We Texans think of the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and Mexico, the often-waded passage for illegal movement into our country, but it is, in reality, a beautiful river, the third longest in the US next to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Its headwaters start at an elevation of over 13,000 ft in the San Juan Mountains west of Creede, Co. and flow for almost 2,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. From our camp in Del Norte we have followed the river west to South Fork and then northwest through an imposing canyon with walls of Palisade rock formations past Creede and out into the lovely San Juan Valley then up to a view of the headwaters area.
Creede is a small town that was formed around mining and is reportedly a great place for rock hounds to discover agates and fossils as well as various semi-precious gems. However, we decided not to hunt for gems, but to enjoy the countryside instead. While in Creede we went to the Underground Mining Museum, some cute least chipmunks came right up to see if we had any food. From Creede we continued along the Silver Thread Highway (CO 149 ) over Spring Creek Pass on the Continental Divide (elevation 10,889 ft) and into Lake City. Somewhat unusually for a pass on the Continental Divide, Spring Creek is not the highest point on the highway; continuing north from the pass, the road climbs over the considerably higher Slumgullion Summit Pass before descending toward Lake City. The north side of Slumgullion Pass has the steepest grade of any continuously paved road in Colorado, Slumgullion also is the 10th-highest mountain pass in Colorado with an elevation of 11,530 feet. The Slumgullion area is also known for its massive slide area (over 4 miles long covering around 1000 acres. The current slide started over 300 years ago and is still active, moving down the mountain about 20 ft a year. Trees in that area grow at angles as a result of the continuous slide.
When the kiddos were small one of our first exposures to Colorado was a trip to Lake City. It has always enjoyed s special place in our memories. I was amazed at the changes, it was a sleepy little town with a small historic downtown and a few businesses, now so many more businesses and at least during the summer a bustling place. It’s still a remote but beautiful area which boasts the highest concentration of 14ers (5) and eight 13,000 ft peaks to go with them.
A short side trip off the highway took us to the overlook for Clear Creek Falls. This over 100ft falls takes a nearly vertical drop off the relatively level plains of the San Juan Valley down the steep walls of Willow Canyon. It is said that this is one of the most beautiful falls in Colorado, but seemingly is little known due to its relatively remote location. It is certainly breathtakingly beautiful.