Buzzard - Muddy Divide

Some Colorado passes attract tourists from far and wide to their scenic splendors. The Buzzard Divide is not one of them. What would you expect from a divide, crossing between Oil Well Mountain and Bronco Knob, wild horses and gas wells ? Half right, the second half. Only one gas well is visible from the road. But there are many hidden in the nearby hills (as of Oct/05).

It is hard to find this divide labeled on a map. It is not labeled on topographic or national forest maps. It is included in Helmuth's book Passes of Colorado" under the name Buzzard Pass. But the description given there fits the unofficial Alkali Creek - Road Gulch s(u) better, connecting Silt and Colbran, instead of Paonia Reservoir and Colbran. Yet this is clearly a historic named pass with plenty of reminders along the way.

After this description is virtually impossible to be disappointed by this journey. Actually, given good October weather, this is a fascinating ride through high plateau landscape, across a rarely visited, corner of the state with a fascinating early history.
 

1.(6320ft,mile00) START-END SOUTH:  Paonia Reservoir, junction between Mc Lure Pass road and Kebler Pass road.
2.(6910ft,mile12) START-END ALTERNATE SOUTH: go left on rd245 rd to Buzzard Pass
3.(9013ft,mile31) TOP: Buzzard Pass
4.(7413ft,mile45) profile continues left to Colbran. Right goes to Alkali Creek - Road Gulch divide (u) towards Silt.
5.(7180ft,mile53) continue left to Colbran
6.(6000ft,mile59) START-END NORTH: Colbran

Approaches

From West. Dirt/medaled surface road CR245 leaves the Mc Lure Pass road between Paonia reservoir and the summit. A sign on CFR245 warns of heavy truck traffic. Yet the only heavy traffic I encounter during a late October ride is a massive amount of gun toating hunters, tracking down Bambi with motorized support. The road climbs gently through ranch country. I turn around every so often to watch Ragged Mountain take its place in the rest of the West Elk Mountains. A good view is on the first high point along the route, between points 2 and 3 on the profile. In my case the spot is marked by a campfire circle, a disposed Wendy's cup and thrown away cigarette rolling papers. The road crosses the National Forest boundary and now stays in valleys and high rolling plains belonging to fringes of Grand Mesa and Battlement Mesa. At least four signs along the way label this route as Buzzard Divide Road.

By the time I reach the summit, the West Elk Mountains are out of sight. The summit is located in dense trees next to a corral, with several signs. One has the altitude and name, which here is called the Buzzard-Muddy Divide. Another sign references the Escalante expedition. The entire approach is smooth, hard dirt with only the shortest sections of barely noticeable washboard (Oct/05).


From East. (also described upwards) The first part of the approach is shared by one approach to the unofficial Alkali Creek - Road Gulch s(u). Road surface becomes much better after the route becomes CR245. Two separate signs along the way point the way to the divide, here called Buzzard Divide. After the road makes a ninety degree turn to the south, along with Buzzard Creek, the route offers glimpses of the south side of Grand Mesa and the valley below Colbran. There is really only one obvious evidence of civilization in this view, the narrow, almost thread like road curving up the next valley. Otherwise the view is virtually identical to what the Escalante expedition saw.

A Day on a Two Day Tour with this point as highest summit:

PARTIALLY PAVED / UNPAVED:

( | McLure Pass > )
Buzzard Divide:
starting point on Mc Lure Pass road, located 7 miles east of Kebler Pass turnoff > up CR245 > Buzzard Divide > CR245 > New Castle: 57 miles and much less than the 8000ft that my altimeter managed to measure (weak battery)  in 6.4 hours (m3:05.10.25).
Notes: Day 2 was completely paved: New Castle > Glenwood Springs > Carbondale > McLure Pass > back to the parking lot on McLure Pass Rd: 77 miles with 4100ft of climbing in 5.5 hours.


History

The north side of the profile shows the quickest way to descend into the valley towards Colbran. However the first human traffic route took a different course. A Ute trail ran over Buzzard Pass, but then turned right near point 4 to cross the Alkali Creek - Road Gulch divide(u), descending Divide Creek or Mamm Creek to the New Castle - Silt area.

Escalante Expedition(<Columbine Pass|Alkali Road Gulch summit(u)>): Two separate signs on the western approach label Escalante expedition sites. Surprisingly the Buzzard Divide is on a route, that was intended to join Santa Fe to California. Less surprisingly, the Escalante expedition never reached California on this intended route. Instead they blazed an adventurous trail of discovery around the Four Corners area.

On the north fork of the Gunnison ( lower Mc Lure Pass east of Paonia ), the party spent several days reconnoitering with Laguna Ute and Sabuguana Ute Indians. Several meetings were spent with trying to find a guide, willing to lead them north despite the Ute's perceived fear of Comanche Indians. After extended pipe smoking, overeating and social intrigue, the Sabuguana Utes still were of no help. Instead two Laguna Indians, one of whom had already served as guide, ( with the name Silvestre), lead the group over the eastern end of Grand Mesa over Buzzard Pass. It appears likely that the lower part of the Escalante route followed closer to the  Hubbard Creek road, not the Henderson Creek road shown on the profile.

Between September 3 and 5 they rode across early autumn color of the mesa. But this wasn't mentioned in their journals, just that it was quite cold. They did take note of an underground stream at a camp, and  named it after their Indian guide, camp Silvestre. The spot is marked today with a sig ( picture is included ).

Near Colbran the party discovered that they could have crossed the Mesa by a trail heading straight over the top. Perhaps emboldened by this, author Walter Briggs in "Without Noise of Arms" has them heading straight across Battlement Mesa subsequently. An older interpretation of the journals by Marshall Sprague has them crossing the area of the Alkali - Road Gulch divide(u) to reach the Colorado River near Silt. Unless they were lost, which they did not mention in their journals, this second crossing is much easier and seems more likely to me, than higher areas of Battlement Mesa.

Whichever route they chose to reach the Colorado River, reach the Colorado River they did, and that was the end of the great detour to the east, which was initially begun to avoid stretches of Utah dessert. The expedition descended along the Colorado, crossed it near De Beque and used Roan Creek to approach the area of today's Douglas. Pass.