Wheeler Geologic Area

Wheeler is a photographer's wet dream. The formation is large, convex, and south facing getting marvelous light at just about any time of day. Further Wheeler is a bugger to get to. The formation is located east of Creede Colorado in southern part of the state (west of the sand dunes). Off a particularly scenic highway you rather immediately get a tease of what you are going to find as you drive up a rather well maintained but steep in some areas cattle road. This drive takes progressively higher through cattle land and scenic aspen groves occasionally giving a scenic view of the valley bellow. The aspen groves are intermittent making it easy find area that you do not find yourself including the tops of the trees unattractively in the foreground. Eventually you come to the trail head and the start of a very primitive road near an old mill. Unfortunately the remnants of the mill are nothing more than impressive pile of saw dust and bits of twisted metal.

Here you have a choice of an 8 mile hike ( I have seen some people call it a 6 mile and others a 9 mile) or a 14 mile drive. While the drive is tempting, the sign at the entrance of this road forebodes what is ahead. A tow out at this area exceeds 400$ an hour and the road is closed when snow is present. I have been over both. The road is narrow moving in out of forests with numerable small hills at the base of which mud forms. In any kind of rain or snow making this road could become rather unfeasible. In good conditions I have seem 2 wheel drive cars with moderate clearance not have too much trouble with it. The trail is another story.

The tail is to be frank is gorgeous. You hike a long a trail that descends steeply into a canyon while intermittently flows of broken igneous rock cross the trail creating strange patterns. Eventually you reach a stream which you could follow further down into a more dynamic area of the canyon but is in the wrong direction to reach the formations. From there the trail becomes tedious, slowly climbing until meeting up with the road which had to circumnavigate the canyon. From there it goes up and then back down, but not dramatically or strenuously, until you reach the campsite at the base of the formation. Luckily for those of us backpacking there is a stream located within spitting distance of the campsite. I suspect that at times it could run dry, but when I was there in September it still had low but healthy flow. Gold dust is present in this stream. When I was there, an amateur gold panner was practicing her art for fun.

From the campsite, there is a mile and a quarter trail loop around the formation. A direct approach I imagine could be possible, but it would be difficult going, more so if you are carrying a tripod. The trail does provide many good vantage points for photographing the formation. In the morning and evening it can be particularly beneficial to exit the trail and hop around the formations. The strong side light can get trapped between the rocks creating strong warm glows. In the formation itself are coniferous trees, but prior to them is another patch of aspen trees.

Since Wheeler is located in a low populated area, is rather hard to get to, and is considered a Geologic area in a National Forest the area's number of visitors is small. This makes it ideal for photographers looking for a slightly more esoteric location than the national parks. The most common visitor to the park is climbers looking to practice on a nearby technical climb location.

The presences of the coveted aspen and lack of rain makes fall the best photographic time to visit this location. However the threat of the stream running dry makes me place a cavet before recommending this time of year. Make sure that stream is flowing before backpacking in without water.

Unfortunately I have had only one rather unproductive trip out to location, refer to:

my flickr