Backpacking Trek Around the Powderhorn Wilderness, Day 2, Across Calf Creek Plateau – June 25, 2016


The snowy San Juan Mountains seen across Calf Creek Plateau between Devil’s and Powderhorn Lakes

Only a few days had past since the Summer solstice and thus the days lasted for seemingly endless hours, beginning with the first flush of dawn’s early light and lasting until the lingering dusk faded.  All told, the characteristic sunlight hours could be made to extend from five in the morning until nine at night.  This morning I was up with the first light and made ready to leave at the earliest possible opportunity.  For today was the day that I would cross Calf Creek Plateau, a large expanse of flat alpine tundra lying above twelve thousand feet in elevation.  There would be no place to escape from a lightening storm so the plan I formulated simply directed me to cross the flatland expanse prior to the formation of the thunderheads.

Therefore, I fixed a quick and tidy backpacker’s breakfast of two packets of instant oatmeal with a serving of raisins as well as a single cup of micro-ground coffee.  I wandered over to the lake that I had slept near to watch the morning light develop in the sky above.  The sun struck the far shore and cliff of the mesa above, lighting up the edifice with an orange glow that is the specialty of the crepuscular hours.  My gear I soon packed and made myself and my trusty German shepherds ready for the day’s adventure.  Off we went!  That first step always both thrilling and daunting.  I crossed the outlet of the lake where nascent West Fork of Powderhorn Creek emerges and strode across a large meadow before beginning the ascent to Calf Creek Plateau.  Draco  and Leah scurried about investigating the small rodents that inhabit the beetle-damaged forest in this area.

Seemingly there existed in the past an old trail between the Powderhorn Lakes and Devil’s Lake as a number of old cairns remain on the plateau between the two.  It would be relatively easy to climb up to the plateau from Powderhorn Lakes on the gentle slope but an old trail appears to have been cut into the earth.  Still, the route is obscure and after making the climb to the top of Calf Creek Plateau I kept a map in hand in order to guide my direction.

With each step that I climbed the world around me became more discernible, topographically speaking.  To the north I could see the West Elk Mountains as a faint serrated edge that formed that horizon.  The Sawatch Range was visible, barely, and I could thus see nearly a hundred miles of Continental Divide since much of the northern San Juan Mountains rose up nearby.  The shepherds cared not one wit for any of this but instead made merry on the various snow patches that lingered in the alpine tundra.  Frolicking and writhing upside down, they both actively engaged the land in their own way while I pondered the magnificence of the scene.  Snow clad vastness of early Summer, an admixture of verdure indicating lush flora, the aforementioned snowy whiteness, the cerulean firmament and cloudy grays the sum of which brought joy to my being.

Calf Creek Plateau is a vast featureless expanse of flat land.  However, the true feature is that vastness that can at times create an illusion that the hiker is out on the Great Plains or otherwise in some grassy area at a much lower elevation.  The snowy peaks of the various mountains remind me of my immediate proximity to the mountains, yet they don’t tower over the plateau and I feel separate from the eminences.  Two miles of hiking lead me to the opposite rim of the great plateau and I look down into Devil’s Lake.  That this abandoned and seldom used trail network was officially sanctioned at some point is proven when I find an old sign that states the mileage to the two lakes.  This sign is a relic from the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal land stewardship agency that manages a significant portion of the Powderhorn Wilderness that I am now traversing.

My plan to leave early so as to avoid any thunderstorms bears fruit as I note the clouds building up over the mountains as is their wont during this time of year.  I have about two hours of hiking to get to a reasonably sheltered location and I am gratified to note that these clouds won’t converge into congregations large enough for stormy activity until after I have passed.  So, I have some time to stop and enjoy the vast scenery.  It is grand.  The snow clad peaks stand out against the green forests and blue sky and I can be truly thankful for having this moment.  I lean on my hiking staff and draw in a deep breath, all admiration.  I study the map and then the landscape and note my intended direction of travel.  It would be easy to get sucked into the wrong drainage for my descent from the plateau and I want to make sure that I am headed for the proper place.  It isn’t obvious where I am to go and I use great care in choosing my route and noting any change in topography that indicates a change of watershed.

