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Old 06-18-2012, 06:04 PM   #1
GoThere@50 OP
I'm Going
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Joined: Oct 2005
Location: Southern Colorado
Oddometer: 109
Cool2 The REAL Raton Pass

If you have driven I-25 from Colorado to New Mexico or the same route north you have seen what is now known as Raton Pass. As part of the Santa Fe Trail, Raton Pass is known more for it's historical past than for it's height at only 7,834 feet above sea level. Not overly impressive by Colorado standards but it does have a good view to the west just after the summit heading north. Here is one view from the valley below the summit on the north side.

Current day I-25 through Raton Pass may have received National Historic Landmark status but it is about one half mile east of where all the fascinating history associated with the pass took place. The point of this ride report is to help you find the original unpaved historic pass or at least a part of it. It's not as easy to do as a cursory view of Google Earth would lead you to believe. My experience has taught me that unpaved mountain passes make great dual sport rides so that was the motivation.

The dirt road now known as "Old Raton Pass" is actually the original pass, Wooton's toll road of the old west, a key part of the actual Santa-Fe Trail and here's one you may not have known, it was part of the original Pre 1937 US Route 66. There are other things as well that make the road significant not only locally but nationally. Known to have wrecks of covered wagons along it's ravines in the 1800's it's full of geographic anomalies and for train buffs Amtrak's Santa Fe Chief runs through the pass, at least for now. Throughout it's history it has gone from private in the 1800's with tolls being extolled at the point of a gun in some reports, to open for public access, and even part of the national highway system. The original pass was known to take up to 7 days to pass by wagon train and in it's earliest days those wagons were subject to Indian attack. Like most mountain passes in the western United States it developed because it was perceived to be the most logical way to cross a mountain range or in some cases, to access natural resources via mining.

This pass also contains the ghost town of Morley Colorado and the old St.Aloysius Church.

The I-25 portion of the pass starts from the north at Colorado exit 8 and then exit 6. It would be logical to conclude that you could access Old Raton Pass from exit 6 as you can see it to the west of the interstate. What is not logical is that this historic road was pawned off to a developer who proceeded to do this.

Yes, they blocked access to the road, not just the private property along either side of it. They even put up a guard shack.

So not wanting to admit defeat, I chased down every dirt road off of the remaining Colorado exits to find scenes like this.

There were other access points along the valley floor but every one was blocked. So much for the Colorado side of the pass. On to New Mexico exit 454 (2nd Street Raton). This is the exit you want but don't be fooled by the first right off the exit. It looked promising as I followed it but it's not the genuine article and it dead ends at private property.

Stay with me, we WILL find it.

Continue on down 2nd street for a quarter mile or so to the Budget Host Melody Lane Motel, turn right and look for this street sign.

Turn right and continue up the hill staying on Moulton Ave which turns into Hill Street. Stay on Hill Street and keep climbing as the pavement ends, up and up. You will eventually find Goat Hill.

Goat Hill is not the destination (why make it easy, I could have just supplied a map) but it offers a nice vantage point for looking around.

OK, go back down Goat Hill and continue up the mountain. Your on the original pass now.

The riding is easy and along the way there will be some points of interest.

The old New Mexico Port of Entry is still there with an old Model A body parked near it.

As is typical with these passes, watch out for erosion on the downhill inside corners.

Unfortunately the New Mexico side of the pass is only about 8 miles long before it hits the Colorado state line. No surprise what's waiting there.

Subtle isn't it. Nothing says welcome like an unexplained road block. Unfortunately the best parts of the pass lay beyond this.

So that's the story of the real Raton Pass and how to get to the New Mexico side. It may not merit a dedicated trip, but if you're in the area it could be a nice diversion. Oh and as a side note, the developer who blocked access to the Colorado side has assigned the ghost town of Morley a lot number and has it up for sale.
I'll be out there...
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Old 06-19-2012, 04:27 PM   #2
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Location: Solsberry, IN
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That's disappointing to see that it's all blocked off like that. I've traveled Raton pass twice... The first time headed north on the Interstate in a U-haul towing a trailer with a car on the back. I think I got down to 20mph in that gutless wonder. The second time was coming back south but this time it was on Amtrak.
Thanks for taking the time to post the pictures.
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Old 06-19-2012, 10:25 PM   #3
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Joined: Aug 2008
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Thanks for posting these photos and including some of the interesting historical information. It's too bad your persistence didn't pay off and you could locate a trail that wasn't blocked off.

I grew up in WY and have always been a Western history buff and am still very interested in the old trails. My mom wrote a book about the Oregon-California Trail and is pretty active in the Oregon-California Trail Association. If you like riding on and exploring the old trails, you might try to hook up with this group ( They go out on trail-mapping trips and use GPS's to locate sections of various trails that haven't been adequately mapped yet. This involves getting permission from ranchers and property owners to access sections of their land that the old trails may have traversed. My mom's group has been trying to map sections of an old trail in southern New Mexico that Col. Stephen Kearny and Kit Carson used. That's pretty fascinating! I'm not sure if motorcycles are allowed on these mapping trips, but I'll find out next summer when I try to go on one or two of their trips (after I get my motorcycle down there). Most people drive 4X4s as they're out on the prairie on in the desert, but, that's where dual-sports have fun!

Happy Solstice!
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks," John Muir.
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Old 06-19-2012, 11:05 PM   #4
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Wild Bill Hickok killed a bear with a knife while driving wagons on the Raton Pass.

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Old 06-23-2012, 08:31 PM   #5
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Location: Kansas City
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I admire your gumption, old port of entry is way cool! Thanks for sharing the history and pics!
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