Colorado has many Wilderness Areas, but few areas that feel like wilderness, in my opinion. Or perhaps wildness may be a better word.
Old mining roads often bisect the pockets of Wilderness Areas, allowing easy access, and the population pressures make the outdoor places feel crowded.
There are four places in Colorado where I found a strong sense of wildness: The Pawnee and Comanche Grasslands for a start. Though many dirt roads, the few people, and the lack of nearby development give these areas a remote feel (Though the Pawnee Grasslands has more fracking development and the feel is diminished.) The South San Juan Wilderness, where the last grizzly bear in Colorado existed and a memorable part of the Continental Divide Trail.
And the other area, at least in part? The Weminuche Wilderness nearby.
A broad area and perhaps the most scenic place in Colorado. Though the alpine lakes, 14er, and climbing areas can get busy, you can still find pockets away from people where you can immerse yourself for a few days at a time. It is where I planned my vacation back when I lived in the Front Range of Colorado, and the San Juans in total are my favorite overall mountains in many ways.
Over Labor Day Weekend, Joan and I enjoyed some time where we saw a handful of hunters (until the last day near the trailhead) and one interesting fellow I’ll get to in a little bit.
A trailhead area, new to us, can get best described as “hidden in plain sight” with lots of trailheads, a well-maintained dirt road, some obvious loops, and not that far of a drive. And few hikers. Again, the lack of distinctive lakes and 14ers may explain it. But perfect for Joan and me.
The trail we took gained about 3000’+ in total, but the even and steady grade did not make the trek feel onerous but pleasant.
We soon reached the cusp of the treeline and took in the landscape.
Not long after reaching the crest, we encountered a gentleman with a horse camp by himself. We started talking and exchanged stories. It turns out he rode the Old Spanish Trail on horseback a few years back.
As Joan and I more or less live on the old route (I am probably typing where horses came and may have camped!) and visited along the well-known cut-off recently, we continued the discussion with much interest. Richard serves on the board of the Old Spanish Trail organization, wrote the guidebook, and got featured in a documentary about the ride.
As many of my walks took place on historical travel paths, including the Spanish Trail, I was fascinated by talking about history and the outdoors. I’m sure we could have continued the talk long past the hour we stopped. But sunset, and a home for the evening, beckoned.
We found a suitable campsite on a bluff near some tarns with exquisite views all around.
The extensive beetle kill took away some of the area’s majesty, but the sunset and the cliffs above still impressed.
Some morning dew easily dealt with the following day…
.. we soon reached higher and went on the tundra plains.
Walking on the tundra with the expansive views, I must confess to having the Rohan theme stuck in my head!
I do not think Joan appreciated me quoting Theoden for some reason?
Just as well, we encountered no orcs or epic battles; instead, we simply took in the vastness and beauty of the autumn landscape.
We left the divide and entered a park (meadow) and found another fantastic campsite within an aspen grove.
Joan and I joked that for people who do not seek awe-inspiring campsites, we always seem to stumble upon them!
Our hike last day saw us losing elevation but continuing to go through many of these large meadows with views above and any of which would give excellent camping.
After reaching a trailhead, we did a short walk back to our vehicle. But the weekend did not finish. We soon left the mountains and would go to the edge of the Colorado Plateau to see another site…