Balman Reservoir and Cloverdale Basin
Trip Report -September 18th, 1997
By Arthur Vyn Boennighausen
This is another trip report that combines an initial approach by four wheel drive vehicle, then continuing the trip on foot due to the roughness of the four wheel drive roads that penetrate the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.
It is our understanding that when the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness was formed, a few popular four wheel drive roads that were established many years ago were allowed to continue to provide access to some parts of the Wilderness rather than block them off and force people to move around on foot or horseback. This strategy allows the Wilderness visitor to start an outing many miles into the Wilderness rather than start at the base of the range each outing.
Since the Sangre de Cristo mountains rise suddenly, (with elevation gains of 4000 - 6000 feet common) off of an almost level valley floor, it is quite an advantage to realize some of that elevation gain while sitting in a motorized vehicle. From what we have seen so far of this mountain range, most of the peaks require an round trip outing of ten to fourteen miles on foot if you do not use a vehicle on one of the four wheel drive roads. This kind of mileage limits what you can do in a single day if you do not use a vehicle for the initial approach.
From the town of Westcliffe, take highway 69 north. Just before Hillside, take route 198 west. There is a sign at this turn off that says,"National Forest Access, Lake Creek Campground". Drive past the campground and follow the signs to "Balman Reservoir". This is definitely a 4 wheel drive, rocky road. There is actually a sign that warns you when it turns into "the rough go" and says something about this road not being for sedans!
After 6.4 miles of bouncing around in our truck, we decided we needed some fresh air and firm footing, so we parked in one of the many pull outs. This one, like many of the others, is a beautiful woodsy spot to camp or have a picnic. We put on our day packs with plenty of water and jackets and began our hike. After walking about 1 mile, we reached Balman Reservoir.
The sun was shining brightly and the surface of the water sparkled like a thousand twinkling diamonds. There were about 5 people fishing at different spots around the reservoir. The mountains majestically rose steeply up as a back drop provided by nature. We threw a few sticks out into the water for our Chesapeake. He gleefully jumped in, but seemed surprised at how cold the water was, and was reluctant to go in a second time.
After munching our apples, we set off going farther up the road. After maybe another mile, we came to an old miners cabin. There was also a sign telling about Cloverdale Basin and how it has been torn up by vandals, not the miners.
Two pickup trucks full of people stopped us and asked, "How much farther is it to the next lake?" We guessed they meant Rainbow Lake and said we had not gone that far and that it looked to be many more miles. They both decide they had had enough and turned around. About 5 all terrain vehicles past us all at once and we decided that was a pretty good way to go, if you couldn't make it on foot.
Speaking of making it on foot, Michael O'Hanlon of the Hungry Gulch Bookstore in Westcliffe had told me about an outing he was doing with some other people. They were going on beyond Rainbow Lake and over to the other side of the mountains to the hot springs. Someone would have made the 3 hour drive to pick them up and bring them home after a good soak in the hot springs. You will have to ask him about the trip if you are interested.
We turned around before we actually got to the mines. The walk back was pleasant. The Aspens have turned a little more up there than down in the valley.
We decided to splurge and headed for Kirk Anderson's "Pizza Madness" in Silver Cliff. What a great way to end another adventure in the Sanges.