Poncha Pass Route Facts
The original part of the Poncha Pass route, from Mears Junction (joining with the Marshall Pass main line) down to Orient, was initially constructed along with the mainline in 1881. Nearly a decade later in 1890, the line was extended down from Villa Grove to Antonito, CO, where it connected with the existing the existing narrow gauge lines: La Veta Pass, the Antonito Branch, and the Creede Branch. The line from Villa Grove over to Orient became the Orient Branch. Due to the extremely long, straight stretch across the northern San Luis Valley - probably one of the longest on the Grande - the line became known as the Valley Line.
Once La Veta Pass was realigned around 1899 and standard gauged, the Poncha Pass route became the only way that narrow gauge equipment could move between the southern narrow gauge system (Chili Line and San Juan Extension) and the D&RG narrow gauge mainline over Marshall Pass. Around the same time, in 1900 a second branch was added off the Valley Line from Moffat over to Crestone, CO, and Cottonwood, appropriately enough known as the Crestone Branch. In 1930, the short section between Alamosa and Hooper was converted to dual gauge, with the third rail added on the west side of the line.1
Most of the route - from Mears Jct down to Hooper - was abandoned in 1951. Without the Marshall Pass line in place, there was no northern narrow gauge system to connect with, making the line pointless. However, the dual gauge stretch to Hooper would live on as the standard gauge Hooper Spur until it, too, was abandoned in 1959.
Valley Line Timetable
Mileposts are based on a 1932 timetable. Original timetables in the 1880s show slightly longer milages, starting between Salida-Poncha Jct.