South Fork and the Silver Thread

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.

Going Up
Going Down

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.

Aspen Ridge RV Park

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.

Rain in our future
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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 San Cristobal
Water level view of Lake San Cristobal

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.

School bus fleet in a small 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 . . .

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23 Responses to South Fork and the Silver Thread

  1. Sue says:

    Such beautiful scenery especially in the fall. I was looking forward to seeing a photo of you and two with Rick and Joann! You must have been having a good time, you’re forgiven. The little Lake City Historic District is a real gem, the perfect storm for maintaining it as it was.

    • JoAnne Morgan says:

      It was so much fun seeing Pam and John again! And also take our word for it too…everyone was still looking as young and buff as ever!! 😘

    • placestheygo says:

      Sue, this is a wonderful area to get in lots of beautiful Jeep adventures. You and Dave would really like it. It’s easy to see why Rick and JoAnne settled here. Yes, I do believe “buff” is the perfect word to describe us!!

  2. Jeff Pierce says:

    Nice fall Aspen colors on the mountain. What was on your playlist as you drove Wolf Creek Pass? Guess it would make more sense coming down, but I play Wolf Creek Pass going both ways.
    You have a nice spot, looking forward to your explorations of the area.

  3. Wow, it seems early for fall color, lucky you!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, it did seem early for the colors, but our campground was over 8000′ and we were driving around at a much higher elevation so those cooler nights brought the colors. Lucky for us.

  4. Gorgeous photos and a great tour!

  5. Debbie L says:

    Beautiful!!! We sure miss our MH!

  6. Laurel says:

    What a gorgeous drive and beautiful photos! The scenery is spectacular, and even better with the golden glow of the aspen. So interesting that Lake City was saved by being remote and in economic decline. That’s how so many cool places have escaped being bulldozed. The same thing happened to our ‘new’ hometown of Apalachicola and I’m grateful that the beautiful old homes still stand. So glad you guys are posting about your adventures!

    • placestheygo says:

      It’s amazing how many little towns there are in these mountainous areas. I am so glad people have continued to inhabit and preserve them. We are having a blast finally being back on the road, as you and Eric understand.

  7. Wow, wow, wow! Those landscapes are just stunning! You really hit these spots at the perfect time for weather and fall colors. I totally agree on not towing up those passes. Why add the extra weight? As for Lake City, we were told that’s the reason Charleston, SC is so beautiful – no one had money to wreck it and build new in the 1950’s, so it stayed the same and is now considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Interesting stuff.

    • placestheygo says:

      We seem to have timed our trip perfectly for the fall colors, for sure. One never knows what this time of year will bring in terms of weather. Last year South Fork had five inches of snow at the same time we were there this year. It’s nice to see a little community that takes so much pride in preserving their past.

  8. Chasing Dirt says:

    Beautiful Colorado, geography setting the glorious stage and at the same time making it such a pain to traverse! Looks like you found places that made it all worth it 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      This little area was on our radar after our friends settled here. It always looked and sounded so quaint. We knew there would be lots to explore with the mountains and old mining towns. It is most definitely worth a visit.

  9. Joe Taylor says:

    Stunning landscapes for sure. I don’t think Colorado has a bad season…the fall colors are always gorgeous, but then I love the wildflowers in summer (which is my favorite). It is so awesome that old towns get a second chance and pieces of history are saved. Gay

    • placestheygo says:

      Colorado is beautiful state. I’m not sure John would agree about not having a bad season. He wants nothing to do with winter…haha! Yes, the wildflowers are special here. We seem to be in a fall thing since this is our second fall visit in two years. I guess the cooler temps are calling after the desert heat.

  10. Nancy says:

    Spectacular vistas! And you got there just in time for the fall colors! I like that the area has preserved its past.
    Fun trip! I’m enjoying all the pictures!

  11. Jodee Gravel says:

    So envious and just as glad you took so many gorgeous pics as I’m not sure I’m going to be able to enjoy those high elevations 😦 Those aspens make such wonderful vistas this time of year. Love the little gingerbread house!

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