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U.S. Forest Service

Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area


Indian paintbrush and penstemon. Indian paintbrush and penstemon glow in the early morning sun along Forest Road 640. Photo by Mike Blakeman, U.S. Forest Service.

lupine. Lupine blanket the forest floor in aspen stands along Forest trail 792. Photo by Mike Blakeman, U.S. Forest Service.

bluebells. Bluebells nodding over Embargo Creek. Photo by Mike Blakeman, U.S. Forest Service.

Embargo Creek

Forest: Rio Grande National Forest

District: Divide Ranger District

Description: Embargo creek starts above tree line on the south side of 12,944 foot Mesa Mountain. As it winds its way down to the Rio Grande, the creek passes through four major life zones, each with its own distinct associated plants. The most outstanding display of wildflowers is found right along forest road 640 in the foothills zone. This area is still in the relatively early stages of recovery from over-grazing that started in the late 1800s and continued into the 1930s. In years with abundant winter snow and spring moisture, the meadows are carpeted with early successional plants such as loco weed, paintbrush, lupine, penstemons, and western wallflower.

Viewing Information: In the montane zone, Embargo Creek cascades over several beaver dams surrounded by aspen, blue spruce, and Douglas fir trees. Bluebells, cornhusk lily and cow parsnip are abundant along the creek, with wild roses, shrubby cinquefoil and red columbine on the slopes above. In early to mid-June, the secretive fairy slipper can sometimes be spotted in the spruce stand just upstream from Cathedral Campground. Forest trail 792 takes off from the road about ½ mile above Cathedral Campground. This trail passes through lush aspen stands and subalpine spruce forests while hugging the twists and turns of Embargo Creek. Eventually, trail 792 leaves the creek and continues into the alpine zone to the top of 12,944 Mesa Mountain.

Some of the best displays of wildflowers can be seen in early June right along the Embargo Creek road (forest road 640). Even in the driest years, there are usually plenty of wildflowers to be seen along the trail.

Safety First: Rapid weather changes occur year round without warning, so carry extra clothing and rain gear with you. Be prepared for anything, even snow in the summer months. Beware of hypothermia (body temperature lowered to the point where brain and muscle activity are impaired). Hypothermia can be fatal! Oxygen levels in the high country are about half of what they are at sea level. As a result some people experience headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea. If you are affected, rest! Avoid alcoholic beverages and drink plenty of water. Your body will usually begin to adapt in a few days. Young people or the elderly may be especially at risk for altitude sickness. If symptoms become worse, seek medical assistance. Lower humidity and higher winds in Colorado often cause dehydration, so drinking plenty of water is important even if you are not adversely affected by the altitude. In mountainous country, UV radiation is twice as high as at sea level. Avoid over-exposure to the sun, and always use sunscreen. High altitude often pose a threat from lightning. If you are traveling and see a storm moving in, retreat to lower ground. DO NOT SEEK SHELTER UNDER TREES!

Directions: Embargo Creek road is accessed from U.S. Highway 160 about halfway between South Fork and Del Norte. Turn north onto County Road 18 and follow it across the river to the “T” intersection. Turn east (right) onto the gravel road and then north (left) again at the first intersection onto Forest Road 650. This is the lower part of Embargo Creek road. Follow this stretch of road for about three miles and then turn northwest (left) onto Forest Road 640. On good years, large dense stands of colorful wildflowers will be visible along the road. If it has been a dry spring or if it is later in the summer, continue driving to the trailhead of trail 792.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Rio Grande National Forest, Divide Ranger District (719) 657-3321.

Closest Town: Del Norte, Colorado.

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