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Rico Mountains: The Calico Trail

National Summit Day: Calico National Recreation Trail Peak Bagging
Friday & Saturday, July 31 – August 1, 2020

Last weekend I was supposed to go backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness with Jackson, but those plans got rained out by the wet weather we had, so this weekend I really needed to get back into the mountains and since Saturday is National Summit Day, I figured some peak-bagging was in order. I had considered heading down to my favorite area of the San Juan Mountains between Ouray and Silverton, but things have been pretty busy over that way this summer, and I was looking for somewhere with a little more solitude. After thinking about my options during the week I decided that I wanted to return to the Rico Mountains. While Diane and I were hiking along the Colorado Trail near Bolam Pass two weeks ago, I had noticed Calico Peak in the Rico Mountains on the horizon since it stuck out pretty well from the surrounding peaks, and I knew that I would have to climb it eventually since I have a cat that we nicknamed Rico (which is short for Tellico) who just happens to be a calico. It must be a sign! While researching Calico Peak I found that the Calico National Recreation Trail went right near it, plus there are a couple of other 12ers nearby, so I thought it would be a good idea to follow that trail and bag a couple of other peaks in the area, too. Why only bag one peak on National Summit Day when you can get four or more!

I left work on Friday afternoon and headed down to the Rico Mountains by way of Ridgway and Telluride. Before reaching the town of Rico I turned off onto the Dunton Road and climbed up to The Meadows at the edge of the Lizard Head Wilderness. I was originally planning on camping near the trailhead, but as I was driving through The Meadows I passed a campsite with a great view of Mount Wilson and the surrounding peaks, so I decided to stay here so I could watch the sunset. It was a little windy out in the open, but that helped keep the bugs away. Stopping to camp here turned out to be a good decision since the sunset was spectacular this evening!

Before returning to the open campsite I had passed in The Meadows, I stopped to check out the Calico Trailhead.

Calico Trailhead Sign

The beginning of the Calico National Recreation Trail.

Calico National Recreation Trail Sign

I think this will be a fine place to spend the night!

Parked at Camp

There were some interesting clouds in the sky this evening, which I hoped would make for a nice sunset.

The Meadows Cloudscape

The full moon rising over Flattop Mountain (12,098) and Hermosa Peak (12,579).

Flattop Mountain & Hermosa Peak

Mount Wilson (14,246) towered above my campsite.

Mount Wilson

Just as I had hoped, the sky put on a light show this evening!

Mount Wilson Clouds

Looking east to Sheep Mountain (13,188), San Miguel Peak (13,752) and Grizzly Peak (13,738).

San Miguel Peak to Grizzly Peak

One more shot of Mount Wilson at sunset.

Mount Wilson Sunset

Last light from my campsite in The Meadows.

The Meadows Camp

When the light show was over and all that was left was the light from the full moon I got into my sleeping bag and went to sleep so I could get an early start on Saturday morning. Since the monsoon season seems to be missing this year I didn’t need to get too early of a start because afternoon thunderstorms were not that big of a threat this weekend, but I still woke up about an hour before sunrise to drive over to the East Fall Creek Trailhead so I could watch the sunrise from the trail.

The sunrise on Saturday morning was looking pretty nice from the East Fall Creek Trail once I got high enough to see over the trees. I was really lucking out this weekend!

East Fall Creek Morning

There was a good view of Groundhog Mountain (12,165) and Lone Cone (12,613).

Groundhog Mountain & Lone Cone

Following the East Fall Creek Trail with Dunn Peak (12,620), Middle Peak (13,300) and Dolores Peak (13,290) in the background.

East Fall Creek Trail

After about a mile and a half I reached the Calico Trail and started climbing up to the ridge.

Calico Trail Sign

Following the Calico Trail to the saddle below Sockrider Peak.

Climbing to the Saddle

At the saddle I reached a junction in the trail that goes over to Sockrider Peak, but headed the other direction to climb Elliott Mountain first.

Sockrider Junction

Looking down on the over side of the ridge over Papoose Creek.

Papoose Creek

The Calico Trail & Sockrider Peak

The Calico Trail

Telescope Mountain (12,201) on the other side of the Dolores River.

Telescope Mountain View

There were good views of Sockrider Peak (12,308) as I followed the ridge up Elliott Mountain.

Sockrider Peak View

Hazy views looking east to the rugged peaks of the San Juans. Engineer Mountain really stands out from this viewpoint.

Rugged Horizon

Peak View

Following the ridge to the summit of Elliott Mountain (12,340).

