Located a few miles south of Gunnison, Colorado, is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) known as Hartman Rocks. These rocks are made from weathered granite and form the bedrock of this region. There isn’t much of this type of rock exposed anywhere nearby since it was mostly covered up by the repeated eruptions from the volcanic fields in the West Elk and San Juan Mountains. From a distance, the granitic knobs appear to be similar to the weathered sandstone found in the Colorado Plateau, but once the rock itself is examined up close it is apparent that this rock has a different history.
There are many access points to the eight thousands acres that encompass the recreation area. I chose to use Bambi’s Trail off of Gold Basin Road, south of the main parking area. Upon parking my automobile, I let the dogs out and gathered up my pack and gear to begin hiking. Draco and Leah, my two faithful German shepherds, were immediately enticed by the scent of rabbits and other small ground dwelling creatures who use the abundant sagebrush as shelter.
We hiked up the single-track through a small ravine were juniper, aspen and cottonwood grow among the granite boulders. All of the deciduous greenery is gone, replaced by the dull earth tones of the Fall. The rock is reddish, pink and orange in general, speckled with white. The granite has been eroded into rounded shapes, and sometimes the cracks are deep enough to give the impression that one boulder sits atop another. The decomposed granite that lines the trail and makes up the soil would be called sand were it to be found on a beach.
A mile and a half of walking brings us up to the mesa upon which the land becomes rolling with a few outcroppings breaking through the surface. This area is used by numerous groups of recreationalists. There are a few folks like me who come out here to hike and scramble on the rocks. There are also folks who come out here to ride mountain bikes, dirt bikes, four-wheelers and full-sized four-wheel drives. Some will ride horses here and others are serious climbers who set up technical routes over the more challenging terrain. There are also endangered species living here, and the government’s challenging task is to manage this six-mile diameter ring dike for the benefit of one and all. The City and County of Gunnison, with additional funding from the State of Colorado, have united with the federal agency to help direct the management of the area and has been a good example of practical collaboration and cooperation.
Upon cresting the top of the ravine, Bambi’s Trail ends at one of the major roads that cross the area. I could go in any direction I chose, but looking left I spot a large mound of granite upon which I have climbed and sat before and since I know that the small summit allows for a good view of the surrounding countryside I decide to stroll over that way. The dogs and I make our way up the granite, mostly on easy-to-traverse slopes were Douglas fir and juniper grow. To reach the top we must scramble on the rock itself a bit. Easy to go up, a bit more difficult to descend, especially when wet or icy. Care must be used so as not to become prey to a debilitating fall.
From my new aerie I am able to see a vast amount of the Gunnison Country that is my home. The West Elk and Elk Mountains dominate the horizon to the north, while a gaze to the east produces a splendid view of Fossil Ridge and the Sawatch Range beyond. That eastern view terminates on the Great Divide where the waters are split between the two great oceans that hem in the North American continent. The southern view is a bit obscured by local highlands, but parts of the Cochetopa Hills and San Juan Mountains are visible. The Continental Divide runs through this area, as well. To my west I see ridge after ridge, each subsequently more faded than the one closer to me. The flat-topped ridges are the ash and pyroclastic flows that emanated from the great volcanic fields that vied with one another over which could produce more material for millions of years. The amount of lava and ash produced here is staggering, making Mount Saint Helens look like a surreptitious belch.
Prior to my hike, there had been a bit of weather in the area and some pools of water were still to be found atop the rock. The shepherds were eager to lap up this water in the otherwise arid realm. We sat for some time, as I enjoyed and savored the view while the dogs put their sense of smell to heavy use. They skittered about, investigating every nook that they could put their nose down to.
A cool, cloudy day upon us, I was more interested in movement than sitting idly. So, after eating some snacks, we scrambled down the rocks and began walking to the south along the road. I didn’t see anybody else in the vicinity, and could imagine that only a few die-hard individuals would be out and about on a day like this. We had walked about two miles to reach the rocks that we had scrambled up and now walked about another two plus miles along this road.
We reached the boundary of the Hartman Rocks area and passed over into less strictly managed BLM lands. There was a large sign at this boundary, set so as to be read by incoming traffic, that stated this area to be the only known home of the skiff milkvetch. Thus, besides being a well known recreation mecca, this area has been designated also as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. In my opinion, it is a moral imperative to protect that which has no voice in our democratic system, and this includes the plants and animals that we share the planet with. Will the skiff milkvetch be able to survive with the simultaneous recreational use of its habitat? That question is just one of many regarding the conservation of our wild heritage that doesn’t have a clear answer.
The dogs and I continued walking past the southern boundary of Hartman Rocks and made our way up to a small highpoint. This eminence wasn’t named much less marked on maps with an elevation, but from here I could see the rolling lands to the south that climb up to Sawtooth Mountain. The stands of aspen had mostly lost their leaves and a few only showed any color. Thus, the aspen where mostly that grayish white color that occurs when they are seen from a distance. Winter was still a couple of months away, but the snow capped mountains, clouds overhead and general grayness announced the imminent oncoming of starving times. Hopefully, everyone has their stores set already.
There was a brisk breeze here that kept my perch cool. The sun would make an occasional foray from behind the clouds and thus drenched us with warming rays but the cold soon seeped into my clothing and prompted me to hoist myself up from the ground and make tracks back the way we came. I had climbed a small but significant enough amount of elevation to get up into some snow, albeit not too deep, merely a couple of inches. We retreated more or less back the way we came and soon found ourselves in the small ravine that carries Bambi’s Trail. I explored some of the rock outcroppings along the way, staring at the multitude of small crystals that make up the rock. Of course, the vegetation was never out of sight. The rose hips were still a bright red and the juniper were loaded with blue berries. The air was fragrant with the musty scent of wet soil. Combined with the sagebrush and rabbitbrush, it created a invigorating smell that tingled my senses. I strolled back to the trailhead, happy that I had made this small expedition into this special place.