Another Stunning Wildflower Hike, This Time to Cement Mountain – June 20, 2017


The common, and thus under appreciated, Blue Flax, Linus lewisii; A yellow Sun in a cerulean sky

A mountain looms over the valley of the East River.  One that I had driven by repeatedly on my regular commute from my home in Gunnison to my job in Crested Butte, Colorado.  For years I had wanted to hike up to the summit of Cement Mountain, guardian of the creek of the same name.  I had tried one time before only to be turned back by excessive snow pack.  This day dawned with a nearly clear sky, only speckled here and there by a few lone puffy clouds, and I knew that the snowpack this year had become minimal enough to not impede me.  I left fairly early in the morning after having consumed a quick breakfast.  Draco and Leah, my two stalwart German shepherds and regular hiking companions, anticipated the mood and danced about the kitchen as I loaded the pack with our usual gear.  I fed elder Lady Dog and left her something good to chew on as compensation for having to leave her behind.  After I shut the door to the house the shepherds skittered about the yard until I opened the gate, and they then burst out and pranced about the car until I let them in.

We drove north out of town on Colorado 135, imitating my journey to the job, but about half way I turned off the highway onto the Jack’s Cabin Cutoff and piloted the old automobile up to the saddle that divides the Taylor and East Rivers.  Those two waterways join together in Almont and form the Gunnison River.  For whatever reason the East River has been the epithet assigned to the western fork.  Regardless of the nomenclature, I found myself parked at the terminus of Gunnison National Forest Road 813.2A in the great expanse of the sagebrush steppe.  Everywhere I looked on this exceptionally salubrious June day a sea of wildflowers spangled the otherwise ubiquitous grey-green of the sagebrush.  The Mule’s Ears, a montane sunflower, grows in fecund profusion here, to the extent that the flowers lend a yellow tint to patches of the steppe.

Having previously made use of this access to the National Forest, I knew that I could expect a spectacular display of wildflowers.  As I mentally prepared myself for the upcoming trek I admired the blooms readily visible to my naked eye.  Not only had I already been blessed by this floral expanse but I excited myself with the prospect of visiting two higher life-zones where I would probably see many additional species of flowering forbs.  Typical for the canine wont, the shepherds completely ignored the flowers unless some small rodent happened to pique the dogs predatory instinct, or some coyote had maybe piddled on it leaving an intriguing scent for their domesticated cousins.  Nonetheless, as I admired my surroundings enjoying the quietude, Draco and Leah ran about in ever increasingly larger concentric circles until I readied myself and guided us up the road.

New batteries and an empty memory-card ensured that I would be able to photograph every single species of wildflower that I came across.  To document all the different species I mandated as my goal for the day, besides the arduous hike that I had planned.  So, as the pups scampered about from chipmunk to ground squirrel, I languished behind on the road immersed in various blooms colored the spectrum of refracted light such as often seen in a rainbow.  This first mile of hiking provided me with some stunning views of the nearby mountains encapsulated in verdure under a deep blue sky.  Lingering snowpack added to the scenic majesty and I floated along figuratively on a euphoria that often overcomes me when out walking around in a mountainous environment.  Although I wandered around a bit, I also made haste so as to find some shade and water for the dogs.  Although early and none too hot, the Sun would soon warm up this exposed steppe and I looked forward to our immersion in the cool shade of the conifer and aspen forest ahead of us.

Some parts of this hike lie on exposed southern slopes and I happily crossed those knowing that the cool aspen would both enchant and provide relief.  The dogs and I followed the road to its conclusion near Roaring Judy Creek where a trail of the same name begins.  Crossing said stream provided some cool relief and led to our first real challenge.  We had to climb a steep, sunny gulch that could be called parched.  Once past that we would continue our climb up a ridge, exposed to the Sun beating down on us, until we reached the gates of rock well above us.  There is a trail of sorts that shows up on some maps but not others.  According to the signage, this is Roaring Judy Trail No. 552.  Regardless of its topography, it does receive a fair amount of use and is easy to follow.  Although some aspen provide shade this hike is very sunny and there wasn’t much the dogs and I could do but endure the rays beating down on us.  I found the views exhilarating but I could tell from the elongated tongues protruding from the shepherds jaws that they would be just as happy with some shade and water.  Gratefully, we hiked into a conifer forest where patches of snow had yet to melt.  Both dogs rushed forward and began to eagerly munch the snowpack as they lay upon it absorbing the cooling power.  Since the trail coincidentally leveled out it seemed only natural that I too stop and doff my pack so that I too could enjoy some liquid refreshment.

Hiking onward we shortly made the junction with the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553 and soon afterwards left the forest for an open glade filled with newly green grass and some higher elevation wildflowers.  We crossed a fork of Roaring Judy Creek and I decided that to climb Cement Mountain this would be a good place to leave the trail and make the mile and a half bushwhack up to the summit.  There was a path of sorts, barely discernible, that I would suppose had been made by a few other hardy height seekers.  The route I took wound through a dense forest but I had no real trouble with downfall.  My only real concern was my motivation.  I began to lose strength and had to mentally coax myself forward.  Having the same trouble in the past on occasion, I just reminded myself to enjoy the scenery and wildness of this ecosystem.  I did give a prayer of thanks when I left the forest and crossed into the tundra, thus allowing me to see my progress and future route, as well as the scenic basin rimmed in snow on the southwest flank of the mountain.  Here, I did briefly worry about exposure due to the hot Sun shining down onto the easily-warmed dogs, but needn’t have.  Enough snow remained in scattered patches to both cool and quench.

