• Bachelor Loop Historic Tour - Creede

    mines 0004This 17-mile driving tour loops through Creede’s historic silver mining district and ghost towns. The tour’s first interpretive stop is just north of Creede in Willow Creek Canyon at the juncture of East and West Willow creeks. A passenger car can traverse the graded gravel road to the Equity Mine and then return to Creede via Bachelor Road (FS Road 504) and the old town site of Bachelor.

    Guidebooks, keyed to numbered markers along the loop, are available at the Creede Visitor Center and various businesses. The 25-page guidebook with map costs $1.00. The loop road has some narrow stretches and steep grades that require caution. Check on road conditions during inclement weather. Several 4-wheel-drive roads lead off the tour route into less accessible terrain. Allow a minimum of 1 hour for the tour.

  • History of the Area

    Where legends whisper to those who listen...

    Baxterville, the early settlement that is now South Fork


    THE UTES: Prior to 1868, the Capote (Kapota) band of Ute Indians lived throughout the region of the southwest that includes the San Luis Valley. A hunting and gathering people, they called themselves “Nuche” or “Nuustiyu,” meaning “the people” or “the mountain people.” They were called “Yutas” by Spanish explorers, then “Utes” as the United States expanded. In the summer, the “Nuutsiys” lived in extended nomadic family groups, and often wintered in New Mexico orNorthern Arizona.  The Utes made a treaty of peace with the United States in 1849. Shortly thereafter, settlers from New Mexico established several settlements in Colorado. In 1868, the Utes were removed to a reservation in western Colorado, until they lost their expansive reservation as a result of the Meeker massacre in 1879.

    THE TOWN OF SOUTH FORK: Prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1882, South Fork was primarily known as a stage stop where passengers could stretch before continuing on to northern destinations. The railroad brought cheap and reliable transportation, allowing residents to profit from the area’s abundant resources. Saw mills sprung up to supply local timber to the ever-growing railways and surrounding mining districts. Cattle and sheep were introduced during these early years. In the 1870s, vegetable production, mainly cauliflower, lettuce, potatoes and peas, were the main agricultural resources grown between South Fork and Del Norte. In the latter part of the 20th Century to present day, the tourism industry proved most important to South Fork’s continued economic development. One of Colorado’s newest towns (incorporated in 1992), South Fork remains a regional hub for agriculture, timber, breathtaking scenery, boundless wildlife and family-oriented adventure!

    MasonicParkMASONIC PARK:  This was the first Masonic Park in the United States. The land was homesteaded in 1892, and consisted of 160 acres.  In 1914, the San Luis Valley Masonic Association purchased the property to be used as an annual meeting place.  After a bridge was built over the Rio Grande and a water system was installed, the park was platted and lots were available for sale to approximately 800 members.

    Shaw Ranch

    BARLOW AND SANDERSON STAGE COMPANY:  In 1874, the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Company’s line reached from Missouri to Del Norte but needed to continue west. Alonzo Hubbard was hired to build roads from Del Norte to Antelope Springs, and on to Lake City. Not only was it a passenger route for the company, it provided freight to the quickly developing mining areas.  A few toll roads built by a young Russian, Otto Mears, also became part of this route. From Del Norte going west, the first stage stop was at the Edwin Shaw Ranch, famous for their hay and hospitality.  Located at the present day Rest Area on Highway 160, the little cabin overlooking the Highway is part of the original ranch.  The way station for changing horses was at Bunker Hill, a mile down the road. In 1883, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had achieved building rail lines from Del Norte to Wagon Wheel Gap and on to Lake City, making the Stage Route obsolete. Parts of the Barlow / Sanderson road can still be seen along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway.

    Church2Campos grain pic final

    HOLY FAMILY CATHOLIC MISSION: By the 1870’s farmers and ranchers were well established in South Fork, having filed claims for their land under the 1862 Homestead Act. One of these pioneers, Jose Campos, would have descendants who were still farming his land in the 1930’s. For many years, the Campos family invited the mission priest to celebrate Mass services in their home amidst the wheat fields, until they donated the property for a church to be built. The Church was built in the early 1940’s where Mass services still continue today.


