Press "Enter" to skip to content

Headwaters Hill is a special triple divide

Letter from Dale Sanderson

Geography – March 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine


A few comments regarding Ken Stitzel’s letter (“More Triple Divides”) in the February issue:

He is correct in his identification of the three “corners” of the Closed Basin. As you and I discussed during one of the naming hikes, if one considers the Continental Divide to be a single line separating Atlantic from Pacific, then that line technically does not exist between Headwaters Hill and “Point 13,628.”

Other people think of the Divide as two lines: one defining the edge of Pacific drainage, and the other marking Atlantic drainage. In that case, the two lines separate between Headwaters Hill and Point 13,628, leaving a “hole” in between. The Pacific line runs through the Cochetopa Hills, along what most maps label “Continental Divide.” The Atlantic line runs through the La Garitas and the San Luis Valley, up to the top of Blanca Peak, along the crest of the Sangres, and over Poncha Pass to Headwaters Hill. The “hole,” of course, is the Closed Basin.

During our efforts to name Headwaters Hill, we outlined a few factors which make it more noteworthy than both “Point 13,628” and Blanca. For one thing, Closed Basin water is pumped into the Rio Grande basin. And I suspect that process takes relatively little effort: I’ve looked for the so-called “Hooper Rise” (the ridge that prevents Closed Basin water in the San Luis Lakes from draining into the Rio Grande) both in the field and on topo maps, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more of a geographic technicality than an observable landform. Surely that’s one of the flattest spots on earth! So — even if one considers natural drainage to be more important than man-made drainage — it’s still easy to see why the USGS considers the Closed Basin a part of the Rio Grande Basin. And from either perspective, Headwaters Hill does drain into three very distinct watersheds.

On the other hand, when I consider that Blanca and “Point 13,628” each drain into both the Closed Basin and the Rio Grande, they don’t seem quite as geographically special as Headwaters Hill.

Incidentally, it’s unlikely that Point 13,628′ would ever be officially christened, despite any future naming quests. The mountain is within the La Garita Wilderness, and apparently the Board’s perspective is that mankind should not influence even the names of natural features in pristine areas.

Nevertheless, I do hope to get up there sometime…

Dale Sanderson