Tuesday, August 30, 2022—A Clay Mine and Alpine Lakes

Our last day in the Creede, Colorado, area was used to complete our list of “things to do.” 

After partially filling up with gasoline, our first stop was at “The Clay Mine” just west of Creede. The Marshall Mine is a bentonite mine and has a brief but interesting history as a gold and silver mine during the Creede Gold Rush. From 1890 to roughly 1920, the bentonite clay in the mine was thought of to be nothing but a hinderance in punching into the hard rock. There were no significant reports of gold and silver from the mine at the time, but it was worked until it was abandoned in the early 1920s, leaving behind buildings and the current ore bin. In 1928, the mine was purchased and reopened as a clay mine. There is one entrance to the mine that has collapsed and the total workings of the mine are relatively unknown. The value in this claim lies in the established value of the bentonite ore, which can be mined commercially at a great profit. Additionally, the claim owner could re-open the old workings to discover what minerals were actually being mined and what the potential value of those minerals might be.

The Clay Mine

After a few photographs of “The Clay Mine,” the drive took us west to the Rio Grande Reservoir Road, also known as Forest Service Road 520. The road leads from the Silver Thread Byway (Colorado State Highway 149) toward Stony Pass.

Along Rio Grande Reservoir Road
Rio Grande River

The first 19 miles are accessible by 2-wheel-drive vehicles. Beyond that first 22 miles, a four-wheel drive vehicle is needed to take the rest of the road through Timber Hill, over Stony Pass, and down into Silverton.

Rio Grande Reservoir Road

After many potholes, rutted lanes, and more than a few washboarded areas, we passed Road Canyon Reservoir (actually two reservoirs, one upstream of the other0. The Road Canyon Reservoir was built at 9,725 feet in elevation, damming the Rio Grande River. It is part of a three-lake system (along with the Rio Grande Reservoir) that was constructed to provide the San Luis Valley with water for irrigation.

Road Canyon Reservoir
Road Canyon Reservoir

The drive continued on the Rio Grande Reservoir Road to the Rio Grande Reservoir. The road was gnarly, with steep drop-offs several hundred feet above the reservoir and no guard rails. Built between 1910 and 1914 by the San Luis Valley Irrigation District Rio Grande Dam is an earth and rock fill dam 111 feet high and 550 feet long. Long and narrow, the Rio Grande Reservoir is the third-highest major reservoir in Colorado at an elevation of 9,400 feet and contains 51,110 acre-feet of water.

Monday, August 29, 2022—Pickleball and the Story of Creede, Colorado

Kay’s aching knee kept her from sleeping soundly last night, but I slept great. We were up relatively early, read emails and the paper, and viewed a bit of social media. Today was our last pickleball day in Creede. There were almost twenty people signed up to play, including several newcomers. We played off and on for almost three hours before calling it quits.

Robben, far left, 97 years old
Lou and Robben vs Joyce and Dixie

We took home a couple of “senior” meals from the Creede Recreation Center, aka the Virginia Christensen Multi Use Facility, the same place where we played pickleball. The senior meals consist of a meat and two vegetables, cost $3 each, and are quite good. The rest of the day was spent quietly enjoying the sunshine and cool temperatures.

Now, more about Creede, Colorado, from Wikipedia. Travelers to this area appeared in the early 19th century. Tom Boggs, a brother-in-law of Kit Carson farmed at Wagon Wheel Gap in the summer of 1840. The first silver discovery was made at the Alpha mine in 1869, but the silver could not be extracted at a profit from the complex ores. Ranchers and homesteaders moved in when stagecoach stations (linking the mining operations over the Divide with the east) were built in the 1870s, but the great “Boom Days” started with the discovery of rich minerals in Willow Creek Canyon in 1889.

Creede was the last silver boom town in Colorado in the 19th century. The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985, and were served by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

The original townsite of Creede was located on East Willow Creek just above its junction with West Willow Creek. Below Creede were Stringtown, Jimtown, and Amethyst. The Willow Creek site was soon renamed Creede after Nicholas C. Creede who discovered the Holy Moses Mine. Soon the entire town area from East Willow to Amethyst was called Creede.

