Headwaters Hill

Marshall view

July 12, 2001, the United States Board of Geographic Names (part of the U.S. Geological Survey) officially approved the name "Headwaters Hill" for a modest point on the Continental Divide from which water sheds into three basins. Thus concluding a two-year quest by Western's Headwaters Project and a Denver cartographer.

Thomas Jefferson believed that Lewis and Clark would discover a mountain in the west from which all the rivers of the western half of the continent would flow — this was a geographic theory at that time. No such mountain exists, of course — but there are a few watershed divides on the continent from which more than two rivers flow. One of these lies east and south of Gunnison, in the Cochetopa Hills between the Sawatch Range and the San Juans. From this unpresumptuous 11,862-foot high hill —"Headwaters Hill" in the photo above — water flows east into the Arkansas River Basin via Silver Creek, west into the Gunnison and ultimately Colorado River Basin via Marshall Creek, and south into a closed basin that may or may not be a natural part of the Rio Grande drainage. (As has often been the case this century, what nature did not quite finish the Bureau of Reclamation has completed; water is now channeled out of the closed basin into the Rio Grande for river augmentation.)

This modest hill — four miles south from Marshall Pass on the Colorado Trail, about half a mile east of Windy Peak — had no official name before 2001, and members of Western's Headwaters Project thought this should be corrected: as one of only a few "triple divides" on the continent, it should have a name reflecting its significance in a dry region where, as Colorado poet Thomas Hornsby Ferrill said, "History is written in water." In 1999, Western student Grace Nugent took on, as an independent study, researching and carrying out the steps necessary to give the hill an appropriate name. This was accomplished by the Names Board's July 2001 decision.

Dale Sanderson, a cartographer for US West in Denver, also helped pursue this project, and has posted a web site that offers a "virtual hike to Headwaters Hill." And for those who prefer the real thing, Western State College organizes a hike to "Headwaters Hill" every fall, in late September; these hikes are open to anyone who would like to go, up to a total of twenty people.