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Old 11-13-2011, 05:44 PM   #1
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Fairplay, Colorado- Gold Panning & Hikers Paradise- FREE

Fairplay. Once a great gold placer mining town. Now a great tourist town to visit, City provided gold panning just on the south side of town and you have the entire Rockies to drive and explore to your west.

These mountains are not like the Ozarks. These peaks all exceed 14,000 feet and you can drive over Mosquito Pass to Leadville, if you can keep the blood in your knuckles driving down the west side of the pass. The switch backs have twenty foot drops in elevation... for the "wee bitty ones". Preferable a Jeep sized vehicle. A full sized pickup should wait for a weekday test of nerves. I did it once, going up from the west to the east. Weekend. Too much traffic going the opposite direction and they had the look of terror upon their faces and the steep, treeless drops. Well worth the drive, but not necessary. There is plenty of exploring to do between Fairplay and the... pass.

We use an open BLM/Forest Service area to set up the AS. It is just past the Buffalo Creek NF Campground. When the road forks, take the right fork and pull the trailer onto the wide, pretty flat open area. Large enough to circle two or three trailers if necessary. When you area ready to leave, just take the same side you drove to set up camp. The road to the south would be the least of the better options to take.

Directions: South of Fairplay on Highway 285, which also takes you to Denver if you keep going north, is a Forest Service road on your west side. It will say "Buffalo Creek Road Campground" at mile marker 170. It is the only turn near that mile marker. You will go about a half mile, pass the campground, unless you prefer to figure out how to fit into a tent site, and when the road forks... you are there. We camp there when we are heading back home to the Front Range and want to run the dogs and take a breather. Those of you who want to spend several days exploring... there is unlimited adventure to the west. A forest service map of the Pike National Forest is best, but by heading back east, you will eventually run into Highway 285 and know where to find base camp.

Gold Panning: Yes, even at $1750 an ounce for gold, there is still gold to be panned in Middle Creek. Stop at a motel or restaurant for information. Unlimited gravel to search, but you need just a bit of equipment.
(1) A gold pan. Plastic or steel. The green plastic has the best contrast. You need to get your steel pan to rust up a bit for contrast, which takes a few years.
(2) Shovel. Yes, in my case it is the boonypooin' shovel I have to remove large boulders to get the finer sand that adheres to the boulders and is in between.
(3) Bucket. Any five gallon plastic bucket will do. Also a heavy mesh screen to screen the smaller pebbles and coarse grit. If the screen opening is about the size of this 0... you will save yourself some screening later. The gold is a "flour gold", bright yellow and in contrast to the next heavy sand, magnetite, which is black and very common.
(4) The creek is shallow, cold and where you can take a bucket of water to pan your "concentrate". Gold is much heavier than water and anything else you have in this sand, so it will stay at or near the bottom of your pan. After twenty minutes of sloshing around the wrong way, you will eventually be washing the "lighter sand" out of the pan, like on the western movies and if you are seeing the black magnetite in streaks on the bottom of the pan, the gold is in there, with it. If some other "gold bug" is out there, they can show you the technique. You WILL figure it out. If you could drive your trailer to the camp site, not get lost, not roll the trailer into a mountain ditch and can pump gasoline, you can figure this out.
(5) Have something like an eye dropper to "suck" the flour gold into a small glass container with a bit of water in it and, of course, a cork or screw top lid. This glass container need not be very large, unless you are feeling real, real lucky and have a back that can handle the work. Or have a couple of pre teen boys with that gold bug look when they see that first flake of gold.

Best time of the year to camp here. July through September. As you get there earlier or later, the weather can be nice... or nasty. If you are there in July and there is still snow on the 14ers... all bets are off. But be assured, any snow at the campground will melt the next day... promise.

