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TravelQuest: The trail to Clear Lake
By Allen Rich, photos by Cindy Skelton and Allen Rich
Jun 8, 2014
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Silverton, Colorado -- Somewhere far above the treeline, much closer to the clouds than the valley floor thousands of feet below, fiesty brook trout flourish in the emerald green waters of a pristine lake cupped in a glacial bowl near the top of a ring of mountain peaks. 

And, amazingly enough, you can drive to it.

If it all sounds too good to be true, don't feel bad.  I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

Clear Lake is a breathtaking alpine lake nestled in the clouds at 11,940 feet above sea level.  But as stunning as the destination is, the journey is half the fun.

Base camp for this expedition was the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, Colorado.  This hotel, built in the 1880s, was the setting for Maverick Queen, a western classic filmed here in 1956 with Barbara Stanwyck playing the part of saloon owner Kit Banion.

The morning begins with a hearty, heaping plate of huevos rancheros at a little café called Mattie and Maud's, located just down the street from the Grand Imperial.  The cook graciously visits with all her customers.  Upon learning that we hail from Bonham, Texas, she tells us that a relative, Martin Blake, is a plumber in nearby Paris, Texas.

We bid adieu to our friends at Mattie and Maud's and roll out of town on Hwy 550 headed towards Ouray Springs. Two miles outside of Silverton, we hang a left on County Road 7 and rumble along a gravel road that parallels a crystal creek, all the time anticipating the four-mile jeep trail up ahead.

Will it be as scenic as the locals told us?

Is it really teeming with trout?

Yes and yes.

A wooden sign marks the entrance to the trail to Clear Lake and the first two miles, although rather steep at times, are a breeze.

Then the switchbacks carry you far above the timberline and the sweeping view of the valley floor far below conjures up a couple of questions.

The first one is, "Who in the world thought they could carve out a narrow trail along the side of this mountain?"

The second one is, "What am I doing on it??"

But spectacular views overpower trepidation as you follow the trail higher and higher. The last mile is marked by an outcropping of rocks that demand a high-clearance four-wheel drive. A waterfall tumbles down the mountainside, hinting at what is to come.  Then a small shallow pool comes into sight off to the left and the road disappears over one last ridge at the mountain peak.

Gotta be almost there...

There is no danger at this point because the cliffs are in the rear-view mirror as you ease into the inner sanctum of this glacial bowl, but you will still find yourself holding your breath and wondering if the climb was worth it.

Suddenly, there it is...brilliant green water surrounded by mountain peaks.  For a moment, I thought of all the plans that didn't fall into place on this trip; the missed photos of North Creek Falls and a journey to the headwaters of the Rio Grand that never materialized. But all that faded away in an instant as I took in the mesmerizing vision of Clear Lake. And disappointment faded into two words.

Mission accomplished.

Now this is Colorado!

Clear Lake

Silverton, Colorado

Grand Imperial Hotel

Barbara Stanwyck's saloon in Maverick Queen.

Huevos Rancheros at Mattie and Maud's

I wasn't looking at the camera...I was just scared to look out my window!

Cindy Skelton and Allen Rich at a waterfall just below Clear Lake.

The little red Dodge pick-up, dwarfed by the peaks surrounding Clear Lake, handled the trails and the highway with equal ease.

Sherman, Texas resident Cindy Skelton floats a fly onto the turquoise water of Clear Lake.

Wildflowers along the shore of Clear Lake.

North Texas e-News roving reporter Allen Rich wrestles a brookie to the bank.

A brook trout swirls at the shoreline and heads for deep water.

Silverton City Hall

Another popular eatery in Silverton.

Downtown Silverton

To see a Youtube video by JeepsterGal of her trip to Clear Lake, click here.