Frontier Stays

Escape to Colorado's backcountry cabins.

September 2011

Brewery Creek Guard Station

Rio Grande National Forest

I have a confession: I’m afraid of the dark. The sun sets, and I get twitchy. Call it the scary-movie curse—I’ve watched too many flicks where unsuspecting young women vanish from an otherwise lovely wooded area. Thus, camping, where the appeal lies in the isolation, has always presented a challenge for me. S’mores, I fully support. Bonfires? Count me in. Long hikes through the Rocky Mountains? Sign me up. But sleeping alone in a tent with just a thin sheet of fabric separating me from…who knows what? That’s simply not my thing.

So I was looking forward to the chance to go “camping” in a cabin, where I’d have six friends sleeping in the same room and four walls separating me from my somewhat irrational fears.

Following the directions we received from the ranger district, we drive along a dirt road for what seems like miles. There’s not a hint of civilization; not one other car passes us. Then we see our cabin: Brewery Creek Guard Station, a 76-year-old, clapboard-style structure resting below a hillside of pines and aspens. It’s, well, rustic.

Just two miles up the road from the guard station lies the ghost town of Bonanza, a mining outpost that boomed in the 1880s after silver ore was discovered. Saloons, dance halls, and a town baseball team sprang up, but just as quickly, the price of silver dropped, and the town began to empty. After a fire in 1937 destroyed 30 buildings, Bonanza was never rebuilt. Today, fewer than a dozen people make their homes within the old town limits. But the remnants of its heyday still exist, and you can visit them on the Bonanza Off-Highway Vehicle Tour—six routes that last from 45 minutes to two hours. All the self-guided trip requires is a high-clearance vehicle and a map picked up from the Saguache Ranger District (about 15 miles south of town).

The nearby Elkhorn Trail was also calling to me. A moderate 3.5-mile walk (up and back), Elkhorn affords stunning views of snow-covered Antora Peak, not to mention potential moose sightings. But we decide it’s too late to go gallivanting tonight. Tomorrow’s sunny forecast should offer plenty of daylight for playing. We set up camp at the outdoor picnic table, pop open beers—our homage to the once-active brewery outside Bonanza that is rumored to have supplied the old saloons and gave our cabin its name—and peer into the meadow to see if we can catch sight of beavers building dams.

As the sun begins to dip, we crowd inside the two-room cabin for a dinner of turkey fajitas cooked on the stove, and then hurry back outside to get the fire going before darkness descends. I head inside the cabin to turn on the heater. It’s the first time I’ve been alone all evening—and I find that my fear of the dark is holding in relative check. That’s when I hear it: a light tapping behind me. My heart speeds up. Tap. Tap. Tap. I turn wildly in circles and am ready to run outside when I see the culprit: a tiny mouse, scurrying through the cabin looking for warmth. I head back outside into the woods. In a surprising twist, the vast openness of the outdoors feels, for a moment, more secure than the four walls of a cabin. —Daliah Singer

If you go

Year built 1935

Sleeps 9

Utilities Propane lights, heater, refrigerator, and stove; no running water

Amenities Three bunk beds with mattresses (single on top, double on bottom—no linens), couch, table, chairs, pots and pans, cooking utensils, outdoor picnic table, vaulted outhouse, fire pit with grill rack, hand pump for water, barbecue

Around the Cabin The terrain surrounding the cabin is great for ATVing, but it’s fairly isolated. You’ll spend your time relaxing, enjoying stunning views of Antora Peak, and playing board games (Monopoly and Yahtzee, anyone?) stashed in the cabin.

Wildlife Elk, deer, and beavers

Going to Town The closest town is Villa Grove, which doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but make sure to stop at the Villa Grove Trade for a lunch made with local products, from buffalo burgers to french fries.

Directions to the Cabin From Denver, take U.S. 285 South for about 160 miles. Just before you reach Villa Grove, take the Bonanza turnoff (a right turn onto County Road LL56). Drive approximately 13 miles west on a dirt road to the Brewery Creek sign and turn left, crossing a bridge. Drive another 1.5 miles until you reach a locked gate (you’ll have picked up the key in Villa Grove; call 719-655-2547 for more information). The cabin is a quarter mile from the gate, and you can drive right up to it—if there’s no snow.