We got out once more last weekend and drove 3.5 hours from Denver to an area I’ve been curious about for years. From Google Earth, it looks as campy as a chipmunk in a flannel. Plus there is the all important river, and I assumed it held trout (it does). This place is remote. 90 minutes to Crested Butte, and about an hour to Buena Vista. We were so remote, our closest neighbors were about two miles away so we raised all levels of hell and Ned never saw a leash. I thought the scenery might be incredible, and it did not disappoint. The road was so bumpy in areas, I just assumed the pickup and trailer would fall apart like the Bluesmobile at the end of The Blues Brothers, but neither left us stranded, thankfully.
From Buena Vista one must drive many curvy miles up over Cottonwood Pass, which has a brand new road and unparalleled scenery, especially in the fall with the leaves so bright yellow and orange, they are nearly blinding. The road winds up over the Continental Divide for 34 miles to the Taylor Reservoir on the other side. When you reach the top of the pass, stop to look north and south over the towering spine of the continent for as far as you can see in both directions. Not all passes are this high and it summits well above timberline between a couple of the Collegiate Peaks. You better have good brakes and while you’re at it, gear down.
The Taylor River Valley is incredibly wide with more than enough dispersed camping to go around. If you are more of a pay campsite person (or if a Stage 1 fire ban is in place) there are three pay campsites north of Taylor Reservoir. River’s End right at the mouth of the river, just a little farther north is Dinner Station Campground, and a long 11 mile drive over rough roads will get you to Dorchester Campground. If you want, you can take a left and head down the canyon below the dam and there are a ton of pay campgrounds tucked between private land.
We camped just short of Dorchester, dispersed style. Meaning I walked around in my underwear with a beer in hand every afternoon and nobody called the Forest Service. Elk were bugling and generally jabbering at each other all night while we slept happy and warm in the Davis Wall Tent with our our old tent stove. Then a series of four rifle shots quieted them down a bit, and we heard nothing more of either for the rest of the trip. The leaves on narrowleaf cottonwoods, quaking aspens, and willows were solid gold and beginning to fall to the forest floor, offering a natural yellow brick road.
Most dispersed spots in the area are along small streams making their way into the Taylor and they are full of brook trout. They run so clear it’s tempting to drink straight from the ground but shitting your brains out for a couple days just isn’t worth it. At least boil it. Those elk are pissing upstream, I promise ya. Once a spouse of my niece came to the mountains and took a long drink out of a river. He is a complete jackass of a human being so hearing that he wretched for a couple days was a highlight of my trip.
Another cool aspect of this site, and maybe it’s because of the time of year, the Stellar Jays and Grey Jays were ravenous. This is horrible, I know, but they ate so much dog food, I’m sure they got sick or started barking. And they had no fear of us or the dog. They’d swoop down, stuff their faces with up to five kibbles then fly off into the forest to choke it down. And if they weren’t foundering on Purina, they were nipping at any food still left on plates or silverware that was laying around waiting to get washed. Some environmentalist I am. What next? Feeding the ducks at the park? God forbid.
The plan is to go back and catch all the fish in the river above the reservoir next year. So you better get there before us.
From Cottonwood pass, turn right on road 742 and start looking. The dead end to the road is a full 12 miles away on a rough ass road which will test your patience and possibly your relationship with others in the car.