    General Palmer: General William Jackson Palmer was a visionary who possessed unbounded enthusiasm for building railroads across the west. His tremendous energy brought the Denver & Rio Grande narrow-gauge line from Denver to Pueblo, and hundreds of miles of track across the San Luis Valley. These narrow gauge tracks (thinner by 1-2 feet) allowed rail cars to navigate the steep grades and sharp curves throughout the San Juans. Palmer’s D&RG routes ensured shipment of San Juan Territory resources throughout the western United States.  Palmer became one of the richest railroad barons in America. 1883, Palmer’s rails stretched to Wagon Wheel Gap, home to his newly opened Hotel & Hot Springs Resort, which today is the 4UR Guest Ranch. Due to a crippling horse accident in August of 1907, Palmer himself did not get to visit the resort much. His vacation home still stands, and serves as the Ranch’s recreation hall.

    Water Tower

    D&RG Water Tower: In 1881, South Fork’s Denver & Rio Grande Railroad water tower signaled the arrival of the railroad to South Fork, and an end to the famous Barlow and Sanderson Stage Line. A wellspring from nearby Harper Mountain, located east of the present day structure, fed plenty of water to thirsty steam engines. The spring replenished the large tower, and a tin water spout was lowered to fill steam engines before the journey west to Wagon Wheel Gap or the Creede Mining District. The D&RG Water Tower was refurbished in 2002 with a Colorado Historical Society preservation grant.

    Old train in Creede

    D&RG Rail Line: By 1883, the Denver & Rio Grande Rail Line reached Wagon Wheel Gap, bringing tourists to a mineral hot springs resort owned by the Railroad’s founder. In 1891, it was extended to the mining towns north of South Fork to transport precious minerals and metals out of Willow Creek Canyon. Stringtown, Jimtown and Amethyst were thriving mining camps. Jimtown was eventually renamed Creede after Nicholas C. Creede struck silver and opened the Holy Moses mine. The D&RG Railroad shipped millions of dollars in high quality ore and minerals from these mines. The town of Creede was officially incorporated on June 13, 1892. It was the second town (Telluride, Colorado, being the first) to have electric lights along streets and in homes. This new phenomenon caused Cy Warman to pen this verse in his infamous poem about Creede: “Its day all day in the day-time And there is no night in Creede.”

    Opening of Wolf Creek PassWOLF CREEK PASS:  In 1916 the automobile boom developed a need for a direct route across southern Colorado. The chosen route, known as the Spanish Trail/Grand Canyon Highway, followed along Wolf Creek. The route was funded by the Del Norte Commercial Club, the towns of Del Norte and Pagosa Springs, Rio Grande and Archuleta Counties, the State of Colorado, the US Forest Service and the US Government.  The purpose was to benefit tourism in one of the most picturesque areas of Colorado.  Monte Vista businessmen also worked with a federal grant to help improve the roads from Walsenburg to Durango. In August of 1916, the South Fork and Wolf Creek Pass was officially opened with a state-wide celebration.

    WOLF CREEK SKI AREA: By 1930, a movement in the State of Colorado was made to promote skiing.  In 1935, Wolf Creek Ski Area had begun. It originated from a San Luis Valley group of men and women who loved to ski.  Invitations were sent to various Chambers of Commerce to discuss possible locations.  An area near Creede was considered; however, skiers from Monte Vista found a spot on Wolf Creek Pass that offered ski slopes for all levels of skiers.  The original area was on the north side of Highway 160. In 1955, the ski area was relocated across the highway to the present location, adding the installation of a rope tow. Shortly thereafter, the Wolf Creek Ski Development Corporation was formed. In 1960, the Corporation sold the area to a Dallas firm who ran it for two years, after which it came back under the control of the Wolf Creek Ski Development Corporation.

  • Logger Days Festival

    Friday, July 19 - Sunday, July 21, 2019

    South Fork celebrates the area’s culture and history during the 27th Annual Logger Days Festival. Events and competitions taking place throughout the weekend celebrate the time-honored tradition of logging, an initial economic draw for the area.  Crowd-favorite competitions include chainsaw carving, the ax throw, the two-man cross cut, and a relay-type race with team members pulled from the audience.

