September is nearing its end; the morning air is crisp and clear. We’re in our own private heaven here at Transfer Horse Camp in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, located in the Rocky Mountain Range.
This horse camp offers everything an avid horseman needs: large, roomy corrals, water, camping spaces, and riding trails straight from camp.
At 9,000 feet elevation, the trails here offer riders a variety of terrain and wildlife viewing, as well as a delightful mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees.
Transfer Horse Camp is located approximately nine miles north of the town of Mancos on Forest Rd. 561. This is a graveled road in fairly good condition. Look for signs for Transfer Campground. The horse camp is across the road on the left.
There are three spacious wooden corrals that were built by the nearby Lake Mancos Ranch, in partnership with the San Juan National Forest. These corrals are used by the Mancos Ranch, as well as anyone camping with horses.
This is a primitive campground, no electricity or potable water. Water for horses is available from a nearby creek; potable water is available from a pump across the road in the regular campground. We found that bucketing water from the creek into our 65-gallon water container in our pickup bed worked just fine.
We put our Missouri Fox Trotters, Nate and Cowboy, into one large corral and parked our living-quarters gooseneck trailer next to it.
It’s great to stay where you can do a number of day rides from one camp. There are five major rides here; we did four of them.
Chicken Creek Trail
We first rode the Chicken Creek Trail, No. 615. It begins a little north of camp, merging with the Morrison Trail for the first half mile. You’ll come to a well-marked junction. Turn left, and head south for the Chicken Creek Trail, or turn right for the Morrison Trail.
Chicken Creek Trail is an extremely pleasant, fun trail to ride. There are curves, twists, and occasional easy stream crossings. Even though it was nearing the end of September, there were still flowers that had escaped the wrath of Jack Frost. Yellow, white, and deep-purple flowers added a festive note to the backdrop of brilliant gold aspen contrasting with somber evergreens.
A soft dirt trail with few rocks works its way up onto a ridge. There, we could see the Mesa Verde Plateau to the southwest and the La Plata Mountains to the east.
After almost eight miles, we found ourselves by the bank of Jackson Gulch Reservoir at Mancos State Park, a perfect spot for a picnic and a relaxing stretch. We did both. Then we returned the same way we came.
The next day, we started out on the same trail, but at the junction, we turned right and headed north on the Morrison Trail. This wasn’t as scenic as the Chicken Trail; parts of it had been used by all-terrain vehicles, and there were numerous road crossings.
About seven miles later, the trail climbs to Haycamp Mesa (elevation, 9,785 feet). This is where we stopped. If you wanted to, you could continue on down into Lost Canyon.
After Lost Canyon, the trail descends into the Dolores River valley and merges with the Bear Creek Trail, eventually terminating at the Morrison trailhead at Wallace Ranch. The one-way riding distance is about 9 to 10 miles and is rated as moderately difficult.
Aspen Loop Trail
Our third ride was on part of the 39-mile ATV Aspen Loop Trail. To reach the Aspen Loop trailhead, ride a half-mile due east on the road that passes by the main campground. The road ends at a large turn-around and gated trail. This is the Aspen Loop trailhead. Although ATVs and motorcycles are allowed on this loop, we didn’t see a single one during our mid-week fall ride.
After heading down the Aspen Loop Trail for three miles or so, we turned right on a small, two-track trail that branched from the main road.
This road/trail followed a ridge overlooking the Mancos River Valley with views of Mount Hesperus (elevation, 13,232 feet) looming in the distance. Mount Hesperus is a sacred mountain to the Navajo people and is mentioned in their legends.
From our high trail, we could look down and across the valley, and see mountains on the other side. An immense tapestry of gold and green swirled throughout the valley.
We were getting closer to Mount Hesperus, but reluctantly had to head back. Shadows were growing long, and daylight was growing short. We wished we had more time to ride.
West Mancos Trail
When it comes to trail riding, expect the unexpected. Trails can erode, or become overgrown or blocked by slides or falling trees. This was our experience with the West Mancos Trail.
On the east side of the campground, this trail begins its descent into the West River Mancos Valley. It divides in less than three-quarters of a mile; to the right (west) is the Box Canyon Trail and to the left (east) is the West Mancos Trail.
The trail descends steeply in a series of switchbacks until it reaches the valley floor. A couple of the switchbacks were a little tricky. The valley floor trail was very overgrown with brush.
This trail is noted for meandering through some of the world’s largest aspen trees. Fall is the premier time to see these giant aspen.
Like an elaborate cathedral, the towering aspens supported a golden canopy against an azure sky. As the wind blew, bits of gold fluttered and danced before landing on the forest floor.
This aspen grove, about four miles in, is a beautiful, worthwhile destination.
Lake Mancos Ranch
Lake Mancos Ranch is a wonderful family vacation spot located just off the road to Transfer Horse Camp. If you need a break from camping out and roughing it, this ranch is the place to go.
The ranch is owned and managed by the Sehnert family and is a member of the Dude Rancher’s Association, an elite group of ranches across the West and Canada that adhere to high standards of service.
Trail riding in sublime scenery is the main activity, but there are lots of optional activities, such as riding lessons, barrel racing, team penning, line dancing, breakfast cookouts, fishing, hiking, swimming, and simply relaxing.
We’d been on the road for several months, and it was time for a little break. This brought us to Hobo’s Hideout Bed, Breakfast, and Barn.
Hobo’s Hideout is located just west of Mancos, not far from Transfer Horse Camp. For people traveling with or without animals, this cozy refuge offers topnotch accommodations, a gourmet breakfast, and clean, comfortable animal facilities.
The place’s high-energy, creative owners are Chris and Dimitri Schlotter. They’re artists who’ve also gained recognition in the equestrian world over the past 20 years through their Mountain Horse Tennessee Walking Horse Farm and involvement with American Gaited Mules.
Hobo’s Hideout is located near Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients, and Durango.
At Hobo’s Hideout, “Animals are welcome to bring their people.” And so we did. Nate and Cowboy stayed here while we visited Mesa Verde National Park. Dimitri spoiled our “boys” and us during our time there.
The “people hideout” consists of a 740-square-foot apartment with its own private entrance that opens to a comfortable patio surrounded by greenery and views of the distant mountains.
Seasoned trail riders and equine photojournalists Kent and Charlene Krone enjoy sharing their riding adventures in the United States and Canada. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dude Ranchers’ Association
Hobo’s Hideout Bed, Breakfast, and Barn
Lake Mancos Ranch
San Juan National Forest