New book sheds light on diverse history of Rollins Pass

Travis and Kate Wright, authors of "Rollins Pass," give a presentation on the area during their book launch party in Littleton on Saturday, May 12.
Sawyer D’Argonne/Sky-Hi News

Almost 200 people gathered into a theater at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Littleton this weekend to celebrate the launch of “Rollins Pass,” an Images of America book written by Fraser locals Travis and Kate Wright.

In addition to the book launch, the event included a short presentation by the authors, a presentation by CSU’s Dr. Jason LaBelle and a viewing of Reginald Barker’s 1925 silent promotional film “White Desert.”

“It was really exciting,” said Travis Wright of the launch. “It was quite humbling to look up and see almost 200 people who had a real interest and passion for Rollins Pass.”

The Wrights first took an interest in Rollins Pass after attending a similar lecture given by LaBelle, director of the Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology at CSU, in 2012. They spent the last year and a half doing extensive research on the area’s history, and uncovering what secrets remain.

“We were aware of the railroad history, but we weren’t aware of the Native American History, and the richness of the Rollins Pass legacy,” said Travis. “We kind of had the blinders on, thinking Rollins Pass is known for the trails and nothing else.”

Native Americans hunted the site as far back as 10,000 years ago, according to the dating of ancient spear points found in the area. Their history on the pass, detailed in the book and in LaBelle’s documentary “Stone & Steel on Top of the World,” includes the use of complex game drive systems wherein they used small stone walls to funnel animals, likely Bighorn sheep, to openings and ambush them from behind blinds.

It was the greatest concentration of alpine hunting complexes in North America, according to LaBelle.

The first recorded wagon crossing over the pass was accomplished in 1862, and it quickly rose in popularity throughout the 1860s and 70s. In 1866 the Council and House of Representatives of Colorado Territory passed an act approving the wagon road, and in 1873 John Quincy Adams Rollins, the pass’ namesake, built the route over Boulder Pass that would eventually become known as Rollins.

The first train summited Rollins Pass on wooden trestles in September 1904, via the Moffat Road, from Denver to Craig. A special rotary plow was utilized in front of the train to disperse the snow on the tracks, and tourists came from the front range to take their pictures at the “Top O’ the World.” The Moffat Tunnel was opened in 1928, and the railway closed dismantled in 1936. Vehicle service on the pass began in the mid-1950s.

“As we would walk around Rollins we would talk about the people who were up there from the Native American days, to railroading days and even wagon era,” said Kate Wright. “It’s just amazing for us to think about all that they accomplished.”

The history of the pass is largely visual, built on old photographs and artifacts that archeologists and researchers have found in the area, and used to create a composite story of what must have happened in years past. For the Wrights, those photographs became vital to telling their story, and finding them an adventure of it’s own. Perhaps the most impressive collection they found, that of former Rollins worker John Trezise, was found at an estate sale.

Despite having finished their book, the Wrights are hoping to continue their research into the area, and to crowd source more photos and artifacts. They recently started the John Trezise Archive for Rollins Pass Imagery, asking anyone who finds old photos of the pass to submit them for everyone to see. They also recently launched, a website that facilitates access to archaeologists and local experts for those who find an artifacts on the pass, and want to pass along it’s location. The Wrights urge anyone who finds anything of historical significance on the pass to photograph it, take note of its location and send that information to the website so that experts can find and examine it.

“The historical record is disappearing up there,” said Travis. “In contrast to what other books are saying about Rollins Pass to pick yourself a souvenir, we’re running out of souvenirs. It makes archeologists job much harder to piece together the past when you’re missing a lot of puzzle pieces.

The Wrights are also putting together some group meet-ups in Fraser, Granby, Rollinsville and Denver for those interested in talking more about the pass and it’s history. For more information or details, email, or visit the Facebook page.

“We regret we didn’t get to sit down with people towards the end of the event,” said Kate. “People wanted to tell us their stories, but we didn’t have time. So we’re going to have some smaller meet-ups where we’ll be there to talk about their stories, talk about the archives swap photographs and more.”

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