Rio Grande, National Forest

Trip Start Jun 29, 2007
Trip End Jul 15, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Our 2007 road atlas (thank you, Target and $5.99) marks certain roads with little green dots designating-in some cartographer's opinion-a scenic route.  We followed the little green dots from Boulder to the Rio Grande National forest in southern Colorado, and we agree with this particular cartographer's opinion.  While all of the roads we travelled were indeed scenic, noteworthy, and memorable, Highway 149 leading from forgettable South Fork, Colorado to an even more forgettable Creede, Colorado has to be one of the most spectacular drives of our lifetime.  We had the good fortune of driving in around six o'clock in the evening-those final hours of honeyed, mellowed sunlight that drips over trees, mountains, and springs bringing colors to life in a pinch-me-to-be-sure-I'm-not-dreaming way.  When we reached the turn-off for our twelve-mile drive into the Rio Grande National Forest, we knew we either needed to tell everyone we knew or no one at all about this spectacular and highly undiscovered place.  Luckily for all of you, we decided to share the secret.  So here it is: Thirty Mile Campground in Rio Grande National Forest is a lifetime must.

From fifty feet away, the muted rush of the Rio Grande river (fresh, young waters flowing from the resevoir 1/2 mile away) serenaded our campsite.  Insert your mental soundtrack here--pick a track, any track, from the 'River Runs Through It' soundtrack and press play.  Offering around 35 resevation-only campsites, Thirty Mile campground is secluded, rustic, and spectacularly beautiful.  Our site offered a sheltering cove of lodgepole pines, a rusted firepit and well-weathered picnic table.  Perfect.  As we tested out the tent (thank you Matt and Heather!) the view from our pillows revealed the dying embers of light on the cliffs rising from the opposite bank of the Rio Grande.  If God had sampled a box of Crayola's 64 colors, he would have used Sienna, Burnt Umber, and Brick Red for these cliffs.  At night, the Big Dipper's pin pricks of light were framed by the pines and the mesh ceiling of our tent.  Again, perfect.

Morning's light found us with some hours to kill before we had to tear ourselves away from this mountain paradise, and providence also provided two retired brothers who were volunteer campsite directors to point our way.  If the Car Talk duo had decided that camping not cars was their thing, they would have been these brothers.  Spry, eager, and zealous for this  backwoods oasis, they encouraged us to tackle the continental rim before lunch.  Mitch was especially helpful, leading us up the Fork Creek path and pointing us on our way with a map (National Geographic #140 - Weminuche WIlderness for those converts already planning a trip) and a garbage bag (makeshift rain gear for the almost inevitable rain squall around noon).  And so began our 12-mile roundtrip trek to 11,000 feet (the last 2,000 feet accomplished in just one mile.)  Yes, the altitude got to us, yes, the mosquitos were thrilled to feast on our blood, and yes, we gulped two gallons of water in the 19% humidity atmosphere, but we did it.  We missed the snow patches by a few hundred yards, and we didn't get to see the newborn elk that Mitch had discovered on a hike the previous day, but we left with a sense of great accomplishment and a bone-deep yearning to be off of the mountain in breathable air--quickly!

While the english-teacher gods may strike me dead for writing this, I'm not convinced words can accurately convey the depth of beauty and serenity we found deep in the Weminuche wilderness and the Rio Grande National Forest.  We hope the pictures can offer one final altar call to this serendipitous treasure.  Just remember--this is our little secret.

Next stop: Grand Canyon, AZ
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