A unique geologic and pungent attraction beckons visitors traveling up the West Dolores Road in the San Juan National Forest.
The newly improved Geyser Spring Trail (No. 648) leads hikers through pine, spruce, and aspen forests for 1.25 miles to a warm sulphur spring. It is located two miles south of Dunton, and 19 miles from Colorado 145.
The trailhead was recently realigned to better accommodate hikers and a nearby landowner. A new wooden bridge was installed across the Westfork River, and there is an improved parking area.
"Were really excited about it," said Toni Kelly, director of visitor services for Dolores Public Lands Center. "We used to not advertise the trail because it was on a dangerous corner and access was an issue, but now we encourage people to check it out."
After the pavement ends on the West Dolores Road (FS 535), travel eight miles of narrow gravel road to the spacious parking area and the trailhead bridge.
Follow the smell of the geyser (a little like rotten eggs) along a trail that passes through wildflower meadows and aspen groves, with views of red-rock cliffs of the nearby river valley.
The trail crosses Geyser Creek twice and switch backs past some old mines. It then drops down to the creek and ends at a burbling pool of milky water surrounded by ferns.
The hot-tub size spring erupts into a roiling cauldron of sulphur gas about every 40 minutes, and then disipates after 10 minutes. It is reported to be the only naturally occurring geyser in Colorado.
We're not talking Old Faithful here by any stretch of the imagination. But it is worth the time and much fly swatting to see the show.
"It is a unique sight to see it erupt and overflow into the creek," Kelly said.
Some visitors may choose to soak in the sulphur spring, which has a temperature of 82 degrees and is thought to have healing qualities.
Forest officials warn hikers to avoid abandoned mines along the trail because of the toxic hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) that has been detected.
"H2S gas occurs in old mines and can be released in the oil and gas fields as well," said Chris Bouton, a trails specialist. "It is toxic to humans, so the old mines should not be approached in that area, or anywhere for that matter."
Signs warning of the gas, which can be deadly, are posted near the mines. Dead rodents and birds have been documented near a mine entrance not far from the Geyser Spring Trail, a sign of H2S.
The Geyser trail has been a headache for the forest service and the neighboring Griffith Estate. The trail had crossed private land on an established forest service trail easement that utilized a private bridge. But the landowner filed a lawsuit to have the trail moved in 2010.
The forest service settled out of court and relocated the trail a quarter mile to the south. A new parking lot was built and a rock path was built to cross the river, but it was too dangerous during high water.
"It was a bit perilous to get across, so it was determined that a new bridge would be installed," said district ranger Derek Padilla.
The old easement crossing private land will be abandoned, he said. The landowner negotiated a new easement to accommodate for the new parking lot location and also chipped in $10,000 towards the new bridge.
Construction costs were $95,000, with the bulk of the funds coming from a Go Colorado Recreation Grant.
"It came out great," Padilla said. The wooden bridge is aesthetically pleasing and the new trailhead adds to the area."