818. The area was incorporated as part of Mexico in 1821 and large tracts of land were granted to favored individuals and many small settlements and ranches were established near El Huerfano. Many of the towns and landmarks around it still have Spanish names. The area became part of the United States in 1848.

This drawing, based of an 1853 photograph made by Soloman Carvalho (photographer to the Col. John C. Freemont’s 5th western expedition), shows Huerfano Butte looking pretty much the same as it does today, minus the four lane highway running past it.

There’s not much in the area so the Colorado highway dept. constructed a pulloff on the side of the interstate so you can stop and view the little orphaned mountain in the middle of nowhere.

It’s located a few hundred yards off the highway on what looks like private ranchland but there’s really no one around for miles to stop you from taking a closer look. A dirt road runs beside the rock formation that you can go down to get closer.

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