aspens in color

Colorado Highway 149 leaves South Fork heading northwest and crosses the Rio Grande within half-a-mile. Four-and-a-half more miles is the entrance to the 1.8 million acres of the Rio Grande National Forest. The highway travels in the bottom of a deep, broad canyon here. Coller State Wildlife Area spreads along the river, providing crucial winter habitat for elk and deer.

The walls of the canyon are composed of welded volcanic tuff - the Rio Grande Palisades. Palisades Campground is ten miles out of South Fork. This is a popular place for river rafters,with 13 campsites. The river from here to South Fork is an easy and scenic half-day run.

No Colorado vacation would be complete without a drive and a few stops along this beautiful and historic Scenic Byway, and really, check out the whitewater rafting on these world-class rivers.

After eleven miles the canyon gets narrower and the highway suddenly turns beneath an escarpment of tall cliffs with immense talus slopes cascading down. This break in the volcanic cliffs is known as Wagon Wheel Gap, named for an abandoned wagon wheel found here in 1873. Just west of the river here is a privately-owned natural hot springs that was commercially developed back when the railroad first came into this valley.

Silver Thread
Looking south into Cottonwood Cove
Wagon Wheel Gap
The refurbished station house at Wagon Wheel Gap (now private property)

The scenery changes dramatically north of Wagon Wheel Gap. For five miles the valley gets wider and grassier until the highway enters the historic mining town of Creede. The mountain views are great through here. It's just north of Wagon Wheel Gap that the forestry road cuts off to the northeast and heads for Wheeler Geological Area.