Some maps show this route as having a designated trail but if it exists then I am no wiser as to its existence since my hike was effectively across country.  I did know by previous use that a trail leading to Devil’s Lake was fairly well marked by cairns and when they appeared in view I could orient myself accordingly.  Reaching the junction of the Calf Creek Plateau and North Calf Creek Trails I find an old sign, well worn and barely readable yet still able to guide me in the correct direction.  I have now crossed over into National Forest, and the note that the Gunnison National Forest jointly manages the wilderness for the public’s benefit.  I follow the latter trail and descend slowly from the plateau and the concomitant alpine tundra and down into the sub-alpine forest of various conifer.  The trail is not well marked through the forest but I manage to find my way as the dogs are again amused by the antics of the squirrels.  I am fairly certain that my direction and location correspond to where I believe I am on the map but maintain a working reference to my supposed position.   I walk along slowly, enjoying the contrast of the shady forest after the glaring sun of the tundra, and keep a lookout for trail sign.

A walk of a couple of miles brings me to Powderhorn Park.  Three trails meet here and I choose the one that will lead me to the East Fork of Powderhorn Creek.  This trail carries the apt moniker of East Fork Trail and passes through Powderhorn Park on its long axis that runs from the south to the north.  I hike along, now and then peering over my shoulder to study the gathering clouds.  To my right is Fish Canyon Ridge, which from this vantage appears to be a low rise of forest clad heights above the park.  The park drains to the south into Wood Gulch so as I hike along I am staring north to the divide between that watershed and the East Fork of Powderhorn Creek where lies Robber’s Roost, a basin of sorts.

I cross the low pass and note the igneous rock that is an indicator of this plateau country and the violent volcanic activity that produced the nearby San Juan Mountains.  At an elevation of nearly ten thousand and eight hundred feet there is just a bit of snow lingering on the northern face of the pass.  All of the drainages have a ample amount of runoff, however, and I step gingerly across the East Fork of Powderhorn Creek.  I am now entering a montane forest of lodgepole pine but also clumps of aspen.  With their leaves fluttering in any breeze they have thus been conferred with the sobriquet of quakies.  The land near the creek is still a wet swamp but there are numerous wildflowers growing to remind myself of the gorgeous early Summer situation that I am in.  The green here at this elevation is stupendous.  The high alpine plateau still bore a bit of yellow and is a week or two away from greening up, but here all is verdant.

Originally, I had wanted to camp up in Powderhorn Park but due to the heavy thunderstorm activity I decided to take the dogs and I down a bit lower where there would be a bit more topographic protection.  It has been a long day of hiking, although still mid-afternoon, and I am happy to have found a fine place to ease our collective burden.  It is so green that I want to laugh out loud.  I cross a small stream that leads up to Monument and Skull Parks and stumble onto a fine place to stay for the night.  Under a canopy of vibrantly green aspen and the darker verdure of spruce and lodgepole pine I find a happy place to put up my shelter, and none too soon either.

The clouds have now gathered and I see a dark mass conglomerating on the western horizon and the distant peal of thunder is now audible.  Neither of the shepherds desire to be out near thunder and they show some discomfiture whenever the booms sound off.  Still, we have a bit of time to wander around and explore the nearby creek, forest and meadow.  The first is thick with a plant in the Mustard Family, known formally as Brassicaceae, each replete with numerous white blooms.  The entire plant grew about a foot tall and neatly delimited the path of the water.  The forest was moderately dense with light downfall and some undergrowth.  The meadow grew a luxuriant growth of tall grass and wildflowers.  About an hour after I had established camp the clouds blew in earnestly and the shepherds and I retreated to the tent.  It would not protect us from a strike but for the dogs it simulates putting blinders on a spooky horse.  While the not-too-dangerous storm passed over they settled down from near panic to a deep sleep complete with dream-induced kicking and twitching.

The storm took nearly three hours to pass in its entirety.  By this time we had all had a good nap and rest.  The clouds began to part and sunlight streamed down from the sky.  The evening I spent again meandering through the forest, meadow or creek depending on my transit.  The thunder and lightening had been accompanied by a downpour that left all the vegetation soaked and fragrant.  I ate supper at a slowed pace and then sat back to watch the clouds turn pink as the sun arced down behind the ridge to my west, that which I had crossed earlier in the day, and forms the central massif of the Powderhorn Wilderness.

