Unaweep/Tabegauche Scenic and Historic Byway

Indian History
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Photograph along Unaweep/Tabegauche Scenic Byway

Historically, the canyons provided the native people of the area with access to an abundance of the natural resources necessary for living in this region. In the Paradox Valley, and at the confluence of the Dolores and San Miguel rivers, people living there between the years 750 and 1200 A.D. cultivated crops and built small masonry structures. It is believed that, for the most part, the early inhabitants were hunter/gatherers, relying on the plants and animals indigenous to the area. Due to changes in river courses over time and to modern day mining, farming, and road building, most of what these early residents created is gone, except for the carved rock art found on cliff walls or boulders throughout the canyon. These petroglyphs include pictures of bison, cranes, hummingbirds, insects, snakes, bears, bear paws, and a variety of human images.

Several archaeological sites near the Cactus Park turnoff were excavated by archaeologists from the University of Colorado and Denver Museum of Natural History in 1951 and 1952. One of these sites, on private land, revealed deposits of over 15 feet and showed a long record of human use. Artifacts collected here include projectile points, knives, scrapers, milling stones, bone awls, tubular bone beads and bone from mule deer and rabbits. Fire hearths, made of stone and in shallow pits, and some lined storage pits were also found. These sites demonstrate the concentrated use of the Canyon over a long period of time.

Much of Colorado was once home to the Ute Indians. Painted rock art (pictographs) of the Ute Indians, painted between 1500 and 1800, is often found in association with the older petroglyphs. The Utes used the area now covered by the Byway as a travel route to access the Uncompahgre Plateau and adjacent river valleys. The Ute Indian name "Tabeguache" means "place where the snow melts first," and probably referred to the entire Plateau.

As white settlers moved into Colorado and their demands for the mineral and agricultural resources of the area increased, the U.S. Government made a series of treaties with the Utes, reducing their territory with each treaty. In the 1880s, the Ute tribes were moved to reservations in Utah and Southwestern Colorado, a considerable distance from this area, where they reside today.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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