Numerous owners of gambling houses in Denver relocated to Creede’s business district. One of these was confidence man Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Soapy became the uncrowned king of Creede’s criminal underworld, and opened the Orleans Club. Other famous people in Creede were Robert Ford (the man who killed outlaw Jesse James), Bat Masterson, Frank James, Martha Cannary (“Calamity Jane”) and her pal Poker Alice, and William Sidney “Cap’ Light (the first deputy sheriff in Creede, and brother-in-law of Soapy Smith), all of whom gave the town its reputation as one of the wildest camps in the state.

On June 5, 1892 a fire destroyed most of the business district. Three days later, on June 8, Ed O’Kelley walked into Robert Ford’s makeshift tent-saloon and shot him dead. The town of Creede was incorporated on June 13, 1892. The anti-gambling movement in Denver had ceased, and the Denver businessmen moved back to their former areas of operation.

Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted, and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined. After 1900, Creede stayed alive by relying increasingly on lead and zinc in the ores. Total production through 1966 was 58,000,000 troy ounces of silver, 150,000 ounces of gold, 112,000 metric tons of lead, 34,000 metric tons of zinc, and 2,000,000 metric tons of copper.

Today, Creede is best known for the Creede Repertory Theater, summer home to wealthy Texans, fly fishing, and jeep trails.

Sunday, August 28, 2022—Big Meadows Reservoir Trail

Today, we traveled south to South Fork, then west to near Wolf Creek Pass. The target destination was the Big Meadows Reservoir.

Our goal today was to hike the Big Meadows Reservoir Trail. The trail is a 2.8-mile loop trail around the alpine reservoir.

Big Meadows Reservoir Trail from Alltrails

This trail had it all. Beautiful lake views…

Wetlands and beaver dams…

And even a waterfall…

Kay easily out hiked me today, keeping a steady pace, despite a few downed trees crossing the trail—adding to its charm.

Kay on the Big Meadows Reservoir Trail

Wildflowers, wild berries, colorful mushrooms, and butterflies were plentiful. There were a few downed trees crossing the trail, but that added to its charm. These wildflowers were plentiful along the alpine lakeshore.

It’s awfully hard to resist photographing mushrooms, and there were many shapes and sizes along the trail.

Even a few butterflies were puddling in wet areas, and one would occasionally remain still enough in the wind to photograph.

This squirrel watched us for several minutes.

About a half mile from the end, we got caught in a thunderstorm and light rain, and of course we didn’t bring rain jackets!

It rained hard on the way back to the cabin, with hail completely covering the ground in the Creede area. At the cabin, we doctored sore knees and rested weary bodies. Kay drove into Creede and picked up a couple small pizzas which we enjoyed while watching our favorite YouTube videos.

Friday and Saturday, August 26-27, 2022—Rain, a Comedy Show, Lake City, and Steel Magnolias

It rained lightly all day Friday, negating any outdoor activities or photography. Late Friday evening, we attended an Improv Comedy Show in Creede, part of the Creede Repertory Theater summer program. It was only “so so.” 

After a late start Saturday morning, we drove the Silver Thread Scenic Byway west to Lake City, stopping on the way to photograph some interesting landscapes.

Among the landscapes was the Slumgullion Earthflow National Natural Landmark. It is a rare example of an earthflow, called mass wasting, was/is a slow moving landslide. About 700 years ago, an area of Mesa Seco, composed of partially decomposed volcanic rock, slid down the mountain and blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, creating Lake San Cristobal. A second earthflow has been moving continuously for about 300 years over older stable rock. It moves at a rate of about 23 feet per year.

Slumgullion Earth Flow

There were also a number of wildflowers blooming at the higher elevations, and even a butterfly was spotted.

The only butterfly photographed

Arriving in Lake City just after lunch, we stopped by the Southern Vittles where we had a delicious lunch last week. I had catfish and Kay had chicken strips. The catfish was not edible—too much dark flesh giving the fillet a bad taste. Kay’s chicken strips were really good. After lunch, Kay witnessed a shooting; actually, it was a reenactment of an old west gunfight. 