Night descended and I could hear naught but the sounds of the wind and the various activities of some nocturnal critters.  No streetlights to overwhelm the night vision and I could pick out individual stars, including Polaris by which I oriented myself.  My very breath a repeated fresh draught of clean air, filtered by the forest and thus scented.  I felt blessed to be out in these woods.  The only white noise tonight would be the tumbling waters five hundred feet distant.  Tomorrow, I had decided, I would sleep in a bit feeling no need for an early start.  Tonight I would sleep contented and at peace.

Backpacking Trek Around the Powderhorn Wilderness, Day 1, Out to Powderhorn Lakes – June 24, 2016


Powderhorn Lake under Calf Creek Plateau

The day had arrived.  Draco and Leah, my two faithful German shepherds, were to accompany me on a three-night backpacking trip that would traverse the three forks of Powderhorn Creek in the vicinity of their headwaters against Calf Creek Plateau. This first day found me at my home in Gunnison, Colorado, packing and readying myself and the canines for the forthcoming adventure.  After a long week of work I was ready to leave the fast-paced world for a few days of repose and quietude.  The morning I kept to myself, having a relaxing breakfast and finalizing my plans.

I took the elder canine, Lady Dog, to the kennel and then ate a light lunch before loading up the car with gear, the shepherds and myself.  We drove south on Colorado 149 and then turned off onto Indian Creek Road and bounced our way down to the end of the track where the Powderhorn Lakes Trailhead lies.  It was mid-afternoon and fairly cloudy so I immediately became concerned about thunderstorms as I knew that we had to cross an exposed meadow where shelter lacks.  However, my concerned eased as I realized that the cloud cover did not seem to be discharging bolts of lightening nor pealing claps of thunder at the moment.  Thus, I burdened the dogs with their gear and then hoisted my own pack upon my shoulders and, after a few minutes of mental preparation, headed out on the Powderhorn Lakes Trail.

The trail starts in a dense conifer forest typical for any north facing slope found at this elevation just above eleven thousand feet.  We climbed up some hundreds of feet on a gentle grade, all about us a greenness deep in color that announced the onset of summer.  This last week of June was also damp with the persistent thundershowers that had settled over the region.  The dogs and I soon departed the forest and entered a large meadow.  On the far side rose a long slope that leads up to Calf Creek Plateau, mostly grass studded with the occasional spruce.  The trail was demarcated by a series of cairns made by planting large sticks into a base of rocks gathered in such a way as to keep said sticks upright.  The clouds gathered but no thunder sounded so I crossed the half-mile expanse and marveled at my good fortune to be in such a fine locale.

Back in the forest, the trail wound around the base of the plateau above, leading past small ponds vibrant with vegetative life as well as a host of mosquitoes and other biting insects.  I had brought along a repellent based on naturally derived ingredients and applied it to both myself and the canines about their heads and ears.  The forest cleared and I could now see the West Fork of Powderhorn Creek under the ramparts of Calf Creek Plateau.  This tableland of rock may have been formed by a lava flow related to the nearby volcanic San Juan Mountains.  Regardless of exact origins, the eons that had passed in the interval since the mesa’s inception and the current era had allowed a large scoop of rock to be carved out due to the scouring effect of glaciers as well as running water.  Numerous lakes have formed at the headwaters of the creek but two, lower and upper Powderhorn Lakes, stand out as the most prominent.

The trail near the lower lake crosses a few small rivulets of snow melt and enters a few thickets of dense willow.  Remembering from times past that I had encountered moose in the area I payed heed to my surrounding so as not to surprise one of the massive creatures.  Sure enough, I rounded a bend and there stood one large bull browsing away in a shallow marsh.  I had prudently kept the shepherds in heel and was glad that for that bit of precaution.  A moose would stomp the dogs flat should they get too close, and may do the same for a person.  I let the beast know of my presence but he seemed not a bit worried and kept in place browsing away at the willow as we passed by.

A short rocky climb awaited us intermediate to the two lakes and I believe that this might be a moraine of some sort.  Crossing one last damp meadow, for the snow had yet to completely melt from this area, we reached the upper lake.  This lake sits in a gorgeous setting.  On the side that I stood lays an open meadow filled with alpine flowers.  The far side lies at the base of the nearly sheer cliffs that rise up to the plateau, still streaked with bands of snow.  Dense forest, afflicted with beetle damage, added a deep green or russet to the area as well as a pleasing scent.

