After seven years, there isn’t much left in this imperfect mind of mine that can accurately recall the details of this outing. I did not take many digital images and I am not entirely sure how far I went up the drainage of Willow Creek. This name, Willow Creek, is extremely common and I have counted some half a dozen of them in the Gunnison Country. To be clear, this Willow Creek is the one that is a tributary of Quartz Creek near Ohio City. I have said that before and have said the following before, as well: It is one of my favorite places to ski and explore during the Winter months.
Although this ski took place over seven years ago it is likely that I cruised up to the confluence with East Willow Creek before returning on the same path. Even then I had established the standard that that particular location was the standard minimum distance that I would travel on any given day that I visited here. It is possible that I skied further up either East Willow or Willow Creeks, but if I did it has been lost to memory and none of the few images I made reflect anything but the lower portion of Willow Creek.
Willow Creek and environs are public lands managed by the Gunnison National Forest for all people. This area is part of the Fossil Ridge Management Area and is directly adjacent to the wilderness area of the same name. When starting out on this ski I can look up the drainage and espy the high ridges that define Fossil Ridge. Where I was skiing this day, however, I did not get close to the wilderness boundary. Although technically open to motorized recreation the use by those with machines is fairly low and I don’t believe, as is commonly the case, that I saw nor heard any of them.
I enjoy this ski mostly because of it’s mid-elevation setting. There are aspen growing along with sagebrush and some Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. At eighty-five hundred feet, it may seem high but for this region, where summits tower over fourteen thousand feet, it is somewhat low. I have been denied skiing here due to minimal snow cover. This area is also resplendent in weathered granite and might sit on the pediment that was a result of the general uplift that the area experienced after the mountains had already risen above the plains. Thus, the rock I am seeing is basement rock, having sloughed off the sedimentary rock that had previously laid atop.
This area is also home to much diverse wildlife. There are herds of deer here, as well as the ubiquitous elk that now inhabit the mountains having been driven off the plains and prairie after settlement. Bighorn sheep also make their home here although seeing them or their sign is much more rare than that previous ungulates I mentioned. Part of the reason we all enjoy this area, wildlife and human alike, is that it sits on a southern exposure and thus receives a good dose of warm sun on any given day. It also has the additional advantage of being somewhat sheltered from the winds that accompany some of the storms, so therefore it is a good place to go visit when the weather is a bit challenging.
There are many fine places to live and exist in this world, but I often feel truly blessed have landed here in the Gunnison Country where we have an abundance of open space. There are so many hiking and exploring options within an hour of my home that it would take a lifetime to explore them all properly. Our system of public lands is not perfect, and I daily witness some of the abuses and excesses that tax the land and wildlife, but it is better than not having those lands available. I thrive where I can roam more or less uninhibitedly, and when I am out on such a Winter’s day, the aspen boles standing starkly against the snow clad hillside, I feel my spirit soaring along with my physical being. While I don’t remember the details, I am certain that I edified both mind and soul with an awareness not to be found by vicarious experience.