Road Trip, Part Four – April of 2006


Winter turns to spring.  The temperatures rise and create disturbances in the air currents.  Blessed moisture rides the currents; often March and April are the wettest months in the Rocky Mountains.  In the eights years that have passed since I took this road trip much has been lost in the fog of memory.  I don’t particularly remember the stormy weather, but looking at these photos (and some from the next couple of days) I can conclude that the wind was blowing and, depending on the elevation, it was either raining or snowing.

When I was writing the first through third parts, I had thought that my road trip was from Gunnison to Taos and back.  What I had forgotten, memory partially revived by the accompanying photo gallery, was that this journey took me from Gunnison to Taos to Cimarron and to further points in circuitous route so that my trip took me on a large counter-clockwise tour of central and southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

I am finding it ironic that my first series of retrospective posts have been about a road trip.  My intent is to share an appreciation of wild places found throughout the interior west, vistas and landscapes that I have visited while on a hiking, snowshoeing or skiing outing.  I love wild lands and getting away from the noise and clatter of our modern life.  The constant din of motors and humanities progression towards a fully mechanized lifestyle begins to wear on my soul and I find solace in the woods, meadows and prairies of our public lands.

And yet, I cannot deny the sheer pleasure I get from exploring the world around me by automobile.  I try to limit these excursions, as they are costly on both the natural system I cherish and my own pocketbook.  But this trip wasn’t all about the joy I get from exploring new places and old; Along the way I did stop to pound some nails for a friend and make some cash, and latter on I consulted on whether or not an incarcerated canine was part wolf.  More on that later.  Overall, my feelings when looking at these photos are something akin to “wow, that was great, what an excellent adventure I had right in my own backyard.  Can’t wait to do it again”.

So, if you want to trace my route, here is how it breaks down:  I left Gunnison and drove west on U.S. 50 a few miles to S.H. 149.  Following that highway, I cruised on down to South Fork and made my way in a westerly direction again, this time on U.S. 160 and up and over Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs.  From that town I began heading east on U.S. 84 and eventually passed into New Mexico.  At Tierra Amarilla, I then followed U.S. 64 east to Taos and, after a short stay there,  further east to Cimarron where I did a bit of carpentry.  Then, to satisfy curiosity, I took S.H. 21 to Springer, where Interstate 25 runs north-south along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.  The next part of my journey took me north to Raton, where I stopped to explore the town for a bit.  After Raton, I passed back into Colorado and continued north to Walsenburg where I left the interstate to travel up to Mission: Wolf, a wolf and wolf-dog sanctuary in a remote part of the Wet Mountains.  I worked there for some number of years, and went up for a quick visit.  From there, I traveled to Denver and Boulder to visit with friends and do the consultation I had mentioned earlier.  After that, my travels took me south down the same Interstate to Colorado Springs.  My goal was to drive over Gold Camp Road to Victor and Cripple Creek.  The road was an old railroad grade and I wanted to see some of it, and Victor and Cripple Creek are my favorite gold rush cities.  After exploring that region, I finally went home to Gunnison.  Whew!  That’s a mouthful.

Part four, hmmm…. Part four was a relatively short travel day, if I remember right.  I left Cimarron on S.H. 21, a narrow highway light of traffic that passes through some quiet country just out on the plains east of the Rocky Mountains.  The land is rolling, and to the east lays the horizon of the great plains.  To the west rise the first ramparts of the Rocky Mountains.  It was early morning when I left, and I do love to get out before the sun has risen.   The transition between dark and light is always invigorating and thought provoking, even while traveling.

After following  Interstate 25 north from Springer, I stopped in Raton to look around that small city.  The drive north is in my opinion some of the most gorgeous around.  Stark to be sure; being on the east side of the Rockies, the region sits squarely in the rain shadow of those lofty peaks and lacks moisture and vegetation.  What moves me is that junction between plains and mountains.  I drove along this morphing geology, for about and hour.    I love the long views, clear air and quietude.  The short grass, pinons and juniper all signify a lack of moisture.  My spirit soars here.  This place seems timeless; the rocks and mountains seem to not move, but the geologic record suggest unfathomable forces at work.