I stood about, my hands folded one atop the other both resting on my trusty staff, admiring the scene.  This lake I have visited a few times before but never had spent a night in the vicinity.  I was happy to stand here and fulfill a quest of sorts, for I had wanted to do this backpacking trip for a number of years before making it real.  After my brief repose I gathered up the dogs who were skittering about from one interesting scent to another. We crossed over the lake’s outlet where it could be said the the West Fork of Powderhorn Creek truly began.  Ascending a small rise on the far side I found a large expanse with numerous salubrious locations that would all make a good camp.

This flat expanse in the forest was well drained and dry.  I chose a spot that seemed to offer a fine spot to pitch a tent, where I could see the sky and admire the stars should they emerge from behind the cloud cover.  Nearby I found a handy tree where I could string up my food and other articles so as to keep them from being scavenged by any bruins that might be in the area.  I built camp in short order and they gratefully lay back in the grass to admire the situation I found myself in.  After my rest I belatedly realized that supper time had arrived and thus I fed the shepherds and made a batch of Tom’s camp stew which is comprised of Vienna sausages, ramen and a small can of corn.  All of us were sated as the sun began its descent.

I desired an early start the next morning so I planned on getting to bed as soon as it became dark.  Thus, I didn’t want to go exploring too much this first night out.  I did find an old stump that had been carved into, almost like a totem pole such as are found in the Pacific northwest.  This art I had remembered seeing nearly a decade prior.  I then walked over to the lake and admired both it and the wildflowers growing there.  Wandering over to the meadow near the lake, I admired additional species of vegetation that added its verdure to the setting.  Darkness descended as did concomitant chill and I meandered back to camp.  I crawled into my shelter and soon drifted off to sleep, happy to visit this small corner of the Powderhorn Wilderness.

Camping at Middle Quartz Campground, Day 4 – June 19, 2016


South Quartz Trail, also known as Gunnison National Forest Trail 483, near its namesake headwaters

My final full day at the Middle Quartz Campground was about to commence.  I had not any intention to rush the situation and rose relatively late in the morning, sometime after the sun had risen, before striking out on the hike I had previously planned.  Accompanying me were my two faithful German shepherds, Draco and Leah, always ready and willing for an adventure, never lugubrious at the prospect.

The previous day I had noted that the north face of Tomichi Pass was yet choked with snow.  Having not the proper ice ax nor crampons in my immediate possession I thought it not likely that I could cross, having previously formed in my mind a fine route that would take me up South Quartz Creek and then over Granite and Paywell Mountains before returning via said pass and down Middle Quartz Creek.  I decided that the effort to visit South Quartz Creek and climb as high as possible would regardless reward me with fine Rocky Mountain splendor.

The Summer solstice lay a day or two in the future thus this, the last, or nearly so, day of Spring.  The season had performed its annual miracle of rebirth and rejuvenation and consequently all had been made ready.  To wit:  Verdure in stunningly bright shades; clear streams, flowing with vigor, yet reduced in volume from a fortnight hence; patchy snowfields gleaming white on rocky crests interwoven with meadows of grass yet to add its sum to the total green.  It was my good fortune to have a streak of bluebird days as well, and I thought kindly of my fortunate salubrious situation.

Leaving the campground on the Middle Quartz Creek Road, also known as Gunnison National Forest Road 767, the dogs and I walked parallel to the creek where the willow almost shone with verdure under the cerulean sky.  About three miles along, through the forest of lodgepole and aspen, I turned onto Forest Road 769 to the south and waded through the ample waters of Middle Quartz Creek.  This road created a short-cut, crossing a low, flat ridge, over to South Quartz Creek about a quarter of a mile above the confluence proper.  Created out of rounded cobbles that belied its sedimentary history, a forest of lodgepole pine grew dense in the well-drained soil of this low rise.

Where the road shortly crossed South Quartz Creek lay another junction.  Forest Road 769.2C turned up along and parallel to the aforementioned creek, so much so that during the high water runoff from the snow melt much fluid is coursing down the road itself such that it appears similar to the creek bed flowing nearby.  However, today, the date occurred late enough in the season, and the snowpack having been about average, that high water resided in the past for this season.  There were patches that were damp and here and there a trickled issued forth from various spouts but generally the track was dry if not damp.

