This Scenic mountain highway connects South Fork and Lake City, CO. Highway 149 between the towns of South Fork and Lake City was designated in 1990 as the "SILVER THREAD NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY" under the National Scenic Byway program.
Silver Thread Scenic Byway
Approximately 47.6 miles of Colorado Highway 149 lie within the Creede Ranger District boundary between Palisade Campground and Spring Creek Pass. This scenic highway passes through Creede and the Upper Rio Grande Valley and contains some of the most magnificent scenery and colorful history in the Sate of Colorado. Fall brings spectacular and breathtaking color to the area as the aspen turn to gold, making the mountains a photographer's and sightseer's paradise.
Numerous recreation facilities (campgrounds, picnic grounds, interpretive signs, overlooks and observation sites, guest ranches, etc.) are found along the highway.
Colorado Highway 149 parallels the Rio Grande River from South Fork to abut 20 miles beyond Creede - a distance of over 41 miles. Majestic rock-cliff formations, dubbed the "Palisades" lie along the north side of the highway beginning about 5 miles northwest of South Fork and ending just beyond Palisade Campground.
"Wagon Wheel Gap" lies approximately 3.0 - 3.5 miles upriver (northwest) from Palisade Campground. This was an Indian travel route and also served as a gateway for the early prospector. Wagon wheels, possibly lost in 1861 by Col. Charles Baker's prospecting party, were found here in 1970. The party was fleeing from hostile Ute Indians. First referred to as "The gap where wagon wheels were found," the name became more simply, "Wagon Wheel Gap." An interpretive sign is located just north of the Gap on the south side of the highway, about 1.0 mile beyond Cottonwood Cove Resort.
This historic Town of Creede is approximately 8 miles on up the road. In the early 1890's, Creede was a roaring boom town full of hope for the miners and prospectors who might strike it rich. There were also the gamblers, thieves, dance hall girls, and other characters who always followed reports of great wealth, hoping to make a fast buck - one way or another. Creede had more saloons and dance halls than any other kind of business, and they were busy day and night.
Murder and gun fighting were commonplace. Soapy Smith, a notorious confidence man, was unofficial boss of Creede. He had several gambling houses and a motley gang of cutthroats who helped him run the town. Bob Ford, the infamous slayer of Jesse James, was also one of Creede's early day characters. He had a saloon, dance hall and gambling house in Creede. It was in his own place of business that Ed O'Kelly killed him with a blast of a shotgun that almost beheaded him.
Other famous Creede sons were Cy Warman, editor to the Creede Chronicle, and later editor of the New York Sun; Bat Masterson, famous lawman of Dodge City fame, who managed a saloon in Creede and later went to New York City, where he became a police commissioner; and Nicholas C. Creede, who made the first important silver discovery, and for whom the town was named. After making millions, Creede left and went to California to enjoy his wealth. However, it was short-lived because he killed himself when his wife, whom he had divorced, insisted on living with him.
With Creede's discovery of silver, there started a boom unprecedented in Colorado's history. In two years, the Creede Area grew from a few cabins to an area with almost ten thousand people. These people were not all in Creede as we know it today. The town reached far up Willow Creek Canyon, with houses extending up the hillsides. "Houses" were sometimes only one-room shacks or tents. Even today, you can find the ruins of cabins scattered among the mountains north and west of town. Creede, Jimtown, Stringtown, and Amethyst were developed along Willow Creek.
When Creede began to boom, the area was claimed by three Counties. In 1893, the Colorado State Legislature formed Mineral County from parts of these three Counties. Officials of the new County were named and soon Creede began to take on the looks of a permanent city.
By early 1900, many of the people left Creede when the price of silver dropped and many of the mines closed. During the Twenties, Creede, which had been the greatest silver produces in the State, was almost a ghost town. Only a few people remained. In the Thirties, when mining was resumed, lead and zinc took their place along with silver. A mill was built to concentrate the ore and since then, several million dollars worth of ore have been shipped out. Homestake Mining Company completed a new concentrate mill in 1969. Because of depressed silver prices, Homestake's Bulldog Mine and the concentrate mill were forced to close in the mid 1980's. Up until that time, mining had been the area's major industry and Homestake's Bulldog Mine was Colorado's largest silver mine.
Today Creede depends upon tourism for its survival and that industry continues to steadily grow in importance. In the winter months, Creede is quiet with only local residents and winter sports enthusiasts to be seen on its streets, but when warmer weather arrives, there is an influx of summer residents, fishermen, campers, hikers, photographers and people who just want to rest and relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery, clean water, and clean air.
Creede has several restaurants, numerous craft and gift shops, and is well-known for its repertory theater, which presents six different plays during each week from mid-June through August.
