The Spanish Peaks

A quick overnight camping trip to the Spanish Peaks with someone.

One of the most interesting areas of the Rockies, to me,  is the area of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. And artificial state boundary may separate this area, but it is a distinct area none- the-less.

The  unique mix of Native, Spanish and Anglo culture makes for an area that is chock full of history and having a deep culture that is always wonderful to visit.   And the scenery is often sublime. A mix of the desert southwest with some high Rockies terrain thrown in..often with mere tens of miles from each other.

I love this area: The food, the history, the culture, the scenery…and I enjoy returning when I can.

My someone and I wanted to get away this weekend. She did not want to do a backpacking trip, but a camping and hiking trip with perhaps a little site seeing thrown in.

The place that came to mind was the Spanish Peaks in south-central Colorado.

The Spanish Peaks from

Rather distinct peaks and aesthetically pleasing peaks. These peaks  are, to me, the gateway to the part of Colorado that is more Native and Spanish rather than Anglo influenced.   The Utes referred to these peaks as Wahatoya or “Breasts of the World”.

My own personal history, besides driving past them countless times over the years, is that I did some trailwork on West Spanish Peak back in 2003 as my first trail project.

And someone was always curious about this peak as well.

And, for my own part, after fifteen years of living in the Boulder area, I am running out of places to camp/hike/backpack/ski that are:

  • Within relatively easy driving distance (Four hours is about the outer edge I want to do for a two-day weekend).
  • Places I have not seen numerous times
  • …and in the increasingly crowded Front Range of Colorado, don’t have a bazillion of my closest friends to share it with on the trailhead or the roads!

Perhaps it is a failing on my part, but I confess the need to try new things in my life and to have different experiences.  Be it a new job or new places to hike. Otherwise I get bored and a tad (!) grumpy.

With these background thoughts in mind, we packed the car up Saturday morning and made our way down I-25.

We drove past the sprawl of Denver, past the sprawl of Colorado Springs and past Pueblo.

Wide open spaces finally started again in earnest. The Spanish Peaks were spotted and we exited off the freeway.

Soon we arrived in the small hamlet of La Veta, Colorado.

Since it was later in the morning, we decided to play tourist a bit.

This small, compact village has some interesting art galleries, a basic grocery store and a killer bakery. Some dark roast coffee, some delicious pastry made with local ingredients and a stroll in the downtown area was a great way to spend a couple of hours before driving up to Cordova Pass and making camp for the evening.

Part of the stroll went by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad stop in La Veta. Until I perused their website, I did not realize how extensive the rail tours can be had from Durango, CO to northern New Mexico and up to Canon City, CO.  

(Note: I was lazy this weekend and just took iPhone snaps! 🙂 )

West Spanish peak in the background

We also soaked up a little local history and went to  Fort Francisco in the center of the original town.  A trading post rather than a military fort, it was remarkably well preserved. Unlike Fort Bent, much of the structure was still original at Fort Francisco. Astounding to look at 150 year old ORIGINAL adobe walls still in good repair.   The museum inside was also quite good. It had all kinds of pieces that reflected the cultures of the area. Especially interesting was a room that had a small, but excellent, collection of Ancestral Pueblo pottery, some recent (“only” about 150+ year old!) Apache baskets and another room full of items from the Spanish families that settled in the area.  What an unexpected gem!

After this bit of culture, we made our way up to the pass and steadily gained elevation.

We arrived at the pass and made camp in the small USFS campground conveniently located at the West Spanish Peak trailhead.

We settled in for the night and almost had the place to ourselves.

We enjoyed the view towards West Spanish Peak and other mountains from the pass.

The sunset was especially nice.

The following morning we strolled across the dirt road and made our way up the trail. The first 2.5 miles of trail is very gentle.

The last one mile on the other hand…

The patch of green in the bottom right is where the trail REALLY starts to climb up the obvious ridge at treeline

At treeline, we’d be cairn hopping through talus and scree.

We climbed up the steep approach.

Perhaps a half-mile from the summit, the views were rather nice.

Alas, a perhaps a 1/4 mile from the summit, the clouds started getting black and the wind started to pick up. The summit was not going anywhere. We headed down.

The thunder we heard and the lightning we saw as we approached treeline made our decision a good one!

We made it back to the car and enjoyed a lunch before heading back down the pass. One last stop for coffee in La Veta and we were on our way back.

And uneventful, if traffic filled drive near Denver,  (I went around it via C-470!) and we made it to Boulder. Gear was unpacked, pets were attended to and we sat on our small deck, cracked open a beer and enjoyed the more modest, but still pleasant looking, foothills that form the backdrop of our home.

Another nice little weekend.

If you should go

  • The Summit Post page has the trailhead info for West Spanish peak and a link to a topo map
  • The standard route is only ~7 miles R/T and 2500′ gain.
  • If you do East Spanish peak as well,  it is about 17 miles R/T and almost 9000′ of gain.  Not about to drag my better half up that way.. 🙂
  • Camping information here. Normally we’d prefer a free spot, but our atlas showed the obvious flat areas to be on private land. And Cordova Pass was both convenient and lovely.
  • The USFS site lists the use as “heavy”. Perhaps for  the area. Being used to the vast amounts of people in my immediate area, I found the amount of people we saw rather light.


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