    Logging Competitions • Live Music • 70+ Arts, Craft & Food Vendors • Live Music
    Kids Area:  train rides, pony rides, sawdust pit contest, face painting • More
    Free – Open to the Public

    Logger Days hours are as follows:

    Friday, July 20:  1 pm - 5 pm
    Saturday, July 21:  9 am - 5 pm 
    Sunday, July 22:  9 am - 4 pm

    History of This Annual Event

    You are surrounded by more than 2 million acres of forest. This mountain land has produced lumber since the 1870s, when the first loggers arrived — and the trees are still growing — a slow dance of green growth. The Annual Logger Days continues a festive tradition of making work skills fun! Loggers and their friends compete in contests to gage their skills as lumberjacks:

    • Men, boys, and girls throw spinning hatchets at targets
    • Axes and saws drop tall poles to exact spots on the ground
    • Cheer along as noisy chain saws cut logs into precise pieces
    • Hold your breath as climbers scurry up a 60 foot pole

    Who Participates in Events? Experts at logging, milling, and forestry and Amateurs who want to experience the thrill!


    LOGGERS: Woodsmen who use saws and axes to cut down trees, cut and trim them into logs, then move them to the roadside or the sawmill. They must be experts with horses (real or mechanical), saws, axes, poles, ropes, and especially good sense.
    MILLERS: Machinery experts who shape logs into finished boards, posts, poles, flooring, railroad ties, and dozens of other products.  Around a dozen portable mills were scattered throughout the forest, as well as the center of South Fork from the 1870s until 2001. In the 1950-60s, the South Fork mill was the biggest in the state of Colorado. Five small mills still hum in the San Luis Valley.
    FORESTERS: Scientists who plan balanced use of federal, state, and private forests for long-term production of wood, water, wildlife, recreation, grazing, and wilderness. They work all over this area.

    Raw Materials

    Logger Days events celebrates the Tree and Wood production processes in the forest. For the past 130 years, the most valuable trees have been:
    • Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). These trees have dense, strong wood suitable for railroad ties, bridges, and framing.
    • Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and Blue spruce  (P. pungens). These trees have lighter wood, good for paneling, ceilings, decorations, shelving, etc.
    • Firs - white and sub-alpine (Abies spp.) and Aspen (Populus tremuloides). These softer woods weren’t really “commercial” as lumber until recently. Aspen is  used for matches and excelsior, as well as ceiling and wall panels.


    Life in the Woods

    Loggers were tough and alert while doing dangerous work in beautiful country.  Some of the loggers and millers in this area were Ute Indians, the original inhabitants. Hispanics, whose ancestors came into the San Luis Valley in the 1850s, were among the most skilled sawmillers and loggers. In the past 50 years, loggers and skidders from Arkansas and Alabama left home to work in these San Juan Mountains. 

    Some were skilled horse loggers in the 1940s to the 1960s, along with local experts such as John Graeser. Well-trained horses pulled downed logs for several hundred yards to roadsides, where trucks could be easily loaded.  In rough terrain, the horse was often quicker than a mechanical tractor-like skidder.

    south-fork-logging-mill1Back in the 1870-1950 period, loggers often spent summer weeks alone or with one or two others in the forest. They built small cabins with simple kitchens, a couple of beds and some were nice enough to even have a front porch. There are still remains of these cabins back in the forest, most of them small ruins that are sinking into the ground. (South Fork’s hiking group comes across several of them every summer.)

    Food was sometimes quite simple in the forest. A welcome logging partner was one who could catch and cook a porcupine and make it taste like a banquet.  Loggers went into South Fork on weekends to see the wife and kids, get fresh clothes and food supplies, go to church (yes, they did!), and maybe have a picnic with their neighbors. By the mid 1950s, they started to commute in cars or pickups, going into town nearly every evening.

    The logging season lasted as long as the snow and muddy roads would allow, usually 5-7 months.  In the winter, men came back to town to settle in until next season, or to work in the sawmill. Some young, single loggers followed the good weather south to get in extra months of work in New Mexico, eastern Texas and Arkansas.

    Where did the Wood Products Go?

    Del Norte was founded in 1871. Naturally, wood was the key building material for the first houses and stores.  Soon, a few stone buildings used the nearby quarry rock.

    Trains reached up to South Fork in 1882. The railroad gradually continued up to Creede. As silver mining grew rapidly, loggers worked hard to harvest Douglas Fir and Pine for strong railroad cross-ties, many thousands of mine props, and related structural timbers. A good supply of these came from both sides of the tracks, several hundred yards up the hills, all along the train route from South Fork to Creede.

