November 21, 2023

Fall in South Fork with a sled dog

Road Trip






Before the snowflakes really start flying in the land of legendary snowfall, we invited our friend and Leadville, CO resident and writer Bekah Grim down south for some shoulder season dog/human adventuring. Lots to learn and love about this special corner of Colorado, including pizza, beer, theatre, UFOs, and one big cedar hot tub. Above all, South Fork means lots of room to roam for our four-legged family members.

Words and photos by Bekah Grim, @human_sequin

Travelling with a dog can be like rolling the dice. You never know how your pup will react to a new environment. Especially when that dog is a high energy Alaskan Husky, who is a former sled dog. They need space to run. I was a dogsledding guide in Leadville, CO for four years, and out of 150 dogs, I fell in love with Eden. She looks like a tiny German Shepherd and a coyote. The manager of the kennel said she “lacks ambition,” and we could take her home. She likes to eat cheese cubes, catch gophers, and nap in the sun. When she first arrived at home, she showed plenty of ambition in destruction. She ate the arm of a couch and even chewed a hole through the hardwood floors in our kitchen. It was a difficult transition from being an outdoor working dog to dwelling inside. It’s been over a year of no damage to the house. She’s a repenting pilgrim. We are learning to trust her. She’s three years old. The key to making sure Eden doesn’t destroy the world is exercise. She was used to running twenty miles a day at the kennel. She needs an outlet. The need for open spaces made South Fork the perfect choice for a fall getaway.

The long stretches of public land in the San Juan Mountains and river access to the Rio Grande make South Fork a destination for dogs. We drove from Leadville, a trip of about 2 1/2 hours. We also brought Dale, a black lab, who we always say is student council president because she’s such a rule follower. Driving through, we learned the San Luis Valley holds great mysteries, rusty stuff, and the promise of quiet. We saw a herd of fifty elk huddled shoulder to shoulder. Their dark caramel fur was bathed in desert light. Of course, we stopped at the UFO watchtower in Center, CO. There is a ten-foot-tall extraterrestrial viewing platform, and we searched the sky for answers to the big questions. Is it weird to look for aliens during the day? I imagine being yanked skyward by a magnetic yellow light. Here come the dogs, followed by a few cows, sucked into the sky. Sure, why not, I’ll try anything once. There are chainsaw sculptures of aliens, a silver geodesic dome, and tributes to sky-borne oddities. It’s open on the weekends, if you happen to be passing by. 

As we opened the door to check out our room at LOGE Camp Wolf Creek, there’s one word for it: thoughtful. Every part of the experience sings with intention. The peg board to hang your puffy, dog leash, car keys. Complimentary s’mores kits. A handwritten note from Marcus, the GM. A hammock is strung above the bed, with a cozy Rumpl down blanket. There are two craft beers in the fridge from @ThreeBarrelsBrewing in Del Norte, located twenty minutes down the road. My partner, Blue, is a chef and he marveled at the stocked kitchenette with two burners, the drawers full of utensils. The cutting board fits over the sink. I noticed the way the garbage can tucks neatly under the counter. Everything has its place. 

We went for dinner at the LOGE restaurant our first night. We had crispy chicken strips with a salami grinder sandwich. Soft pretzel sticks! Tara handmade the tastiest honey mustard sauce just for me. So good. It was a limited menu due to shoulder season. Tara shook us up a minty signature mule, one she has spent time perfecting over her years of experience. The drink’s bubbly hello was a kick in the glass. She’s famous for her Mountain Barbie Margarita and offering a listening ear to the locals who tend to drift in. Tara said the community keeps her in South Fork and getting to know each traveler on their journey. The café area was well-appointed with a bar as long as a prop plane’s wing, cute lounge tables, and shuffleboard. 

After dinner, we soaked in LOGE’s cedar hot tub, watching the starscape unfold without light pollution. I quickly spotted the only constellation I know, the “W”of Cassiopia. There were many fire pits to choose from. The hot tub is massive, six feet tall. There are heating coils in the surrounding patio. We would spend lots of time in this tub over the course of the two days we were in town. It was often just Blue and I soaking it up. Sometimes a rotating cast of characters staying at the hotel also came by to talk outdoor gear and reflect on weather patterns. LOGE is a place where you’re not afraid to say hi to your neighbor, ask them where they’ve been and where they’re headed. The friendliness of the staff sets the tone. Mingling is by choice, but it’s always entertaining. I remember hearing a woman, Radiohead fan, describe her Paranoid Android costume for Halloween, which involved lots of tinfoil and duct tape. Marcus the GM told me all about the history of the property, while making an espresso on the La Marzocco machine. The beans come from San Juan Roasters in Del Norte. The LOGE property has been a real estate agency, church, and bar. The last event before the old bar closed down was a Jello wrestling competition. The space had been remodeled and is now the 430 Cafe. It’s named after the amount of annual snowfall at the nearby Wolf Creek Ski Area. 