As soon as I gained the ridge I began to get hints of the view I would see upon reaching the summit.  The Elk Mountains stretched out in a panoramic view still mostly clad in snowy accouterments.  Puffy clouds dotted the sky from horizon to horizon all in a single layer that created a ceiling of sorts.  Cement Mountain rears up to twelve thousand and two hundred feet above elevation, thus putting the dogs and myself with certainty into the alpine life-zone.  I thrilled at the new species of wildflowers that I saw.  By new, I mean for the season or day, for I have seen all these species on other hikes in the past.  One step at a time, I continued on my trek, marveling at the glory of life around me.

Although by now extremely tired I could see the summit up ahead and made my strides slowly but without pause until I had reached that lofty goal.  I paused to study the surroundings and then continued on another short distance until I found a place on the precipice of a small cliff area that allowed me to face north and bask in the glorious mountain setting.  The lower elevations had taken on the unique green of late Spring when all the vegetation exuded a freshness that makes the vernal months something to revel in.  Sitting down with my water and food I soon satiated my cravings and got to contemplating the majesty of life.  Oh, glorious day!  How blessed I am to have been there at this time.  The snapshots help me remember but in reality nothing can replicate the expansive feelings that come over me when I am on top of the world.

Sometimes in places like this I feel a certain form of eternity overcome me.  The vast infinite reminds me that as much as I am sometimes forced to ford the currents of our mainstream lifestyle, I am also strong and capable of finding those eddies of awareness and being that make it all worthwhile.  After a while, without thinking about it, I rose and began the long trek back to the trailhead.  This quest of mine to reach the summit had been completed, but now the arduous part awaited.  I didn’t take the exact route down that I had used on the way up.  Instead I followed the ridgeline all the way until the pass that divides Roaring Judy Creek from Rosebud Gulch.  I enjoyed this bit of extra excursion as it kept me above treeline a bit longer.  Rejoining the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553 I headed west back into the Roaring Judy drainage and walked down to the glade.  This setting exudes a salubrious bearing and I paused to wander about the marshy creek banks and create more snapshots of some species of wildflowers that I had missed on the way up.

Returning to the junction with the Roaring Judy Trail No. 552 I forewent that trail and continued on the left fork via the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553.  We crossed the creek and entered a thick forest until reaching the end of the trail at the Rarick Road.  Also called Gunnison National Forest Road 813.A2, this route allowed me a shorter albeit steeper route back to my waiting automobile.  Besides, it also allowed for a diversity of scenery and I generally prefer to make a loop hike when I am able.  Most of the remainder of the hike went by like a blur.  I continued to stop and snap photographs of wildflower species yet to be seen or documented on this day’s hike.  Mostly, however, I concentrated on keeping my trek from turning into a trudge.  While truly too beautiful for me to suffer much, I did acknowledge my physical frailty as I worked my way down through the lodgepole pine and aspen forests that blanket this ridgeline.

Leaving the gully behind and its cooling Douglas fir I initially dreaded the last mile of hiking across exposed sagebrush steppe in the hot late afternoon Sun.  I needed have worried.  In the cool aspen forest where the Rarick Road ends at Gunnison National Forest Road 813.2A the pups found enough water to keep them hydrated and refreshed.  The hike had taken such a long time that by then the late afternoon Sun had morphed into a cooler early evening Sun.  Enough clouds sailed overhead to also provide a bit of shade cover.  As I hiked along I noted that the shepherds seemed able to muster enough energy to continue on pursuits of hapless rodents.  Likewise, I still possessed enough vigor yet to pause and admire the streaks of color that ran through the sagebrush.  These gardens are a natural wonder to behold in their own right, and I again felt blessed to be here at this time.  Approaching the car I knew that my odyssey for this day at least had come to an end.  I let out a cheer before unlocking the doors and airing out the hot car.  The dogs loaded up, I put down the windows and cranked over the engine.  I drove us down to the Taylor River and back to Almont before heading home to Gunnison.  So many people bustling about on the highway but I know that most of them only dream of the type of day I just had, exemplified by exploring the wildlands and a bit of self-reliance, all mixed with a dash of mental fortitude and a soupcon of physical prowess.  I smiled as I drove on, arm perched on the window sill, in no particular hurry.  What a great day.

Exploring the South Flank of Red Mountain – June 17, 2017


Leah looking over the sagebrush steppe towards Mount Axtell on the right. Carbon Peak in the middle and the Anthracite Range on the left

Living in the City of Gunnison, located in the central mountains of Colorado, I am blessed daily by the regal peaks that surround us.  Most of them are distant, some twenty-five to fifty miles away,  but regardless of their proximity I have visited many of them over the years since I moved here in August of Twenty Aught-Four.  I had often wished to visit Red Mountain, a flat-topped monolith capped with a layer of basalt or rhyolite disgorged during the volcanic eruptions some thirty million years ago.  Located north of Gunnison, I see it daily.  However, due to access issue and my own code of honor regarding certain roads, I have never been close to the top.