Between Raton and Trinidad lies Raton Pass.  The pass played a critical part in railroad history.  The original intent of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad had been to go south; by allowing the Santa Fe lines to build over the pass, the D & RG was forced to turn west and enter the mountains.  Now, we drive over the pass in our own private chariot, hurtling us along at sixty-five plus miles an hour.  Shortly after Trinidad, I arrived in Walsenburg.  Walsenburg is an old coal mining town.  Between those two cities lies the sight of the Ludlow massacre.  In 1913, a dozen plus women and children were killed by the state militia during a violent coal strike;  one author makes the claim that this was the largest insurrection since the civil war and that it almost led to a second civil war.  Not between states, but between capitol and labor.  I had lived near by for a decade plus and did not this intense history of the area.  I have no pictures to share and in some ways am glad for that.

After turning off the interstate at Walsenburg I followed S.H. 69 to Gardner, Colorado.  This small community lies in a quiet valley that looks much like it has since before time.  The wind blows hard here and there is never enough water but I have always considered this valley as my sacred home.  I lived there for many years and worked most of that time at a wolf sanctuary named Mission: Wolf, which also happened to be my destination at the end of the day.  Another quiet place, where the mind, heart and soul can all wander freely.

Old Monarch Pass – January 22, 2014

ImageWork was to begin at five o’clock last evening.  I wanted to get outdoors to enjoy the clear skies; the exhilaration of cold air taken in.  Yet, I don’t like to go out on my adventures when I have a burden looming.  It’s kind of a buzz kill, if you know what I mean, if I’m out attempting to enjoy the mysteries of creation and in the back of mind is that little, taunting voice reminding me of responsibility and obligation.  What’s a dirtbag trekker to do?  The obvious answer and solution:  Old Monarch Pass.

Gets you high, high up in the mountains and is relatively close to home.  Good views and generally good vibes from the many folks partaking in their pursuits.  And, to top it off (pardon the pun) you are sitting there, on the Great Divide.  The Backbone of the Continent.  You can go east.  You can go west.  But it doesn’t really matter; either way is glory bound and my traveling bones are satisfied for the moment.

This is a trek I do often whenever the snow is deep.  So often that I seldom take photos anymore, although I always carry the camera as part of my pack.  And really, while there are great views, they are difficult to capture.  I can’t tell if its a lack of skills or equipment.  Regardless, my photography just doesn’t ever give justice to the fullness of the west-looking view from the pass.

Currently, the road up to Old Monarch Pass is packed solid.  This makes for a speedy ascent and descent.  Earlier in the year, however, yours truly was honored with the privilege of having broken trail over the final half a mile to the summit.  Breaking trail is a fantastic way to burn calories.

If I chose to do so, I can safely leave at ten in the morning and enjoy some Rocky Mountain splendor and then be back in time to leave for the evening shift.  Perhaps, say, after lazily munching down a  pancake breakfast and swilling a quart of coffee.  But this morning was more like the motivated get up early well before dawn and drag my lazy butt up to the trailhead and get moving quick-like so that I could be on the high ridge before the sun broke over the distant horizon.  Well, I almost made it.  The upside of this version is that the air is still, as the sun’s warmth hasn’t had time to stir up currents.  And that notch lets some fierce current through in the afternoon.  Another upside is that I get back home in time to have a lazy lunch, to make up for the lazy breakfast that I missed out on earlier.  Either way, the respite from civilization is refreshing.  There is a surprising amount of life in that high country, even in winter.  Gray Jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, chickadees, nuthatches and, flying high, ravens.  Not to mention the squirrels and hares; coyotes and bobcats; ermines and martens.  Soon enough, the snow will melt, the green will spring forth from the earth and winter’s travails will be but a memory.  Get out and experience it while you can!

Some last minute notes:  This is a fairly short trek; barely more than a mile and a quarter in length.  Users should beware that it is also a forest service road, meaning that it is currently open to snowmobiles.  But the sled use is fairly minimal, and I have never encountered them up in that area.  This is not a wilderness trek.  Beyond the road noise from nearby U.S. 50, there are also numerous power lines in the area and you can see the slopes of Monarch Ski Area at various times.  Still… A quick and easy way to visit the high country.

Lastly, for the historians out there, it is my understanding is that up until the current road that uses Monarch Pass was built in the mid-1930’s, the Old Monarch Pass road was the routing of U.S. 50 between Salida and Gunnison.

Comanche Gulch – January 15, 2014


January has gone by quickly.  Already a month has passed since winter solstice.  It still gets dark early and light late but in another two or three weeks there will be a noticeable difference in the length of the day.  This is the depth of winter, and recently the morning lows have been hovering around the zero mark.  It is difficult to get out of a warm bed for any reason to go outdoors and come face to face with the full bulk of the cold.  There are rewards – the deep cold means that we are sitting under a high pressure system and that in turn means a cloud-less sky.  With the regions low humidity what I get to see are the twinkling stars shining bright.  Occasionally a so-called shooting star.  The heavens seem so close that I could reach up and touch them.