Elliott Mountain Ridge

A view from the summit of Elliott Mountain to Anchor Mountain (12,327) and Expectation Mountain (12,071) and the La Plata Mountains in the distance.

Elliott Mountain Summit View

From the summit of Elliott Mountain I continued down the ridge on the other side.

The Other Direction

Looking back to the summit of Elliott Mountain.

Elliott Mountain

My next destination would be Papoose Peak (11,866) which is that rounded grassy hump below.

Papoose Peak

Papoose Peak isn’t really much of a peak, but it was there and I was able to hop back on the Calico Trail.

The Trail

I followed the Calico Trail back around the west side of Elliott Mountain on my way to Sockrider Peak.

Elliott Trail

Looking back to Elliott Mountain as I followed the hiking trail to the summit of Sockrider Peak.

Looking back to Elliott

The final ridge to the summit of Sockrider Peak was more rocky than any of the other hiking I had done so far this morning.

Sockrider Peak

I followed the ridge down the other side of Sockrider Peak where I would meet the Calico Trail yet again.

Sockrider Ridge

Once I got over the summit of Sockrider Peak I finally had my first view of Calico Peak (12,026) today.

Calico Peak

Back on the Calico Trail as I made my way over to Calico Peak.

To Calico Peak

Looking back to Sockrider Peak as I climbed the rocky ridge of Calico Peak.

Sockrider Peak View

From the summit of Calico Peak I had a good view over Johnny Bull Mountain (12,012) to the San Miguel Mountains.

Calico Peak Summit View

Looking to the west was Eagle Peak (12,113).

Eagle Peak

I was hoping to climb Johnny Bull Mountain next as I made my way back to the trailhead, but by the time I reached the saddle the sky was looking a little threatening and my legs were pretty tired, so I decided it would be best to just head back and save that one for another time. I figure that I can hike that one whenever I come back for Eagle Peak. Instead of returning the way I had come I followed the West Fall Creek Trail down to the Eagle Peak Road and followed the road back to my Jeep completing a loop. While I was hiking down through the trees there was a little rain, graupel and a few rumbles of thunder, so I think heading back was a good decision.

I spotted a butterfly on these flowers along the road.

Butterfly On Flowers

After returning to my Jeep I drove down to Rico so I could top off my fuel tank and while I was there I grabbed a burger from Enterprise Bar & Grill. Then I headed over to Dunton so I could hike the Geyser Spring Trail to Colorado’s only true geyser, since it was nearby.

Here it is- Colorado’s only geyser. Unfortunately, this geyser doesn’t shoot up like the more popular ones in Yellowstone, it mainly just bubbles like a hot tub.

Colorado's Only Geyser

The warning sign near the geyser. You don’t want to get into this one, otherwise you can suffocate to death as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas can displace the oxygen near the surface of the geyser.


Here’s a short video of the bubbling geyser. While I was visiting the geyser a thunderstorm moved through the area so you can hear a rumble of thunder at the beginning plus the falling rain. Yes, I got soaked!

After hiking back down from the geyser I returned to my Jeep and drove further west onto Black Mesa to find a campsite for the night. It had been a very good day and I was looking forward to hiking one more 12er on Sunday morning before heading home.

>> The Calico Trail Photo Gallery


  1. Roger Barrett
    Roger Barrett August 13, 2020

    Lovely images as usual, Randy. My partner and I had to cancel our usual summer trip to the US West this year as we are not allowed into the USA! So we will follow your travels with more than usual interest this year.

    Your butterfly is actually a moth ( folds its wings backwards like a fly ) rather than a butterfly ( folds its wings upwards ). I don’t recall meeting this one on our travels, but a brief search reveals it to be Gnophaela Vermiculata, or the “police-car moth”. At least that’s what it looks like to me!

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat August 13, 2020

      Thanks for the info on the moth. I actually almost called it a moth, but I wasn’t sure, so I went with butterfly. I didn’t know the difference, until now!

  2. Roger Barrett
    Roger Barrett August 13, 2020

    I’m definitely not an expert, but the wing-folding is a good rule-of-thumb to know whether you should be searching under “butterfly” or “moth”. There are far too many species of butterfly/moth ( over 150,000 worldwide ) to really be familiar with many of them. But look up the Atlas Moth on the Internet if you want to see something surprising!

  3. Brent Doerzman
    Brent Doerzman August 17, 2020

    Spectacular report and images as usual Randy! And man, can’t beat the views on this one, in all directions! I’ve driven the Dunton road up and over to Beaver Park, but not to the Meadows areas, I need to check that out for sure. Just wish there were a few more aspens up there and I’d go this fall. 🙂 Thanks!

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