Years ago I tried to get there from the east, off of Colorado 135, only to find what I thought to be an access gated at private property.  I have also been to the northern flank of Red Mountain but I don’t believe I can reach the summit without trespassing.  The access to the south is over lands controlled by the Gunnison National Forest but the road that leads up there, seven miles away from the parking area adjacent to the paved Ohio Creek Road, is rough and requires a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, and in my opinion ought to be closed to all motorized access anyhow.  I could reach the mountain in that seven mile distance by hiking, I knew, but often worried about the miles of exposure in the open sagebrush steppe and lack of water for the dogs.  It seemed like something always came up, that another mountain called me, and thus Red Mountain remained seen but unexplored.

Today would be the perfect confluence of conditions that would make a hike to the south side of Red Mountain.  Although mid-June, yet enough snow remained in drifts to not impede progress while providing the shepherds with ample opportunities to slurp up some of the frosty mass and thus slake their thirst.  The day would bring only a handful of scattered clouds and really no chance of lightening that could cause me concern.  The most important factor, desire to do this hike, also welled up strongly in my passionate interest of exploring anything to do with the local landscape.  So, with alacrity did we merry pack of three drive out from Gunnison and up the Ohio Creek-Gunnison County Road 730 to Hinkie Gulch, just inside the Gunnison National Forest Boundary.

Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, accompanied me as they normally do on my forays into the backcountry.  I let them out of the car and they instantly assaulted a stronghold of rodent activity.  While they were acquiescing to their predatory instincts, I gathered my gear and hoisted my pack upon my shoulders, and, taking one last look at the map, began to hike up away from the pavement and out into the sagebrush steppe.  Normally sere and ubiquitously grey-green, the steppe during late Spring is alive with multiple blooms covering the hues of the rainbow.  Immediately I became surrounded by Lupine, sunflowers, vetches, Scarlet Gilia and numerous other species of flowering forbs.  At one point the Mule’s Ears became so dominant that their large yellow flowers added a distinct yellow tint to the landscape.

I gained the most elevation during the first three miles of hiking, rising up along Gunnison National Forest Road 829 until I reached a divide between Ohio Creek and the East River.  Along the way I was pleased to find some ponds full of water so that the dogs could relieve their thirst.  The Sun beat down with a strong warmth but was not overbearing.  A few wan clouds scudded across the sky at a languid pace, occasionally casting a shadow down but generally not obscuring the cerulean sky.  At this point, Red Mountain dominated the skyline to the north.  I left the road and made a shortcut, basically taking the hypotenuse across a ridge and bypassing the right triangle that the road makes.  All along the route I kept finding new wildflowers.  I returned to the road, keeping the dogs in sight as they chases after small rodents.  The day kept its charm and before long I had reached the base of Red Mountain.  I left the road once again and hiked up a small drainage to reach Big Alkali Lake.  Even now I pause at the memory of the verdure.  I especially admired the tall Monument Plants, a species of Gentian, the numerous blooms of which are to be admired whenever come upon.

Here at the lake I found a nice place to sit and admire the view that stretched off to the south.  This fine day reminds me why I live here, working at a job I don’t particularly enjoy.  Not even a half hour from my backdoor and I am in a wonderland of natural beauty.  This type of day defines the acme of Spring hiking.  Plenty of flowers of all colors, snowbanks clinging to the mountains, the land swaddled in a blanket of greenery and puffy clouds dotting the deep blue sky.  My worries about water had been unfounded as it abounded in numerous ponds and even this named lake.  The dogs explored the nearby area, occasionally slurping up some of the cool liquid to quench their parched throats while I sat and imbibed my own.  Although I sat in the Sun, a cool breeze prevented me from heating up beyond endurance.  An hour went by and my curiosity got hold of me.  Besides, the shepherds had had enough of lazing around.  I can tell, because they stray farther and farther from our base and it soon becomes apparent even to me that they are ready for further travels.

Once in the vicinity of Red Mountain, I knew that it would not be likely for me to attempt to hike up to the summit.  It could have been done but at an extreme cost to me and the dogs so I decided to put it off until I could spend a couple of nights here.  Instead, I noted the topography, especially the routes that might prove useful for future reference.  Above the lake some benches rise in steady progression, each home to a grove of aspen.  I continued on the road, turning a corner and crossing over a pass of sorts so that I briefly trod into the drainage of the East River by leaving that of Ohio Creek.  This added another mile to our hike so I decided to stop and admire the view before returning the way I had led the pack.  To the east rose snow clad peaks and a sky the extended out beyond the crest of the Rocky Mountains.  The clouds streaked out in a progression, one puffed mass following another with plenty of space between each to allow the sunlight to mostly streak down unimpeded.

