South Fork, CO
The drive from Farmington, NM to South Fork, CO is about 345 miles. Most of the trip is through fairly flat, scenic country. But just beyond Pagosa Springs there is one final obstacle, the Rocky Mountains. Apparently nobody bothered to build a tunnel through these obstacles so the only way to get to the other side is to go over them! We were traveling on US 160, one of only three main east to west routes through Colorado (the other two are I-70 and US 50). All three are good roads with passing lanes where needed.
US 160 goes over Wolf Pass, with an elevation of 10,857 feet at the summit. We could have left the Jeep hooked to the motorhome if we wanted (we did that on a previous trip over this pass) but since we would be un-hooking when we arrived at South Fork on the other side of the pass anyway, we decided to take the Jeep off before going up. Why haul a 4000 pound anchor up the pass if not necessary. We know the motorhome appreciated the lighter load.
South Fork sits at the eastern base of the mountains. We turned north on CO 149 at the only main intersection in the area and drove a mile or so to Aspen Ridge RV Park, which will be our home for the next few days.
The community of South Fork sits along the confluence of the South Fork River and Rio Grande River at an elevation of 8,209 feet. It was first settled in 1882 and in 1992 South Fork achieved independent statutory town status, making it the youngest statutory town in the state. Originally the principal economic activities involved forestry and mining, but in recent years these have been overtaken in the employment statistics by tourism. South Fork has about 400 permanent residents, but a substantially larger summer population due to seasonal residents and visitors.
Two of those permanent residents are our friends, Rick and Joanne, who we have met at various locations during our travels. They now live in South Fork full time. We met at a local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a long visit catching up on recent experiences over a delicious meal. It was like having our own travel guide for the area, as they gave us information on things to do and see nearby. But, alas, nobody remembered to get a photo so you’ll just have to trust us. We all looked as young and buff as ever!
Our first adventure here was a drive up Rte. 149 to Lake City, a drive known as the Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway. The 72 mile drive goes through the old mining town of Creede (we’ll tell you about Creede in the next post), up over the continental divide, to the little community of Lake City. Along the way the scenery is impressive, with beautiful vistas at the high points and the beginning of the changing leaf colors along the way.
Slumgullion Summit is named for the nearby Slumgullion Earthflow, a gigantic landslide whose yellowish soil reminded early settlers and miners of slumgullion stew. The slide began about 700 years ago when weak volcanic soil on the southern flank of Mesa Seco slid several miles down the steep mountainside. About 300 years ago, a second earthflow started from the top of the mountain and is still active, moving as much as twenty feet per year. Trees growing on the newer slide are tipped at odd angles.
The first flow was so large and cataclysmic that it blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second largest natural lake.
Lake City, named for nearby Lake San Cristobal, sits at 8,600′ and has a population of around 400 permanent residents. As with most western towns it was founded as a mining community in the 1870s with up to 5,000 inhabitants. But as often happened, the mining boom ended at the turn of the century and the population rapidly decreased. Beginning in 1915, visitors began coming to Lake City for the entire summer season and by the 1930s tourism had emerged as a viable industry.
The Lake City Historic District contains a collection of intact buildings associated with the mining era. The town’s remote location and decades of economic decline helped conserve the buildings, and the weak local economy discouraged new construction, so Lake City avoided many of the modern “improvements” to historic buildings that often occurs in more prosperous towns. Many of these restored buildings can be seen throughout the town.
The local coffee shop was closed for the day as were most of the businesses so we began the return trip to South Fork while continuing to enjoy the great vistas.
Along the drive we stopped at the North Creek Falls Observation Site. It is an interesting place where you are driving on a wide, flat valley to a paved parking area. Walk a few feet down a path and a waterfall appears in front of you!
The drive up the Silver Thread was a beautiful trip through a bit of rain but mostly sunshine. Next up is a visit to Creede, CO.
More on that later . . .