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Old, Old Monarch Pass

22 August
Categories : Mountain Ops
Posted by Scott Pressly

As described in my previous post, during the MPVMP we will be utilizing a detour for the CDNST/CT that involves a portion of the Old, Old Monarch Pass Road.  Below is some info about the original pass over the Continental Divide at Monarch provided by the guest author credited below.

Article and photos provided by Bruce Bartleson, Professor Emeritus Western Colorado University

The Old, Old Monarch Pass Toll Road was a stage coach road.  As mining started to boom in the upper South Arkansas valley in the late 1870’s a road to provide access to the White Pine and Tomichi mining areas as well as to the Gunnison country, across the Divide was highly desired. It was opened in 1880, and in 1881 it became a toll stagecoach road operated by the famous Barlow and Sanderson stage line.

The road ran up the South Arkansas valley through Maysville, Arbourville, Garfield, Monarch and Monarch Park. From the upper end of Monarch Park, the road took a series of steep, sharp switchbacks and climbed up from the valley floor and through Monarch Mountain Ski area before crossing the Continental Divide at the low point on the Great Divide ski run, an elevation of 11,523′. The current ski area maintenance road from the north end of the ski area parking lot follows the old road to the divide.

There was a toll gate at Maysville on the east side and one at Black Sage Pass on the west side. The road was only open in the summer months, as the winter snow made the route impassable. Apparently the owners of the toll road did not keep good care of the road and charged what was thought to be high rates, so in 1887 the county purchased the road for $1400 and took over the maintenance.

In 1919, work began on a new, shorter, less steep and dangerous route which is known today as “Old Monarch Pass”, elevation 11,375′. This new route was opened to automobiles in 1921, and the older route was largely abandoned.  The new route merged with the old, old road on the west side of the pass at the top of all the sharp hairpin curves, about 5 miles above the Whitepine Road, and from there the hairpin curves crisscross the old, old road. The old, old road is now a dirt bike and mountain bike trail at least in the lower stretches. Monarch Pass on modern HWY 50 is actually the third Monarch Pass, and was opened in 1939, when the ski area was built.

Top of Old, Old Monarch Pass – 1917
Rock walls along Old, Old Monarch Pass
Old, Old Monarch Pass Road
Old, Old Monarch Pass (dashed road) crosses the divide near unnamed point 11,523′.
There was one additional switchback to the east of US Hwy 50 that is not depicted.
Note-US 50 Summit “Agate Pass”
1940’s USGS Topographical Map
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