The return hike the dogs and I made fairly quickly.  I felt elated the entire distance.  The day proved to have met all the characteristics that I could have wished for.  Perfect weather precluded any worry about thunder.  The colors vibrated wherever I turned my head.  Cool water greeted the dogs when most required.  After waiting so long to have made this hike I now felt a pang of regret leaving so soon but know that I can return whenever I desire.  Perhaps I will find time to camp out near one the lakes sometime this Summer.  In the meantime, I am blessed to have had such a day.  The only sour note on the entire hike occurred when the camera ran out of battery power and I wasn’t able to entirely document every species of wildflower that I saw.  But I suppose that just adds another emphatic reason to return.

Hike on the Middle Fork South Arkansas River – June 15, 2017


Looking up at the south face of Mount Aetna

I can’t remember one way or the other.  Did I have a day off and decide to make a hike later in the day, or did I have a short day at work and time enough to squeeze in this hike before sunset?  Regardless, I decided that this would be a fine time to scratch that itch.  The “itch” being a two-track that I had been driving by for some twenty-five years and all the time wondering where it went.  Thus, I loaded up the dogs, Draco and Leah, and drove from Gunnison, Colorado, where I make my home, up to and over Monarch Pass via U.S. 50.  I coasted down grade some few mile until reaching the hamlet of Garfield where I pulled off the transcontinental highway and parked my car adjacent to the South Fork Arkansas River.

Having crossed the Great Divide, and passing from the Pacific drainages to those of the Atlantic, I entered the San Isabel National Forest.  The only real hiking that I have done in this immediate vicinity is nearby at Waterdog Lakes.  On this day I wanted to hike up the Middle Fork South Arkansas River to its terminus at Chalk Creek Pass.  Although rugged mountainous country, this is no designated wilderness as many mines and roads remain from the days of exploitation of our natural resources.  Still, it is quiet country and I looked forward to seeing what exists in this area.  The previous year I had made a small foray on this glorified trail, San Isabel National Forest Road 230, but turned back after about half a mile of hiking due to the snowpack then extant.  Now, much less snow clung to the hillsides and, letting the German shepherds out of the car, we all began to hike up into the mountains.

The dense forest of aspen and spruce rises up to Taylor Mountain and stretches out to fill the valley.  Initially, I can’t see very far.  A few cabins are scattered about on the old mining claims.  Some are dilapidated while others are currently inhabited.  I cross Kangaroo and Columbus Gulches, both of which stream down from the southern face of the aforementioned mountain.  After a mile we pass the Boss Lake Trailhead.  Hiking upstream we come under the looming tower that is Mount Aetna.  By now, the forest has thinned a bit and I can see up towards the summit past Hoffman Park.  I am worried about this forest because fresh sign of beetle kill is evident and I can only hope that the beetles thin the trees out a bit instead of killing them all.  I find it hard to believe when people do not think that climate change is occurring.

Past Mount Aetna there are more mining claims and some interesting cabins.  The valley also widens out and a large meadow forms in the valley bottom.  Here I am especially happy to walk around.  The river is running strong, full from the melting snow running off from the higher peaks.  The thin air fills my lungs with each breath, so cool and fresh.  So fresh, I feel like I am almost imbibing a liquid.  I breathe freely as I hike, pleased with living.  Soon enough, I find that snow has begun to clog the bottom of the valley as well.  When I reach the end of the road and the beginning of the trail, the Hancock Lake Trail No. 1422, I decide to turn back.  But I am enticed by seeing the pass and continue on another quarter of a mile through heavy snow until reality sets in.  Still almost two miles distant, the pass will have to wait until another day when more salubrious conditions permit.

I eschew the latter part of the trail that I had just hiked.  The shepherds are running around heedless of the wet marsh but I am ready to find a dry place to sit.  We bypass the snow-clogged trail and return to the trailhead.  Marsh Marigolds and Globeflowers bloom with the twin fecundity for which they are known.  Both are Buttercups and can look identical but have some differing characteristics.  I enjoy them both as I know that they will herald in the wildflower season at higher elevations.  I find a nice place to plop down my bottom, and sit and admire the high ridge before me.  This ridge is part of the Continental Divide, and I bask in the shadow of the epic backbone of the North American continent.

By the time we leave, darkness has begun to envelop the mountainous country.  I gather my gear and wits, prod the dogs into rising from their prostrate forms, not too difficult to accomplish, and we begin to hike back down towards the car.  The Sun shines its last, but so close to Summer solstice that it is nearly eight of the clock before the ultimate rays strike the high peaks.  There isn’t much to do except return the way we came and thus we march back down the valley, leaving the meadow and the woodlands to the silence that they are much accustomed to.  A fine evening hike now behind us, I give blessings of thanks, happy to have been allowed the opportunity to get out and enjoy a cool, peaceful evening in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Morning Hike to Doctor Park – June 14, 2017


Calypso bulbosa, Fairy Slippers or Calypso Orchid – the name pales next to the beauty, found here on the Doctor Park Trail

The last week of Spring came upon us here in the Gunnison Country.  Only a week away until the Summer solstice, and the days grew bright and long with plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the mountainous lands near my home.  Work beckoned, but not until the evening.  In the meantime I decided to hike up to Doctor Park, located on the spit of land that separates the Taylor River from Spring Creek.  This hike would encompass about eleven to twelve miles of hiking should I reach my destination, thus my leaving early became imperative to successfully returning on time to get home, change and drive up to work.