An excellent view of Bristol Head Mountain (13,821 feet elevation) exists for several miles along the highway from just past Freemon's Guest Ranch to above South Clear Creek Falls Campground. Bristol Head is a landmark that can be seen from much of the Creede District. The mountain is alleged to have been so named by an early English prospector because of its resemblance to the Bristol Head on the English Channel.
The road junction of Colorado Highway 149 with the Rio Grande Reservoir Road 520 is about 20.1 miles from Creede. A scenic overlook is located on the left (west) side of the highway, approximately 6 miles from this junction.
The overlook provides you with a view of the valley in which Brown Lakes, Hermit Lakes, and South Clear Creek are located. In the background, the Rio Grande Pyramid mountain peak stands it's silent vigil over the Weminuche Wilderness. Protected by the 13,830-foot mountain, winter snows accumulate, later to melt under the summer sun and provide much-needed water for irrigation. This section of Colorado Highway 149 is blanketed in beautiful colors in the fall when the aspen trees change.
Another 1.5 miles brings you to North Clear Creek Road #510, which turns off the highway to the right (southeast). North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site is located to the left just 0.5 mile along this road. The short side trip to view the waterfall is worthwhile. There is a parking lot, picnic tables, and a toilet at the site. A short walk of less than 100 yards will bring you to the overlook.
Continuing on Colorado Highway 149, Spring Creek Pass (10,898 feet elevation) is approximately 7 miles. At this point, you cross the northern boundary of the Creede Ranger District, Rio Grande National Forest and enter the Cebolla Ranger District, Gunnison National Forest. A six panel interpretive information station (kiosk) is located here which provided information on the "SILVER THREAD NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY" and on the recreational opportunities in the area. This facility is planned for completion in the fall of 1990.
Slumgullion Pass (11,361 feet elevation) is another 8 miles from Spring Creek Pass. Approximately 1 mile beyond Slumgullion Pass the Windy Point Overlook road turns right off Colorado Highway 149. A short, steep climb will bring you to the parking lot and overlook. These is also a toilet and an interpretive sign at the site. From the overlook, you can see many of the mountains in Hinsdale County which are above 14,000 feet elevation. The most impressive is Uncompahgre Peak at 14,309 feet.
Approximately 3 miles further down the highway is the Slumgullion Mudslide Overlook and interpretive sign. (The mudslide parallels the highway in several places as you descend from Slumgullion Pass into Lake City.) About 700 years ago, this yellowish mud parted company with the mountainside, and oozed its way downward to what is now the outlet of Lake San Cristobal. It is only an outlet now because the mud effectively blocked off the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, and created the lake. The Slumgullion Mudslide still moves at about one-half inch per day, and is the one of the geological wonders of the world.
Lake City lies another 6 miles down Colorado Highway 149 from this overlook. Lake City, like Creede, was borne from prospecting and mining. In 1871, the Ute-Ulay veins, which even today are of recognized lead and silver value, were located. The Hotchkiss Mine, later renamed the Golden Fleece, was opened above Lake San Cristobal. the news of this discovery spread and miners and prospectors moved in. In 1875, a camp settlement in the form of tents and a few buildings was incorporated under the name which still stands today - Lake City. Mining and the town flourished.
During the '70's and '80's, Lake City was the center of activity. People came in from Gunnison and even Montrose to shop, look, and admire. In 1876, the first church on the western slope was built. The town in its heyday had a population averaging about four thousand. Today's permanent population is less than three hundred.
An 1881 newspaper read, "Lake City's social status is far above the average of western and frontier cities, and no mining camps in the world can boast of a more intelligent, cultured, peaceful citizenship. A street brawl is of the rarest occurrence and for months, the log cabin that serves for a calaboose is tenantless." This was indeed very much unlike Creede's early days! From the beginning, Lake City and its surroundings have been relished for their natural beauty, solitude, hunting, and fishing.
It takes between one hour and forty-five minutes to two hours to travel the 75 miles between Creede and Lake City.
Over the next several years, upgrading of existing facilities and the construction of new interpretive facilities, such as interpretive signs and parking areas, are planned along the route. The planned upgrading and new construction will be handicapped accessible. Scenic Byway entrance stations are also planned at each end of the Scenic Byway at South Fork and Lake City.
Directions from South Fork, Colorado: Via Colorado Highway 149, turning off Colorado Highway 160 at South Fork, Colorado, or via Colorado Highway 149 at Lake City, Colorado.
Directions from Lake City, Colorado: Via Colorado Highway 149, turning off Colorado Highway 160 at South Fork, Colorado, or via Colorado Highway 149 at Lake City, Colorado.
Best Fall Colors:
Mid-September through Mid-October
(NOTE: Season varies from year to year usually peaking the last week of September.)