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Yellowjacket Pass (Meeker area)

This road has a perfect surface for a fast gravel road ride. Actually, there really is very little gravel, and lots of hard medalled surface, that would even work for most road bikes. The scenery consists of initial hogback ridges, the north western boundary of the Colorado Plateau, which can be pretty spectacular during the colors of October (in previous years - September, but the seasons, the are a changin). - Makes a great dayloop with Nine Mile Gap s(u).

click on profile for more detail
1.START-END NORTH: low point on Co13
2.profile turns right onto CR45
4.jct with CR30 on right
5.profile turns left on Co13


From North. The turnoff from Co13 is clearly signed. This approach goes over two additional high points. They loose close to 300ft each before climbing to the next summit. If I could find any roads that would permit an additional 200ft of descending, I would count them as separate summits. But I can't.

The road over these first two summit points is also the most interesting part of the ride, in my opinion. Near the top of the first,  Monument Butte serves as landmark for the Axial Basin south of here. Especially just before sunset the view from here can be a geometrical wonderland.

From the second high point, all the hogback ridges towards the north line up like big stairs. Unfortunately during Oct 20, this was still a smoky pleasure. Rolling down from here the road passes a memorial gazebo with informational displays, regarding Thornburg. During Oct 20 it was locked with a large gate, fence and padlock. A little later a sign marks the Milk Creek massacre (see history below).

Another smooth surface climb, this time a little bigger, and the pass is reached. There is no sign or other indication, other than a change of viewshed.

From South. (described downwards). In contrast to the other side, there is only one short interruption in the lightning fast descend between hogback ridges, due to a tiny climb. The last miles are on pavement and in open ranch country.


Dayrides with this point as highest summit


A ride over Lynx Pass to Oak Creek, then returnning to the starting point over Yellowjacket Pass measured 75 miles with a rubber band driven odometer (m1:88.09.25).

Yellowjacket Pass (Meeker) , Nine Mile Gap s(u) , additional out and back: Monument Butte area on CR45 > CR45 south > Yellowjacket Pass > CR15 south > jct with Co13 <> out and back to Meeker >> Co13 north > Nine Mile Gap s(u) > Co13 north > jct with CR45 <> out and back to Hamilton >> back to starting point on CR45: 74.1miles with 3740ft of climbing in 5:36hrs (m2:1.9.6)

( < CR45 Dry Mountain Rd s(u) | > )

same summit points , additional out and back: CR17 Axial Basin, a few miles from its jct with CR51 > CR17 south >  CR51 south > Co13 north > CR45 south > Yellowjacket Pass > CR15 south > Co13 north > Nine Mile Gap s(u) > CR17 north > back to starting point on CR51: 64.1miles with 4270ft of climbing in 5:21hrs (garmin etrex30 m3:20.10.3)
Notes: smoky morning, otherwise great. Similar loop as 19 years earlier but with shorter out and backs, but from different starting point with short additional approach to loop.



Hayden Survey (<Battle Hill Summit|Ellwood Pass>): After mapping the lakes of the Flattops southeast of here, the Hayden exited Colorado over this pass in 1873. At the time the pass was part of the Denver-Salt Lake stage route.

The Civil War Years (<Gore Pass|Raton Pass>): Before the Civil War, fear of isolation prompted the investigation of several passes routes connecting with Denver. The most important of these was a Denver to Salt Lake stage route, investigated by the COC stage company, with the help of Jim Bridger and Edward Berthoud. This route entered Middle Park over Gore Pass and exited it over Yellowjacket Pass. From there int continued through present day Meeker along the White River into Utah and onwards to Salt Lake City.

The Leadville Boom ( < Pearl Pass | Cochetopa Pass > ): Parallel to the mining boom that started in Leadville and spread westwards to the Aspen area and further into the wild San Juans, runs the story of the eviction of the Utes from their ancestral lands.