I have to also give credit to my faithful shepherds.  Their constant enthusiasm and joy-of-life makes four in the morning that much easier.  Depending on your outlook, the cold can be oppressive or invigorating:  I may feel both emotions during the same outing.  The dogs have the right idea when its that cold and dark out…. keep on moving!

When work beckons at six in the morning, four ante-meridian finds me out on that early morning jog, awe-struck by the stars and wondering at the mysteries of the universe.  Its good to get the blood pumping on my own terms before the rigor of the work schedule kicks in.  On days off from work, I may let the winter’s sun ignite before I trek into the woods.  Those mornings hovering around zero can easily transform themselves into gorgeous, sunny bluebird days with temperatures hovering in the thirties.  I suppose the air temperature isn’t particularly warm yet on a clear, still day the sun will warm you up mighty quick.  Especially if you are wearing heavy winter gear to begin with.  Such was the day last Wednesday, the fourteenth of January.

A few posts ago, I wrote about my trek to this same Gulch with my friend, Eric.  I went back a week later to revisit the area and take a few photographs.  Since it snowed between my two visits, the biggest difference I noticed were the lack of fresh tracks.  I found a couple of areas where the squirrels were visiting their caches and some sign of hares, but not much else.  The white winter blanket that covers all would seem to exclude life, but with little effort activity is occurring all around: squirrels up and down tree trunks, small songbirds in the canopy and ravens flying high overhead.  There is also much hidden sign, and the shepherds are eager to sniff and investigate the tantalizing olfactory offerings.

Comanche Gulch drains into Gold Creek a couple miles north of Ohio City.  There was and is hard-rock mining in this area and there are numerous ruins of past mining activity throughout the region.  Gold Creek confluences with Quartz Creek at Ohio City, and those waters eventually flow into Tomichi Creek, Gunnison River and the Colorado River, respectively.  They would eventually flow into the Gulf of California except that the waters of the Colorado are so overused that the entire river is diverted before it reaches its terminus.  But here, at the headwaters, the water flows free and clear, unhindered and unyielding in heeding gravity’s pull, literally moving mountains.

2013 Photographic Retrospective

In the future, I will make individual post for the various hikes and adventures that I did in 2013.  In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from the past year.  Enjoy!

Road Trip, Part 3 – April of 2006


Cimarron river in Cimarron Canyon

Cimarron river in Cimarron Canyon

Here in Gunnison, Colorado, it is just below zero this morning.  No clouds nor wind, and a nice clear sky and bright moon.  The cold is dry as there is minimal humidity.  All is white and still except me and the shepherds who are out jogging along.  I am looking forward to the spring months, not that far away really.  The photos I am posting today are from a road trip I took some years ago, in April of 2006, to Taos, New Mexico.  Spring is such an amazing time of year, as the community of life is revived from its winter slumber.  Today though, spring seems far away as winter’s icy grip overwhelms the sun’s warmth.

I took a couple of days to get to Taos from Gunnison and I took a round-about way to get there so I could indulge my “wanderlust” and see new sights along new roads.  I didn’t spend long in Taos, just a night.  The reason for the trip was that I was out of work because the restaurant I usually worked at was shut for remodeling and my buddy in Taos had some remodeling work at a place he owned over in Cimarron.  So, after the night in Taos, we drove over to Cimarron.  The photos that I am posting today are from that time.

We drove over U.S. 64 between the two termini.  Along the way we stopped near Angel Fire at the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial.  The memorial is somber and yet hopeful for the future in remembering and respecting the past.  As a teenager growing up in the Eighties I had many friends whose fathers had been affected by this war.  While I can make no claim to ever fully understanding the veteran’s experiences, this memorial left a strong and lasting impact.  Later, about twenty miles on or so, we stopped in Cimarron Canyon to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.  The Cimarron River flows clear in this canyon and the sound of water and rustling leaves combined with the warmth of the spring’s sun led us to both contemplate and digest what we had seen at the memorial.

Road Trip, Part 2 – April of 2006

Sheba the Shepherd and Lucky Dog the Round Hound overlook the San Juans

Sheba the Shepherd and Lucky Dog the Round Hound overlook the San Juans

In April of 2006, I journeyed from my home in Gunnison, Colorado to stay and work with an old friend who lived in Taos, New Mexico.  I was blessed with pleasant weather – sunny, blue skies and very little wind; it can blow and be somewhat overwhelming during the early part of spring.  After a night on the road, I left from Palisade campground in the early morning and drove at a leisurely pace until reaching my destination that evening.

