Oh my goodness! My eyes fill with tears every time I think about this experience and it's even harder to keep dry eyes when I tell the story. The story has to be told though. This is part of our family's legacy and heritage. I hope you don't mind but I'd really like to continue the story now if you have the time and don't mind sitting here by the river a little longer. It's such a beautiful day and I'm enjoying sharing with you all so much! You don't mind? Great! So excuse me for a second while I grab a tissue and wipe these tears away. They're tears of joy you know.
It was hard to leave the tunnel. It was hard to leave this little place at the bottom of the gorge - hard to drive back up that long, steep, windy road to the top again. I know I left part of me behind here at River Portal and I took a piece of it with me. I'll always be connected to this place.
When we got home I was anxious to try to document my findings. I didn't NEED documentation - but I'm a genealogist and documenting is important to us. I checked the 1910 census again. How could I have missed or forgotten what I found there? I'd been doing research for many years - even for other people. It's not like me to miss an important piece of information. There it was - right there on the census - my great grandfather's occupation: "Driller". And the place of employment "Tunnel". CONFIRMATION!!! I had the documentation I needed to prove that my connection to River Portal was exactly what I'd come to believe it was! I was incredibly proud of my great grandfather!
I still pinch myself sometimes thinking about how amazing it was that I had found the tunnel and River Portal at the time of the centennial celebration. Why not before on my previous visit? Why then? Why did all of the pieces come together perfectly right then? What were my odds of finding someone who would have access to the tunnel and let me go into it? A hundred years after it was dedicated! A chain of miracles!
I don't remember who called who but there were phone calls between me and the head park ranger Paul Zaenger. He told me a lot about the tunnel and he was really interested in hearing about my family. The park had been documenting the history of the tunnel but didn't know much about the people who had lived there. We exchanged pictures. He told me something that still flabbergasts me...there were only 3 known pictures of that group of miners at the tunnel entrance. It was a company photo. One picture was in the National Archives. One was in the Denver archives. One belonged to the water company involved with the project. They had no idea a fourth one existed. They confirmed that it was definitely that tunnel. In my search for a tunnel / a mine - I had looked for mineral mines. I'd never looked for anything to do with water! Paul even sent me pictures of what River Portal looked like back then and pictures of the tunnel when it was being built. There was no mistaking that entrance. I felt so privileged to have that picture of the tunnel! I also felt a great deal of joy that I had solved the mystery of the tunnel. No one in the family had known where it was - not even the state it was in.
Paul told me something else that was extraordinary! The park had selected that tunnel entrance photo as the cover photo for the brochure related to the centennial celebrations of the tunnel dedication - and they'd selected it before they knew a thing about me or my family's connection. What were the odds of that? There were an unusual number of pictures taken at River Portal - probably due to the precedent setting nature of the project - so there were many pictures to choose from. They had chosen THAT one. Amazing, don't you think?
I became very interested in trying to help document the people who lived at River Portal. Not just my own but any that I could find information on. I'm still working on that project. Of course I started with my own family! Let me tell you a bit about them. I'm really proud of them and my journey to trace this side of my family has been a very difficult one. I hope it will inspire others to never give up searching for their ancestors no matter how many obstacles or brick walls get in their way.