Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wheeler Geologic Area

The most important destination on our camping trip last week was the Wheeler Geologic Area. This little known place was actually Colorado's first National Monument, but because of it's remoteness it was later transferred to the Forest Service as a part of the La Garita Wilderness in the Rio Grande National Forest. It was named Wheeler in honor of Captain George Wheeler who explored and surveyed the area in 1874 for the U.S. Army. Even though this is under the care of the Forest Service, when we stopped at the ranger station in Creede, they told us they had no idea what the current conditions of the road were. To get there from Creede, go southeast on highway 149 for 7.3 miles and turn left at Pool Table Road #600. It is about a ten mile easy dirt road to the Hanson Mill site which is just a pile of sawdust now. From this point, you can either hike 8.4 miles (one way) to the Wheeler Geologic Area or drive 13 miles like we did. Much of the information about the drive is sketchy, and some even claim that it takes longer to drive than to hike, which is a ridiculous statement if you know how to drive on a difficult 4-wheel drive road. Jay drove it in less than 2 hours and there is no way I could hike 8.4 miles in less time than that.
Remember you can click on any photo to enlarge it for a better view.
This is the sign near the Hanson Mill site. There is a pit toilet here and it would be a good place to camp.
I took several pictures of the road since we had a hard time finding out any details about it. It is a rough, eroding road sometimes with jagged rocks, sometimes with deep ruts where the road is washing away. It's definitely a good idea to make sure the area has been dry for several days before attempting it.
There were a lot of free range cattle along the way.
The camera shy cow.
At the end of the road a little bit of the Wheeler Geologic Area comes into view.
From the end of the 4x4 road, the hike around the formations is a 3.2 mile loop.
Starting up the trail.
The amazing formations finally come into view. I think the information from describes the area the best:
"This is the Wheeler Geologic Area. Once proclaimed a national monument, the status was later rescinded because it was so hard to get to, and it would not be easily tamed to cater to the tourists that might manage to make the arduous journey. So the secret of the magnificent Wheeler Monument faded into obscurity, which was no doubt a blessing in disguise. Today, intrepid and tenacious explorers with patience, four-wheeling skills and a love of exploration on foot are the only visitors. Even so, Wheeler sees few folks compared to other nearby attractions, and most of its day is blanketed by a smothering silence and an occasional San Juan breeze. The surrounding San Juan mountains were formed by volcanic activity. Major eruptions deposited a layer of ash, varying in depth over the region to as deep as five hundred feet. Buried and compressed into rock, then uplifted and exposed to the elements, this gray volcanic “tuff” layer tended to erode in interesting ways over the centuries that followed. Evident around Creede, Lake City, near Uncompahgre Peak and at the Window near the Rio Grande Pyramid, the bizarre tuff formations added another unique touch to the allure of the San Juans. But nowhere are the tuff formations more spectacular and wonderfully strange than at Wheeler. Water chutes, towers, balanced rocks, narrow grottos, pinnacles and eggs of stone create a maze of unearthly character. Hikers will explore Wheeler for hours and not see it all, despite its compact nature of one square mile. This is a place of wonder, fascination and discovery. You’ll never see anything like it anywhere else. Welcome to planet Wheeler! In the spirit of submissions to SummitPost such as Island in the Sky, Black Ridge and Grand Canyon, Wheeler Geologic Area is offered, albeit on a much smaller scale. Because of its remote location and practically unknown status, Wheeler remains a very special place that is worth your time and effort, should you ever get the opportunity to discover it."
There was a huge assortment of mushrooms growing along the trail. All of the rain we have had this summer has really helped out the fungi. These unusual ones caught Savanna by surprise and she thought it was a snake at first.
Jay found some kind of hip joint along the trail.
A mushroom village.
The hiking trail loops up around behind the formations, so we were well above 11,000 feet in elevation here since we were camping at about 11,000 feet.
The shelter cabin would be a nice place for a backpacker to camp.
I called this the Hoodoo Choir.
Here is our primitive campsite with our tent nestled in the trees. You can see the tallest of the formations above the Jeep. The only people we saw had driven in on 4-wheelers or dirt bikes. They hiked up the trail and then left as quickly as they had arrived. There was one other Jeep that showed up but the guy only got out and asked Jay if he had to go back out the way he came in. When Jay said yes, the guy just said thanks and left immediately. He really missed out on something special!


DaveO said...

Fantastic place, Lisa! Those volcanic formations are really spectaular!

Lois said...

Beautiful pictures and great information Lisa! I would never have known about this place, so thanks for sharing.

Barb said...

These are great photos, Lisa! I thought the mushrooms were snakes, too!