Thursday, October 15, 2015

Autumn Color: Colorado 2015

I chose the timing of my trip based upon my hopes for golden aspen leaves and an excellent weather forecast of clear and sunny. Alas, the forecast was busted the very first day. The next day was passible, but then the weather got worse with rain and high winds. Nonetheless, I did get to explore some areas I wanted to visit and got some good, but not great, photos of the autumn color.

Remember to click any photo to view larger versions - highly recommended.

Part One: Along the Rio Grande

Wednesday, September 30th

I drove north out of Albuquerque, taking the "relief route" around Santa Fe. I picked up a Subway sandwich & fuel in Española. I refueled in Alamosa, CO before heading into the mountains. I headed west on US-160 to the town of South Fork - where the South Fork of the Rio Grande joins the primary flow. I took CO-149 from there, The Silver Thread Scenic Byway. The weather forecast was for sun all week with rain coming in Sunday and Monday, so I was not happy to be driving through intermittent rain as I entered the mountains.

On the Silver Thread Byway headed to the old mining town of Creede.

My first destination was the historic mining town of Creede. I stopped in at the district ranger station to check on conditions and closures. I then drove north through town to take the Bachelor Loop.

Downtown Creede looking up toward the canyon where the Bachelor Loop begins.

The loop is comprised of two county roads which climb up through the old mining district. There are old mines to photograph, they are all privately owned so you cannot enter or walk around them. However, as light rain was still falling I mostly photographed from the truck.

Bachelor Loop

Operated by the Creede Chamber of Commerce, this 17-mile self-guided driving tour loops through Creede’s historic silver mining district and ghost towns. There are 14 interpretive pullouts along the scenic route. I didn't realize there is a guide brochure for the loop, and the fellow at the ranger station didn't mention it. It would have been nice to consult and apparently they are available for a small fee. The tour’s first interpretive stop is just north of Creede in Willow Creek Canyon at the juncture of East and West Willow creeks.

You can see the kiosk at bottom right. There is also a spur that leads up the other canyon, but I didn't explore it this time.

They claim you need a high clearance vehicle with low gears to traverse the graded gravel road uphill to the Equity Mine, but although the road was indeed steep, no high clearance was required. Perhaps it was recently graded.

The lower section of the North Loop.

The road passes though the middle of the old mine site.

The autumn color provides a nice accent to this historic mine scene.

This is a look down the road I'd just driven up.

Near the top of the loop, the road cut through these colorful aspen.

More colorful trees

On the return leg of the loop you pass the site Bachelor City where, I assume, the single miners lived and from which the scenic loop is named. It was a shame the weather was overcast and dreary as the views of the entire valley, complete with golden Aspen, were consequently muted.

As you start back down the mountain there are amazing vistas.

View of Creede from the loop road.

For additional information:
Rio Grande NF Bachelor Loop Info
A little history of the area, and a few other photos.

Toward the Headwaters of the Rio Grande

Leaving Creede I continued up CO-149. I wanted to explore FR-520 that turns off 149 and follows the Rio Grande, but if you want to find the road look for the reservoir sign, not the route number.

Heading westerly up FS-520, a first glimpse of Road Canyon Reservoir.

There were a number of places to camp along the road, mostly forest service campgrounds, but a couple dispersed sites, as well. I checked out a couple of those campgrounds and the scenery, as I drove up.

I stopped for the night at the Thirty Mile Campground. It was quite attractive with tall fir trees and aspen on the slopes. I had hoped to find a spot next to the Rio Grande - and I did. In fact there was a small stream on the other side that was rushing to join the rio just behind my campsite.

As wet as the day had been, it was nice to have a level gravel pad on which to park.
The Rio Grande is just on the other side of that tall spruce next to my camper.

It was a lovely campsite, so I include another photo.

After setting up, I walked over to the stream and flushed an American Dipper. This drab species is still one of my favorites as they hunt for critters to eat underwater in rushing streams! I tried to get photos. but they were not as good as I'd hoped. Still, it was a lovely evening, the rain had stopped and I walked around to take a few photos.

Slightly out of focus photo of the American Dipper

Looking upstream from next to my campsite.

Halfway up the slope across from the campground were these red-orange aspen.

A fisherman trying his luck.

A wider angle photo of the Rio Grande and the aspen covered slopes.

Indicative of the day, a pale, wet aspen leaf on the ground.

It was a quiet night with the soft murmur of the Rio Grande to lull me to sleep.

Thursday, October 1st

It was 34º when I got up in the morning, but the sky was mostly blue, but with a few high clouds. I took a few more photos around this lovely campground, then broke camp and continued up the road toward the Rio Grande Reservoir.

You cross this bridge to enter the campground. I'm standing on the campground side.

This little chipmunk was hanging out under the bridge. Pretty cute for a bridge troll.

As I stopped to check out a squirrel on the ground about 20 feet ahead I saw movement in the corner of my eye.
This guy was too busy munching on a cone to care about me. He was so close I had to back up to fit him in the photo.

Rio Grande Reservoir
The reservoir had lots of water, but was not at the high water mark - still nice to see at this time of year.

A panorama of the reservoir and surrounding hills. Click here for a larger version.

Another photo of the reservoir along the scenic road.

The upper end of the reservoir

I drove a little ways past the reservoir, continuing to photograph the scenery, though the high clouds were muting the colors somewhat.

Just past the reservoir was this interesting rock formation. I never could find out if it has a name.
The road to the left continues toward the headwaters, but I left that for another trip.

Single lane bridge near the Lost Trail Campground.

I then turned around to head back to the main highway.

Aspen along the road.

The trip continues, and concludes, in Part Two.


  1. These photos are great Bill! I also like the history and other links you provide. I enjoyed it all. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Claudie! Glad you liked it.

  2. Thanks Bill.I sure enjoy your trips.
    This is the second one to Creede that I have seen.Last time I was in Creede was August of 1972.
    Doesn't seem like much changed except for the interpretive part of the road. I remember that mine that you drive through,hasn't changed.
    All the color is fantastic.We just got back from our fall Yellowstone trip and didn't see near the color you did.
    Thanks for the ride along.

    1. Thanks, Frank. I doubt the central part of Creede has changed much, though there has been lots of development (homes) along the Rio NW of town.


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