I rose early and fed the elderly canine, Lady Dog, and gave her something to gnaw on while Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, accompanied me on our adventure.  Eschewing breakfast at home, I loaded up my pack with snacks and then the two dogs into the car before driving over to the local convenience store to purchase my mandatory cup of coffee along with a quick, hot repast that I could consume while driving up to the North Bank Campground.  Driving slowly through the herd of overnight campers, I made it to the trailhead where the Doctor Park Trail No. 424 leads up from the Taylor River.  The dogs exhibited signs of excitement and scampered about as I made myself ready to hike.  Up we go!  We started hiking after I took a moment to gather my wits, and immediately climbed a series of switchbacks that lead out of the canyon.

If a problem exists on this trail, from a hiker’s perspective, it is the domination of the path by the mountain biking community.  My last experience here was so overwhelmed by bikes drifting downhill at speed that I swore I would never hike here again.  Today, however, I decided that I could share some space, especially since I left early and would most likely miss the crowds.  Besides, in all fairness, the bicyclists are generally polite and give warning when approaching from behind.  Still, last time I was interrupted in my hike about every five to ten minutes and could never really get my stride.  What I noticed now was the profusion of wildflowers that grew everywhere I looked.  Technically, Summer remained a week away, but this last week of Spring sure felt summer-like.  Everything alive shone out a green glow that was spangled with the multiple hues of wildflowers.

The trail climbs out of the ponderosa pines that line the canyon rim and into an area that is somewhat dry and exposed.  Still, many aspen grow here and eventually because the trail dips into Trail Gulch the clime grows wetter.  Thus, a wide array of  plants grow along the route.  Ostensibly, I went hiking, but I kept stopping to snap photographs of nearly every species of flower I saw.  I really can’t blame bicycles for breaking my stride when I am willing to do unto myself the same, albeit for differing reasons.  It took me nearly three hours to reach Doctor Park and find a place to sit where I could look out on the great expanse of the Rocky Mountains.  Ah, mid-June… so much is green.  Not just green, but vibrantly green does grow the fresh, newly-sprouted or leafed-out vegetation.  The blue sky and white snow-clad summits of the Elk Mountains and Fossil Ridge, the local chains of the Rockies here in the Gunnison Country, add to the scene of natural wonder and while the dogs rest or explore I sit and contemplate the world at large.

The dogs and I didn’t sit too long, for I still had to hike back and make preparations for the day’s work.  The hike back went much more quickly, partly because of the increased speed downhill but also because I took only a handful more of snapshots.  I had never previously thought this a great flower hike, but on this day, at least, it radiated with the diversity of life that makes any place special when seen at the right time.  While I did encounter a few bicyclists they didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the wild places that I had just visited.  We hiked back down rapidly and reached the car just a bit after noon.  The shepherds went down to the Taylor River and splashed around for a bit before loading up.  We drove back to Gunnison, tuckered out from the days hiking.  Five miles up and then five down, climbing from about eighty-five hundred feet in elevation to eleven thousand.  A fine day we had had, and now work didn’t seem like such an imposition.  Not a bad start to the day!

Snowed Out on Mill Creek, then Gold Creek Alternative – June 13, 2017


On the Mill Lake Trail No. 532, a Globeflower or two in a field of many

Another mind-numbing day of work completed, I commute home and quickly change clothes.  My pack awaits, more or less ready, and all I have to do is add some water, food and dog leashes.  I dally long enough to let the elder dog, Lady, out so that she can tend to her needs.  Then I feed her and leave here with a bone so that she has something to occupy her jaws while Draco, Leah and I drive up to the Gold Creek Trailhead adjacent to the campground of the same name.  This is one of my favorite locations for a hike, as there are a number of trails to choose from.  I know that although evening is upon us we can still hike up to Mill Lake with plenty of time to enjoy a sunset before retiring for the night.

We start on on Fossil Ridge Trail No. 478.  The sign says it’s a quarter of a mile to the Mill Lake Trail No. 532, but it must be the longest quarter mile on record.  Or, at least, I believe it is every time I hike here.  Reaching the trail, we also enter the Fossil Ridge Wilderness.  We hike up in the shade, water trickling down the trail from the melting snow.  The forest is dense, and its pleasing odor fills the evening air.  We hike up about a mile until we reached the first snow on the trail.  Before too long the snow had choked the trail to such a point that I felt compelled to turn around and head back down.  I have been up to Mill Lake a number of time and didn’t really want to struggle with sinking thigh deep in treacherous conditions.  I contented myself with finding wildflowers.  Marsh Marigolds and Globeflowers both grew here, in the wet, shady slope.  These two flowers are often found co-mingled and are among the first flowers to bloom in profusion in the marshy areas of the higher meadows.  They both reside in the Buttercup Family, along with the Red Columbine that I see.

