During our stay at Bristol Head Campground, we explored several forest service roads in the area.
- FR 510: About 4 or 5 miles long. This road began and ended on Highway 149, first switchbacking up a ridge that overlooked our campground, then heading north over a mountain to North Clear Creek and beautiful North Clear Creek Falls before returning to Highway 149. At least one other forest road branched off from this one, one that went to Santa Maria Reservoir that was nestled snugly beneath the cliffs surrounding Bristol Peak, and which was apparently locked up by some private club with exclusive membership. (Translate that to mean absolutely no access for the likes of us, not even to take pictures of the reservoir—a large one, from the looks of it on the map.)
- FR 515 and 514: FR 515 goes by Brown Lakes State Wildlife Area to Hermit Lakes, another privately owned area. FR 514 branches off this road and goes to the top of Black Mountain, which is situated between the drainage for South Clear Creek and North Clear Creek.
- FR 520: This road, which followed the Rio Grande upstream, was the longest we explored. It went past two reservoirs: first, Road Canyon Reservoir, the smallest, then Rio Grande Reservoir, the largest. (By the time we got back to camp, the back of our van was so thickly covered with white dust from the road, it looked like snow.)
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Bristol Head Campground
Here's a view of Bristol Head Campground from FR 510. We ended up staying here almost a week. We didn't plan it that way, but it was such a pleasant place that we kept putting off leaving. This is not a campground for folks who are party animals. But if you tend toward introspection and like your excitement in gentle doses, such as you might get while gazing at the slow-motion dance of each unique sunset, you just might like it here.
(For a full size panorama (333kb) of the above picture of Bristol Head Campground, CLICK HERE.)
This campground is one of the oldest in the area. We were told it was built in 1911 for hunters. It has only 16 campsites strung out along a dirt road that stretches over half a mile along a bench beside South Clear Creek. It also has only one hand pump for water. It also has only vault toilets (four in all), the insides of which were decorated with some lovely nature posters that the Forest Service provides. (The posters were different in each of the four toilets, and of course I had to take pictures of them all.) The altitude here is 9,500 feet, so it also has cold nights, even in summer. We experienced the most gorgeous sunsets every evening we were there, except for one when it rained, and that was okay too.
For a map of FR 510, see here: http://users.aol.com/marcconly/riog.html. Bristol Head campground is near the bottom of the map. (The black triangles are campgrounds.)
Our campsite is near the center of the picture above, the one with the screen cover over the picnic table. To the far right, about a quarter mile away, was the next camper on the west side of us, where there were also several other campsites (not in the picture) near the entrance, including that of the camp host and hostess - lovely people. The bright blue water pump that served the entire campground was located in that area, driven by elbow power. There were two eager boys in the family camping near the pump (their camp is the one at the far right) who always raced over to PUMP WATER for whoever showed up to get some. That water was heaven, just about the best tasting water I've ever tasted! And cold as could be, around 48 degrees F. (We brought two gallons of the water back home, but unfortunately, couldn't bring the scenery along with it.)
The big mountain to the left in the picture is Bristol Peak, aka Bristol Head, which dominates the entire area. In fact, from our campground to Creede as the crow flies due east over Bristol Peak is only about 12-13 miles, but the road trip on Highway 149 around Bristol Peak is a trip of perhaps 23 miles. There's a forest service road to the top of Bristol Peak, but most of that road is for four-wheel drive only.
The creek in the picture is South Clear Creek, which eventually joins North Clear Creek, and together they continue on as Clear Creek until joining the Rio Grande. Late one day after we came back from exploring one of the forest service roads, a fellow camper (Ed Bean, who told Don he was a descendant of Judge Roy Bean) told us that a young moose had stepped over the campground fence (built to keep cattle out—but moose have long legs) and headed down to the creek to browse on the willow trees there. As soon as I could, I took off armed with camera and walking staff and sat waiting on a big rock on the bench above the creek.
I watched and waited for perhaps 30 minutes, hoping also to see some beaver on the creek. I didn't, although I knew they were there. (I did, however, get some butterfly pictures.) I was about to give up on the moose when I noticed some unorthodox movement of the willow branches. Finally, a touch of velvety brown hide began to show here and there beneath the movement, and at last, the moose finally appeared in full view. Here are three non-VTTW shots using telephoto lens (you have to click to see them) that make it look as if I was a lot closer than I really was: Moose 1 Moose 2 Moose 3
I was sitting perhaps 50 yards away from and above the moose, snapping pictures as I watched him eating his way upstream. In the third picture, Don had just said something to me on the walkie-talkie that I carried in my pocket, and when the moose heard Don's voice, he immediately stopped eating and stared straight up at me. I turned the volume down real quick, held my breath, and eased my camera up to take another picture. Click! Satisfied, he lowered his head and went back to chomping on willows.
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Several cabins and a lodge in the back o' the back.
Whoever lives at this cabin had planted a little garden patch. I don't know how much anyone can grow at this altitude, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the low 40's and upper 30's even in August. (Probably only a few cool-season vegetables.)
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Free-ranging cattle have the right of way
Signs warn motorists in this area that cattle aren't fenced in. You watch where you drive, and if afoot, where you step.
