Cactaceae, possibly Echinocereus spp., found near Texas Creek Gulch above the Arkansas River
After a relatively mild Winter and early Spring, May came roaring in with one storm system after another. The Gunnison River basin snowpack actually increased during the month in total depth and relative depth, increasing from below one hundred percent to well above that, almost double. Writing this in retrospect, May of 2015 was either the wettest or second wettest on record, I’m not sure how it ended. My early season hiking was postponed as I spent time at home writing on this blog or cleaning the house or reading or working extra shifts or working out at the gym or whatever else I could think of to do to avoid the wetness.
Finally, in desperation, I decided to cross the Continental Divide and head out to the relatively dry eastern slope of the Rockies. Here I had hoped to find sunny skies and dry conditions to alleviate the glum mood brought on by lack of outdoor activities. Of course, I could have hiked or even skied in the Gunnison River basin, but I was ready for an adventure outside of the realm I live in and chose one of my recent favorite areas to explore.
Taking U.S. 50 east over the summit of Monarch Pass, where the snow was still piled high enough to ski, I drove down to Salida and had a breakfast at Season’s Cafe where I had my appetite sated by a fine meal made locally. I then drove down U.S. 50 to the east into the Arkansas Canyon, now renamed Bighorn Sheep Canyon, to Texas Creek at the junction with Colorado State Highway 69. There I crossed a small county-maintained bridge over the Arkansas River and to the parking area established by the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM maintains millions of acres of public lands throughout the western United States, but most people do not know much about this agency that is responsible for so much of the public domain. The National Parks and Forests tend to get more attention, but these BLM lands can be full of wildness and wonder for the intrepid soul willing to explore the backwaters of the lands that belong to us all.
Once parked I began to hike and explore the confusedly named Texas Creek Gulch. I suppose this name references that this is the gulch that is directly across the Arkansas River, on the north bank, from Texas Creek on the south bank. This area is heavily motorized and is not the place to go if you wish solitude while hiking on established routes. Nonetheless, the southern exposure warms up quickly and I was seeking warmth. And the beauty found here is exquisite, full of granitic outcroppings and numerous species of early season flowering plants.
The first thing I did was take Trail 6025, a dead end route that terminates at a high point of granite and shrubby growth. This country is steep and challenging, as even the minor drainages can produce deep gullies. Along the way I stopped to admire the cactus in bloom, a rarity that can be seen only with fortunate timing. The blooms were a deep, spectacular red and I believe that I was witnessing the cactus that is called a Claret Cup for obvious reasons.
The view from the summit made me feel that I was bobbing about on a sea of granite. The McIntyre Hills south of the Arkansas and the surrounding pediment are either granite or metamorphic rocks and each succeeding ridge was like a crest of a wave, only these are still and motionless, erosion moving so slowly as to be generally not perceivable. The path of the Arkansas River as it carves its way through the resistant rock could be followed for only a short distance before being swallowed by the endless rocky breakers.
The day was just as cloudy as it would have been in Gunnison, but at least it kept me cool and there wasn’t any real precipitation to add to my woes. The only real unfortunate situation brought about by the clouds was that it made photography difficult when trying to document the landscape. The contrasts are difficult to avoid, but the opportunity to take snapshots of the flowers was markedly better than normal.
I walked back down to Texas Creek Gulch and then walked upstream, being only occasionally hazed by the motorized recreationalists who were out thrill seeking in their own manner. Technically, I believe that this road is a county road, so I have no real basis for complaint, but I do like my quiet. Eventually, I headed up Trail 6036 west of Texas Creek Gulch and crossed a low ridge and into Reese Gulch.
There are many small nooks of rock to find solitude if I want, but as this trail is a bit more challenging for motorized users it is empty and I leave the crowded gulch behind. The recent snow and rain have created the unusual presence of flowing water where normally it is not found. That makes the hike that much more pleasant for the German shepherd dogs, Draco and Leah, who like to be able to lap up water whenever the mood strikes them. If they go a mile without water it becomes a crisis, I say with a hint of sarcasm.
At Reese Gulch, Trail 6036 ends at Trail 6035 which runs either north or south. I head north to follow it on its loop up out of Reese Gulch and into numerous small drainages of Fernleaf Gulch. Water is still scarce, but the occasional sounds of water splashing as it cascades over a ledge and lands on rocks below can be heard here and there. The shepherd hear it, too, and we all find hidden groves of chokecherry and thimbleberry away from the main trail.
This day has been a blessing, what with the cool weather and live water. We descend from the divide between the headwaters of Reese Gulch and head to the much large Fernleaf Gulch where the water flowing from the northern highlands has created a small river. We get down to this large creek and the sounds of large rocks being tumbled about by the rushing current are audible over the sound of the pulsing water. Erosion is generally slow, but here I can see the channel being created, destroyed and recreated right before my own eyes.
Relatively low, elevations ranging from six to seven thousand feet above sea level, and warm, the cottonwood already have their leaves and the fresh, bright green contrasts with the darker green of the conifers and the red rock. Because motorized vehicles are not allowed down to the gulch itself, I have some privacy and it is devoid of other humans. A fine place for lunch and a break from my relentless hiking.
Eventually, the shepherds and I continue on our counter-clockwise trek around the loop that Trail 6035 makes and we return to the junction with Trail 6036. Instead of retracing our steps back the way we came, we continue down Trail 6035 and Reese Gulch. Here is where having well trained dogs has paid off. We hike along, minding our own business, when suddenly on a small bluff not more than a hundred feet away a coyote begins to bark and howl at us. I worry that the dogs will try to chase this beast, but they heed my commands and continue to follow me down the trail. I can only surmise that this coyote may have had a den nearby and was protecting her brood, but of course that is only a guess. Regardless, out of respect for Canis latrans, I quickly move out of the area to let the critter have some privacy and the ability to continue on with life as The Creator has ordained.
