Flowers on the Lion Gulch Trail – June 05, 2009

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What looks like a strawberry, part of the Rose Family if so, on the Lion Gulch Trail

This hike has more or less completely faded from my memory with a very few specific exceptions.   I do remember taking all these photographs along the trail and at the trailhead as well.  I remember the insects in the flowers.  I recall how consistently difficult it was to get a good image of the red columbine.  Being somewhat unusual in Gunnison County I also remember the clematis vine.  I had thought how wonderful it would be to record all the various flowers in bloom – I doubt that I succeeded.  I also remember the calypso orchid.  I didn’t see anybody else and the day was cloudy but warm.  But beyond those few scattered fragments I cannot say much about this specific hike.  Now that I think about it, I don’t know if I made it to the trail’s conclusion at West Elk Creek.

The Lion Gulch Trail is a fine hike that ultimately ends at the banks of West Elk Creek deep in the creek’s canyon.  That canyon is steeply sided and can be accessed from only a few specific points.  Lion Gulch doesn’t drain into West Elk Creek.  Rather, it sends its small deluge down to Red Creek.  That latter creek is where the hike starts at a small, almost unnoticeable trailhead.  The trail immediately passes through Elk Park but only after emerging from a steep-sided gulch.  Within that gulch are found numerous of the flowers I saw that day and they were especially prevalent on the north face.

Like much of the West Elk Mountains, especially at higher elevations such as the nine thousand foot mark found here, this small drainage was awash in verdure.  The lighter green aspen and meadows combine with the dark forest green of the conifers to create a verdant wonderland.  But, oh, those flowers add speckles of color throughout and in all habitats.  A riot of color spanning the arc of a rainbow.  On this hike, that was what I was seeking.

I found the color in droves.  From what I saw when reviewing this set of snapshots the quick list would include the Pea, Geranium, Violet, Buttercup, Parsley, Rose and Sunflower Families.  After two miles of hiking, I would have reached the summit of the divide between Red and West Elk Creeks.  This would also be the headwaters of Lion Gulch.  From this point, the trail would descend the western face of this north to south running ridge through a series of switchbacks.  There is no named drainage on the west side, rather the trail winds down a large slope.

On this face in a different habitat, warmer and drier, the flowers changed even thought he colors remained the same.  There were a few generalist species that could grow in both locales, but many were specific to a particular habitat.  The clematis vine was located here but certainly not on the eastern face of the divide, for example.

What is also interesting about this divide are the two faces that are represented regarding erosion and geology.  The eastern face is very smooth and looks much like any type of small gully found throughout the Rocky Mountains.  The western face is a gnarly assemblage of hoodoos and spires and fins carved from the igneous West Elk Breccia.  The breccia has conglomerated football-sized pieces of rock suspended in a surrounding mass of fine-grained rock that may be volcanic ash.  Sometimes a piece of rock will shield the underlying matrix from erosion while the nearby material is washed away.  This action can create some stunningly suspended rock set upon a precariously thin pedestal.

There is one fin that is visible from the trail somewhat close up and, in my mind, it looks like an impossibility.  The striations indicating perhaps a flow of some sort at its incipient creation also belie a tendency for the rock to crumble at inopportune moments.  Much of this formation is off limits to technical climbing due to its  unpredictable nature.  Upon inspection of this fin the chunks of rock within the breccia are visible.  The entire structure looks as though it should crumble to dust at any moment.

It looks as though I didn’t take many snapshots of the surrounding landscape.  I know from experience that there are some stunning views to the north on West Elk Creek where the drainage can be followed up to its headwaters below West Elk Mountain, the highest point in the West Elk Mountains.  At trail’s end is a nice park-like setting near the creek that is well worthy of a moments repose.  An isolated location, deep in a formidable canyon, naps have proven to be a worthwhile venture on other occasions.

As I write this, my thoughts are still geared towards the wintry end of Spring.  I hiked in a snowstorm yesterday.  Tomorrow will bring about the first day of May and June will be a month away.  I am seeing the incipient green forming throughout the basin, but the thought of these flowers must be put on hold for the moment.  May is such a fantastic time of change.  I am eagerly looking forward to next month’s adventures and blooms.  I was blessed to have this day getting out in the flowers and am indeed fortunate to live in such a place of outstanding beauty where solitude and its concomitant equanimity are the norm.