Marcus has a Master’s in Ancient History and wrote about new ways to teach history in schools. He’s got vision. He sees what he’s doing as part of a larger project: “LOGE revives troubled and abandoned hotels across the West.” He brings a passion for storytelling to his work. He was also knowledgeable about the area, recommending many spots to take our dogs, including local’s favorite Elephant Rocks.

The next day we headed to Creede, CO, thirty minutes up the road. My partner Blue and I are playwrights. We’ve written, directed, and acted in two comedies about a fictional family called Bitterbush. We cast our friends as the actors. Our “theatre” in Leadville has been in an 1884 train depot. We get our best work as a writing team done when we’re away from the distractions of home. Our plays get written in backcountry huts, yurts, and tents. We found our groove at LOGE, with Blue shouting lines of dialogue from the hammock and I typed it all into my laptop at the table.

Our artistic heroes are at the Creede Repertory Theatre, which is known as the most remote theatre in the United States at 9,000 feet. The directors, Kate Berry and Morgan Manfredi, graciously agreed to meet with me and filled me in on the history of the rural stage. The town of Creede has been called the little mining camp that refused to die. A silver rush town in 1890 turned boomtown of 10,000. Today there’s 300 residents. It’s surrounded by 96% public land, pick a direction and you’ll find places to walk with dogs through slot canyons—right next to downtown. The Rio Grande snakes through the town. Creede is scrappy and tireless. As the mining business declined in Creede, the town needed to find new methods of survival, or it would be erased and abandoned. The Creede Repertory Theatre was founded in 1966 to help revive the town after the mine shuttered. The goal of the current directors is sustainability. They have a holistic approach to theatre and would like to pay each crew member and actor a living wage, offer free childcare, and get rid of the notion that one must suffer for their art. They seek a new kind of balance. They remembered the days actors would live in the Silver Palace, eighteen people with one bathroom, just to live the dream of performing on stage at night. The directors’ approach also includes free education to the community through their extensive theatre camps and kid’s show. The season is from May to October, and they run multiple shows at once, between their two theaters in Creede. You could stay for a week and see five different shows. The actors are professionals, the crew is world-renowned. They experiment with outdoor theatre, elaborate sets that are multi-story and rotate, and they recently commissioned a playwright from Alamosa to create new work for the stage. They take creative risks. The theatre is beloved in the community and the directors see themselves connected to every business in town, “We’re in it together in Creede,” they said. 

On our way back, we went to Mountain Pizza and got the Hawaiian Cowboy pie, mozzarella sticks, and Caeser salad to go. We wanted to keep an eye on the dogs. You can get regular crust or deep dive into Detroit style. We did grab a quick beer, using the self-pouring system from taps on the wall. There were rotating craft beers from across the country. A giant dragon sculpture perched on the pizza oven. The place was giving pepperoni power. The staff was quick and the mood was light. Vegetables and meat danced with cheese in a primordial tango. It was damn good pizza, fresh salad, and don’t miss the homemade marinara sauce. We wanted to get the dogs on a hike and the sky was dealing a threat of rain. There’s a huge open field behind LOGE that leads up to the foothills of Sentinel Peak. 

The last few golden leaves clung to branches in a battle against time. Along we went on our merry way, finding a ridge that overlooked South Fork. We stopped to admire the remaining wildflowers, purple pastels, still-shouting yellows, the smell of sweet clover. These were the last survivors of the season. Some leaves gave up and came spiraling down in great gusts. We spun and danced in the storm of free-floating leaves, the fragile beauty of this in-between time. It’s nice to travel when no one’s on the road, to stretch our legs again in the forest, to remember we are nature. Eden raced in circles, darting through the trees and leaping over logs. Dale chased after. Eden ran across the dry grass of the field, jumping and prancing, until she came face to face with an eight-point buck. The deer was frozen. Eden charged. The buck hesitated and turned to run. We clapped our hands and yelled her name. Eden paid attention and came back when we called. She did not follow the buck deep into the woods. Eden is learning boundaries. She is learning to find the direction of home. 

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