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What’s In A Name? Near Neighbor Dotsero Says “A Town By Any Other Name Would NOT Be “Dotsero”


The Rail Line Splits at Dotsero, with a Track Turning North To Salt Lake City.

We KNOW that I am a huge fan of the Amtrak ZEPHYR ride from Denver , past Boulder to Grand Junction. As we approach Glenwood Springs from Denver, and before we go through the AMAZING red rocked Glenwood Canyon we go past Dotsero and No Name Colorado. Sorry Mr. Shakespeare, but a Dotsero by any other name would NOT be Dotsero. Regardless of how sweet Juliet of Romeo and Juliet might think it would be the same town, smelling as sweet, that is not true! For Dotsero the name of the town tells not just the story, but tells THREE stories! They vary in veracity, meaning, and origin. They all mark the same place on the map. They involve trains, volcanoes and especially revered Indian Chief Dotsero. All meet at a point on the map on I-70 between Eagle and Glenwood Springs, just East of the famous and jaw-dropping Glenwood Canyon. First came the volcano, then the peace-loving mediator, Chief Niwot of the Ute Nation, and then came the Railroad and a dot on the map. Which is the real origin of the name of this tiny town?

I-70 Through Glenwood Canyon Is An Engineering Marvel. Doing the Least Damage to the Spectacular Canyon Was a Goal Achieved!

Thanks to an extremely knowledgeable conductor in the Vista Cruiser Car, we were treated to the story (fact-checked by me) of the naming of these two very small towns. This is, so far, the ONLY time I knew something that Wikipedia did not know! My wife still does not really believe that is true. it is. SO, let’s start with Dotsero.

Pronounced “DOT ZERO” the town’s name is generally attributed to the Dotsero Volcano at that location. And according to Wiki, that is the end of the story. I am thrilled to share that it is NOT the whole story. While it is true that the volcano does exist at that location, although it is not currently active. Volcanoes are interesting of course. They are VERY interesting, and Colorado is not a stranger to volcanoes.

Colorado has a few notable volcanic areas, but it’s not widely known for active volcanoes like those found in other parts of the United States, such as Alaska or Hawaii. The most prominent volcanic sites in Colorado include the Dotsero Volcano, which is the youngest volcano in the state and last erupted about 4,200 years ago. There are also extinct volcanic areas, such as the San Juan volcanic field, which includes the La Garita Caldera, one of the world’s largest.brown and black mountain under white clouds

Overall, there are several volcanic features scattered throughout the state, but the exact number of individual volcanoes can vary depending on how one defines and counts volcanic vents, fields, and features.

Wikipedia knows ALL of that. So what did Wiki miss? It missed what to me is the most interesting part of the tale of naming this dot on the map.

The likely “true story” behind the naming of the town is that it is a Ute Native American name. Many very knowledgeable and possibly right people say that this is the only “real” story, and that my favorite explanation is simply not true. I still like my version, as told by the railroad conductor who road the line for decades, Here’s the “classic” explanation behind the name: One of the most common “tall” stories is that “Dotsero” was a bastardization of “Dot Zero.” IT’S NOT. Dotsero was one of the leaders of the Ute Indian tribe. A couple of other D&RG locations named for Utes were Ouray (the chief), Ignacio, and Sapinero. People who personally knew Chief Dotsero support this historical explanation behind the name.

The explanation that I prefer is this. When the rail line was drawn on the surveyor’s map, Dotsero was the location of the rail spur that left the East-West path of the track, heading North to the most important city of Salt Lake, Utah. Because this was the beginning of the route-spur up to Salt Lake, the person who drew the map labeled the point with a numeric “ZERO,” “0.” Thus the location and later the town was called Dot Zero, based upon the zero numeral on the map. Both are great stories, both are factually supportable based upon documented history and upon the location of the dot.  While the Ute Chief’s name origin is more likely and more solidly supported, there is support for the surveyor’s map notation. Given current cultural sensitivity and growing knowledge and study, more attention is being paid to the most likely origin of the name, the Ute Indian Chief’s name.

Both name origin explanations are wonderful tales of history. I started writing this blog “knowing” that I was going to support my long-held understanding that the surveyor explanation was the “real” story. As I researched and wrote this blog, I’ve come to suspect that the Ute origin is more likely. Both make wonderful tales of town name origins. Neither origin tale has the name of the volcano as being the source of the name of the town. It seems likely that the volcano and the town originally got their names from the Utes, but I was not there at the naming ceremony <grin> .

So the next time you are headed to Glenwood Springs, take notice of passing by Dotsero. You are passing a volcano, a famous Ute Indian location, and the location of a railroad spur line that left the rail line from Denver to Glenwood Springs, going to Salt Lake City. Are all three versions at least partially true?

The origin of the name for the town almost next door to Dotsero, No Name, Colorado, is another amazing tale of naming. But that’s for another day and another blog!

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Shared Knowledge is Power!

Leonard Frieling Pen Of Justice Legal Blogger
  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
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