The years between 1915 and 1918 were busy ones in the San Juan Mountains. The mining camps were being brought together by rail, roads and telephone lines.
A young man, working for AT&T and its subsidiary, Mountain Bell, was sent to Durango to supervise, inspect and photograph the lines being installed in the mountains of Southwestern Colorado.
Fred Clark was an accomplished photographer and mountaineer. He had joined the Colorado Mountain Club at its inception when he was working in Denver.
He recorded 100’s of photographs of the area. The photos ended up in books, some labeled, some not. When his son, Jackson Clark Sr. died, the books ended up in the vault at Toh-Atin Gallery. Before his death, Clark had gone through them with a tape recorder and tried to identify the locations and people in the pictures.
My sister Antonia and I had looked through them but had never matched up the tapes with the photos. Our cousin, Shannon Bennett, the son of Dad’s sister Ann Tonia, took the initiative. Shannon was born in Amarillo, Texas, but made Durango his home right after high school and never looked back. He has hiked, jeeped and fished throughout the San Juan Mountains and probably knows them as well as anyone.
For the past three years, he has worked with the photos, identifying locations and matching up the descriptions with Dad’s tapes.
We knew that Fred had photographed the phone lines and communities that they served, but we had not thought much about how he traveled from place to place. Shannon worked it out.
Sometimes he road wagons on roads that were really primitive, sometimes he would rent a horse in one town and turn it loose when he reached a mountain pass to let it return to its stable and sometimes he walked. He recorded in all on film.
Shannon has traced his path in photos from Silverton, to Ouray and to Telluride, figuring out which routes he took and what trails he followed. He also photographed the same scenes that Fred had captured from the same vantage points. It is really interesting to see how things have changed! Red Mountain Pass was about a third as wide as it is now and there are a lot more trees in the forests today. Some old buildings are gone, some remain.
We will be featuring a show of these photographs, with some of Shannon’s comparison shots, during this Friday’s Gallery Walk for the Cowboy Gathering.
At 6 pm, Shannon will give a short talk about
the photos, where they were taken and how he tracked down Fred’s travels
through the mountains. We would love to have you join us!