And then, we wandered through the staging grounds (Lake City’s Town Park) for the finish of the Lake City Alpine 50. The Lake City Alpine 50 is an epic, 50-mile, alpine endurance bike race involving around 6,000 feet of climbing. The race includes cycling over both the 12,640 foot Cinnamon Pass and the 12,800 foot Engineer Pass, before making a nearly nineteen-mile fast descent along Henson Creek, and then back to Lake City to finish the race.

Finish line, Lake City Alpine 50

The Lake City National Historic District covers about 142 acres of land in more than 34 blocks and additions, making it one of the largest historic districts in Colorado. It is also one of the oldest, and best preserved, historic districts in the state. The Historic District contains commercial and residential buildings of various sizes and styles. Many commercial structures were built of wood, with front-facing gable and false-front façade. There are also a few masonry buildings located on the Hough, Bank and Finley “blocks.” Residences include chinked-log pioneer cabins, simple miners’ cottages, and the Queen Anne style homes of merchants and mine owners. Most homes have front porches and decorative features. Tall cottonwoods planted by early Lake City citizens are carefully tended today. Fences, boardwalks, and outbuildings are also features of the district.

Historic Lake City, Colorado
Historic Lake City, Colorado

Kay discovered a hummingbird moth, common name “Whitelined Sphinx Moth,” nectaring on hanging baskets—a real treat for this photographer.

Whitelined Sphinx Moth
Whitelined Sphinx Moth

After a busy day, we returned to the cabin to rest before attending a really, really good performance of Steel Magnolias. To top things off, the first producer of the first play of Steel Magnolias, Pamela Berlin, talked briefly before the performance, including the play’s early history. She is now a part time resident of Creede, and has a long history with the Creede Repertory Theater.

Thursday, August 25, 2022—Willow Park and Beaver Creek Reservoir

Today’s travels took us to South Fork, Colorado, for a guided Side by Side (SXS) or Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) trip. So what is a Side by Side or UTV, you might ask. Side by Sides or UTVs are simply off-road vehicles in which two people sit beside each other. The seating configuration is the same as in a car or truck. You have a steering wheel, pedals and a gear shift just like a vehicle. The UTV is larger than an ATV and typically costs a little bit more. Today these vehicles are made for utility/work uses, sports, and a mix of both work and fun! A SXS often comes with similar features to a car like a roll bar or cage, and wind protection that creates an enclosed look. Designed with a sturdy protective exterior, these vehicles are a top choice for recreational adventuring outdoors. 

Kay and Logan at the Side by Side

Our guide today was a young, talkative Logan, some 21 years old. He trailered about a mile east of town to start the trip in the Willow Park area. With Kay driving, the route started on a smooth road and then we got on a fun and rocky trail within a couple of miles. This rocky trail started out in some huge aspen tree groves and worked its way up to Willow Park.

Along the trail

From there we continued on a rocky trail that wound its way up to a great view at about 11,500 feet.

Willow Park

The trail continued down through a variety of woods and open meadows until intersecting with a well maintained smooth road. We then followed the smooth road down towards Beaver Creek Reservoir. A few miles above the reservoir we intersected with another fun trail that wound back to our original trail at Willow Park, and then back to the vehicles. Of note is that Kay was “cautioned” twice about speeding! She drove about half the trip, and Logan drove the other half.

Neither Kay nor I would do the trip again, and the scenery was underwhelming as we were in aspen groves or logging operations much of the time. A mule deer doe was the only large animal seen. The sound of the SXS motor was deafening, even for someone with hearing issues. It was not our cup of tea.

On the return to the cabin, we stopped in Creede for lunch, and ran a couple of errands. At the cabin, it began to lightly rain—it has rained everyday here—but a few Rufous Hummingbirds nectared at the feeders and a few photos were made.

Tuesday and Wednesday, August 23-24, 2022—Batchelor’s Loop and Pickleball

Departing the cabin at 11 o’clock Tuesday morning, we drove into Creede and began traversing the Bachelor’s Loop in a counter clockwise direction.

The route preferred by most is the more challenging east route that follows East Willow Creek for the majority of the terrain, then turns to the west in a steep climb to converge again with the main road of the Bachelor’s Loop. While it is open to non-4×4 vehicles, it is a hard pack gravel mine road that can be a little rough and has several very steep points just past the north end of Creede.