The road is wet or dry passable, but to keep the mud off your AS, the dust is preferred. Any questions... just add to the thread.
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Old 11-21-2011, 02:52 PM   #2
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Thanks for the info Ray. Summer before last we camped in Lake City. I took my truck over a couple of their passes with little difficulty. Engineer Pass and I forget the other. I asked at the campground before going. He said the Engineer pass route should be no issue but the return route he was not sure we could do it. I did manage both passes and I have a Mega cab Dodge and it has a Looooong wheelbase. I just might be interested in your panning place next summer. How far south of Fairplay is the road ????? Google maps show a lot of those forest service rds. but I couldn't find the one you mentioned.

Roger in NJ

" Democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the rest"
Winston Churchill 1948

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Old 11-21-2011, 03:47 PM   #3
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Okay, I live on CO and have never done this - may have to plan a trip up there!
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Old 11-21-2011, 05:05 PM   #4
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I did not see the words "glory hole" once in your description.
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Old 11-22-2011, 09:48 AM   #5
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I believe Buffalo Creek Campground is closer to Bailey and the Deckers area, and was burned rather badly a few years back. I am not aware of a Buffalo Creek Campground in the Fairplay area. Could you mean four mile creek road? or Weston Pass road? I believe these are in the area south of Fairplay, however I can't remember where MM 170 is.

Can you clairfy where this camping area is? I fish the south platte a lot in south park and would love to find an open camping area. Could you possibly mean Buffalo Peak? There is a Buffalo Peak wilderness area south of Fairplay.

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Old 11-22-2011, 11:08 AM   #6
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Buffalo Springs Campground Perhaps?
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Old 11-22-2011, 11:37 AM   #7
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You forgot a point of significant historic information.
Fairplay is obviously the model for the town of South Park in the animated TV show South Park.

Watch out for the police in town.

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Old 12-07-2011, 11:12 AM   #8
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Buffalo Creek Campground...

No glory hole to speak of in Fairplay! You will see the large boulder piles left from the large placer operations of the past to the west of highway 285, to the south of town. The white granite boulders make nice door stops.

I checked my Colorado Atlas and the wife wrote down Buffalo Creek Road Campground. I remember checking for the mile marker 170, as I MISSED the turnoff the first time thinking the turnoff was closer to town, turned around in Fairplay and headed back south. I will try to find the detailed forest service map if there is more interest in the area. On the DeLorme Atlas, page 48 and about 13 miles SOUTH of Fairplay, you will see the National Forest boundary coming close to highway 285. Just west of the highway you will see the camping symbol. Access is excellent to the open spot, but I do not recommend pulling an AS beyond the flat area where the Forest Service road splits. The north fork of the road becomes too rough, shortly after you head west of the large open area. Most traffic to the 14,000+ peaks take the south fork to go west.

There is another area to explore to the northeast of Fairplay, before coming to the pass. The dirt road runs EAST and goes into a valley area, with hunter's pull outs over the horizon. A place to explore after you set up camp and detach the AS. Then mark your mileage to "relocate" the open sites. Sunday to Thursday's leave the area wide open. On the weekend the campers come from the city and they know where the good spots are to be found!

The South Platte River comes close to the highway as you keep heading south and the fishing access pull offs become more common.

It was a terrible loss of nice National Forest in the Deckers area fire. The fishing was nice in the South Platte River, but after the fire and dirty water, I have not fished the area since. Maybe you have a current report as to the fishing conditions...
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Old 12-07-2011, 05:35 PM   #9
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Arkansas River.... close to Highway 285

I wanted to correct the mention of the South Platte River being along Highway 285/24 as you travel south of Fairplay, nearing Buena Vista. This is the Arkansas River which flows south and is the same river that created the Royal Gorge near Canon City. The river has been running clear.

The South Platte River located in the Pike National Forest and the Deckers/Buffalo Creek area, is where the large forest fire and burn area created a lot of soil erosion into the river. The South Platte upper headwaters area is found near Hartsel along Highway 24, when it splits from Highway 285. This is a the community of Buffalo Creek and not the camp ground discussed earlier.

One can track these river sources upstream for their source and head waters in your explorations.

Just to clean up my comments. All of this can be seen in the Atlas and all of the smaller creeks and river headwaters in this area can be tracked.

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