This road was fairly narrow to begin with and after a couple of miles shrank down to a single track.  At that point the signage and official Forest Service designation changed, as there was posted information regarding the South Quartz Trail 483.  Along the way I had regained most if not all of the elevation I had lost on my slow descent along Middle Quartz Creek.  Towards its headwaters, not quite a mile shy, the creek makes a large bend from its western descent and bends to the south.  As the canines and I made this corner I could see the ridge ahead of us still mostly covered in a deep layer of snow.  Concomitantly, the grasses at my surrounding elevation were becoming increasingly less green, having yet retained their dormant Winter status.  That was rapidly changing, but full green-up was still a couple of weeks away.

But what a feeling to behold!  I could feel the melt and the change of the seasons.  The air was dense with moisture from the snow melt and scented with the fragrance of the nearby spruce.  Spring was, indeed, in the air.  Although the grasses remained yellow there were numerous blooms in the swampy areas.  Relatively large for flowers at this elevation, two species of Ranunculaceae bloom out in profusion and ably announce the oncoming warmth.  They are known generally as the Marsh Marigold and Globeflower and specifically as Caltha leptosepala and Trollius albiflorus.  One resembles the other, as both flowers are white and similar in size and habitat.

I stopped about a third of a mile below the summit due to deep snow I found in the forest.  I did not really want to post-hole my way up the slope, so I turned around and found a nice grassy knoll, drained and dry, to sit down upon so as to repose in this magnificent glaciated valley tucked away in a nook of the vast Sawatch Range.  I fed the pups some kibble and then ingested my own snacks before laying my head back on my pack and pulling my cap down over my face a bit.

After laying about soaking up the sun’s gift I became conscious of my companions desire to retrace our steps, or otherwise make motion.  There was naught else to do but to make a few cursory investigations of some nearby forest groves and their environs before we began our trek back down the way we had come up.  I noted the beaver ponds and works of the industrious beasts with the wonder that I always feel whenever I see their creations.  I also kept my map at hand so as to learn the numerous small drainages  and thus keep close track of my progress.  This is a good habit at preventing confusion or loss and I find the topographical knowledge edifying in a pleasant way.

The elevation change was generally mild during this hike and thus despite the double-digit mileage that we walked during the day I did not feel especially tired or worn out yet I did not do much else during the remainder of the day except enjoy the climate and setting of my campsite were I could stare up to the crest of the Sawatch Range where the Continental Divide parts the waters of this great continent.  I would spend the night here, again enjoying my berth under the stars of that portion of the sky that was not obscured by the silhouettes of the lodgepole pine that rise out of the ground.  The moon would again illuminate the high outcroppings of the taller ridges and I would sleep contentedly.  The next morning I returned to my home in Gunnison and again took up the mantle of domestic servitude.  I retrieved Lady Dog from the Kennel and she seemed to be joyed at the return home.  The grass was green and the aspen were as well, and I unpacked under the same blue sky that had graced me while I was on my small adventure.  Not a bad way to end this trip!

Camping at Middle Quartz Campground, Day 3 – June 18, 2016


Looking up Middle Quartz Creek on a gorgeous mid-June day

The dawn came on early as it is wont to do towards mid-June.  I rose out of my bed and was immediately greeted by my two furry German shepherd companions, Draco and Leah, wagging their tails furiously in broad horizontal arcs as they nearly shook with anticipation for the day’s activities.  I donned some warmer clothing and we hiked down the road a bit in the crepuscular light, daybreak yet to occur some time in the future.  The previous evening I had found a rigged log or two that formed a bridge over Middle Quartz Creek and decided to cross over and see the other side.

This we did, walking up valley along a path that had been an old wagon road about a half a mile or so before we came to a large open expanse.  By open I mean devoid of forest and with a clear view.  However, this area consists of one vast beaver jungle where the willow grow thick enough to prevent passage and the concomitant swamp presents hazardous footing at best.  I walked down to the bank of the creek where the dogs could slake their thirst and I could listen to the soothing sounds of the flowing water.  Afterwards, we walked back to camp where I fixed a pleasing breakfast and packed up gear for the day’s outing.

