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Ridgway

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Ridgway (1891, 6,985 feet), named for Rio Grande Southern construction superintendent Robert M. Ridgway, emerged as a rail and ranching hub where the Rio Grande Southern joined the D&RG. Rip-roaring cowboys raced down Main Street on Saturday nights, starting a tradition continued by rodeo riders at Ridgway's Ouray County Fairgrounds, whose racetrack dates to 1892.

Most of the original town is gone, destroyed by fires in the 1930s, although the old stone town hall, firehouse, and jail survive. Rio Grande Southern rail service, prolonged by use of the hybrid vehicles known as Galloping Geese, kept Ridgway alive. After the RGS ran into financial straits, these contraptions, which were cheaper to build and maintain than conventional rolling stock, carried passengers, mail, and freight along the Rio Grande Southern route between Durango, Telluride, Dolores, and Ridgway from the 1930s until 1952. A “goose” consisted of an automobile engine fitted into a narrow-gauge cab with a homemade “bus” attached behind it and a distinctive horn that sounded like a honking goose. When the engine overheated its hood flaps would be opened, giving the goose what looked like wings. The first Galloping Goose was constructed in Ridgway in 1931, using a Buick Master Six touring car, railroad wheels, and a cowcatcher.

So little was left of Ridgway in 1956 that the Dallas Creek Project planned to bury the burned-out town in a watery grave. But neither fire nor the proposed flood could sink this town. Ridgway rebounded in the 1980s, when slick new developments cropped up beside antique structures as the town became fashionable. Celebrating its rebirth, in 1988 the “Gateway to the San Juans” built a new town hall, community center, and fire station. On the dirt streets, scattered mobile homes and movie prop buildings intermingle with authentic old-timers in a peculiar National Register Historic District. The Ridgway Land Company's planned “historical commercial park,” Trail Town, adds to the confusion of styles and eras.

Jeans, boots, pearl-buttoned shirts, and western hats are still a common sight but now tend to be designer brands. The beautiful mountain-rimmed lower Uncompahgre Valley has become a haven for gentlemen ranchers. These urban cowboys included the founder of Continental Airlines, Robert Six, a fast-drawing six-shooter buff who built a ranch on Cow Creek. Fashion designer Ralph Lauren owns a 20,000-acre ranch with a fancy log house on Dallas Meadows.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Thomas J. Noel

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