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
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.
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)
5.(7180ft,mile53) continue left to Colbran
6.(6000ft,mile59) START-END NORTH: Colbran
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.