By now the Sun had risen and the cerulean sky dazzled my eyes.  Nary a cloud could be seen, a blue heaven from one horizon to the other lay over the rugged mountains the gray rocky crests of which, clad in streaks of snow, rose over the slopes and valleys of verdant vegetation.  My eyes and thus my soul feasted on the spectacle of color.  I decided to hike up the steep slope above the campground towards the old railroad grade that had been the engineering marvel of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad.  For one reason or another I had thought that there might have been a old trail leading up from an old stage stop adjacent to the campground to the cut above but if there was I did not find it.  There did seem to be vestiges here and there but mostly I made a scramble across rocky slopes and tangles of downed aspen.  Regardless, the climb was only a couple of hundred feet above the valley and I soon found myself, with dogs in tow, standing on what is now designated as Gunnison National Forest Road 839, also known as the Alpine Tunnel Road.

This area had been the scene of relatively intense industrial development towards the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and numerous scars and historic sites remain from that era.  In the valley below had been a wagon road, thus the old stage stop, and I now trod upon the relatively level and consistent grade of the old rail bed.  Pockmarks of tailings can be seen by the dedicated observer on the hillsides throughout the area but at least the forest, which had been decimated for use as fuel, mining timber and railroad ties, has grown back in the last century.  Of course, it now faces the scourge of beetle infestation due to our manipulative practices in forest management.  For the time being, however, I could walk along this easy path and admire the scenery.  The aspen especially grew with the green vibrancy to be expected in mid-June at this high elevation.  Their peers at lower elevations had already leafed out a couple of weeks ago but now it was the high country’s turn to be alive with verdure.

A mile and half of walking in this mountainous wonderland, just below the crest of the Great Divide, found us in a broad meadow where the old wagon road used to cross the tracks on its way up to Williams Pass.  I decided to follow this old trace instead of the longer but less steep grade.  Although shorter, this was the more challenging route since much of the old road has been reclaimed by natural forces, either erosion or regrowth of native flora.  Still, I was able to bypass almost two miles of hiking and soon found myself at Gunnison National Forest Road 539, Williams Pass Road.  This jeep road is suitable for high-clearance vehicles only and due to the immense amount of water found here is open solely during the month of August.

Naturally, the dogs were having a fine time.  Leah would let Draco know whenever she found a rodent and he would then dutifully harass the poor wee beast to the mutual satisfaction of both canines.  By now we had climbed some fifteen hundred feet above our starting elevation of ten thousand feet.  Here and there remained patches of snow clinging to the ground.  Some of these were quite treacherous, having been thawed and then refrozen into a slick surface.  We climbed up along the Williams Pass Road as it rose above the steep slope below and into a vast meadow filled with beaver works and willow.  This setting I would call an alpine swamp.  At this point I decided to leave the road and climb to the north up towards Mount Poor.

My goal had been to make the summit and then climb down the other side, however I had failed to bring either an ice ax or crampons with me and was not able to find a safe path through the cornices that clung to the rim of the ridge.  By climbing up most of the way I did get a stupendous view of the Sawatch Range in the vicinity of Williams Pass and could see some of the familiar sights on the Atlantic side around Chalk Creek.  It was a fine day and I was gratified to be in the heart of the southern Rocky Mountains.  I realized that I could probably summit Mount Chapman on the other side of Williams Pass as I could spy a route up the ridge that wasn’t snowbound.  So, the dogs and I descended to the pass itself, thus avoiding much of the swamp, and began to climb up the willow swathed slope opposite.

The summit lay about a half a mile away and I had just crested a minor ridge that would allow easy access to said eminence when I suddenly realized that I had stumbled into a herd of elk grazing at this high elevation.  I couldn’t be entirely certain but these appeared to be all cows.  The bulls had lost their antlers in March and might have begun to regrow them for the season but might not have.  Either way, if they were cows then they might have neonatal calves and I really did not want to bump them.  Thus, I remained in place and thought out my options.  I decided that some days just were not conducive to getting to that desired highpoint and that today was one such day.  I kept the dogs and myself crouched behind willow as I watched the elk munch on the newly green grass and then slowly retreated back down to the swampy valley below, leaving the elk unmolested and going about their business.