The remainder of the hike passes by with nothing but spectacular scenery, whether it is the flowering plants or unusually eroded granite. We descend Reese Gulch and Trail 6035 until we reach Trail 6026 and we hike back east towards the trailhead. It is busier here, with many motorized machines whizzing by rapidly on the road below that parallels the trail I am on, but this single track is quiet and I enjoy the views that I have of the Arkansas River below.
Eventually we reach Texas Creek Gulch and walk down to where that drainage confluences with the Arkansas River and the dogs happily dunk themselves in the water. I am a bit concerned because the Arkansas is flowing high, but the canines have enough sense to not go far out and I am relieved when they return to shore. This has been a fine hike, full of beauty and color despite the overcast day. We climb into the car and, blissfully ignorant of the disruption that our passing causes, whiz back westbound on U.S. 50 towards Gunnison. At Monarch Pass we stop and the dogs get out and climb on the snow banks, reminding me that Winter still rules here no matter what the calendar says.
Oh, Happy Day! To go from the mountains to the lowlands in our modern conveyance barely cognizant of the environmental and social damage that our adventure creates. This world can seem so confusing at times; we each have to make our own choices and then live with them. I love to travel and see new things and old, but I don’t care for the disruptive harm cause by our rapid and motorized society. In the end, there isn’t much I can do but to enjoy the beauty that I come across and hopefully create some beauty of my own.
It is May 21, 2015 and it might as well be January 21 as Draco climbs a snow bank on Monarch Pass
Near Texas Creek Gulch, rough country carved by the Arkansas River
Wave after wave of granite or metavolcanic rock
Rough country near Texas Creek and Trail 6025 as low clouds hang over the low peaks
Above Bighorn Sheep Canyon, rolling sea of granite with crests of pinyon and juniper
Looking south from the end of Trail 6025 over the Arkansas River at McIntyre Hills
Uplifted pediment between the plains and the main chain of the Rockies
On Trail 6025 I found this variety of what is possibly Echinocereus triglochidiatus, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether there are different species or varieties
It is called Claret Cup Cactus for a reason
Exquisite beauty found on Trail 6025 near Texas Creek Gulch
The wonder of nature found in such a small package
I was blessed to be present for this bloom
Penstemon spp., now considered part of the Plantain Family due to recent DNA analysis, earlier part of the Snapdragon Family
Penstemon spp. found on Trail 6025, Plantaginaceae
Low clouds obscure the Sawatch Range which lies beyond the rocky outcroppings
A yellow Asteraceae, on Trail 6025 off of Texas Creek Gulch
Pretty yellow asters
Small yellow suns found on this cloudy day lends a cheerful feeling to my hike on Trail 6025 near Texas Creek Gulch
Small dry wash near Texas Creek Gulch
More rough country near Texas Creek Gulch
Sangre de Cristo Mountains peaking through the clouds
Looking south from Trail 6036
Cholla cactus, pinyon, juniper and granite near Reese Gulch
Close up of granite, a very old rock
Near Reese Gulch and Trail 6035
Leah and Draco investigate the meadow with flowers abounding
Photo fails to capture the resplendent glory of the blooming flowers
Leah and Draco on Trail 6035 near Reese Gulch
An Evening Primrose in Reese Gulch
Oenothera spp., Onagraceae, in Reese Gulch
Diminutive marvel of nature brings joy to those who take time to notice small things
Well eroded granite in Reese Gulch
Live water, heard but not seen
Rosaceae found in Reese Gulch
Reese Gulch Rose Family member
Looking south on Reese Gulch
Cactaceae on Reese Gulch, these were numerous
Reese Gulch was full of these small cactus, all blooming and fine to look at and admire
Maybe Escobaria missouriensis? found on Reese Gulch
Chokecherry on Reese Gulch,
Prunus virginiana, Rosaceae on Reese Gulch
Reese Gulch pinyon and juniper
Snow clad Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Sky clearing revealing distant snowy Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Reese Gulch
Skeletal pinyons on Reese Gulch
Looking down from Reese Gulch over the Arkansas River to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Greenery on Fernleaf Gulch
Relatively moist Fernleaf Gulch
Eroded granite on Fernleaf Gulch
Looking upstream on Fernleaf Gulch
Looking downstream on Fernleaf Gulch towards the cloud-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Clouds sailing by over Fernleaf Gulch
Unusually eroded granite on Fernleaf Gulch
Overlooking Fernleaf Gulch from Trail 6035
Rugged Fernleaf Gulch
Pinyon Juniper country on Reese Gulch
Reese Gulch cactus in bloom
Western-most point of Table Mountain from Reese Gulch
Meadow and Granite in Reese Gulch
Ancient, even for geology, granite in Reese Gulch
Rosaceae in bloom, Reese Gulch
Looking south in Reese Gulch
Draco enjoys some water in Reese Gulch
Coyote not happy with our presence
Clouds over the rolling sea of granite
Just another day on Reese Gulch
Towards the end of the day and the clouds that had lifted over the Arkansas River are now beginning to descend
Clouds over Bighorn Sheep Canyon almost low enough to be fog
Monarch Pass has enough snow to ski in late May
Cactaceae, possibly Echinocereus spp., found near Texas Creek Gulch above the Arkansas River