My journey took me south on S.H. 149 to South Fork and from there west along U.S. 160 to Pagosa Springs.  From Pagosa, I drove eastbound on U.S. 84 to Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico passing through Chromo, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico.  Along the way, I stopped at a couple of scenic pull-overs including one on the west side of Wolf Creek pass that has a marvelous view of the West Fork of the San Juan river.  I have vague recollections of stopping at a Dairy Queen in Chama, New Mexico.  I also stopped briefly in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico to view the local architecture.  At Tierra Amarilla, U.S. 84 junctions with U.S. 64 and I took the latter highway to Taos.  Most of this journey is buried in the fog of time, although I do remember U.S. 64 east of Tierra Amarilla to be a very quiet road.  Furthermore, the entire day’s drive was scenic splendor.  Very few specific memories exist in my mind.  Mostly, I have formed a gestalt of this trip: warm, sunny spring day; Rio Grande river canyon and its igneous rock; sub-alpine forest along U.S. 160 going over Wolf Creek Pass; open country south and east of Pagosa Springs graced by the high ridges of the South San Juan Mountains; aspen forests east Tierra Amarilla; ponderosa pine forests near Tres Piedras; sagebrush flats and the Rio Grande Gorge coming into Taos.

Like most road trips, I always enjoy the temporary freedom from some of life’s daily burdens and this journey was no exception.  Of course, being on the road creates its own set of daily burdens.  Although their novelty soon wears off, I am happy to leave the familiar behind and go exploring.

My First Exploring Retrospective; Road Trip, Part 1 – April of 2006

Rio Grande river at sunset

Rio Grande river at sunset

Last week, on the eighth of January, my friend Eric and I traveled into Comanche Gulch  just south of Fossil Ridge.  We used our snowshoes but didn’t get much further than two miles or so.  The snow was deep and although we alternated breaking trail it was slow and difficult going.  Every step we took on fresh snow produced a double collapse as the weak layers of snow gave way.  Fairly tedious going, but this isolated gulch was also quiet and peaceful.  We saw what might have been bobcat and coyote tracks, not to mention the numerous snowshoe hare and cottontail sign.  We found a set of small weasel tracks, possibly an ermine and another larger set that may have been a marten.  This drainage didn’t have much of a view in any direction as it is choked with aspen and spruce.  The sun was shining, but barely and there was the occasional flurry of snow blowing through.  Aspen at this time of year have dropped all their leaves long ago and stand in resolute and mute silence in response to winter’s freeze.  Their nude limbs stand in stark contrast to summer’s green.  We enjoyed a snack in one such grove of aspen, and later had a quick lunch in one of the few open meadows in this drainage.  Our return trip was twice as quick as our outbound venture.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

In my previous post, I had stated that I would make posts of my previous hiking and exploring adventures.  In the spring on 2006 I borrowed a friend’s digital camera.  This was my first use of digital and the utility and unhampered creativity that digital entailed quickly convinced me to give up the use of film.  Somewhere I have a vast stash of film photography, mostly in the form of slides.  Someday, I may get to scanning it all onto the cloud but for the time being I will just publish photos from my own digital era.

When I borrowed the camera, the time and date stamp were set to the year 2000, so I only have approximate dates.  Later on, when I purchased my first camera, I became precise about the time and date stamp.

In late April of 2006, I ventured from Gunnison, Colorado, to Taos, New Mexico.  I took a round-about way, via Lake City, Creede, South Fork, Pagosa Springs, Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras.  The restaurant I had worked at was closed for the off-season and my buddy in Taos had a few days of make-up construction work. What little I remember about this drive is that I took my sweet time (being out of work and consequently in no hurry), leaving somewhat late in the day and spending the night at Palisade campground, a U.S. Forest Service campground located between Creede and South Fork along the upper Rio Grande river.  Along the way I stopped at some of the numerous scenic overlooks and took my first digital snapshots. I remember having a cookout over a fire, grilling a steak and some vegetables as well as baking a potato.  I was pretty stuffed and didn’t eat the potato thinking that it would make a good part of my breakfast.  Well, I never did eat that potato.  I had my three then-current faithful canine companions with me and one of them I suspect helped them self during my sleep leaving naught but a small pile of foil.

Enjoy the photos from this bygone era; bygone because both Lucky Dog and Sheba have passed on some years ago. Keep on hiking!