Returning down the trail, I stopped in the proximate location of an old trail that I had seen on topographic maps.  This trail leads off to the Lamphier Lake Trail, about a half a mile away.  It would make an interesting connector between the two drainages, but I failed to find it after wandering through the forest for about a quarter of an hour.  Returning to the trailhead, I veritably skipped across the tops of the cobbles that make up the lower portion of the path.  The evening wore on and neither the dogs nor I felt like returning home quite yet.  Instead, I turned around and hiked up the Gold Creek Road, also known as Gunnison National Forest Road 771 and Gunnison Country Road 771, to its very end, about a mile and three-quarters up Gold Creek.  This hike I enjoy, under the western face of Fairview Peak.  After winding through a lodgepole pine forest and passing through a tight canyon, the road enters the lower end of a large meadow that persists up-valley all the way to the end of the watershed.

At the end of the road begins the Gold Creek Trail No. 427.  It leads up to Shaw Ridge and crossing that a person could continue down into Lottis Creek and Taylor Canyon.  I continue only about another quarter of a mile or so before turning back.  I don’t hurry, although the shadow’s darkness deepens its hue.  Instead, I meander from the talus slope adjacent to the trial, out into the meadow before idly wandering over to the creek itself, where I stand an listen to its perpetual pouring of water over stones.  The dusk becomes too dark to snap photographs but the shepherds and I don’t mind.  The quiet time has arrived, and I am at peace.  We slowly amble back to the car a second time, and when we arrive I don’t seek a third alternative.  Satiated with my perambulations in Nature for the time being I am contented to return home while the dogs sleep in the back, tuckered out after running amok for a couple of hours.

Dedicated to Lady Dog, a tenacious yet peaceful being, without a mean bone in her body.  She had been my companion on many hikes before losing one of her hind legs.  I usually called her Little Girl Dog, although she weighed about forty-five pounds.  A spirited and happy dog all her life, she will be sorely missed.  Good-bye, friend.


Lady Dog (2004? – March 03, 2018)

A Short Evening Hike on Spring Creek – June 10, 2017


Draco and Leah above Mysterious Creek, near the confluence with Spring Creek

The two or three weeks either side of the Summer Solstice produces days of long hours and abundant daylight.  On this side, that is the late Vernal phase, the snows have yet to entirely melt from high passes and many of the streams remain engorged with runoff.  Thus, I cannot, or, rather, will not, make many hikes during this gorgeous time of year that I can make with less effort at other times.  Instead, in lieu of longer hikes I might explore trailheads or make short excursions that yet add to my accumulated knowledge of this part of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that locals refer to as the Gunnison Country.  After a long day of work enough hours remained that I could make such a hike on this day.  So, I rushed home, fed and otherwise cared for the elder dog, Lady, who no longer hikes and then loaded up my gear along with my two trusty hiking companions, Draco and Leah.  I knew not exactly what lay before me, but I figured it would be a good evening to drive out to Spring Creek and find a nice place to sit and watch the Sun set whilst sitting among the mountainous country of the Elk Mountains.

We drove north out of Gunnison on Colorado 135 to Almont where we turned right onto the Taylor Canyon Road, also known as Gunnison County Road 742.  I love this canyon and have hiked here off and on since arriving in town over a decade ago.  However, I haven’t explored many of the trails that emanate from the Spring Creek drainage.  Spring Creek is about five miles up the Taylor River, and forks off to the north.  County Road 744 follows the stream and eventually leads up to the Spring Creek Reservoir and adjacent Mosca Campground.   The drive up both drainages revels in scenery, as forests of conifer grow among the granitic outcroppings through which the water courses in rapid descent from the upper reaches.  Just above the reservoir the road splits and I take the right stringer, over a bridge, and park along Gunnison National Forest Road 880.  The dogs leap out of the car when I open the door and instantly begin to explore the mounds of earth heaped up about the meadow, home to alluring rodents.  I recall them before they get too frantic and we begin to hike on a subsidiary road designated as Road 880.1C.

At this time of year a dearth of wildflowers exists despite the abundant verdure seen everywhere.  I’m not sure why when other areas have early season blooms.  The aspen have fresh green leaves and a darker green is found on the freshly grown grasses.  Of course, the conifer is yet darker, adding contrast to the vibrantly blue sky and patches of snow yet clinging to the high peaks of American Flag and Italian Mountains.  This area is not a wilderness, as many roads wind along creek bottoms or cling tenaciously to precarious slopes.  Motorized recreation is permitted on the trails in this vicinity, meaning that I am perhaps better off bushwhacking at times or at least showing some patience when hiking here.  Now, though, the many people I see are mostly camping and enjoying the fine late Spring weather as evening approaches.

We walk up a mile or so to where the road ends and the Italian Connector Trail No. 648 begins.  It immediately crosses Mysterious Creek at its confluence with Spring Creek.  I decide that I don’t want to hassle with what looks like a somewhat challenging crossing especially since I couldn’t really hike much further before the onset of darkness.  So, I climb a small hill above the snow-lined banks of the creek, after the shepherds drink some water, and find a small perch upon which to sit and watch the Sun dip behind the peaks to the west.  An enjoyable evening I had in this quiet setting, far enough away from the motors to enjoy the quietude.  The lower the Sun dips the longer become the streaks of light and more pronounced the contrast with the shade.  A peaceful yet energetic display of light ensues and I watch until the final ray strikes the last eminence.  I don’t linger too long after the Sun disappears beneath the horizon and soon resume the hike back to the car.