The main route follows West Willow Creek to top out with the aged forests of Bristle Cone pine trees. It climbs gently for four miles to slightly over 11,000 feet before traversing gentle ups and downs and then weaves its way up through the canyon north of Creede descending under ragged cliff sides.

The drive took us past mine locations from the 1890s and abandoned ghost towns that once rivaled Creede in size.

Wednesday was a “down” day for rest and catching up on social media. We began the day playing pickleball in Creede, and the last couple of matches were among the most competitive in which I’ve played—fun!

Monday, August 22, 2022—Fly Fishing North Fork Clear Creek

We were up early this morning, the car was packed with fly fishing gear, and we drove into town to the Rio Grande Fly Shop to meet our guide for the morning, Ben Newman. I had asked Ben to fish a mountain creek, and he came through with private waters on North Fork Clear Creek, west of Creede, Colorado.

Ben Newman, fly fishing guide

Suited top in waders, boots, and fly rods and reels, we walked to the 15-foot wide creek, crossed, and began fishing upstream. Fishing was tough! Kay had the first hookup, a small trout, and experienced a long distance release. We continued fishing upstream, changing flies regularly. Ben was gracious enough to spend essentially all of his time with Kay. We fished another couple hours without a strike. I dug into a vast assortment of “old” flies from my vest, and tied on a hopper with a #14 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph dropped about 16 inches. Casting towards the far bank, the flies landed in the 3-foot slot between a bubble line and the bank, and the hopper disappeared. I yelled, “Fish on” and Ben came to net the approximate 14-inch Tiger trout.

A tiger trout is a cross between a brown and brook trout. I caught another couple of small trout on the “rig.” Despite fishing really hard, neither Kay nor I had any further success.

Walking out, Kay remarked that the soles of my practically unworn wading boots had delaminated. It had been 8 years since they were last worn, but they had been keep in an air conditioned dark closet; I expected better of Simms. Also, my slightly worn Simms Guide waders sprung a leak at the seem between the sock and the leg. Lots of repair work to be done.

Simms Guide wading boot delamination

We bought licenses for 5 days, and the guide promised to call regarding his success the next day, and for us to schedule another trip. He also asked for some “show” flies and said he’d send his address for me. He never called nor sent his address; consequently, I cannot recommend him.

Saturday and Sunday, August 20-21, 2022—More Rain and another Waterfall

We had no plans on Saturday, and enjoyed a quiet rainy day at the cabin, catching up on emails, blogs, photo editing, and clothes washing.

On Sunday, we drove north again on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to see sights missed on Friday. Driving from near Creede, we traveled west about 26 miles, about halfway between Lake City and Creede, where we saw the sign for the North Clear Creek Falls. Turning right, we traveled for another half mile on paved Forest Road 510 to the Overlook. Because of the vertical drop into Willow Canyon, the observation area had been fenced. The area had new toilet and picnic facilities, and is considered handicap accessible. We first walked to the top of the hill to view Willow Canyon. 

Willow Canyon

And then, we walked along the rim of the canyon until the falls came into view—my, oh my. North Clear Creek Falls is a 100+ foot waterfall carved into the landscape of southwestern Colorado!

North Clear Creek Falls

From North Clear Creek Falls, we drove east on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway about one mile to Forest Service Road 515 (Hermit Lakes Road), then 1 1/2 miles west (left) to the Brown Lakes State Wildlife Area. The parking area and trailhead for Rex Falls are straight across from the Troutvale Reservoir as you enter the Wildlife Area. While the short hike was not difficult, it was not without pain. There was a large yellow jacket nest about halfway up on the upper trail. About five feet before  log across the trail, the nest was in or on the ground. It is partially exposed on the right side of the trail. I received a several stings on my left leg hiking to the falls, and a half dozen stings on my right leg hiking back to the trailhead. You’d think I knew better!

Back at the cabin, we showered and dressed for a play at the Creede Repertory Theater, Always…Patsy Cline. It was the true story of the fast friendship and two-year correspondence between Patsy Cline and Louise Everett Seger Zurbuchen, a huge fan and single mother from Houston, Texas. It was an outstanding play featuring most, if not all, the songs of Patsy Cline. An excellent live band accompanied the singer, who nailed the performance.

