Bud Poe has a promise for anyone who buys the book he co-authored, “Trail Canyon: 6 Miles Long, 10,000 Years Deep”: “If I ever write another, you can get your money back.”
This isn’t to say that he didn’t enjoy working on the book or that he isn’t happy with the results. It’s just that it was a long and winding road to completion, one that involved working with three other original authors and another who was brought in later. “It was like having to manage cats,” Poe said.
“Trail Canyon” tells the story of the sixmile- long canyon, which runs north from McElmo Canyon west of Cortez, Colo. The rugged, scenic gulch has been home to Ancestral Puebloans, Utes, and a variety of cowboys and homesteaders.
Originally from the Midwest, Poe and his wife, Jeani, moved to Durango in the 1990s. They became friends with a real-estate broker, Sam Hoffmann, who later told them that a large ranch in the canyon was for sale and proposed that the Poes partner with him in buying a portion of it. Eventually they did so. (Hoffmann has since moved away.)
During the time he was considering the purchase, Poe attended a lecture in Durango by Gary Matlock, an archaeologist who had worked on the ranch when young and had written an overview of Trail Canyon as part of an archaeological-survey report.
After the lecture, Poe approached Matlock, and they became friends. They later agreed it would be good to expand on the overview he’d written.
“He became my first recruit in the Odd Quad,” said Poe. The Odd Quad is the term the four original authors had for themselves, a term that reflected their different backgrounds and interests.
In 2002, the Poes purchased another parcel of land in Trail Canyon that was home to the Rock House, a 200-square-foot sandstone dwelling built on the original Howard Baxtrom homestead. Trying to learn more about the house, Poe contacted local historian Fred Blackburn, who was able to put him in touch with the Baxtrom family. Harold Baxtrom, who was born in the Rock House, became the third member of the Odd Quad, and Mary Jane Schott, who had bought 80 acres in Trail Canyon with her husband, completed the quartet.
However, Schott and Matlock later moved out of the area, so Poe hired Ann Butler, a writer for the Durango Herald, to help finish the book.
“Ann was born in Cortez,” Poe said. “The book is basically Ann’s foundation throughout. I contributed portions in my language, so to speak. She did quote me, as well as Gary and Harold. The one whose work is pure is the four or five poems of Mary Jane’s. I critiqued them but they were her idea and her inspiration.”
Assembling the book was a major effort, but Poe said he enjoyed it. “Part of the fun of writing this thing is how much I learned in the process and the people you meet.”
“Trail Canyon” rambles along in an entertaining, readable fashion, hitting the high points of local history, focusing on interesting facts and stories rather than trying to give a comprehensive account of the area. The 153- page book features numerous maps and photographs, many in color.
Anecdotes give a clear picture of what life was like for the canyon’s residents, including homesteaders. There are quotes from writings by Harold Baxstrom’s mother, Blanche, who lived in the tiny Rock House with her family. In one place she mentioned that mail carriers going into the canyon often delivered groceries as well because it was such a long trip into town on the bumpy, dusty road. The book quotes her:
“One of the worst problems was when kerosene and flour were ordered on the same trip,” she wrote. “They didn’t mix well, and it seemed like a year before the kerosene-seasoned flour was used up.”
There are entertaining tales of murders and tragic deaths, cattle drives, outlaws and odd characters.
Over time, many parcels in Trail Canyon have changed hands and ownership has been consolidated among three private parties. “We’re one of the three,” Poe said of his family.
What will happen to Trail Canyon in coming decades is, of course, unknown, but Poe hopes much of it can be preserved to resemble its current state.
“The long-range plan is a work in progress,” he said. “I recognize my mortality, and my family’s kids are a distance away, so the logical thing is to sell my piece, put it in new hands. My motivation is to try and find like-minded people with a conservation orientation because I would like to keep it in a preserved mode. Not that there couldn’t be another house, but developments come in all kinds of ways.
“I don’t know what kind of buyer is out there, but I really would like to keep it the way it is now.”
Poe said he would like to see the canyon remaining in the hands of people like Ann Rilling, one owner, and David and Pati Temple at the southern end, who have placed much of their land in conservation easements.
Pati Temple died in February after a long battle with cancer, but she had seen the book and enjoyed it, Poe said.
“When I talk about her, you can tell my voice kind of chokes up,” Poe said. “She did get to see the book before she died. We did get it published in time. I knew the sands were running out on her. She wrote me a beautiful thank-you.”
Poe said “Trail Canyon” has sold well in the Cortez/Durango area. All net profits to the authors are being donated to local nonprofits; Poe said $400 has been given to the Montezuma County Historical Society so far.
Everyone who has lived in Trail Canyon seems to have found it a magical place. The book quotes Leslie Malles, who with her husband Reece lived in Trail Canyon for decades before moving to Nebraska:
“Each inhabitant leaves a positive mark on Trail Canyon and in turn is left with a longing for its beauty and tranquility. . . . The canyon seems to keep its abundance and magic alive knowing that more is yet to come, and others will need to live here. All will be better for the time spent sheltered by its cliffs, nourished by its waters and plants and then preserved in its history.”