Trailridge Runners 4WD Club
Creede Trip - 2012
by Don Lamprecht
Trailridge Runners Creede Trip July 28- August 4, 2012 by Don Lamprecht Our club traveled to Creede, Colorado in late July 2012, an area virtually unknown to its members. We four-wheeled for six days on trails that had not been pre-run, so it was an adventure. No missed turns, perfect weather and fun trails. Our headquarters for the week was Cottonwood Cove cabins about halfway between South Fork and Creede along state highway 149. The cabins were rustic, very comfortable, and breakfast was provided each morning.

Stop whenever you see a Blue Bell ice cream sign. We had arrived. Cabins were along the Rio Grande River. Trout were being caught right behind the cabins - although no one ever saw the fish except for the fishermen themselves.
Between the Blue Bell ice cream and the Rio Grande River - let's just say the Texans felt right at home.

This was cabin #19. Built during WWII.

This was the view from the front porch of Cabin #19. It reminded members of Zion National Park. On two evenings the club used this area to gather for dinners.

Day One - Bristol Head and Crystal Lake

This area is just west of Creede along highway 149 to Lake City. The mountain has a gentle north slope on which we traveled and a rather abrupt south cliff face. The mountain is visible all around the area and seemed like a good destination for our first day. As we started from Creede, the mountain was covered in low hanging clouds. But as you will see, we discovered that we could ignore that situation. As the days warmed up, the clouds cleared away. The view below was looking SE from highway 149.

This was our track for the day. We stopped at the North Clear Creek Falls rest area to air down and photograph the beautiful falls. Our destination for lunch was the summit of Bristol Head. In the afternoon on the way back to town we took a short side trip to Crystal Lake.

North Clear Creek Falls. A very photogenic site.

This is Crystal Lake. A good break for the three dogs in the group, a nice group photo spot, and of course we threw a few rocks into the lake

Day Two - Heart Lake and Carson town site

This ended up being a long loop route, but the only four-wheel drive sections were along the southwest side. The northwest, north and east parts of the loop were two-wheel drive gravel or paved. Lake City is near the top of the map. We were able to "work in" an ice cream stop there before driving the 49 miles back to Creede. It was important to arrive back in Creede early since the only gas station closed at 8 PM (for premium customers). Their cash flow probably peaked during our stay.

Our lunch spot was on a ridge looking west over Heart Lake. The four wheel drive road stopped here, but there was a hiking trail down to the lake. The distant mountain on the right is unnamed, but that is Lost Trail Creek on the left. There is a hiking trail that goes down that drainage to Lost Trail Campground, about 4 miles away. You'll hear more about Lost Trail Campground when I describe our adventure along the Stoney Pass route, Day Four, below.

After lunch we headed further uphill to the Continental Divide, then drove down Wager Gulch to the Carson town site, then joined the Cinnamon Pass road which led NE into Lake City. You can see from the map that we reached a high point of 13,150 ft. on the south slopes of Coney Peak, and then roughly paralleled the continental divide dropping about 800 ft. into Carson Saddle.
The view looking west from our high point. The Carson Saddle road intersection is in the right center of this photo.
What do four wheelers do when they see either hikers or bikers on the trail? We ask if they need water - and on occasion they will say yes.
Looking north down Wager Gulch. The Carson town site is on the right side of the flat green valley below. In the upper right you can see the headwall of the Slumgullion Slide. Cinnamon Pass Road, Lake San Christobal and Lake City are just over the near green ridge on the left and center of photo.
The Carson town site is famous because it is so well preserved. The metal roofs looked almost new. No ghosts.

Day Three - Wheeler Geologic Area.

This was a long and rough trail, but well worth it when we turned the final corner and saw the wonderful rock formations for the first time.
The trail took off just about a mile north of our cabins and was a smooth two wheel drive road until we reached Hansons Mill. From there it was about 14 miles to Wheeler Geologic Area. As a point of interest there is also a foot trail (in green) that takes off from Hansons Mill that is only about 7.5 miles. It is said the foot trail is faster. Believe it!

