Traveling Silver followed the Silver Thread Scenic Highway from South Fork CO, through the old mining town of Creede, ending at Gunnison. Our goal was to explore the Rio Grande National Forest along the way. About halfway up the Silver Thread, we made our way in to Thirty Mile Campground and set camp right on the rocky bank of the Rio Grande River. This is a river that does not resemble the Rio Grande we know in southern New Mexico, where the river creeps between its banks, sneaks underground, and slips along acequias to water patches of chiles and groves of pecan trees. This Rio Grande jumps rocks, digs flash holes and flows wild; it talks in loud voices of rumbles and burbles. We found ourselves about 18 miles from the headwaters of the Rio Grande, starting appropriately on the northern flank of Rio Grande Pyramid Mt at 13,000+ feet. The river remains untamed by the series of reservoirs that capture some of its water, but none of its spirit.
The forest here is decimated by beetle kill and a few old fire scars. You can tell the difference. Fire scars turned aspens into sticks right along with the firs. Beetle kill stripped the fir of their leaves, leaving the aspen relatively green. Entire mountainsides of brown sticks. Seems to be a common pestilence phenom across the Colorado forests. And yet, while on one side of the valley in which we camped the trees looked like porcupine quills, the other side along with the riverside was verdant with exclamation marks of firs. Upon closer note, other punctuafir marks: there was the comma at the top of a fir where the trunk must have grown around an errant cloud; there were the pair of parentheses trunks that enclosed a fair piece of blue sky. Along the river course, firs leaned in to better hear the language of the rapids.
Our campground was shared with an overabundance of chipmunks, ground and tree squirrels. Fat. Direct. Jump-on-your-table bold. Deer so acclimated to people, they walked through campsites trailing their spotted fawns or waving their growing spikes. Thirty Mile was cared for by a marvelous couple, camp hosts extraordinaire. The only drawback for us flatlanders who live at a measly 6,000 feet elevation was that we became over-elevated. Thirty Mile is at 9,300, rather like going from sea level to Denver and trying to hike a few miles. We weren’t there long enough to get acclimated and, sadly, left with the same niggling headache and mild nausea we arrived with.
Up and over the pass, we stopped at an overlook that took in the valley leading up along the Rio Grande to and beyond the campgrounds and reservoirs, all the way up to the headwaters.