In 1889, Nicholas Creede did indeed strike it rich. The bonanza he found near the town that would bear his name was one of Colorado’s largest silver lodes. The discovery made this one of Colorado’s last great silver boomtowns, sparking a frenzy of building and mining that lasted just three years, until the price of silver collapsed.
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It all happened not far from where Jacquie Stalford was sifting through rocks in July, looking for bits of amethyst.
“I love this stuff,” said Stalford, who gives the shiny rocks a special place in her garden in Lamar.
She’s been coming here since she was a kid, part of the tourist boom that saved Creede from becoming a ghost town. Creede has become known in Colorado and across the country for its history, quaint feel, spectacular scenery and gateway to outdoor activities.
The old mining town received its most recent influx of glitz during filming of Disney’s “The Lone Ranger.” Johnny Depp was spied walking down the street, and businesses boomed.
But it’s still the same old Creede, population 400, a town where half the businesses close for winter, where people come from all over for its Repertory Theatre shows but it’s hard to find a store open after 6 p.m.
“I’ve been coming here every year since I was a baby,” said Carrie McCray, on vacation from Missouri. “I really love the historical nature of the town. It’s unique and it’s quiet and we love the people.”
Texas resident Bonnie Brown started coming for two weeks each summer, then three weeks. Now she and her husband spend every summer at their second home here.
“We enjoy the fact the fun here is what you make. It’s natural stuff you do here,” she said. “It hasn’t been commercialized.”
With that in mind, here is our guide to exploring what Creede has to offer.
Another film should have been made in Creede.
At the end of 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” the outlaw Ford is gunned down 10 years after he killed fellow outlaw James. It was filmed in Canada.
But it happened in Creede.
After silver was struck, Creede swelled to 10,000 people. It became known as one of the West’s rowdiest towns and attracted some of the most colorful characters. Ford, a saloon owner, was shot in the back by a disgruntled patron. Bat Masterson ran gambling houses. Soapy Smith ran a criminal empire here.
But Creede’s heyday was short, and all that’s left are the old buildings and ghostly mine works. These are some of the best-preserved mine buildings in Colorado, and they can be seen from the Bachelor Loop, a 17-mile driving tour through the heart of the mining district.
It’s steep and narrow and the U.S. Forest Service recommends high-clearance, low-gear vehicles, though passenger cars can easily make it to the Commodore Mine, the most popular site. If you want to do the whole loop in a passenger car, do your transmission a favor and drive it clockwise so you can coast down the ridiculously steep sections.
Remember, old mines are dangerous, so stay out of closed areas and be careful where you walk.
Stop before or after at the Creede Underground Mining Museum to see what life was like for those tough miners.
And if you drive the loop, watch for familiar scenes in “The Lone Ranger”; most of the local filming was done along the roadway.
If the history doesn’t inspire you, the trails will.
“It was quite inspiring. It was probably the most inspired I’ve been since I came here,” said John Newman, of Kansas City, hiking down the aptly-named Inspiration Point Trail, which starts in town and runs high into the hills.
It’s the most popular of the many trails near Creede. Locals call it “perspiration point” because the 3.5 miles to the overlook are steep, over endless switchbacks. But the views are worth it, as you look over the historic mining district, the higher peaks of the La Garita Mountains and the Rio Grande River valley.
Longer excursions are possible, and the trail winds high into the La Garita Wilderness. Water is scarce, so plan accordingly. You can hike to Wheeler Geologic Area or climb San Luis Peak from Creede.
Another great trail is the Miners Creek Trail, which runs seven miles along a creek to the intersection with the Continental Divide Trail.
Many Continental Divide Trail through-hikers stop in Creede for a shower, warm bed or resupply on their 3,100-mile journey.
Wheeler Geologic Area
This unique area must be seen to be believed.
A playground of rocky spires, washouts, cliffs and volcanic cones, it was formed over eons by the erosive forces of wind and water. Some liken it to Utah’s Bryce Canyon — minus the crowds.
That’s because it’s tough to reach: It’s an 8-mile hike from Creede, although most people take the less-steep East Bellows Trail (No. 790), reached from Pool Table Road east of Creede. If you choose that route, park at Hanson’s Mill. It’s 7 miles each way, so you’ll probably want to make it an overnight hike. For the best campsite, go left on the loop trail through Wheeler and camp near the benches.
You can drive to Wheeler in a high-clearance vehicle or ATV.
There’s a reason a town of 400 has two large fishing-supply shops. The Rio Grande Valley is an angler’s paradise, where the trout seem to leap right onto your line.
You won’t catch much in Creede, since Willow Creek is a tiny urban drainage ditch, but downstream and upstream are different stories, with wide-open valleys and views of distant peaks to keep you entertained between hits.
Stop in one of the shops on Main Street to get the best advice on where to go and what to use.
You’ll find several campgrounds in Rio Grande National Forest along Colorado 149, one near South Fork and the rest west of Creede. Accommodations are good and they’re convenient for exploring the area, but you’ll never be too far from the sound of the road.
Dispersed camping can be found along many of the forest roads. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, because these old mining and logging roads quickly can turn ugly.
If you stay overnight, don’t expect to find a lot going on after dark in Creede. Catch a show at the Repertory Theatre and stop at the Tommyknocker Tavern for a nightcap.
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