West Elk Loop Series
This series is following the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway, starting in Carbondale, and ending in Carbondale. It's about a 7-8 hour drive to complete the entire thing, not including the actual letterboxing (Kebler pass, between Crested Butte and Paonia State Park - the last stretch of the route - is CLOSED during the winter!). For many reasons (park fees, couldn't find better locations, my health, etc.), most of the boxes are drive-by. If you've not been to this region, I think you'll find it incredibly beautiful with such a variety of landscape! Plenty of photo-ops.
If you stop by the first box, the Carbondale Hitchhiker Hostel (HHH), I will try to keep it stocked with some simple maps provided by the local Ranger Stations. If there are none in the box, you can pick one up in Glenwood Springs or Carbondale (It's a pamphlet specifically covering the West Elk Loop (WEL); it provides lots of history and points of interest along the way - makes the trip all the more interesting & explains the reasons behind some of my stamps).
PLEASE be careful! Please be discreet when finding the boxes and PLEASE reseal the boxes well. If we all do our part, then maybe (hopefully!) these boxes will last a long time. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I HIGHLY recommend filling up your gas tank in Carbondale and grabbing plenty of water and snacks (and a potty break) - we had a really tough time finding and places to stop. We finally found a gas station in Paonia (about 10 cents cheaper/gal on gas) that had a little hot food and a restroom. We were told there were some restaurants about 40 miles further in Delta, but it's off-route. Enjoy your day!
All stamps are handcarved.
#1 - CARBONDALE/MT. SOPRIS HITCH HIKER HOSTEL
Want to up your "F" count? Want to see a variety of letterboxes from all over all in one place? This is a great place for that! I've stocked the hostel - it's jam-packed with hitchhikers.
For those who don't already know, a hitchhiker (sometimes known as a "parasite") is a letterbox with no permanent home. Instead, a hitchhiker travels from letterbox to letterbox, "hitching a ride" with whomever happens to find it.
A hitchhiker includes the same basic components as a letterbox: a rubber stamp (usually created just for that hitchhiker) and a journal in some kind of a container, either a small watertight plastic box with lid or a heavy duty ziplock bag. Hitchhikers in plastic bags are meant to be placed inside a host letterbox, so they're usually very compact, without extra items like a stamp pad or pencil. Hitchhikers in plastic containers are meant to be hidden alongside a letterbox. Sometimes, there's no room inside a letterbox or in a box's hiding place for the hitchhiker, so you'll have to carry the hitcher to your next destination instead.
Each portion of the journey is recorded. Stamp your personal stamp and the stamp of each host letterbox in the hitchhiker's logbook. Stamp the hitcher in your own journal, counting it as a find in your PFX count. Finally, stamp the hitchhiker's stamp into each letterbox where the hitcher makes a stop.
As you dive into the box, and can all get quite confusing, so please take your time, stamp-in properly (as listed above), and PLEASE don't get components of different HH's mixed up with each other. Please seal each and every one back up real tight. Above all, have FUN!!!
Whether you take one or not, you are welcome to stamp into all of them, but YOU MAY ONLY TAKE ONE IF YOU LEAVE ONE. Exception: If a hitchhiker has been sitting there for way too long (6 months or more), OR if there are more than 5 HH's, you are welcome to go ahead and take one or two if you know you can place it somewhere else soon, whether you have a replacement for it or not.
Difficulty: Drive-by in length, but steep hill to climb.
From I-70, exit South (southeast) at Glenwood Springs on Hwy 82. At about the 11 mile marker, pull off to visit the little Carbondale welcome center. Find the telephone pole nearest the back of the pavilion. Make your way a little way down to the telephone pole just south of it (it's steep, so be careful!) The hostel is under the largest boulder nearest to the pole. It is hidden under deadwood.
THERE IS ONE PACKAGE INSIDE THAT IS THE "HITCHHIKER HOSTEL" LETTERBOX ITSELF (MT. SOPRIS). THIS IS NOT A HH, SO PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE IT FROM THE HOSTEL.
PLEASE REHIDE WELL in the same place you found it.
I'd love to hear updates on its condition, and if you were able to switch out HH's: email@example.com
After getting this box, proceed to the scenic byway, hwy 133 (you'll turn right once you hit the light at Carbondale). ALWAYS FOLLOW THE BLUE BYWAY SIGNS unless otherwise instructed! Head towards Redstone.
#2 - REDSTONE COKE OVENS
Do not stray from the highway until you see the coke ovens on your right. There is history information right off the road in front of them, but the letterbox is on the BACK side. Park in back and, starting from the south, count to the 12th oven. Between 12 and 13, the box is in the wall down low. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take the time to fit the stones all back in place firmly to hid the box well. This is a popular tourist site, so please be inconspicuous.
