Scouting Reports: Wheeler Geologic Area, Colorado

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Outside magazine, October 1994

Scouting Reports: Wheeler Geologic Area, Colorado
By Jeff Spurrier

Pulitzer prize-Winning photographer Jack Dykinga lives in the southwestern United States, and much of his work has showcased that region’s deserts. His affinity for the landscape is clear–as witnessed by his ability to find some desertlike terrain on a trip to the Rockies. Dykinga wrote to tell us about the Rio Grande National Forest’s Wheeler Geologic Area, a land of towering
spires and volcanic-tuff badlands about 100 miles northeast of Durango, Colorado.

“It’s extremely difficult to get to,” wrote Dykinga, “but well worth it. On the way up you go through huge stands of aspen, and then you come out into this surreal place where there are both beautiful formations and beautiful vistas–like putting South Dakota’s Badlands on top of a mountain. But the most amazing thing is the spruce: Here you are looking at terrain that’s
something like Death Valley, and yet there’s coniferous forest all around you.”

To get there, head northeast on U.S. 160 from Durango 104 miles to South Fork, and then go west 13 miles on Colorado 149 to Pool Table Road. Go north another 13 miles to Hanson’s Mill, where there’s a choice: You can bump along for 14 miles on the grueling four-wheel-drive access road, or park and take the seven-mile hike. Either way, dramatic geology awaits –but remember,
fall weather in the Rockies is notoriously unpredictable. For the latest conditions, call the Creede Ranger District at 719-658-2556.

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