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Program highlights Delta area history

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A drawing made by Gwinn Harris Heap shows men rafting the Gunnison River, which was called the Grand by Heap and others in his party. From Heap's 1854 report of the expedition in 1853.

Interpretive Association of Western Colorado is hosting an educational program in conjunction with its annual meeting Tuesday, April 18, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Bill Heddles Recreation Center. The free lecture series highlights the history and the heritage of Delta and the surrounding areas.

Guest speaker Steven DeFeyter will present "Delta County's Forgotten Early Day Explorers," a two-part presentation. The first part focuses on the Beale-Heap Expedition of 1853. The second part is titled "In Search of Juan Maria Rivera."

Following western Colorado trails originally developed by the Ute Indians, early-day Spanish and European-American explorers crisscrossed the area which eventually became Delta County. The earliest recorded European visitor to the region, Juan Maria Rivera, is practically unknown to most local residents and is most renowned for discovering the Colorado River at Moab, Utah, in 1765. DeFeyter will show that Rivera instead discovered the Gunnison River, his "Rio Tiz'n," at Roubideau Bottoms west of Delta. DeFeyter will retrace his route into the Uncompahgre Valley, compare it to the later Dominguez-Escalante journey and look for 250-year-old evidence of his trip.

The Gunnison River ford at Roubideau Bottoms was a natural river crossing for those traveling back and forth along the Gunnison River system. This would include prehistoric inhabitants, the Utes, Spanish-era explorers, fur trappers and traders, and eventually 1850s westward expansion explorations. The ford became an important gateway to the Intermountain West on what became known as the Northern Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

The Beale-Heap expedition of 1853 left us with a rich description of the "Grand River" at Delta and their subsequent failed attempts at a crossing of the river at Delta and the ford five miles downstream. Relive the 1853 visit to Delta through Gwinn Harris Heap's journal.

Chris Miller of IAWC says, "The North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail runs through the Roubideau Bottoms area. Colorado is the only state that has two branches and possibly three trails crossing its boundaries. The North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail is part of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail 1829-1848. The North Branch was basically a trade route -- early explorers, trappers and traders used it to trade and exploit the native Ute tribes of Colorado who saw the area as their hunting grounds. Spanish and Mexican traders traveled from Santa Fe and Taos through San Luis Valley, west over the Divide to the Gunnison River, passing by the original Fort Uncompahgre, the first trading post in western Colorado, then north to the Colorado River and on to the Uintah Basin. The Old Spanish Trail Recognition Act was passed unanimously by Congress in 2002, making the trail the 15th to be recognized nationally."

Miller says, "We are excited about the work being done to heighten the awareness of the historic trail and will provide updated information on this great local resource to the public as part of our annual meeting and educational program."

IAWC is a western Colorado organization providing educational interpretation and preservation of resources on our public lands since 1988. IAWC is a not-for-profit partner with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Please contact Chris Miller, executive director, at 970-874-6695 for more information. Doors open at 6 p.m.

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