#3 - PAONIA STATE PARK
1st entrance to Paonia State Park, "Hawsapple Campground." Follow the camping signs (you'll pull off onto the road that leads to the campsites). From the Self Service station 1/2 way down the road, continue south and count 8 posts on the right. You see a BIG rock with a smaller rock on its north end. Look behind and beneath it. Please tuck box back deeply into the hole so it won't slide down the hill.
#4 - BOWIE'S FOOTSTEPS ON THE CEILING
Read about the Footsteps in the pamphlet. I couldn't wait to see this site and place the box nearby, but we never did see it! So we ended up past the itty bitty town of Bowie and just placed the box at the first place we could. Just past Bowie (still on hwy133), you'll come to a T intersection (there will be a sighn to go to Paonia). You'll also see a brown "Point of Interest" sign. Although it wasn't very "interesting," the box was placed there behind Escalante Dominguez, 2 steps behind among the rocks. It's a HUGE prescription bottle with a black lid.
#5 - HOTCHKISS
Watch for sign to turn left to follow WEL!!! After the turn, you'll soon see a bridge (North Fork Gunnison River). Pull off to the right beside the bridge and pull on up to "Reviving the River." Behind the sign is a small tree. Check the back side of that tree under a rock.
#6 - NEEDLE ROCK
Turn right into Crawford State Park ("North Shore"). Spot Needle Rock back across the hwy! At the Fee Station, get out and stand at the post 2 feet to the left. Get out your compass and, peeking just to the right of the post, find the nicest evergreen tree toward the top of the hill at apx. 260 degrees (I say approximately because I'm not sure how accurate my $5 compass is). It's about 48 steps. Watch out for cactus!
#7 - THE BEAR OF GUNNISON CANYON
Wow! What views! Between mile markers 51 & 52, there's a scenic turnout on the right. If you reach the big electric tower, you've gone too far. At the north end of the turnout by all the rocks is a huge spruce (?) tree. Look at its base under rocks. Just a few miles ahead is Curecanti.
NOTE: You might find this interesting. It's an email I received at the beginning of August 2006...
"My name is Jimmy. I work for C DOT.( Dept of Transpatortion.) While working on hwy 92 Thurs aug 3rd, I found your letter box. I was looking at the bear scrapes on the leaning tree. Thats what it is called on patrol 32 out of Crawford. While looking for tracks beneath the tree is when I found your letter box series #7. There are a lot of bears in that area. But before I tell you any more. I want to know who you are and what is your intrest in the bears. And what is up with the letter box. And are there more boxes. I don't know if you noticed , that is an awesome tree. Jimmy"
"Oh my goodness!!! This is very interesting! I guess you read up on letterboxing. I started LBing in Oklahoma, but recently moved up here to Carbondale. There are hundreds of letterboxes in Colorado, but I thought I'd place some along the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. It was a drive my
>husband and I wanted to make andyway (we wanted to do some siteseeing), so I prepared ahead of time for the trip. I went to the local Forest Ranger Station and picked up a map of the scenic loop that also included all
the towns, parks, and rec areas on the way and some background on each. So I carved one stamp for each area, trying to associate each stamp with something significant about the town. I also carved a few extra stamps that somehow related to Colorado as extras to fill in some areas that I didn't necessarily have any particular stamp for. The bear stamp was just an extra. There was a large gap between two of the boxes, and I wanted to make sure people stopped to see the Black Canyon - it was INCREDIBLE! and I wanted others to see it, too! So we (my husband and I) stopped when I thought I had found a good
place to "plant" the box, and left it there behind the tree. I placed or "planted" a total of 11 letterboxes that day, so I'm not positive I remember the exact place I placed this one. Was it under a huge pine tree that had
a bunch of large rocks up behind it a ways? On a little turnout right on the highway?"
