It’s late September, and the aspens of southwestern Colorado are in their full fall regalia. Their uniform greens have transformed into red and yellow, setting the forest afire in colors that signify the coming change of seasons in the high country.
This is just one of the treats awaiting visitors to the Matterhorn Creek Basin, situated in the heart of the San Juan range.
The San Juans are an anomaly in the Colorado Rockies, a confluence of titanic geological forces. The combination on continental uplift, glacial carving and vulcanism has made this massive alpine wilderness one of the wildest and most spectacular places in all of the lower 48.
Hiking in, you can see the signs of its rich geological heritage. Dome-shaped mountains are around one turn, surrounded in turn by vertical spires elsewhere. Further up the trail, following the basin’s namesake creek, the trees part and the sentinels of the basin rise high above all else. Straight up the trail is Matterhorn Peak, a 13,000-foot mountain with graceful, grassy slopes up its east face that lead to its jagged summit tower.
To the west is one of Matterhorn’s bigger brothers – the striking and vertical Wetterhorn Peak, rising to more than 14,000 feet.
It’s high up Matterhorn that the Matterhorn Creek Basin can be appreciated in full. The minor peaks that towered overhead moments before bow before their loftier cousins. Wetterhorn’s stark beauty is at its highest here, while the impressive bulk of Uncompahgre Peak – the highest in all the San Juans – rises to the east.
Under blue skies, with dramatic summits all around and a forest aflame in color below, you understand the value of wilderness.
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