Once a wild western cornerstone in the heyday of Colorado high country railroads, today the Texas Creek area is a cornerstone for classic Colorado outdoor recreation along the lower Arkansas River mountain corridor.
Texas Creek Recreation Area is a popular area for offroading, located just a few miles east of Cotopaxi on U.S. Highway 50. The area is named after the unincorporated settlement of Texas Creek, which is centered on the intersection of Fremont County Road 27 into the Bureau of Land Management recreation area, north, and U.S. Highway 50. The area of Texas Creek Recreation Area was historically used by the Ute Native Americans, before European exploration and settlement in the late 19th century.
Texas Creek Recreation Area is basically a network of offroad trails, some accessible only by ATVs, some accessible by both ATVs and high-clearance vehicles. See the BLM map:
Texas Creek: A Tale of the Wild West
Plot twist: it’s not actually a “tale” because it actually happened. The Texas Creek area was relatively untouched by European explorers until the 1800s, and in 1880 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad built a station at what’s now known as the small community of Texas Creek. The first settlement was known as “Ford”, which was not much more than a stagecoach stop for the railroad. There was also a small store, saloon, and boarding house. Ranchers who settled in the area raised cattle, and a small schoolhouse was opened for children living in the area. To this day, ranchers still maintain herds of cattle in the Texas Creek area.
Texas Creek got its name from two cattlemen who were traveling through the area destined for Leadville, bringing a herd of longhorn Texas steers to sell for meat. They camped in the area next to a creek, and in the night the cattle were startled by a mountain lion, scattered, some never to be retrieved. After this ordeal, they named the creek Texas Creek.
Note: this is not related to the commonly known Clear Creek in Clear Creek County, which is a tributary of the South Platte River, and flows through Golden, CO.
A Fisherman’s Oasis, Accessible Year-Round
Clear Creek Reservoir is directly off U.S. 24, on Chaffee County Road 390. In the winter months, ice-fishing is a popular activity on the reservoir. In the summer months, the reservoir is open to boats, and there are numerous camping areas close to the reservoir. There is a restroom at the main boat dock parking area, but no camping is allowed here. Numerous pull-offs exist beyond the first parking area, that provide additional access to the reservoir shore.
Vicksburg is off the beaten path. There aren’t any fancy signs pointing travelers in the direction of the once 700-resident strong mining settlement. At its peak, there were some 40 buildings, including a post office, school, blacksmith, a general store, two hotels, two billiard halls, an assay office, a livery stable, and a handful of saloons. There was a daily stagecoach transporting people to and from Granite and beyond. In current times, Vicksburg is effectively a ghost town, even through there are several cabins which remain seasonally occupied by residents who are descendants of some of the original settlers.
Vicksburg is on the National Register of Historic Sites. A small museum facility is maintained by the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society, with a couple preserved buildings and old equipment which was used in the heyday of the small settlement. The museum is only staffed by volunteers in the warm months, but as early as April, it was accessible.
First County Seat of the 17 Original Counties of Colorado
What is now known as Twin Lakes was once the site of Lake County’s first county seat, Dayton. Lake County was one of Colorado’s original 17 counties, established by the Colorado Legislature in 1861. Twin Lakes has been a tourist attraction since as early as the 1870s, when it became an important stop along the route to the gold and silver mines of Aspen. The Interlaken Hotel, located on the south side of Twin Lakes, was founded in 1879 and had some of the best amenities available of the time.
Long Canyon is a fun way to the Island in the Sky mesa from Moab. A moderate offroad route just by virtue of the very top end, Long Canyon offers brilliant views of the La Sal Mountains framed by a canyon setting found nowhere else in the world than the Utah canyonlands.
Long Canyon is just another example of the gems you can find, simply by looking at a map and taking the road less traveled.
Access to Long Canyon Rd. from Moab is simple; north out of town on the main drag, just turn west (left) on Utah Route 279, signed as Potash. Route 279 follows the north bank of the Colorado River, as it winds through the canyon during the first segment. Long Canyon will be a right turn from UT-279, just after the Jug Handle Arch. There is parking to hike to the arch at the beginning of Long Canyon Rd., signed.
They call it Aspen Ridge because it’s a ridge that’s covered in aspen trees. Who would’ve guessed? Aspen Ridge is traversed by Forest Road 185, which provides a fun little offroad route from the Fourmile Area/U.S. 285/24 to Salida. Aspen Ridge is passable by stock SUVs in dry conditions, and features open meadows, dense forests, old mines, wide views of the Collegiate Peaks and plenty of dispersed campsites.
For a several miles you’re pretty much driving through a forest consisting exclusively of aspen trees. Unfortunately, when we did this trail, it was too late in the fall for the leaves to still be the magnificent yellow/orange/red they become. But it was still a fun trail and certainly a place on the bucket list to return to next September during the peak color season for aspens. It’s a great trail to run right after doing Lenhardy Cutoff or Sevenmile Creek Rd., just to the north in the Fourmile Recreation Area.
Sometimes I have the issue of being a “yes man”. I end up driving halfway across the state on a whim just because someone put the bright idea in my head that I ought to spend yet another weekend adventuring random places out in the great outdoors. I guess you could call that a good weekend (but kind of run-of-the-mill for my crew and I). Sure beats sitting on the couch. Also beer, for some odd reason, tastes way better in the great Colorado outdoors than in my house.
Quite the fun offroad route from U.S. 285/24 in South Park to Buena Vista, the Lenhardy Cutoff offers plenty of adventure for all types of activities. Lenhardy Cutoff is simply another example of a road which exists solely to support the industries of the youthful western state of Colorado. Late season adventures brought me here, and we ran the trail from east to west after the nearby Sevenmile Creek Road.
Lenhardy Cutoff is one of two offroad routes from U.S. Highways 24/285 to Buena Vista, and is overall not technical, although a difficult section near the eastern end could prove troublesome for some vehicles.
A garden-variety high mountain offroad pass in Colorado, Weston Pass provides a convenient shortcut between Leadville and Fairplay. Weston Pass is just south of the infamous Mosquito Pass, another high mountain offroad pass. Mosquito pass similarly connects Leadville to Fairplay to the north, yet is much steeper and requires a more well-equipped vehicle than Weston Pass.
So many of the places, areas, and regions that offer opportunities for endless adventure also have an extensive history to them. You’ll notice many of the posts here, in addition to reporting out the logistics of the trip also have a mention, brief or lengthy, of the history of the area. White Rim Road was one of the first posts on here and in fact the trip which inspired me to begin this blog in the first place.
Archaeology is the practice and study of discovering more about human history and activities in a region through finding the physical evidence left by people in the area. While I like to joke that it’s just “the glorified digging up of dead bodies”, which is technically part of it, there is certainly lots more to it.
I’ve found numerous archaeological artifacts during my numerous adventures. Whether they’re cans and pieces of machinery scattered in the forest near the mining camp of Old Roach, an arrowhead cache on the White Rim, petroglyphs and hieroglyphs in Dolores Canyon out of Gateway, CO, half-destroyed ruins of cabins, or sealed mining shafts, there are numerous archaeological artifacts in the west.
Backwoods Wanderers is not about archaeology; its scope is broader and more general in purpose. However, an amazing blog focused on archaeology and the practice of it deserves a shout-out. Leveling the Field is a budding blog, self-described as“a women’s perspective on archaeology”, and is run by two undergraduates, and fellow Rams, Devan and Marie. Full disclosure, this post is totally a shameless plug for them. Pay them a visit and give them some love because they need more content!