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Pando (not a typo)

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States finally committed to World War II.   The 1st Battalion (Reinforced) 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, activated on November 15, 1941, at Fort Lewis, Washington, needed a place large enough to train for division-sized maneuvers and where they could fire live ammunition.   The place the Army found was Pando, a settlement located at the northern end of the Pando Valley, on the main line of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and U.S. Highway 24.  It was known primarily for its ice ponds, used to furnish ice for shipping produce by rail.  Here they built Camp Hale, named after Brigadier General Irving Hale, a Colorado hero of the Spanish American War.

Camp Hale, looking down at the railway with train in midground at left. Smoke from the Camp is at midground, right.

  According to McKay Jenkins in The Last Ridge (2003, p.49):  “Built at 9,224 feet, Camp Hale occupied the bulk of a narrow, crescent-shaped valley running roughly north-south and nestled between high ridges on all sides.  One southeastern arm of the valley extended toward 12,300-foot Sheep Mountain, broken by Kokomo Pass; the north-western arm tumbled down into Homestead Valley and finally into Red Cliff Canyon.  Draining the ridges to the east and west of the camp, the Eagle River passed straight through the center of the valley.  A product of glacier sculpting, the valley’s north end had the gravelly look of a terminal moraine.  At the south end, where the valley swept off briefly to the east, the camp had turned a low hill into a miniature ski slope.” 

Within seven months, Camp Hale was constructed.  The Pando Valley was a subarctic swamp for a large part of the year so the first task was to stabilize the valley floor with over two million cubic yards of earth.  The ice ponds disappeared in this process and the Eagle River was “dredged ruler straight” [Peter Shelton, Climb to Conquer, p.45] by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The Camp was laid out on three dirt roads running the length of the valley with twenty-one crossroads, barracks lined up in perfect rows.

Ice skaters on the Pando ice pond prior to 1942.

”The highway to Leadville runs along the base of that cliff in the left background. The road on which the cars facing the camera are parked is the dike for the pond. In recent years, the cliff has become a haven for rock climbers. This was the north east corner of the pond and a great place to skate. You could drive right to the edge of the ice and the sun was good in the afternoon. With the exception of the cliff, all this is gone. It vanished when Camp Hale was built in 1942.” -- Theodore Beck One of the interesting comments by McKay Jenkins [The Last Ridge, p.50] was:  “Except for the little train depot at the north end of the valley, there was virtually nothing in the way of human habitation near the camp.”  I’m sure those living six miles down the road in Red Cliff would take issue with this and so would those living in Pando Valley.  Pando had a Post Office beginning in 1891, serving those people working in the coke ovens at the south end of the valley, the Isabel Ranch, and the Pando Sheep and Land Co.  The land under the Camp proper was owned in 1942 by Frank Byers.  “The land to be used is principally included in the ranch of Frank J. Byers, who owns approximately 1200 acres in the area, which also included the ice pond operated by the Rio Grande railroad.  Mr. Byers has never been contacted by the army men on its plans to take over his ranch and home.”  [Eagle Valley Enterprise, April 8, 1942 p.1]  Mr. Beyers eventually was compensated.

Looking over civilian housing and the mess hall, Camp Hale. Train standing at midground with ranch buildings behind the train.

Conditions at Pando Valley/Camp Hale were certainly as rigorous as those in the Alps, where the 10th Mountain Division was sent.  The altitude was more than 3,000 feet higher than the Alpine passes which certainly impacted those soldiers coming from lower elevations.  Altitude sickness was common.  Temperatures were often sub-zero.  During maneuvers at Homestake in February 1943, the Camp received the following:  “A radio message from the nearby town of Eagle put the morning low that day at minus 48 degrees Fahrenheit.” [Peter Shelton, Climb to Conquer, p.59] As I was walking at Camp Hale in October with my friend, Chuck, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, he mentioned the Pando hack.  Due to the coal stoves used by the Camp (over 500) and the smoke from the locomotives crossing the divide three times a day, air pollution was common.  When a high pressure inversion occurred, the pollution was so bad that scores of men developed the cough, the Pando hack, which frequently required medical attention.  There were many dropouts and replacements among the troops.

Locomotive pulls through Pando.

Comments

Pando is not a typo, but December 7, 2010, Pearl Harbor was bombed . . . certainly is a typo.

Absolutely! Thanks for catching that.

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