The contradiction of accessible remoteness

Bob Burk explores Cebolla Creek at the Cebolla State Wildlife Area. With a mile of public water and few fishermen, the accessible remoteness of Cebolla beckons the adventurer.



Inaccessible or remote. Consider the difference as comparable to fishing real estate.

Inaccessible could be the wonderful river immediately next to the busy paved road in the middle of town, a river with no public access.

Remote could be the questionable river along a dirt road for miles and miles in the backcountry with ample public access.

Certainly, fishermen prefer the latter over the former. In a word, actually in a name, remote is Cebolla.

Cebolla is the Spanish word for onion. Cebolla Creek is the fisherman’s word for remote and accessible. Some would correctly use the phrase “in the middle of nowhere.”

Having fished for decades across western Colorado, I often return to familiar places with known fishing expectations. Other times I look for something new.

For a recent free weekend, I pulled out the maps and began a systematic search for someplace I had not been.

Colorado has a lifetime of fishing backcountry, so for anyone, yet-to-be-explored remote places are plentiful. But my criteria was to find new water within a few hours drive of my home in Montrose and be someplace I had not been.

I wanted to go overnight tent camping, but not spend all of my time and gas getting there and back.

It took some time, staring and following brown lines and blue lines, but out it popped.

There was this enclave of roads and rivers east of Lake City that I had traveled only once before, years ago. That’s it — upper Cebolla Creek.

Traveling often to Lake City and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison and its tributaries, including the lower Cebolla, I had overlooked the remote upper Cebolla.

Lake City itself is remote, even by western Colorado standards. Cebolla Creek is even more so.

What I found was a pleasant surprise.  I expected a rough dirt road and skinny water. Instead, the car-suitable road was relatively smooth and wide, yet in two days I encountered fewer than a dozen vehicles.

Never more than a football field away from the road, the creek was lonely and inviting.

Colorado 149 runs from Blue Mesa Reservoir south to Lake City. Cebolla is a tributary of the Gunnison River, inletting to Blue Mesa on the south side of the reservoir in a roadless area.

About one-third of the way to Lake City, near the community of Powderhorn, the paved road crosses the Cebolla. From that crossing, Forest Service Road 3036 splits off to the southeast, entering a pocket of remoteness you must experience.

For two wonderful early-summer days, Bob Burk and I explored new country. Day 1 found us driving off the main road up Forest Service Road 3034 along the East Fork of Powderhorn Creek. The dirt road, not a car road but a good road, paralleled the creek for about eight miles to a dead end at Ten Mile Springs.

From there we hiked upstream for a few miles. With a mixture of creek and beaver ponds, we found an abundance of small browns, 5-10 inches. I was hoping for cutthroats but found none.

After an overnight stay at Cebolla campground (only a few campsites but no one else was around), on Day 2 we explored the main creek.

Much of Cebolla Creek on the northern end near the highway is private. But a ways south, one comes to Cebolla State Wildlife Area. Very nice.

Camping is allowed, and there is about a mile of excellent water with some man-made stream improvements. Again browns dominated, with the size pushing up to 15 inches.

The afternoon found us exploring even further upstream. Eventually the road loops around to the west to Slumgullion Pass and on to Lake City.

The road is constantly along the creek, with several tributaries and trail heads and campgrounds along the way.

We spent the day just picking the best-looking spots and skipping down the road, encountering not a single other fisherman.

A strong, lightning-filled late afternoon thunderstorm drove us off the creek and on down the road for home. The more I think I have been most everywhere, the more I realize there is much yet to explore. What’s your excuse?

Outdoor writer Joel L. Evans lives in Montrose, when he isn’t out seeking new waters to fish.


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