CDT 2021: Day 98, Creede to U.S. Highway 160 and South Fork

And that price includes scenery and wildlife fun

Crossing the Rio Grande

Top O', OldTimer, and I had no idea how we were going to travel north to Wyoming tomorrow, but our plan for today was set. It was simple.

Admittedly too, it was a little extreme.

We intended to walk from Creede to South Fork, a distance of nearly 22 miles. That mileage would be a full day of walking under most circumstances, but it wouldn't complete all of the miles we had left in Colorado. Top O' and I still needed to connect a 7.4-mile gap after that.

When we left the trail on Day 47, we flipped to Wyoming instead of following U.S. Highway 160 into South Fork. OldTimer wasn't with us back then, and he hiked that section before joining us in Wyoming. He won't need to hike those additional miles again.

DateMonday, July 19, 2021
WeatherClear to partly cloudy; temperatures from the lower-50s to upper-70s
Trail ConditionsEasy road walk on asphalt except where conditions made the road dangerous
Today's Miles28.7
Trip Miles1395.6

This day was all about connecting our footsteps before we head north. We may have taken a roundabout way to get where we were, but at least we could sew up a loose end.

We would start by following the Elwood Pass Alternate, which was part of the route we walked after leaving Chama, N.M.

Sprinkler turned on at 4:30 a.m.

The execution of our plan got off to an unexpectedly rough start. Comments in the Guthook app led us to believe the baseball field's sprinklers would turn on at 5:30 a.m. Instead, they began spraying water at 4:30.

We stayed mostly dry inside the dugout, with only a little mist making it inside. This turned out to be a good bedside alarm, which motivated us to start about an hour earlier than planned.

Leaving Creede, Colorado

The baseball field may have been wet, but the weather was dry. The temperature was a little chilly at first.

The whole route today was on highways. This can be a curse and a blessing. Roads are typically much more boring to walk than trails, yet they are usually faster.

We had a well-graded shoulder when we started. With no steep elevation changes, it seemed we would be able to walk quickly and without concern for our safety.

The road out of Creede, Colorado Highway 149, was also part of the Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway. It runs from South Fork through Creede and Lake City before ending in Gunnison.

Crossing the Rio Grande

Our route soon crossed the Rio Grande, the famous river that flows through Colorado and New Mexico before forming the border between Texas and Mexico. The highway then followed the river for the rest of the way into South Fork.

Swallows were circling over the river when we approached it. They were eating bugs that hovered above the water.

Walking on Colorado Highway 149

Traffic was light early in the morning. This was fortunate because the paved shoulder soon narrowed. We now had to walk a closer, less comfortable distance from passing cars.

Approaching Wagon Wheel Gap

The road and the Rio Grande passed through a narrow passage called Wagon Wheel Gap. An old station for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad stood near the gap. The line originally stopped here when tourists came to the gap to enjoy mineral hot springs.

Tracks were extended from there to Creede when silver was discovered in the area. The railroad's passenger service was stopped in 1932, and freight service for everything except ore from mines ended in 1949.

The line is now abandoned. When I saw the tracks along the route, I thought this would be an ideal place for a rails-to-trails conversion. It would make this CDT alternate much more pleasant and safe. I don't know if there has been a proposal for that.

A concrete barrier blocks the highway shoulder

The road walk became much more sketchy when we came to concrete barriers that covered the shoulder. Walking here felt dangerous because we were on the white line where the road curved. This was not a good place for drivers to see us.

There were no barriers on the other side of the road, but there was also no shoulder to walk. The ground sloped steeply from that side of the road down to the Rio Grande. We wouldn't have been any safer crossing to walk on the other side.

I practically hugged the concrete barrier as I walked. All the while, I tried to remain alert in case I needed to jump the barrier to dodge an on-coming car. That never happened, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I got past the blocked shoulder.

A raft floats down the Rio Grande

I crossed the highway when the other side looked safer to walk. While I was there, I saw some people floating in a raft down the river. The river looked mellow, with no whitewater.

As I walked along the highway, I felt a drop of liquid hit the back of my leg. There weren't any rain clouds in the sky. The only source I could think of for this was water sprayed from a passing car.

I felt another drop a minute later. Then another. I checked to make sure my water bottle wasn't leaking, then became more confused when I realized the liquid was slightly oily.

It took a few more minutes and more drops hitting the back of my leg before I finally stopped walking to investigate where they were coming from. That's when I discovered a bottle of insect repellent stowed in my backpack's outer pocket was leaking. The bottle was nearly empty because the cap had loosened.

Entering the village limits of South Fork

My slightly comical situation with the drips caused me to fall behind Top O' and OT. I caught up with them when they stopped to rest in the shade of a tree just outside South Fork's village limits.

Although people have lived and farmed in this region for generations, and it was the site of an important stagecoach stop, South Fork has only been incorporated as a village since 1992. Fewer than 500 people live here.

