The Silver Thread Scenic Byway: Durango to Lake City. Autumn Colour Supreme!

Miles Driven Today:    184              Total Miles Driven:  5430

Today we bade Durango a fond farewell and started our journey east and north back towards Denver on 11th October.  Another absolutely beautiful day: 22C, blue skies, barely a cloud.

We headed east on 160 as far as Pagosa Springs (very pretty town), then headed north on 160 as far as South Fork.  Here we picked up CO 149 – the Silver Thread Scenic Byway which would take us all the way to Lake City and even to Gunnison.  Well…. talk about a scenic byway!!!!  This one, is just amazing.  In many ways far more scenic than the Million Dollar Highway, to the west.  Or maybe it’s just that at the moment, it is an absolute picture perfect advert for autumn.  The aspens are thick on the ground and every shade from the most prevalent saffron yellow, through bright orange to scarlet.  Absolutely amazing.  And it’s a very good road.  Very undertravelled.  It’s called the Silver Thread because for the most part, it follows the Rio Grande river, upriver to its headwaters.  Yep, that would be the Rio Grande that forms part of the USA/Mexico border and flows around 1900 miles from the headwaters to its exit into the Gulf of Mexico.

Much of the byway is through Mineral County, an area that was, and is, rich in precious metals and minerals.  Our first stop was at the atmospheric western mountain town of Creede. website Creede was the last boomtown in Colorado in the very late 1800s.  It mined silver and then lead and zinc until 1985 and it was served by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  The tracks are still there, running alongside the river, but clearly out of service…  even the river bridges are still standing.

Famous people who lived in Creede in its heyday were Robert Ford (the man who shot Jesse James), Bat Masterson and Soapy Smith.  It never became a ghost town, and today is an attractive small town filled with craft shops, art shops, museums, restaurants, outdoor stores and a very thriving repertory theatre.    We had a really good walk round the historic town centre and a much needed coffee.  It sits at the head of a canyon, not closed like a box canyon but with “gates” of great stone cliffs.

A lot of mining history around Creede, old ruins, a museum. Still a lot of interesting minerals, fossils etc in the hills. We chatted to a couple who had gone out rock hunting with a gem store in Creede and were going home whith a huge hunk of jasper.

On we went and had lunch on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande, with the great, yellow aspen ridges all around us.  Just stunning in every direction and around every corner.  We stopped again at an overlook which looked up the river valley to the headwaters of the Rio Grande.  On, and across our old compadre, the Continental Divide (about 10,800), and then winding through the mountains to the Slumgullion Pass at around 11,000 feet.  We stopped at an overlook here to look at the Slumgullion Slide, an enormous landslide, albeit a slow-moving one: It doesn’t crash down the hillside as a mass of rocks, earth and debris. Rather, it creeps along — imperceptibly to casual observers — at about a centimetre a day, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. And research suggests it’s been doing this for at least 300 years.  read more

We descended, past Lake San Christobel to Lake City our centre for the next 2 nights.  We are staying at the Matterhorn Motel which is just lovely, very old fashioned but updated.  website

It was about 415 when we arrived and we just unpacked and relaxed in the peace and quite of this small mountain town.  It’s surrounded by 14,000+ peaks, one of which resembles the Matterhorn, hence the name.  Tomorrow we shall explore the area which we’re looking forward to.  Tonight we cooked dinner in our room – lasagne, red wine and chocolate cake.

If you are in Colorado and are looking for an amazingly scenic road trip, especially this time of year, I can’t recommend this scenic byway highly enough.  Don’t miss it.