An Early June Visit to Frozen Lamphier Lake – June 03, 2009

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Sheba near Lamphier Lake, striking an elegant pose

Despite the nearly seven years that have passed I still retain some strong and definitive memories from this hike.  I had wanted to get up into the high country and decided that the best way to do that would be to visit Lamphier Lake in the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area within Gunnison National Forest.  The trail starts near the Gold Creek Campground and is three miles of a steady climb up to the lake set in its crown of high ridges above treeline.

I have no real idea of how many times I have been to Lamphier Lake.  Perhaps a dozen or more, because it is one of my favorite hikes.  I used to do it solely for its own sake, meaning that I would hike to the lake just to see the lake.  Now, more often than not, I hike past the lake on my way to or from another location.  I almost always find time to stop and sit on its banks, however.

The trail leading up to the lake climbs steadily albeit at a relatively modest rate of five hundred feet per mile.  It is moderately challenging, especially if someone has not done much hiking in the mountains before.  The lower portion of this trail passes through a large aspen forest, which would have been a vibrant and striking green on this day.  There are a couple of crossing of Lamphier Creek to be made.  They are generally easily done, but care must be taken when the water is high.  As this year seemed to be a big snow year I wonder what the crossings were like.  I did not take any snapshots, and usually don’t, and have no good memory of it.

Climbing past the aspen forest, the vegetation changes to a thick conifer forest.  There are spruce, Douglas fir and lodgepole pine strewn about the hillsides.  The trail up seems to be an old road of some sort, most likely a remnant from the hard-rock mining era circa a hundred years ago.  Even on the south face, the moss grows thick in the trees and that is just one of many indicators of a heavy snow load and precipitation in general.

What made this hike memorable was the vast accumulation of snow yet remaining this deep into Spring.  The snow was absent for the first two-thirds or so of the hike, but then what started as a patch here and there soon obscured the trail entirely.  I believe that I ended up post-holing the last quarter of a mile or more up to the lake.  It became a stern reminder to not underestimate the snowpack based on conditions at a lower elevation.  What can be tricky is that much of the snow above treeline will be melted and the snow will remain surprisingly deep in the trees where shade protects the cold mass.  The thought naturally occurs that since the highest points of the mountains are snow free then the lower elevations in totality ought to be the same.  Alas, it is not always the case.

What really made and impression on me was that the lake was completely frozen over.  I learned that I should visit this lake after the Ides of June.  Unless, of course, you want to punch deep holes in the snow and strenuously slog along.  It does have its rewards, though.  There was nobody else at the lake that day and I had the place to myself.  The snow clad ridges above were stunning in their magnitude.  I am so fond of this area, as I write this essay I am already eager to visit!

I brought along Lady Dog and Sheba.  This trip did produce some great photographs of them each.  I recollect that the dogs had a fairly easy time of it, as they were able to walk across the surface of the snow while I sank up to my knees.  Once we arrived at the lake, there were ample places to sit and rest without getting too wet.  The trunks of the large conifers can heat up the area just to their south, reflecting the sun, and some of these were already snow free.  I sat an looked upon this crazy scene set at the transition between the alpine and sub-alpine life zones.

I see from the photographs that there were a fair amount of clouds out, but I don’t think there were any thunderstorms or otherwise inclement weather.  Usually, by June the Spring’s blustery winds have dissipated and the month is blue and warm.  I would guess that it was a warm hike, especially where I was exerting myself stomping uphill through the dense, wet snow.

Looking at the images, I see that I stopped and posed the dogs on a rock that is one of the few overlooks that occur on this trail.  I almost always stop at this rock to look at the view.  To stop here has practically become a tradition.  From here, Mount Ouray can be seen and the rolling mountains leading up to the Great Divide define Rocky Mountain grandeur.  I love the vast expanses of open country, and my heart soars out to those wild one that are missing from the landscape.  To hear wolves howl or see the track of Ol’ Ephraim would make this place complete.  I do love the scenery but without animals that is all it is:  scenery, not wildlands.

Despite the effort and some struggle, I remember feeling exalted to have reached the lake.  I was also exalted because I had made the effort, and struggled a bit, and felt pleased with myself for having persevered in the face of adversity.  It wasn’t a dangerous situation, but rather one where I could have been fatigued by mere boredom.  In the end, I was appreciative of the gift I was given, sitting by the edge of a frozen lake in the heart of the mountains.  Early June, on the cusp of true summer, so green and tempting.  But not at nearly twelve thousand feet in a shady aspect after a big snow year.  That will just have to wait.

