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Wheeler Geologic Area Trail Rehabilitation

Trails in this remote area in Colorado were improved with help from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado.

By Hugh Osborne

Map of Colorado

The Wheeler Geologic Area is managed by the USDA Forest Service Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF). It was originally Colorado's first National Monument designated in 1908. However, in 1950 it was decided that this largely inaccessible site should be transferred to the Forest Service. With a lack of maintenance funds the roads deteriorated and received little attention. The Forest Service renamed the site the Wheeler Geologic Area. It was then included as part of La Garita Wilderness Area when that designation was made.

photo: eroded rock formations

Photo 1 - View at Wheeler Geologic Area (photo by Hugh Osborne - click to enlarge)

Once the area was reassigned to the RGNF the area lost its National Monument status. Lack of management of increasingly popular four-wheel drive vehicles led to the closure of the site to all motor vehicles in 1969. The official designation of the site as a protected area followed.

Volcanic rock called "tuff" was carved by water and wind into formations with names like the City of Gnomes, White Shrouded Ghosts, and Dante's Lost Souls. This material was never firmly compacted or cemented together and crumbles quite easily under erosive forces. Hiking and other human activities have also left the trail system in need of repair.

photo: eroded stream crossing

Photo 2: Stream crossing problem (photo by Hugh Osborne - click to enlarge)


Problem #1

A section of this popular trail, which is within a designated wilderness area, crossed a small stream that provided the principal drainage near the top of a small watershed (see photos 1 & 2).

The trail leading to the crossing had a grade in excess of 30% and significant erosion problems in the immediate corridor. The trail had been in place for about five years.


Solution #1

As part of a Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado project, we installed a squash-pipe culvert (see photo 3). The wing-walls that tied into the existing stream bank were constructed from pre-fabricated Pavestone blocks.

photo of culvert in place
Photo 3: The new culvert (Photo by Steve West, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado - click to enlarge)



The crossing and nearby bank were armored, the trail was raised to reduce the grade, and the sloughing hillside was re-shaped to a more natural slope (see photo 4).

Problem #2

Retaining walls built out of tree trunks were failing as the wood rotted away. The loss of the retaining walls would have meant a complete failure of the trail.

Solution #3

Replace log retaining walls with rock walls (see Photo 5).

photo: rock installed over culvert

Photo 4: The completed stream crossing (Photo by Chris Zimber, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado - click to enlarge)


photo: rock retainiongwwallon trail
Photo 5: New rock retaining wall (Photo by Chris Zimber, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado - click to enlarge)


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