    Of course, as South Fork grew, sawmills turned out the lumber and roof materials for new houses, barns and businesses. The Galbreath Mill had a big fire in May of 1920. When renovating, local lumber went into the new sawmill and planer mill. So did a new store, log cabins (for rent), expanded hotel, community building, and even a museum of the lumber industry.  By 1940 Galbreath again modernized his mill and planner, employing 50 people. That year, he produced $40,000 worth of rough and finished lumber. A decade later, the mill employed about 100 people.

    Mills in the area experienced several fires. These often started in the sawdust and shavings piles.  A fire in 1967, at what was then the Douglas Studs Mill, burned 10 million board feet of lumber — doing $2 million worth of damage! This contributed to what had already been recognized as a decline in the timber business.  The once proud “biggest mill in the state” was now just producing low-profit 2 x 4 studs. The main source of raw material was no longer coming from the Rio Grande National Forest.
    Long-haul costs from New Mexico and other sources caused the company to gradually shut down. By 2001, the closure was complete. South Fork’s sawmill days were over, memorialized only in a grassy property across the tracks from the town’s railroad siding in front of the Spruce Lodge.  The lodge’s guests now help support the local economy of Colorado’s youngest incorporated town.

  • Museums in the Area

    del-norte-MuseumRio Grande County Museum & Cultural Center

    Del Norte, Colorado. Exploring the history and culture of Rio Grande County and the Upper portion of the San Luis Valley can be experienced at the Rio Grande County Museum and Cultural Center.  There are learning experiences for all ages. Native Americans and photos of “Rock Art”, fur trappers, Fremont’s Fourth Expedition, the settlers from New Mexico with the Mexican Land Grants and farmers, ranchers , loggers, merchants and the gold seekers who settled the area are all represented in exhibits and research. 

    The Museum Gift Shop offers a variety of books of local interest and some by local authors as well as showing art work of local artists.  During the summer months, art shows by local artists are featured.

    Summer Hours: 10am - 4pm Tues-Fri, 10am - 3pm
    Saturday Admission $2. Free for Military
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  •  719-657-2847

    creede underground mining museumCreede Underground Mining Museum

    One of Creede’s most popular attractions, the Underground Mining Museum, comprises a series of rooms and tunnels blasted into the cliff face of Willow Creek Canyon at the north edge of town. Visitors receive a first-hand taste of the miner’s subterranean experience through a series of demonstrations and exhibits in shafts bored specifically for that purpose. Exploring both early silver mining techniques and more recent technology, the Underground Mining Museum provides a fascinating insight into a very important part of western Americana. An exhibit hall with minerals and artifact displays provides a colorful prelude to tours guided by experienced hard rock miners. Self-guided CD tours are available anytime, and guided tours are available by appointment in summer.

    Summer Hours (May 24-Sep 13) • 10am - 4pm Daily
    Winter Hours (Sep 14-May 23) • 10am - 3pm Mon-Fri
    www.undergroundminingmuseum.com • 719-658-0811

    creede-museumCreede Historical Museum & Library

    Housed in the Old Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot in downtown Creede next to Basham Park, the museum reflects the efforts of an active and dedicated local historical society. Creede’s first hand-drawn fire wagon, early pioneer utensils, a horse-drawn hearse, gambling equipment and devices, a large photo collection, early newspapers, and troves of memorabilia and other artifacts comprise the Creede Historical Society’s collections. The museum and library archives provide casual visitors, historians, and genealogical researchers with opportunities to examine the daily lives of the homesteaders, prospectors, miners, entrepreneurs, lawmen and notorious characters who helped shape Creede/Mineral County’s colorful history.

    The Creede Historical Library is located in a small cabin next to the museum. The Library provides research information, books and photos of Creede, Mineral County and Western Colorado. The Library’s photo collection contains thousands of photos. To help archive and maintain the photo collection, copies of individual photos are sold for personal or publication use.