Short Hike on Mill Creek – May 27, 2009

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Late Spring on Mill Creek

Here is a hike that I do not recall in the slightest detail.  From perusing the photographic record I can only surmise that I walked a short distance up Mill Creek but I don’t know exactly how far or where I stopped.  It is possible that I walked four miles up the trail to my favorite turn-around point, but I think I would have had more photos.  What seems more likely is that I walked up to the meadow near the wilderness boundary.  I have vague recollections of exploring one of the unnamed drainages falling down from the oddly formed breccia above.  While not sure if that event was on this trip or not, it would have been at about that time and I might not have made any snapshots of that bit of wandering.

From the few images that I made on this day I can see that I was enthralled with the play of light that occurred between the vibrant fresh green of the aspen and grasses and the sun dodging the clouds in the otherwise bright blue day.  I wasn’t through pictures able to express the oddness of this particular realm.  It is a place of its own and should perhaps have been protected as a national monument.  It is to great fortune that it is now protected within the West Elk Wilderness and that in the intervening years no valuable minerals were prospected.

Mill Creek rises in the highlands about West Elk Mountain and the chain of Baldies that run to the south on a high ridge.  Most of this country is comprised of the aptly named West Elk Breccia.  That style of rock is made of chunks of stone, in this case I believe to be exploded volcano, suspended in a finer matrix.  That finer matrix here is composed of perhaps volcanic ash.  The breccia extends throughout the vast expanse of the West Elk Mountains and if a volcanic explosion similar to Mount Saint Helens had occurred then it must have been monumental such is the extent of the debris.  Although the West Elk Mountains are not geologically part of the Rocky Mountains, they are topographically part of the province.  They are considered separate due to their volcanic origin as opposed to the uplift tat raised the Rockies proper.

Throughout these mountains are hoodoos, spires, fins and other geologic oddities strewn about the various waterways, all carved from this breccia.  The Dillon Pinnacles, The Palisades near Gunnison, and The Castles are three relatively well known examples of these odd formations eroded from the mass of breccia.  Mill Creek contains another set of worthy spectacles to view.  What captivates in Mill Creek are the fins of rock carved from the canyon walls.  Hundreds of feet tall, they can’t be very wide.  The contour lines as represented on topographic maps are a mass of confusion and convergence.  There are some hoodoos and such as well, but those formations are better viewed elsewhere.

Still, this one drainage contains a wealth of beauty and sublimity seldomly found elsewhere.  At the time these pictures were taken, in late May, the leaves had budded from all the deciduous trees and the meadows were filled with fresh grass.  The water would have been cascading down from the snow-capped highlands rising above the canyon.  Even a short hike is magical especially if you can find a nice place to sit back and relax and watch the world turn.

I imagine that this day was warm and pleasant.  The cloud cover doesn’t look heavy enough to have produced thunderstorms.  Of course, that could have changed within an hour or two.  Still, I can’t help but look at this collection of half a dozen images and be envious of myself for having visited such a sublime setting.  This drainage encapsulates the feeling of a Rocky Mountain day.  I must have been blessed to walk around in such a fine setting and I didn’t then, then I would like to now offer a blessing of thanksgiving for such places that yet retain their wild character.  It is sad to me that so many of our native species have become regionally extirpated.  I hope that some day we, as a society, can better learn to live with wolves, grizzly bears and herds of buffalo.  For now, places like Mill Creek remain a template and won’t be truly alive until our wildlife is allowed a measure of freedom.

Backpackig from Dry Gulch to East Elk Creek, Day 3 – May 14, 2009

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Hoodoos in the brecca above East Elk Creek, note also the green freshly budded leaves on the cottonwood

By now a familiar refrain, I will nonetheless restate that after nearly seven years some of the details of this hike have faded.  Knowing what I did isn’t exactly the same as remembering.  However, that being said, I do have strong memories of crossing East Elk Creek, the specifics of which I will relate a bit further down.  Most likely I rose early to watch the sunrise.  That is my general wont and I have a snapshot timed at quarter after seven.

I recollect thinking that in the three days that I had been in this place the leaves on the aspen had grown noticeably.  There was much of that vibrant lime-green color of first growth.  I must have eaten a breakfast augmented with my allotted one cup of coffee, probably all the while staring up at the trees and their inhabitants.  I’m sure I enjoyed listening to the birds sing and watching the puffy clouds sail across the cerulean sky.