When gold was first disovered in the Denver, Golden area these millions of acres of mountains steams and meadows were enough to keep a relatively peaceful environment between white prospectors and what is estimated to be about 3500 Ute indians in the mountains. Still, conflict was as sure to develop as death itself. In 1863 chief Ouray, nominal leader of six bands of Utes, was given possession of the Gunnison and Uncompagre valleys. Five year later chief Ouray went to Denver for clarification on the issue and received the most generous amount of land ever (not) appropriated by the government, approximately 4500 acres for every Ute man, woman and child. It was an area bounded by the state borders of Utah, New Mexico and the 107th parallel. It runs slightly west of Aspen to Gunnison and Gypsum. The northern boundary was theYampa River.

By 1873 the Leadville (mining) boom was at its Climax. Chief Ouray signed away land occupied by prospectors at the agency at the base of Pinos Pass and moved to the Uncompagre Valley. The San Juan mountains and the Elk mountains were now open for business. The Utes officially retained hunting previledges and were introduced to the concept of farming. They were entitled to 25000 dollars of farming equipment a year.

In 1879 this clash between two cultures, the Ute hunting tradition, and the white farming tradition would lead to the definition of the property lines the way they are today, in a very tragic way. You might expect trouble to occur near Leadville. Leadville was the name of an indian settlement "outside the reservation", near what we call Leadville today, the "Oro City" - gold city of the time. On the other side of the ellusive 107th parallel prospectors rumaged through Aspen valleys looking for signs of gold. Yet the final culminating set of events surprisingly happened in an area, that has no mineral wealth, where no prospectors were, no gambling or mining towns stood, The town of Meeker at the base of Yellowjacket Pass still looks like one of the most isolated rural settlements left in a Colorado, devoid of today's ski resorts and jet tourism. It was still three years before the incredible Pearl Pass road was put into operation.

In 1879 Nathan Cooke Meeker had been deprived of his postion as leader of the Union Colony in Greeley. Through a set of mysterious circumstances he was offered a position as agent in the White River Ute agency. The agency was located in Agency Park. The fertile White River bottoms are traversed by the Meeker Buford road and can be part of an overnight ride over the Buford - New Castle summit. Yellowjacket Pass climbs into the sage hills just north of the old agency. Meeker moved the agency to the other side of the town, that today bears his name, to Powell Park. However Yellowjacket Pass is closer to the tragic events that developed and is the site of two small memorials to the following set of events.

Running the agency was a family business for the 60 year old Meeker. His 62 year old wife ran the post office and his twenty one year old daughter the agency boarding house and school. It was up to Nathan to make sure that the Utes conformed to his idea of farming, the basis for other great inventions such as barbed wire, sawmills, proper homes, stoves and the like.

The conflict erupted over ponies. The Utes liked to race in contests with other Ute bands. Nathan Meeker on the other hand was of the opinion, that they required far too much land, that would be put to better use plowed up. Meeker's suggestion that the Utes kill some ponys resulted in physical violence and reinforcements arriving from Fort Casper, in the form of a column of army troops headed by Major Thornburgh. An Indian chief had called on the major not to enter the reservation past Milk Creek and received such insurance. When this happened anyway hostilities errupted.The 13 killed soldiers were far outnumbered by the 250 killed horses and mules, who were the center of the conflict in the first place.

Today north of the summit of Yellowjacket Pass the battle of blood is memorialized by a battle of competing monuments. The place is the closest that Yellowjacket Pass comes to the southern base of Thornburgh Mountains, where the ambush occurred. A large stone monument mourns Thornburgh and his dead. A smaller subsequently errected monument mourns the Utes and their dead. Currently no single monument mourns all the dead.

Subsequently back at the ranch, Meeker and his employees were murdered, his wife and daughter abducted to a hiding place on Grand Mesa. A week long siege was finally ended by a force of 850 men. The leading chief of the Utes, Chief Douglas was sent to jail in Fort Leavenworth for a year. Douglas had tended to agree with Meeker. His subchiefs and medicine man were the head of the anti farming pro pony racing contingent.

All this was welcome news for people such as Denver Tribune reporter William Vickers who had been looking for reasons to get rid of Utes for years. Not only did the White River Utes withdraw to Utah, so also did Chief Ouray vacate his farm at the foot of the San Juans. The town of Meeker started up in 1883, right after the army removed the garrison it had placed there after the massacre.