Rocky Mountain Back Country Horsemen were back at it again this spring and summer, getting those three adopted Sangre de Cristo trails cleared and open to safely ride or hike. If you are not familiar with these gorgeous trails, they are located near the town of Westcliffe, Colorado, and possess some rugged, high-elevation terrain that opens up to beautiful mountain lakes, with most above 11,000 feet.
In 2022, we had another “Brighten the Sangres” event where several volunteers went out to our adopted trails at the beginning of June to gauge the damage from winter storms. North Brush trail is always a lot of work; our volunteers have used the term “pick-up sticks” to describe the way deadfall crisscrosses the first couple miles of this trail. If you have the chance to get to the lakes on this trail, it won’t disappoint! This trail has the most scenery changes of all the Sangres routes, and it is one of the longest day rides you can do out there.
Lakes of the Clouds and Swift Creek form a fun and challenging loop for riders when there isn’t a pile of deadfall on a technical segment or a wash out in a really inconvenient spot. One of our riders on a solo mission reported seeing a small black bear running away from her horse on Swift Creek, so these trails are not without other hazards. This trail was opened up for riders and hikers fairly early in the season, so we set our sights on getting to the Macey Lakes.
I personally love this trail very much; it has a lot of unique aspects, like waterfalls, colorful cliffs, and lots of distinctive technical “rock scrambling” obstacles to really test your equine partner’s skills... and the first lake you reach is absolutely spectacular to behold. This trail saw the most deadfall in recent memory... all told, our volunteers eventually removed over 230 downed trees from this trail to make it accessible. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it once more, the Silky saws significantly increased the speed that we could cut logs off the trail. Even with several different-sized “Katanaboy” saws to help us, our volunteers still spent over 400 work hours throughout the summer re-opening the magnificent Macey Lake trail for all. In August, a small crew of five riders took down the last monstrous “horse-stopper” that had crashed across the trail less than half a mile from the terminus.
With that, a celebration for the end of September was planned to recognize a truly fabulous work season spent in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As many of you may know, autumn in Colorado is a golden experience, and the Custer County area is no exception! Yet again, an incredible donation of the rodeo grounds by Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club allowed us to host riders from all across Colorado. Equestrians were able to explore Macey Lake with me, North Brush and Lakes of the Clouds with other members, and even Music Pass (a newly adopted trail for RMBCH in 2023). The weekend boasted fun entertainment from a talented guitarist, as well as potluck meals with delicious snacks.
Our riding was cut short by an early snowstorm, so we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at a local eatery. With the early snow, we expect 2023 to have plenty more work when the snow eventually melts. I anticipate at least three-weekend events in Westcliffe next year: Assess the Sangres in early June, Brighten the Sangres in late July, and Celebrate the Sangres in late September again. Once we set specific dates, mark your calendars and plan to come discover this exceptional range with your horses and friends.