"The tree you described is the right one. Its also the highest point on that pass. Another hint you might add is there is a huge power line that travels across the highway just south of the leaning tree. That power line is from the dam down in the canyon, that you can see from the highway. We have seen four bears on that section of hwy 92. A mother and her cub, both black. Two brown ones, and a blonde one. Fall is a good time to see them. The choke cherries are ripe. They look like clusters of red berries on bushes. Plus the oak brush nuts are also ripe. Both are high in protein that the bears eat this time of year to fatten up for their winter sleep. Both are very abundant on that road. If you go back looking for them, look at any
rocks that move. Scan all the hillsides look for something that just dosen't look right, compared to all the other indigenous rocks in the area. They might be moving or just setting. You have to be very lucky to have one cross the road in front of you, but it does happen. We have not seen the bear that marked the leaning tree, so that might mean
five known bears on that section of road between mile marker 42 and 72. When you go back stop at that tree. Just about eye level you will see the scars on the bark. One on each side of the tree. Each scar will have vertical
scratches. And no I did not sign up to be a letterboxer. But dosen't mean I won"t. Jimmy"
My last response:
"I think it's neat that you found it, but I find it amazing that that tree that I just so happened to plant a letterbox under that just so happened to be a spare stamp that just so happened to be of a bear that I just so happened to name "The Bear of Black Canyon" happens to be a tree marked by a bear that I didn't even notice!!! Thank you for telling about your experience! I think it's so cool that the tree is bear-ized. I haven't ever seen a bear outside a zoo and wouldn't know what bear scratches looked like. I'll have to go back and see it! Thanks so much for not removing it. A lot of us lose boxes due to
theft or people just thinking it's trash. We all put a lot of thought and work into finding or creating a stamp image, carving it, hand-making a logbook, purchasing a container, packing it all up, searching for a location to
put it, posting the clues on the internet, and maintaining them. I appreciate you putting it back as you found it. Do we have a new letterboxer??? :)Thanks so much, Mandy "Cameo" "
#8 - HERMIT'S REST AT CURECANTI
Visit Hermit's Rest and park. Take a peek over the edge - wow! It doesn't even look real! Watch for ground squirrels as you find Hermit Trail. Count your steps from the beginning! You'll soon come to a rather naked stretch and see that the trail looks like it'll run right smack into an evergreen tree. At 250 steps you'll come to that tree (on your left). Go around the tree counterclockwise. The box is NOT beneath the branches. It is below ground level protected by rocks. Finally, a hike! Not much of one, but a hike nonetheless.
#9 - POISONWOOD BIBLE AT PIONEER POINT
This box has nothing to do with anything; it's just based on a great book I read. Turn into Pioneer Point and park (restrooms available). Find and follow Curecanti Creek Trail. Immediately on your left is a skinny dirt path. Follow it about 25 steps. On your right is a slice-of-pie-shaped boulder. Have a seat on it and face away from the path. Loof right under a shelf of rock. Again, PLEASE take the time to replace the rocks securely and to hide box well! Thanks!!!
NOTE: At Almont, the highway turns into 135, but is still the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway
#10 - ROARING JUDY - KOKANEE SALMON
After Almont, look for the Roaring Judy Hatchery on the left. Go down that road. Just before the bridge, turn left into the parking area and park at the end by the "Taking of Kokanee Salmon Prohibited" sign. Follow the guardrail down to the river - please be careful (and watch out for thorn bushes)! Climb onto the largest rock and check the upper peak and 6 inches to the right under a rock. There's a BIG hole at the top of the peak. At first I checked it out - looked like the perfect hiding place! HOWEVER, the box would just fall in and become unretrievable! I tried to hide that hole so no one would mistakenly put the box in there. Please replace the box SIX INCHES TO THE RIGHT OF THE PEAK OF THE BIG ROCK.
#11 - CRESTED BUTTE
I didn't actually place this one IN Crested Butte because there is just so much development - I'm afraid it would get tractored over. So you're headed on to Kebler Pass. Watch carefully for a Phillips (?) gas station that has a "True Value" hardware store in that same building (the true value sign is small and only on the building). Turn left here on Whiterock. This road is sometimes called CR 112, CR 12, and Kebler Pass. I didn't see too many mile markers (maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention), but the miles count down instead of up. As far as I could measure, there's a turnoff on the left side of the street apx. one mile BEFORE mile marker 27. Sorry, I could only find a mile marker after the fact. ☹ If you pass it, you'll see a gravel road going up the mountain on the right. From the turnout, you'll see a meadow about 75 yards across. On one edge is the road, and on the opposite edge is forest. The river winds all through the meadow. Beautiful! The box is near the tree next to the turnout, about 10 feet down a steep slope (be careful! The gravel makes it rather tricky). The box is tucked under the edge of a rock to the left of the tree (it's the larger rock in that immediate area). Don't bother looking beneath branches or through weeds.
#12 - AN UNLIKELY PAIR
You're almost finished! A really cute stamp that also has nothing to do with the scenery. At about mile 19, there is a short dirt road on the left. Check it out! You'll see a little turnout with a firepit where you can park and turn around (you COULD get back to the highway by going straight, but I wouldn't recommend it! ☺ ). On the opposite side of the street across from the firepit, find the Aspen largest in diameter. The flora is pretty deep, but it's only a short walk. It will be on the left side of the tree.
You've done it!!!! Just continue down Kebler Pass to get back to 133. Head back north to get back to Carbondale. Please let me know how your trip went at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for visiting!