A wide UTV land next to the highway

The community's economy relies today on tourism and outdoor recreation. The village promotes that with the slogan "Basecamp for Adventure." This can be correctly interpreted as meaning you have to leave here to find adventure.

When we got closer to South Fork, traffic was heavier. We are able to keep a safer distance from it by walking on a lane set aside for four-wheel UTVs.

The first motel we stopped at had no rooms available. We then walked across the highway to the Rainbow Motel, or at least that's what the large sign outside called it. The motel's website says it is the Rainbow Lodge, which seems like an attempt to make it sound grander than the fading 1960s relic it was.

The shag carpet, wood paneling, and mismatched furniture in our room couldn't mask its age. Nevertheless, it was clean and roomy. Best of all, there were three beds. Splitting the cost of $120 three ways made that a reasonably-priced stay.

Top O' holds a sign while trying to hitchhike

After already walking almost 22 miles, Top O' and I were in no mood to immediately add more. We agreed, however, that it was best to do that and not put off the miles until tomorrow. We could then devote all of tomorrow to traveling back to Wyoming.

We had no idea at the time what an advantageous decision this would be.

We checked into our room and then walked to a nearby pizza restaurant for a late lunch. If we had known how difficult getting back on the trail would be, we would have acted more urgently. Instead, we shopped at Dollar General and didn't attempt to hitchhike until well after 4:30 p.m.

Our plan was to hitch a ride to where we left the trail on Day 47. This way, we could finish our Colorado miles by walking back to our motel. Meanwhile, OT kindly offered to do our laundry.

Our attempt to complete the miles got off to a rough start when no one stopped for us. This situation became worrisome as time ticked away. We were getting desperate, so Top O' made a sign, hoping it would make us look a little less like vagrants.

Inside the motorhome

The time passed 6 p.m. before we were picked up. We had nearly given up hope for a ride when a driver going in the opposite direction turned around and stopped. He was of a type that almost never pick up hikers. He was driving a large motorhome.

I have never hitchhiked in an RV before, yet that wasn't what made this my most unusual hitch. The first sign of that was when we climbed into the motorhome. The driver's wife seemed agitated and scrambled to retreat into a bedroom in the back of the motorhome.

Leaving the motorhome as quickly as possible

Her action seemed peculiar, but it wasn't until we stopped at the trailhead that things got bizarre. As soon as Top O' began to step out the door, he caught a glimpse of the wife leaping from a back window high off the ground. Then she ran off into the woods.

Top O' turned to the driver and said, "I think your wife just jumped out the window."

“Again?” he answered, then took off after her.

Not wanting to witness any more weirdness or family drama, we quickly exited to resume our walk.

Top O' walks on U.S. Highway 160

Barely two hours of daylight remained for us to complete the last 7.4 miles along a busy highway. Finishing before sundown seemed unlikely, but we had to try. I was glad we had lightened our packs to only a few essentials.

Passing Riverbend Resort

Four miles down the road, we passed Riverbend Resort, a busy campground and cabin resort. This was a filming location for National Lampoon's Vacation, where it stood in for the fictional "Kamp Komfort."

The resort was one of a couple of filming locations near South Fork for the movie. The other was a roadside picnic area on the other side of town. This was the site of one of the film's most hilarious scenes, where the Griswolds stopped on their road trip and discovered Aunt Edna's dog had pee'd on their sandwiches.

Entering South Fork again

If Top O' and I weren't in such a hurry, the resort might have been a good place to stop for a cold drink. We kept walking briskly and re-entered South Fork at about dusk.

We were hungry by now, and when we saw a Mexican restaurant we decided to stop for dinner. We called OT to see if he wanted to join us, but he had already eaten.

Rainbow Motel, South Fork, Colorado

We arrived back at the motel at 8:45 p.m. It was an exhausting yet satisfying end to the day and our hike in Colorado.

Some unexpected and welcomed news was waiting for us when we walked into the room. OT told us a friend in Denver was willing to drive us to Wyoming. We just needed to get to Denver tomorrow because that was the only day he was free.

We were excited by this news, of course. It solved at least part of our problem of reconnecting with our footsteps to hike north. The matter of getting to Denver was still a big question, but now we could focus on that first thing in the morning.

Everything was falling into place, or so it seemed.

There was one other concern that could affect our hike as we continued north. We learned today the trail had been ordered closed at Lemhi Pass on the Montana/Idaho border. A large forest fire closed about 150 miles of the CDT, requiring a 100-mile alternate route on roads.

This was bothersome, but not something to worry about now. All of our focus for the moment needed to be on getting to Denver.


Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase): We'd like three tents for the night, please.
Kamp Komfort Clerk (Brian Doyle-Murray): All right. That'll be thirty-seven dollars.
Clark: Thirty-seven dollars for three tents?
Clerk: Oh, they're very nice tents. And that price includes scenery and wildlife fun.


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.