After packing I would have walked down West Bull Gulch and through Bull Park.  There is an old logging road that facilitated relatively easy passage, although in places it was almost like bushwhacking.  I don’t remember, but it must have been a very green hike as that gulch is chocked with aspen.  Some of the photographs I took support this notion, but even if the aspen weren’t yet budded out then the conifer would lend its dark green to the scene.

Once I reached East Elk Creek I recall vividly that I was in for a unexpected surprise.  The creek’s snow-melt runoff was so heavy that the log I had expected to cross was not usable.  Oh, the log was still there but was now a foot or so underwater.  It would not be possible to cross here.  Since that time I have used this crossing repeatedly without peril, so I surmise that 2009 was a big snow year.

At first I thought that I would have to retrace my steps back up Bull Gulch and up over into Dry Gulch.  But, I instead dropped my pack and began to explore the area.  I knew that there were many beaver dams on the creek and thought that perhaps one would prove suitable for crossing.  I did not find any such place.  However, I did find a large Douglas fir that had fallen over a portion of a beaver pond.  There was a chance that I could cross here.  It would be dangerous, should I fall I would be immersed in cold water, but at least it was mostly slack.

I retrieved my pack and strapped it on my back.  Carefully, I walked across the log, stepping with extreme care around any branches that protruded in my way.  There was one place were my backpack became caught up in a branch and I could go neither forward nor backwards.  With a mighty effort I reached back and snapped the branch off, keeping my balance and averting a major inconvenience.  Foot by foot, step by step, I slowly crossed the large trunk until, finally, I was safely across, dry and unscathed.

I breathed a sigh of relief and then began to march downstream along the old road that parallels East Elk Creek.  This portion of the hike went relatively quickly after my daring crossing of East Elk Creek.  I had all day to get back home so I strolled along at an easy pace.  At one point I bushwhacked a bit off trail up to and through some of the hoodoos that have been eroded out of the West Elk breccia.

The hoodoos are fascinating.  The breccia contains large chunks of exploded volcano suspended in a fine matrix of volcanic ash.  When the formation as a whole erodes, a large piece of rock will sometimes shelter the underlying finer matrix from erosion and the result looks almost like a stalagmite sans cave.  These hoodoos bear repeated observation from afar as well as close up.  They are part of what makes this area special and I never tire of staring up at them.

I note from the photos I took that there were a number of flowers in bloom, as would be expected in mid-May.  Spring can be a challenging time of year.  Blustery, alternating from bright sun to thunderous storm, the days are difficult to prepare for as your initial clothing choice may become hilariously inappropriate an hour later.  Put on the wool pants and polypro liner?  The sun will come out make you feel that you are in a pressure cooker.  Put on a light shirt and pants?  The winds will spit snow at you and freeze your ass end off.  But generally it is warmer and the green leaves and colorful flowers are good indicators that no matter how much snow falls it won’t last and Summer will soon chase all that cold away.

This day I remember as warm, especially in the lower reaches of East Elk Creek.  I don’t remember much after exploring the hoodoos.  I have been on this trail so many times that it is almost impossible to segregate one set of memories from another sans photographic enhancement of my ability to recollect the when and where of most such events.  Even with photos seminal events can become confused.

Regardless, I was probably happy to reach the waiting automobile and unburden myself from my pack.  From what I can tell, I left both Lady Dog and Sheba at home, or possibly kenneled them at the vet’s office, and I would bet that they were happy to see me.  Although many of the details have faded, I know that I thoroughly enjoyed this hike.  I was blessed to have these days and am now especially happy that they have joined the larger collective of my other recollections.  It is always a blessing to walk in the mountains, and I am fortunate to live here, in Gunnison, Colorado, where I have so much to choose from and to explore.

Backpacking from Dry Gulch to East Elk Creek, Day 2 – May 13, 2009

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Aspen forest atop the ridge dividing Red and East Elk Creeks

My memory from nearly seven years ago is a bit foggy.  I do remember this day and all the hiking that I did.  Though the details are missing, they are happily filled in by many of these snapshots.  Presumably I rose and had a breakfast augmented with a cup of coffee, a habit of mine by this time.  I know that I then took a longish hike around the environs of Red Creek.

Interestingly enough, when I think about this area I realize that most of my knowledge was gained from this hike and that I have subsequently used and currently employ this knowledge of the trail network in the area.  The first thing I did was leave camp and explore the upper reaches of West Bull Gulch, which I recall as being a large meadow with a bit of a creek running down the middle.

