Wolf Creek Pass


A Love Your Parks Tour Music Story by Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid

We were heading up to Greeley, Colorado from Gallup, New Mexico and had just driven through Shiprock and visited Aztec Ruins National Monument. As we crossed over into Colorado, the high desert landscape gave way to a view of mountain ranges with snow-capped peaks, and fresh green meadows with wildflowers along the roadside. From Hwy. 550 north to Durango, we took Hwy. 160 east. The road started to wind around the mountains as we headed east through the Rio Grande National Forest towards Pagosa Springs. The temperature started to drop as the road started to started to climb, all the way up to over 10,000! We were on Wolf Creek Pass, and there was snow on the sides of the steep road. This called for palm sweat, a tight white knuckle grip on the steering wheel, and deep breaths.

Reaching 10,857 feet in elevation, Wolf Creek Pass is on the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains. It’s significantly steep on either side with a 6.8% maximum grade, and is known for being especially dangerous in the winter. The pass was named after Wolf Creek, which starts near the top of the pass and flows down to a confluence with the West Fork San Juan River. Travelers can view Treasure Falls just west of the pass, and go through a 900 ft. tunnel on the east side which is also home to the Wolf Creek ski area.

“Me and Earl was haulin’ chickens…On the flatbed out of Wiggins… And we’d spent all night on the uphill side… Of 37 miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass…Which is up on the Great Divide…” C. W. McCall

From sunshine and lush meadows, up into the chilly snow country and then back down to the forest floor where there was a rushing waterway, craggy rock formations and brilliant blue sky, it was a spectacular drive through the wilderness. It was also a gentle initiation of what was to come in our Colorado road trippin’ adventures: Trail Ridge Road (12,183 ft.), Monarch Pass (11,312 ft.), and Million Dollar Highway (11,018 ft.). Perhaps it would have helped to listen to country artist C. W. McCall’s truck driver song “Wolf Creek Pass.”

“Wolf Creek Pass” was the title track of McCall’s 1975 album on MGM Records. Another popular song on the album is “Old Home Filler-up an’ Keep on a-Truckin’ Café,” which was used in a popular TV commercial that helped make McCall famous. He wrote and performed the 1975 hit “Convoy” which was the inspiration for the 1978 Sam Peckinpah movie. Born in Audubon, Iowa on November 15, 1928, William Dale Fries Jr. is an American singer, activist and politician best known by his stage name C. W. McCall.

You can hear “Wolf Creek Pass” on YouTube.com and learn more about this American legend at http://www.cw-mccall.com/index2.html

National Parks Arts Foundatio

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