Wagon Wheel Gap -- The Early Years
In the early part of the twentieth century, railroad passengers, tourists, and health seekers boarded wagons at Wagon Wheel Gap and ventured to the Hot Springs Hotel to partake in the rejuvenating water.
The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad touted the healing qualities of the hot springs located near Wagon Wheel Gap. These springs soom became a destination for health seekers.
In December, 1848, John Fremont led an expedition into the San Juan Mountains to find a route for the transcontinental railroad. The ill-fated expedition may have traveled up Embargo Creek, (to the east of Wagon Wheel Gap), where they encountered a vicious winter storm. With ten feet of snow and deteriorating conditions, Fremont abandoned his expedition and each man fended for himself. All told, ten of Fremonts men died of cold or starvation in the San Juan Mountains.
In 1863, Charles Baker led a group of prospectors into the San Juan Mountains. While returning to New Mexico for the winter, then abandoned a damaged wagon near the “gap” where the Rio Grande carved a small canyon. In the 1870s, a wagon wheel was discovered in this area and it was believed to be a remnant from the Baker party. Miners referred to this area as “the gap where the wagon wheel was found.” Over time this area became known as Wagon Wheel Gap.
Wheeler Geologic Area was named in honor of George M. Wheeler, who surveyed much of Colorado in 1874. The area was designated a National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt in part to protect the highly erodible spires, hoodoos, and geologic formations. Due to its isolated location and diffifult access, the area was delisted as a National Monument in 1933. Wheeler Geologic Monument is now managed by the Rio Grande National Forest.