THE WHEELER GEOLOGIC AREA, in Colorado’s La Garita Wilderness, is something of an oddity. Twenty five million years ago, vast volcanic eruptions – among the largest to have occurred on Earth during the last 500 million years – created the La Garita caldera and laid down a hundred meters or more of volcanic deposits. The eroded remains are visible over just a small area in the Wheeler Geologic area, where they form a landscape of spires that resembles a less colorful version of Bryce Canyon National Park. The area was Colorado’s first National Monument (somewhat amazing when you think of all the other spectacular landscapes in the state), but visitation never took off and it now sees relatively few visitors. In summer 2019, my brother and I explored the area on a day hike.
It remains possible to drive to the base of the Wheeler formations, but the road is in poor condition and genuinely reserved for high-clearance 4WD vehicles and ATVs. Alternatively, you can hike from the Hanson