I was more or less bushwhacking and followed a route north along the ridge before dropping down a steep slope to East Red Creek and Gunnison National Road 723.  I walked up the road another couple of miles only to find that at about ten thousand and five hundred feet the snows were still too deep to permit passage.  Along this road I saw what I believe to be mountain lion tracks, although they appeared to be older.  I felt more alive just knowing that one of Colorado’s large native predators still exists in these mountains, although, of course, the grizzly bear and wolf are no more.

While my camp was busily greening up, this area was still thawing out.  There were very few signs of green, although the aspen were flowering.  There were places where the ground was freshly exposed from the melting snow, though it was still gray and the old vegetation remained heavily matted.  Soon enough, but not yet, this area would assume a vibrant green.  For now, the only green came from the first pioneering sprouts low to the ground and the deeper hues of the dense conifer forest.

I used one of the Forest Service roads to cross over to West Red Creek.  I do recollect that there was a fairly large amount of post-holing through the deep snow involved.  One of my least favorite activities, I would have no doubt been pleased when I found snow-free ground once again.  Now that I think about it, I was somewhat unsure about this route, whether or not I could navigate my way down this drainage.  I did not relish the though of retracing my steps through the deep snow.

Regardless of my apprehension, I strove onward through the forest.  The map shows a road here, but that is a bit outdated.  It seems that the Forest Service has removed this road.  This was not a case of just shutting a gate.  It looked like the road had been “ripped” out, meaning that the contour of the slope upon which it had crossed had been restored.  I bit tricky to hike on, but the route was obvious.  I took a picture of the beaver dams built along the creek, and I am always happy to see indications of wildlife wherever I am at.

Following West Red Creek down to the confluence with the eastern fork, I followed the latter back upstream to retrace my route back to camp.  Prior to climbing the slope down from whence I came, I found a well trodden path that led up towards where I wanted to go.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it led back to within a quarter a mile or so of camp.

I don’t have any memories at all of what I did that evening.  I would hope that I showed gratitude for being outdoors within the great forest found here.  I now recall this day as being warm with a bit of a cloud cover.  I wonder what the sunset did that night.  Perhaps clouds blotted out the sun’s last rays before it descended beneath the horizon.  Seven years gone since then, and I find it hard to believe that so much time has passed.  I’m am fortunate, indeed, to still hike and explore and am thankful, as well!

Backpacking from Dry Gulch to East Elk Creek, Day 1 – May 12, 2009

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Sunset on the divide between East Elk and Red Creeks

So far, I haven’t found any other references to hiking on Dry Gulch or making a loop through Bull Gulch, as I did on this two night backpacking trip.  So I would suppose that this is my visit to the area.  I have been back at least twice to do variants on this trip.  I have also day-hiked the entire route a few times.  It has become one of my favorite of places to visit.

What makes this hike so special is the change in habitats.  I generally park my car back towards the group campsite on East Elk Creek and then walk over to Dry Gulch, bushwhacking so as to avoid U.S. 50 below as well as to cut of a bit of distance.  Following well-worn game trails through the sagebrush steppe, I am above Blue Mesa Reservoir, nee the Gunnison River, the latter of which has helped to carve the mesa-dominated geologic tableau that I am witnessing. Capped by thick bands of basalt and other weather-resistant igneous rock, the mesas form when the underlying brecca erodes away.  That later action creates some of the stunning hoodoos, spires and fins composed of the latter rock.  It is a Rocky Mountain alternative to the familiar desert themed cartoon that features a couple of that desert’s native fauna.

After Crossing over to Dry Gulch, I would have walked past what was most likely a sparsely used, due to the early season, campground and continued striding along past the trailhead.  The trail is the remnant of an old, what I believe to be closed, road that leads up to the dividing ridge between the two drainages I have been writing about.  After meandering the first half a mile along Dy Gulch, the trail climbs steeply up, more or less, a thousand feet in a mile and a half.  Starting at about seventy-six hundred feet, after about five hundred feet of elevation gain small clumps of aspen are seen wherever what is seeping or gathering near the surface.

Sagebrush are found in this transition zone but now shares space with denser grass, chokecherry and Gambel oak.  The climb is hot on a warm, sunny day, especially approaching the noon hour.  When the trail climbs up, it does so using a small and dry side drainage to the main stem.  After the steep climb, the trail levels out and now forest of aspen become more widespread and there are a few individual conifers interspersed here and there.

