c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article originally appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide.
Face it, in the old days trekking up Ute Pass, the winding path between Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, was a steep, torturous climb. Add several layers of petticoats and a trunk full of women’s sensibilities, and the trip was indeed a long one for the fairer sex. But just like their male counterparts, the spunky pioneer women who traversed the pass had dreams and goals. Ahead of them lay new homes, new lives, and the chance to start over fresh.
Naturally, Ute Pass afforded a bevy of comfortable rest stops. For prostitutes in particular, the pass was a viable means of paying ones’ passage. From mobile brothels to itinerant bad girls, prostitutes could prosper along their trip as a means to reach their destination. And prosper they did. Many was the prospector who, on his way to or from the Colorado gold fields, might be enticed to relinquish some of his goods or gold in return for a little attention from a soiled dove.
The presence of prostitutes along Ute Pass escalated dramatically in 1892 with the gold boom at Cripple Creek. Traffic along the trail increased to three times what it had been. At Colorado City, now the “Westside” of Colorado Springs, ladies of the night hastened to find their riches along with everyone else. Soon, the girls traipsing between Colorado City and Cripple Creek became interchangeable. It seemed like each time a girl left one town, she turned up in the other and vice versa.
As early as 1891, the blossoming cow town of Woodland Park had established ordinances against houses of ill repute. So did every other town, but it didn’t seem to matter. Prostitution was a viable resource to any town coffer. And its inmates, as they were called, were hardly bothered like a little old thing like the law. For decades prostitutes ran rampant along Ute Pass, usually just one step ahead of the sheriff. Even such notable events as two world wars and prohibition did little to stop the illegal goings-on.
Well into the 1940’s and 50’s, prostitution and its counterparts-namely drinking and gambling-were well known diversions along Ute Pass. Places like Brock’s Crystola Inn boldly built one-woman cribs right along the roadside for all to see. Across Highway 24, a lesser-known dance hall flourished up in the hills. Other places, such as the Thunderhead Inn in Woodland Park, placed their tiny houses of ill fame discreetly behind their business. The Ouray Inn, also in Woodland Park, went one step further by installing a tunnel to its brothel some 150 yards away.
Beginning in 1950, word of Ute Pass’ notorious nightlife had spread itself too thin. Colorado Governor Dan Thornton ordered raids, and the pleasure resorts along the pass were busted. The war against gambling raged for years. Through it all, the dens of sin continued their risque business as best as they could. In 1954, the Thunderhead was still importing Las Vegas showgirls for Saturday night soirees.
Nearly two decades later, the secret gambling dens along Ute Pass closed and the girls moved on. Today, the cribs alongside the Crystola Inn and behind the Thunderhead are all that remain from the naughty girls of Ute Pass.