I decided to add a small challenge by climbing up to Road 880 instead of retracing my steps.  The steep climbs taxes my legs but is soon enough achieved.  I find a short-cut game trail that eliminates a loop in the road and enjoy this little bypass more than most anything.  The aspen being green here at ten thousand feet suggests that Summer has almost arrived.  I wish I had had more time to explore, but perhaps I will this coming hiking season as I would like to make a couple of short loop hikes in this vicinity.  As I sit here perusing the map, I realize that this corner of the Gunnison Country remains relatively obscure to my knowledge and I look forward to further edifying myself with its topography.  Maybe I’ll see some elk, too!

A Day Trip on Some Obscure Roads of the Western Slope of Colorado – June 09, 2017


Looking at Mount Sneffels and vicinity, from Dave Wood Road

I needed to unwind.  I craved seeing something fresh, exploring a place that I had yet to set my eyes upon.  For two weeks straight I had worked long hours and had barely been able to fill my mandate of hiking three days a week.  What hikes I had made were enjoyable and worth the effort but had been necessarily short.  Today I decided to forgo a long hike but decided instead to make a long drive that would take me all the way down to Dolores, Colorado.  I especially wanted to see the road between said town and Norwood to the north.  To get from Montrose to Norwood I would incorporate another back road that leads up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau.  A clear sky above and a full tank of gas invited me to the open road.  I regret the pollution I caused as it abets the demise of the forests I love but I satisfied a craving to see for myself what lies beyond the next rise.

Having worked myself into a frazzle I didn’t have the moxie to get up early, say, at the crack of dawn as I might have wanted to.  Rather I left at about quarter to eight in the morning, leaving Gunnison on U.S. 50 westbound towards Montrose.  I didn’t go very far before stopping at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area.  I pulled over at the Old Stevens Picnic Area where a large beach provides ample opportunities for off-leash dog adventure.  I let Draco and Leah, my two hiking companions and German shepherds both, out of the car and they proceeded to scamper about the sagebrush steppe on the prowl for any unaware rodents or rabbits that might happen to be afoot.  I led them down to the water and threw a stick out into the depths so that both dogs had an opportunity to get wet and spend some energy.

I soon loaded the dogs back up into the aged Subaru and continued our travels westbound on U.S. 50, feeling the miles slide by under the wheels as the engine’s humming I more felt than heard.  Windows down, the wind blowing cool under the warm Sun, music keeping the time, I soon settled into the mildly hypnotic routine of the open road.  The nearly even-contour of the road skims the water as it parallels the reservoir until rising up just west of Blue Mesa Dam.  Up and over a number of mesas the road meanders wildly in an attempt to avoid the narrow Black Canyon of the Gunnison River.  We then follow down into the shadows of Big Blue Creek where shade loving spruce thrive.  Soon, we climb up over Blue Mesa Summit and then down into the valley of the Cimarron River where the water from the north face of the Uncompahgre Mountains washes down to the Gunnison River.  Past the small post office and some Park Service facilities the road rises up a somewhat steep grade to Cerro Summit before descending down to the Uncompahgre Valley where lies Montrose.  Upon arriving in town I continue down the old alignment of U.S. 50 towards downtown.

I continued across Townsend Avenue, signed also as U.S. 550, and headed out of town on Colorado 90 westbound, a highway that leads up to the base of the Uncompahgre Plateau.  After a few sharp turns and constant perusal of the maps I found Dave Woods Road, a county road maintained by first Montrose, then Ouray, then Montrose again and finally San Miguel Counties, moving from north to south.  The road carries a variety of designations other than Dave Wood Road but they are somewhat redundant as that epithet carries with it a continuity missing from the multiple others.  We drive up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau until we enter the Uncompahgre National Forest where a small system of local trails meanders in and out of a few small drainages.  We had driven well over an hour to get to this point and both the dogs and I were ready to get out of the car a bit.

We hiked out about a mile on the Simms Mesa Trail Nos. 115.1A, 115 and 115.1B as they wound around through an aspen jungle of sorts.  I especially enjoyed seeing the wildflowers that grew in profusion and exploring a couple of small canyons that I believe are tributaries of Happy Canyon.  I found a good place to sit and enjoy a snack, and exalted in this bit of new-to-me country.  Draco and Leah wanted to chase the squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits that either ran away, squeaked an alarm or both.  After a bit of rest and hydration we moseyed on back to the car.  I could hike here all day, I thought to myself, but I really did want to explore this road further just to see where it goes.  I had had it on my mind for a number of years so we retraced our steps back to the waiting automobile and began again our travels south towards Colorado 62 in the vicinity of Howard Flats, just west of the Dallas Divide.  Along the way I came across a stunning vista of the mountains that rise up to Mount Sneffels.  Rolling parks of open meadow punctuated by ponderosa pine, and snow clad rocky summits towering up above, all under a blue sky… I became mesmerized and pulled over to take in the scene.