Finding an exit from the high alpine swamp was no easy task, at least while keeping my feet dry.  The dogs weren’t so worried about their paws and ran amok as they saw fit.  Finally, I made one last crossing of a small in volume but wide stream and was then on solid rock.  I still had to cross some snow on my descent, a bit of which was somewhat perilous and required abundant caution.  Dogs in tow, I now found myself back at the Alpine Tunnel Road.  I descended down past the nearly sheer cliff of the Palisades, amazed that a railroad could be put in this spot.  There exists freestanding masonry, without mortar, in this area that incorporated large blocks of native granite.  Some of it, nearly a hundred and thirty-five years old, finally failed this year leaving only a footpath.  I wonder if the Forest Service will repair it or decide to let it go.

I walked back down the lesser grade, eschewing the old wagon road, for the sake of my knees as well as wanting to see where the old railroad made the great balloon loop that reversed its direction so as to descend into Middle Quartz Creek.  I also decided to return via the old wagon road.  This road is no more than a trail now and receives minimal traffic whereas the old railroad grade above is somewhat heavily traveled and even passenger vehicles, with a bit of prudence, can drive along its bumpy trace.  This walk back was a bit different from the hike up since I now found myself in the valley instead of the slope above.  Surrounded by lodgepole pine and the pleasing reek of its sap I strolled along until I reached the point where the old road crosses the creek.  I’m sure this could be done in low water months but now during Spring runoff it seemed to be not worth the effort especially since I needed to recross the creek to get back to the campground.

I bushwhacked down the north side of Middle Quartz Creek, about a half a mile or so, through thick undergrowth and downed trees.  It was mid-afternoon when I returned to camp and I was happy to lie my weary body down and take a nap all the while enjoying the salubrious climate of a mid-June day in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  After resting and enjoying the surrounding calm I fixed a quick dinner and then took an evening walk down to the far side of the campground where the meadow lay.  Here, the dogs frolicked in the creek and I bathed in the cool air.  A fine day was had by one and all, and I was further gratified in not having to drive down out of the mountains but could instead stay here for the night, relaxed and comfortable in my surroundings.

Camping at Middle Quartz Campground, Day 2 – June 17, 2016


The last sunlight strikes a ridge above the Middle Quartz Campground on the Gunnison National Forest

What a different day than the norm.  I had woken up out in the woods at the Middle Quartz Campground on the Gunnison National Forest.  The previous evening I had driven up to secure a spot in anticipation of a busy weekend.  Today was Friday and I had to work up in Crested Butte and didn’t want to get done with work and then have to fight over finding a place to camp.  So, now, with site secured I drove down to Gunnison and left the dogs at home while I went up to work.  Last night I had Lady Dog with me.  Old girl that she is and missing a leg as well, I took here to the vet’s office to be kenneled for the weekend while Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, and I would go on to hike and explore the nearby area.

After work I returned home and relieved the shepherds from their captivity I packed up a few miscellaneous items and drove back out towards the small hamlet of Pitkin, some six miles or so beyond which lies the campground.  Camp was already made and I had to do naught but light the fire and enjoy a hot supper.  The moon, waxing, shone down and the bright light of which obscured the dimmer stars but had the effect of highlighting the constellations.  The dusk came on unrelenting and soon darkness descended about the small but deep glacial shaped valley.

To my east I could see the outline of the main chain of the Sawatch Mountains where lies the Great Divide that divides the waters between the two great oceans that demarcate the shores of North America.  Tomorrow I would walk up there, as the distance did not exceed four miles or so. Cool air was the rule here at this altitude of ten thousand feet.  The fire threw out flickering light with its pleasant warmth and lit up the nearby lodgepole pine but otherwise did not penetrate the surrounding forest.  The smoke curled up and I occasionally tipped back the bottle of cold beer to my lips.

The cold air kept the flying insects from swarming and for that I was thankful.  Nearby the shepherds lay a short distance away gnawing on their bones.  A fine evening was had by us all.  I felt lucky to have all this so close to home and I can’t help but feel it a right for all people to have access to open country wherever they reside.  I stared up at the sky and the horizon two thousand feet or so above me.  So peaceful and graceful was the setting, encouraging all of us humans to be the same.

It had been a long day and I was ready for bed as soon as the flames had consumed all the wood and only coals glowed a bright orange.  The dogs had by then lost interest in the oft chewed bovine skeletal chunks and had curled themselves up into warm bundles of furry repose.  I stirred the glowing embers one last time and warmed my hands.  I then ambled over to my sleeping bag and drifted off into slumber accompanied by the canines’ snoring.  Salute!