And as a unique situation the four wheel drive trail followed a narrow corridor through the La Garita Wilderness area, until we finally reached Wheeler.

This is the foot trail from Hanson Mill that some members wished they had taken. What happened to their love of four wheeling?

As you can see from this photo, the wilderness corridor was very narrow - we stayed well between the two green markers.

Our first view of the Wheeler Rocks occurs in the last mile of trail. We prepared ourselves with lunch in a shady spot before heading up the trail to the formations. It was 0.6 miles to the observation area and a 2.5 mile loop all the way around.

The rocks were very interesting, especially for those members who hiked some of the loop.

Day Four - Stony Pass Trail

By day four most of the members wanted to take a day off to rest and shop. A single Jeep took the four-wheel drive road to Regan for fishing. Three other Jeeps wanted to hunt for the source of the Rio Grande just in case it had not been discovered. This took us to the Stony Pass Trail that heads out into the back country between Creede and Silverton. The paved road mileage between these two towns is 172 miles via Pagosa Springs and Durango. On dirt road it is 37 miles. Because of time limits (BBQ dinner) we only drove as far as the Rio Grande River crossing (about 25 miles of dirt road).

The drive from state highway 149 on County Road 520 was a well-maintained two-wheel drive road. The road became four-wheel after Lost Trail Campground. The San Juan mountains were beautiful. After we crossed River Hill we stayed in the Rio Grande River drainage for the rest of the trip.

This is the west end of Rio Grande Reservoir. As you can see the water level is very low.

Looking down into Lost Trail Campground. The foot trail to Heart Lake (Day Two) goes off the right side of picture for about 4 miles. From here the road quality decreased.

Toward the end of our day we crossed behind Timber Hill and dropped down into the Rio Grand River.

The road on the back side of Timber Hill was a bit rocky in spots.

This is the Rio Grade River crossing the Kite Lake road. The road to Silverton is off to the right, the road to Creede back to the left.

The intersection with the Kite Lake Road. On the left you can see the ledge road that heads back to Creede. The 47 miles back to Creede includes about 25 miles of dirt road we just traveled, followed by 22 miles on state highway 149. The Rio Grande River crossing is less than a mile down the Kite Lake Road.

And finally the Rio Grande River. We are only 3-4 miles downstream of its source at the base of Canby Mountain and Stony Pass Summit.

Day Five - The Creede Mining District

The intense mining district lies just north of Creede. In the morning we took the West Willow Creek Trail up past the Equity Mine than came back south along Rat Creek. That afternoon the group took the East Willow Creek Trail. That trip was cut short due to a vehicle breakdown. The recovery was safe and sound and we all returned to a dinner of BBQ left overs.

Here we are gathered at the information kiosk where the East and West branches of Willow Creek intersect.

Commodore Mine buildings.

The upper reaches of West Willow Creek above Equity Mine (still active). We crossed over the top and came back south in the Rat Creek drainage. Because of a brief rain and hail shower we delayed lunch.

But we found a nice spot for a late lunch.

Day Six - Jarosa Mesa

We were glad we saved Jarosa Mesa for the last day. It is in an area SE of Lake City. From the top we were able to observe several other trails we took during the week. The trail leaves state highway 149 at the summit of Spring Creek Pass and heads west paralleling the continental divide.

The very recognizable Bristol Head from the southern slopes of Jarosa Mesa.

Before heading over the divide towards Lake City we decided to take the road up to the top of 71 Mountain. That was it's name!

The view from the top was the best of the week. Red Mountain is in the center foreground with the unmistakable shape of Uncompahgre Peak just over its right shoulder. Lake San Cristobal is toward the right and Lake City is tucked into the valley on the far right side of picture.

Our final lunch was in a saddle on the north edge of Rambouillet Park with Red Mountain dominating the view. A great way to end the week.

On the final evening in Creede, 17 members went to the Creede Repertory Theater. We saw Mark Twain's "Is He Dead?"