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A private camp near Bristol Head
Santa Maria Reservoir, not in this picture, is reached by FR 509, which branches off from FR 510. It's beyond this camp, which is off-limits to non-members. And no, these folks wouldn't let us drive in to see the reservoir or take pictures of it.
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Obviously a beaver pond, but the beavers were probably napping this time of day
This beaver pond was right next to the road, but on a slightly steeper slope than many beaver ponds I've seen.
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No chainsaws needed
This aspen tree appeared to have been cut recently, but there were no beavers around to claim responsibility. Just after we drove past this area, we startled a mule deer in middle of the road ahead who stared at us for a long moment. I believe this was the first mule deer I've ever seen in real life, and oh my, what big ears it had. When I grabbed my camera and started focusing it, he just wasn't there; he was a hundred feet away, bounding through the trees up the mountainside. Ah, just for another two seconds . . .
North Clear Creek Falls is located near the north end of FR 515 where it rejoins the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. The creek just flows lazily across the landscape, then all of a sudden, Whoof! it spills down 100 feet into an unexpected gorge that just happens to be there. CLICK HERE to see a non-VTTW shot of the falls.
See more information about the geology of the falls at http://users.aol.com/marcconly/riog.html#northclear.
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Wildflowers around Brown Lakes (composite picture)
Now we're exploring another road, FR 515. These lakes are off limits to fishing because the area is designated a wildlife area.
Brown Lakes drain into South Clear Creek, which flows through Bristol Head Campground, as you see in the first picture (and panorama) above.
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Along the Road up Black Mountain
Although some of the trees that have been cut here were those cleared along the road, many of the downed trees throughout a forest floor look like this. It seems that in some or many areas of national forests, there are as many dead trees lying around on the ground as there are still growing.
The word "forest" used to evoke romantic little pictures in my mind, like a Disney forest. After seeing what a real-life, uninhabited-by-man, untended mountainside looks like, I have another view about the birth, growth, and death cycles of a forest. All is not simply pretty little wildflowers and ferns shielding Bambi beneath lush green trees, but death and recycling is just as much a part of a forest as the growth. At close range, the entire process can look rather messy.
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The Road back from Black Mountain
I don't remember if this is still FR 514 or if we're back on FR 515 or not, but both roads travel through countryside like this.
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"You are here"
"You are here" on the far right. (Click here for a larger view of the sign.) "We are going there," to the far left, past Road Canyon and Rio Grande Reservoirs, as far as Lost Trail Campground, where we turned around and drove back. That's about 18 miles of gravel road each way, at some points rather narrowly squeezed between a near straight-up mountain on one side and a steep embankment on the other side. At those points, the road tended to take our minds off the scenery, especially the driver's mind.
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Road Canyon Reservoir
Road Canyon Reservoir is easily accessible, and there were lots of fishing folks who were taking advantage of it.
There were also plenty of ducks and a few geese here too, but they were usually where the people weren't. Click here for a view of some of the ducks (another non-VTTW picture).
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Doesn't this look like a pleasant way to spend some time, and hopefully get a little something for dinner out of it too. This is still at Road Canyon Reservoir.
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Rio Grande River between Rio Grande Reservoir and Road Canyon Reservoir
The bridge in this picture was private and had a lock on the gate that spanned the bridge. The sign said Little Squaw Resort and no trespassing. So we didn't.
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Rio Grande Reservoir
Rio Grande Reservoir has steeper sides and is not as accessible as Road Canyon Reservoir a few miles downstream. I don't remember seeing anyone fishing here that day.
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Looking toward the upper end of Rio Grande Reservoir
Doesn't that cliff on the right look like a person's profile? It does to me. And since this was formerly Indian country, let's make it a profile of an Indian. And while we're at it, we might as well make him a chief. Perhaps we can call him "Chief Who Gazes Longingly Across Water." Or perhaps, "Chief Who Wishes He Could Go Fishing." Or perhaps even, "Chief Who Scowls Because White Man Blast Him Out of His Rock Bed."
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Lost Trail Campground and surrounding mountains
We've driven almost as far as we were going. We checked out the campground in the distance, then turned around and headed back home, that is, home to our own campground. This would have been a lovely place to camp, but the campground was almost full, and Don decided against moving here. It didn't have enough shade to suit him (in spite of cold nighttime temps, the daytime sun can get hot), and it was also a dry camp, which means you have to pack in your own water. He also worried about the road we'd just driven, in case we had to drive out during the night due to some unforeseen emergency.
This is a jumping-off point for various trails into the wilderness. (A place like this makes me wish I had found it 40 years ago!)
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High road above Rio Grande River, near upper end of Reservoir
Time to head back. This stretch wasn't one to travel at high speed, although it appeared that a few people did anyway. (Every time some Jehu would fly past us on these roads at twice the speed most sane people would consider safe, and I turned to look at their tags, they were from Colorado, or sometimes Texas.) We held our breath going around some of these narrow bends, hoping we wouldn't meet one of those speedsters. On the way back, it was my turn to sit near the drop-off edge - two feet from rolling down into oblivion - and I tried not to look down and think about it at the same time. No wonder Donald was getting a little tense earlier when that edge was on his side.