    Museum Hours: 10am - 4pm Mon-Sat • 1pm - 4pm Sunday
    Open Memorial Day to Labor Day
    Library Hours: Open Year-Round • Thurs, 1 pm-4pm or by appt.
    www.creedehistoricalsociety.com   •  719-658-2004

    Visit  www.museumtrail.orgfor info on 20+ other museums in the area

    Other Historical Sites & Points of Interest in the Area

    • Bachelor Loop & Ghost Town
    • Freemont's Camp
    • Pfeiffers Grave
    • Summitville Abandoned Gold Mine
    • Stone Quarry
    • Old Spanish Trail
    • Wagon Tracks (possibly from conostoga wagons crossing the San Luis Valley)
    • Oldest Church in Colorado - Conejos
    • Cumbres & Toltec Scenic & Historic Railroad
    • Stations of the Cross - San Luis
    • Jack Dempsy Museum - Mannasa
    • Fort Garland
    • Pikes Stockade - Sanford

    While these are just a few of the historical sites in the area travelers may encounter numerous other abandoned homesteads, mining & logging camps in the surrounding mountains. In an area that can be traced back to the Ute indians, their is no guarantee what a traveler may find. One only has to keep an open mind, and eye in order to see the rich past, flourishing in the thriving communities of today.

  • Penitente Canyon & La Garita Arch

    Penitente-Canyon-Climber-unknown-photographerExperience the Power of Place

    Grab breakfast in town before heading east towards the San Luis Valley. To take the “scenic route” east, turn off at the Ute Bluff Lodge onto CR 19, cross the mighty Rio Grande and follow the paved/dirt CR 15 as it snakes along the river, through scenic ranches and farmland for about fifteen miles. Consider  a detour at the sign for Colonel Pfeiffer’s Grave, and visit the land granted to him by the Native Utes. Pass by Indian Head and other unusual and remarkable mountain outcroppings. Zigzag south-east-north just before getting onto Colorado 112 and travel north along the outer edge of the Valley for just over 2 miles. Follow the signs for Penitente Canyon and La Garita, and turn onto CR33/38A.

    You will first take an 11 mile round-trip expedition to see the Arch, or La Ventana (spanish for “window”), one of southern Colorado’s most unusual natural formations. Note the interesting geology of the area: about 33 million years ago during a period of explosive volcanic activity, large amounts of volcanic debris and ash were ejected into the air. Heat and pressure formed the ash into very hard rock, and millions of years worth of erosion deteriorated the softer material, leaving behind what we see today! The Arch was carved out of a volcanic “dike” and you might notice the signs of weathering on nearby companion arches.

    To see the Natural Arch: Take a left off of Rd 33/38A onto FS 660/Rd A32. Follow this road for 4.1 miles. Take FS 659/ Rd 35C and go another 1.6 miles north.

    South Fork to the Natural Arch: aprox 1 hr drive.

    Return to Road 38A and continue north-bound. Next up is Penitente Canyon, a designated Special Recreation Area with something for everyone!

    Doug-Knudson-PenetenteFor the sight-seer, hiker and history buff: Take the short hike up to see the Wagon Wheel ruts, a part of the Old Spanish Trail that served as a pack-animal route for traders traveling west to California in the mid-1800s. Wander throughout the unusual canyons in search of the San Luis Valley’s largest collection of pictographs. Most is the work of indigenous peoples who lived in the area 2,000 years ago, but a newer example is the faded blue Madonna high up on a rock face, reportedly painted by locals in the mid 1900s.

    For the rock climber: Penitente Canyon is an internationally recognized climbing area, providing 60-70 incredible sport climbing routes. The unusual volcanic landscape (rock that eroded and cracked over time) not only created a mystical backdrop for recreation, but the smoothed and rounded rock-face provides good hand-holds! South facing routes can be climbed year-round and range from beginner to advanced levels.

    Penitente LSVPLC

    For the mountain biker: 2 mountain bike loops offer a great opportunity to see the area. The B-loop is best for the beginner, while the A-loop is more fun for an advanced rider. Each route is less than three miles, and can also be hiked.

    If you need a snack break, return to CR 38A and drive the short distance to the town of La Garita. Stop at the Cash Store, an old log cabin turned general shop. Visit the picturesque 1924 Catholic church that today houses the San Juan Art Center. Make your return trip via Del Norte. Consider a stop by the Rio Grande County Museum for more about the local heritage and make a note to ask about Colonel Pfeiffer, a well know and respected Indian Agent!  Wander Grand Avenue’s antique shops and art galleries, and have dinner at the Historic Windsor Hotel.

    Penitente NaturalArch 01



    Learn more at  www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/riogrande/recarea/?recid=64790

    Download a detailed map of the area