I returned to the mainstream highway system at Colorado 62 after my exploration of Dave Woods Road.  The pavement follows Leopard Creek down to the San Miguel River and the junction with Colorado 145 where Colorado 62 ends.  A turn to the left, upstream, would take me to storied Telluride but I venture downstream, continuing westbound.  The canyon of the San Miguel River is one of my favorite places.  The walls are often composed of a reddish sandstone, sometimes even deeply so, and the conifer forest grows thick especially on the north face.  The color combination on such a day as this, with cerulean sky above, I find entrancing.  The problem I find often enough is that I can’t stop at nearly all the places that I’d like to, and today I decide to drive by the pullouts along the river’s edge.

After a narrow, roller-coaster-like drive along the narrow road the highway crossed the river and rose out of the canyon and on up to the mesa above.  A couple of miles before arriving in Norwood I turned left onto San Miguel County Road 44Z S.  This road, and its continuation in Dolores and Montezuma Counties, used to be part of the state highway system.  I would follow it all the way to its southern terminus at Dolores, the town.  Both the latter counties us the same designation for the road, County Road 31.  I had attempted to drive this road one other time in early May some years ago but got turned back by drifts of snow.  More than anything else I just wanted to see what was out here on this obscure byway, between two small towns nearly fifty miles apart.

What I saw mostly was open, rolling country, the towering peaks of the San Miguel Mountains, Lone Cone and the broad upper end of Disappointment Valley.  Mostly, everything was green with the new growth of early June.  I continued along the winding course, down one side of the valley and across to the other side where I drove up onto a broad plateau that a large ponderosa forest previously called home prior to the advent of logging.  I continued on to McPhee Park, where a logging company and the United States Forest Service preserved a stand of virgin ponderosa.  Interestingly, I found that I couldn’t really determine the difference between the second growth and the ancient forest.  I think that the preserved old forest was so minimal that is has sort of been drowned out.  Also, the fire suppression techniques that have been used over the past century have probably not allowed the natural agency of burning to eradicate many of the small trees and shrubs that would have ordinarily, sans dowsing the flames, been cleared out thus highlighting the majesty of the old mature trees and the concomitant open park.  Yet another example, I am afraid, of mankind’s hubris when attempting to profit from the exploitation of our natural resources.

Regardless of past or current practices, I felt compelled to get out and walk around in this area.  During the logging boom a railroad had been erected up to this plateau, almost certainly narrow gauge as the main line of the Rio Grande Southern, and its three-foot width, had run through Dolores to the south.  The tracks here in the San Juan National Forest had been ripped up decades ago but I could still discern the old bed.  I walked around, with shepherds happily bounding from one tree to another in pursuit of items interesting to canines.  I did not have any detailed maps with me, only the large-scale atlas that I use to navigate across landscapes.  Thus, not knowing my way around in a rolling or flat terrain without any features, I hiked only a short distance to the north, out into a large meadow before following the old railroad back down Beaver Creek and eventually to Rocky Draw.  I did find a place on the latter to sit and contemplate the world but generally I would say that this is not the place for quiet reflection.  Still, I did find something alluring about this locale and would spend more time here had I the ability.

I continued driving south to Dolores, a relatively short distance that ends in a steep decent down to river level.  The town is named for the river, and here we tie into the main highway system again.  This junction with Colorado 145 is the farthest that we’ll get today, the distant point on the loop.  I pause momentarily to take in all that I have seen and then turn left, heading northbound and upstream, towards Rico and Telluride.  Although back on the pavement, this road is somewhat lightly traveled.  The canyon is gorgeous, rimmed with a red sandstone upon which grow ponderosa, Douglas fir and some spruce where wet and shady.  The miles zipped by as we passed through the town of Rico.  Up towards Lizard Head Pass I stop to get out and hike for the last time today.

The snows here have barely receeded and still swaddle the higher peaks.  We hike up in the San Juan National Forest toward the Lizard Head Wilderness on the Cross Mountain Trail No. 637, and water flows everywhere.  After a half a mile or so I find a dry place to sit and absorb the stunning high country vista.  To my east rears Sheep Mountain, its peak culminating a rise up to thirteen thousand feet above sea level.  It is such a beautiful day.  The early June Sun blazes away, and I can practically hear the snow melting.  We still have nearly four hours of driving ahead of us so I don’t linger, although I’d like to.  We hike back down through the verdant meadows and cross the rushing waters of Lizard Head Creek.  The namesake formation from which all else derives its appellations rises above, sticking straight up into the sky looking uncannily alike which its name suggests.

The drive back to Gunnison is gorgeous.  After crossing the pass we re-enter the San Miguel River drainage and drive through the amazing high country about Telluride.  There is a reason property costs so much here, as many folks desire to own a piece of this mountainous land.  We descend through the narrow canyon down to Placerville and Colorado 62 where we continue our northward and eastward progress up and over Dallas Divide.  The grade down to Ridgeway flows by and at the eastern end of Colorado 62 I stop at the traffic light where the junction with U.S. 550 lies.  I turn towards the north again and at Montrose I turn to the east on U.S. 50, crossing Cerro Summit headed for Gunnison.  After a long day, over twelves hours of traveling, we arrive home weary but satiated.  I would like to revisit the distant country to the south that I had seen, but perhaps spending a couple of days instead of one.  There is so much to see and explore!