Friday, August 19, 2022—Pickleball, South Clear Creek Falls, and the Theater

Before scheduling our trip to Creede, a check was made to determine if they had pickleball, and they did.

This morning we headed into town to the Virginia Christensen Multi Use Facility; several folks were waiting at the locked door, and it opened at 9 o’clock sharp. We paid $3 each, and walked into the “gym;” this “gym” serves multiple purposes and the floor was covered with line markings—full court basketball, half court basketball, volleyball, hockey, and pickleball. Portable nets were quickly set up to form two courts, with a barrier net between them. We all grabbed paddles, and began dinking (warming up.) Dividing into two groups of four, the games began. It was so much fun, and most of the people there were our age and from the local RV park. One gentleman, Robben, was 97-years old, and an excellent player. He couldn’t move very far or fast, but could place shots on a dime. At 12 o’clock noon, play ended as another group took over the court; they were from an RV park in Southpark, Colorado, between Creede and Pagosa Springs, and were very good.

Lunch was at a local eatery, and then it was back to the cabin to change clothes. We then drove north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to the South Clear Creek Falls trailhead. The short hike (1/2 mile roundtrip) starts in the Silver Thread Campground in an aspen grove.

Kay on the trail to the South Clear Creek Falls

A couple of wildflowers beckoned for photos.

The trail then switchbacked down towering cliffs surrounding a forested bowl to a viewpoint with a metal railing. We then took a rather treacherous trail that lead down to the base of the falls and to South Clear Creek. Raspberries were plentiful along the trail to the base of the falls. South Clear Creek Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Colorado. While not quite as tall as Bridal Veil Falls (Colorado’s tallest waterfall) or neighboring North Clear Creek Falls, it is a powerful waterfall and the trail allows you get up close and personal.

South Clear Creek Falls as seen from its base

Along the trail and in the campground parking lot, wildflowers were seemingly blooming everywhere. Here are a few photos.

Scarlet Gilia

It began to lightly rain, putting a kibosh on our other afternoon plans. It was back to the cabin to again change clothes before heading into Creede for a performance at one of the two theaters in town. Just as we finished changing clothes, the electricity went out. Apparently, the whole area was without power. Nevertheless, we drove into the unlit town, but the lack of electricity prevented the performance. It was back to the cabin. We dug out portable power banks from the car, for our CPAPs, plugged in a table lamp, and then the power came back on, ending an exciting day!

Thursday, August 18, 2022—Silver Thread Scenic Byway and the High Country

After awakening this morning, I experienced intense vomiting. We decided the intestinal problems I had been experiencing were the result of some new medication! 

Anxious to explore the high country near us, we opted to drive the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, at least to Lake City. Points of interest included the mighty Rio Grande River for flyfishing on gold medal waters, Wagon Wheel Gap, the Historic Bachelor Loop and Creede Mining District, the spectacular and unrivaled North Clear Creek Waterfalls, scenic Slumgullian Pass that cuts through a natural earthflow, and Colorado’s second-largest natural lake – Lake San Cristobal—more about these in future blogs.

Lunch was at Southern Vittles in Lake City. We both had chicken strips, and they were delicious. We would definitely eat there again. After lunch, we continued north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to the ranching community of Powderhorn, then back south on County Road 50 to Colorado Highway 149 (Silver Thread Scenic Byway.)

The scenic beauty along the way was breathtaking—mountain vistas at every turn, creeks and streams, small high country lakes, and lush valleys. Make no mistake, County Road 50 was rough in places, almost necessitating a 4X4 while the Honda Pilot was only front wheel drive. Near the junction of County Road 50 and Colorado Highway 149, we stopped at a small lake and watched rise after rise, vowing to return to fly fish this lake. Wildflowers were plentiful, and made for a few decent photographs.

Fireweed

And then, continuing a couple hundred yards, we spotted a group of male mule deer working their way uphill toward us. We patiently waited, and all of the velvet-horned bucks posed. The largest was especially photogenic and offered three portrait photos.

Mule deer in velvet
Mule deer in velvet
Mule deer in velvet

We returned to the cabin near dark, and watched television for a while before bedtime.