Once out of the small drainage and on top of the widespread mesa the view is nothing short of sublime on a clear day.  The blue body of water that is the reservoir below seems distant and the view can soar out over dozens of miles to strike upon the mighty San Juan Mountains.  The immediate view down into Dry Gulch, from whence I had emerged, also impresses on to me the ruggedness of these southern foothills to the West Elk Mountains.  The remaining few miles climb gently another thousand feet.

I can’t say if I did or did not, but one of my favorite resting places comprises a small grove of large Douglas fir.  I often find it a salubrious location to take a break.  Meanwhile, while hiking steadily upwards, the views expand a bit and include many of the surrounding sheer-cliffed mesas.  By this time the grasses should have been a bit green but there would have been generally a minimum of blooming flowers as well as new leaves on trees.

This hike also has a distinction of passing through four different administrative entities.  I shall enumerate sans numbers:  The National Park Service manages Currecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife manages the Sapinero State Wildlife Area, the Bureau of Land Management, within the Department of the Interior, manages the land interspersed between units of the former and the National Forest, within the Department of Agriculture, manages the forestland generally found at the higher elevations where my camp will be made.  I am relieved that they don’t each require a permit for visitation.

Towards the end of this day’s hike I cross the boundary into the Gunnison National Forest.  The sagebrush fades out as the elevation and increased moisture conspire to give the advantage to a panoply of species adapted to this climate.  Here grow vast forests of aspen and dense groves of conifer, either Douglas fir or spruce depending on the aspect.  I make camp on a ridge near ninety-six hundred feet, in a small meadow surrounded by aspen on the cusp of budding.  The conifers add their tang to the scented air, and I know I love the smell that emanates from the aspen forest.  The moderately damp earth, in places, also reeks of fungal beings going about their work at reducing accumulated organic material.  Taken all together, I am invigorated when this smell percolates through my nose and wakens me to the mass of life that surrounds my being.

I notice that I took two sets of photos.  One was made on the hike up to camp and the other was made, seven hours later, at sunset.  I really don’t have a very good idea of what I did in the intervening time.  Obviously, some of that would have been in making camp, but that would be an hour at most.  Another hour for dinner towards sunset.  So, did I nap?  Explore the surrounding woods?  This area is misrepresented on many maps as having specific trails in places where they are merely imagination, and yet other trails that exist on the ground but not on the map.  I would imagine that I would have done some short exploring treks, as is my particular wont.

The one thing I clearly remember from this hike attempting to capture the color of the sunset and being frustrated that I wasn’t really able to do so.  Ah, such is the photographer’s obligation to learn the art.  I recall that the dusk was especially magnificent and that I was blessed to be spending a couple of nights at this special place.  It may have been windy on my hike up, but if so there would have been a good chance that the winds would have abated upon the sun’s setting.  I don’t really remember going to bed, seven years later, but most likely it would have been done contentedly, ensconced as I was in this welcoming location.

Hike from Cabin Creek to Point 8950 – April 07, 2016

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Phlox, the first I’ve seen of the season, in Cabin Creek

Today was my first outing since I returned home from my road trip to California.  Although I had one free day between my return home and going to work, I needed it in its entirety to complete numerous chores such as getting the mail, paying bills, restocking the refrigerator and bailing the dogs out from the kennel.  Draco, Leah and Lady Dog were all happy to see me and return home.  The two shepherds nearly knocked me over when the leaped up into my arms.  They were a bit excited, to say the least.

I was still recovering from work and my recent trip when I decided that the best thing to do would be to wait until afternoon to take a hike.  I am usually a morning hiker, but the public has been asked to restrain from recreational activities prior to nine in the morning in order to protect the leks of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a species that has been listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service excepting for a pending lawsuit by a number of misinformed county governments, including my own.

Nonetheless, something all parties seem to agree upon is the need to protect the breeding habitat for the bird, so I have changed some of my Spring time hiking from morning to evening, or have remained higher in the forest above the great sagebrush sea that makes up the grouse’s habitat.  Thus, this day found me at the trailhead at three in the afternoon beginning to hike along the Bureau of Land Management road that parallels Cabin Creek.

