The Old Railroad Road Bed – New Section I Haven’t Seen Before

Old Railroad Right of Way

Here's a stretch of navigable right of way of an old railroad bed. I've always been curious about this and checked it out today. The old right of way is the red line to the left.


For most of the distance between Montrose and Colona (Colorado), the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad right of way runs straight and true just to the west of US Hwy 550. The line was built in 1887, upgraded to standard gauge in 1953 as far south as Ridgway, and finally abandoned in 1976. It continues south from Colona, though recent road construction has obliterated some of it. The part that’s left can be easily traversed by dirt bike, though it does dump one back onto 550 about where Ouray County Road 2 intersects 550. But I’ve had my eye on a ledge up on the hillside that I thought must’ve been a continuation of the roadbed. There’s a barely visible little turnoff that I finally checked out today. Lo and behold, it provides access to an untrammeled mile of the old right of way which (I think) is largely on BLM land. Looking at the map, Point C is the only access. Fair warning – it’s extremely hard to find. Further, it’s along a stretch of US Hwy 550 where the speed limit is 60 mph, the sight lines are not good, there’s no shoulder, and it’s not a good place to poke along looking for it. Any 4WD vehicle should make it from Point C up to the road. BUT… only someone on a dirt bike, horseback, or on foot can go north to Point A because there are some inconveniently large rocks that have rolled down onto the road. A 4WD vehicle can go south to Point B, but there’s really no room to turn around.

I think the entire length of this section of right of way is on BLM land. The way is blocked at both Point A and Point B by fence – and no gate, either—permanently blocked.

It appears that Tri County’s water line follows the old right of way, and there’s a pumping station between Point C and Point B. Otherwise the old railroad bed is rarely traveled. I could see a bit of a horse trail (and some evidence of horses) here and there. I had no trouble traversing it all the way from Point C to Point B, back to Point C, then up to Point A and back to Point C. Point C provides the only access.

Special thanks to Jim Pettengill of the Ridgway Railroad Museum for providing me with the history. Jim also points out that there’s another shelf road, up higher, that’s a wagon road called Kelly’s Road. While I was exploring, I didn’t see any way to get to the other road.

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2 Responses to The Old Railroad Road Bed – New Section I Haven’t Seen Before

  1. dave says:

    Fortunately the local Ridgway Railroad Museum is an excellent guide to local railroad history, including this stretch of grade that runs right next to the highway.

  2. Brian says:

    put your coordinates in http://www.historicaerials.com/ you will only get to see an old topo map that shows the tracks.. the other aerial map that is available, probably wont help much..
    http://www.historicaerials.com/aerials.php?scale=7&lon=-107.8019320933299&lat=38.350934432961935&year=T1948
    This page has been soooo helpful with finding railroads that once existed or routed one way or another.. maybe it’ll help you in finding and figuring stuff out.

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