The lower portion of Cabin Creek is well within the great sagebrush sea and provides important habitat for the grouse as well as the local herds of mule deer and elk.  Numerous other species also make their home here and I often observe tracks of coyotes and the den sites of ground squirrels and chipmunks.  Many raptors can be seen as well as a plethora of songbirds.  The bluebirds are especially blue during their breeding season and they can be seen flitting about with the robins and juncos.

I am grateful for the excellent Spring day.  I hike along BLM Road 3107 about three miles excepting where I walked about half a mile on an alternate non-motorized alignment.  Of course, with the main road and all spurs closed from March 15 to May 15, all the roads in the area are non-motorized, but this old alignment has been made permanently closed.  I like seeing that some damage has been negated and the wounds inflicted on the earth healed.

Because of the leks and possible nesting sites within the sagebrush I generally stay on the road and encourage the dogs to do the same.  I turn left and begin to climb up BLM Road 3107c, which leads up to Point 9150.  It is suitable for hikers and equestrians but has been closed due to a severe washout on its steep grade.  One of the problems with so many roads is the inevitable clogging of our streams with tons of sediment.  I would like to see fewer roads within the public domain as I think that it is better for both wildlife and habitat as well as the taxpayer’s pocketbook.

The ridge we were climbing up nine hundred feet to divides Cabin Creek from Sheep Gulch on the small scale but generally also rises to divide the Gunnison and Taylor Rivers from Tomichi Creek.  This is one of my favorite areas.  Especially in Spring, it has thawed out and radiates relative warmth.  Of course, Springtime in the Rockies means inevitable wind but I seemed to have luck with this day by experiencing only small gusts.  I thrilled to see Phlox spp. growing in a few clumps here and there scattered out in the sagebrush.  My general admiration for Nature’s wonders occupied my mind, whether rock, flora, fauna, atmosphere or whatever else I have just failed to enumerate.

Reaching the flat summit, almost a mesa, I am greeted by a view that encompasses a wide range of mountains.  West Elk, Anthracite, Carbon, Axtell, Whetstone, Red, Flat Top, Round, Cement and baby East, Teocalli, and more whose names escape me can be seen in a large arc reaching from west to north and then terminates at relatively close Fossil Ridge.  To the south lies the San Juan Mountains and the Powderhorn Area.  Uncompahgre Peak rears is square-top head, a vast sentinel upon the horizon.

There are so many peaks that could be named from this view.  For the record, I am making this list from rote, without aide of map.  Sawtooth, Cochetopa Dome, Razor Creek Dome, Tomichi Dome, Antora, Ouray, much of the Sawatch Range, Long Branch Baldy.  Yeah, I live in a sublime area, and wherever and whenever I walk the land I feel a transcendental change come about me.  I smile as move about, it is a good day.

I walked down another BLM spur road that leads south towards Point 8950.  The remnant of cornices on the lee side of the mesa provide the dogs with an opportunity to cool themselves down.  Some mule deer, about a half a mile away, hurry away from us.  I reach the point, which is on the edge of the mesa top.  This geologic structure is igneous in nature, and generally forms sheer or nearly so cliffs.  This point I have visited some four or five times, perhaps, and every single time this point is windy.  I thought that today would be different, but it was not to be.  No matter, the point allows a fine view of Tomichi Creek from Gunnison up towards the east.  I particularly love to look down on the confluence with Cochetopa Creek and watching that creek wind its way upstream through its steep-sided canyon before emerging in the flats about Cochetopa Dome.

The clouds had formed overhead and, looking at the cold scene, decided that it was unlikely a colorful sunset would be produced.  It seems that April weather and the position of sun conspire to exclude most of the reds, oranges, pinks and yellows that combine to form the sublimely blazing colors that make a person stop and take note.  I dropped off the southern slope and slowly descended through the sparse brush.  The rocks had eroded in such a way that I felt as if I were walking on a slope of soil studded with unpredictably unstable bowling-balls.  I kept my arms up to counteract any unexpected movement and paid heed to each footfall.

Time went by slowly until I had descended the better part of the challenging slope, but once down to the lower part of the same ridge I could then follow yet another BLM spur road south towards the trailhead.  This I proceeded to do enjoying the view as I went.  For the record, I passed over Points 8505 and 8410.  Once I reached the power lines I turned east and about half a mile later rejoined the road the I had originally begun on.  The last half a mile was a stroll and my entire being gave thanks that my first hike since returning from California was both pleasant and rewarding.  It is a blessing to live here, and days like these reinforce that notion.