Long Loop Hike on Little Brown’s and Browns Creeks – August 01, 2016

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Looking down Browns Creek in the Sawatch Range

The Sawatch Range is a large massif in central Colorado and parts the waters between the two great oceans that envelope the North American continent.  The mountainous region is the western flank of a large anticline that has been further, and more recently, uplifted by a swelling up of magma from the Earth’s interior.  Geologically, this uplifting is better termed as a batholith.  The batholith does not occur along the entire range, but it does in the region of Browns Creek, where I would be hiking on this day, the first one of August.

I don’t know what has drawn me to this area, but for many years I had wanted to explore the high country west of the Arkansas River as it flows south from its highlands near Leadville.  A handful of peaks rise above fourteen thousand feet in elevation and many more that top out over thirteen thousand feet.  Yet, this is no wilderness, designated or not, as the forces that created the mountains also deposited numerous valuable minerals and the area is well known to this day as a location to exploit the geologic resources.  Mining has also left many historic ruins in the various gulches and flanks of the hills, and these too draw visitors.  Roads climb, precariously clinging to steep slopes, and this draws fans of off-road vehicles to the not-so-quiet mountains.  Yet, despite all this, I still find a certain charm in the high country and if I don’t like what I see and hear then I can find places to remove myself from the commotion.  The San Isabel National Forest manages this landscape, and to be sure, it is not a free-for-all:  Rules and regulations apply, and motorized vehicles, as well as mountain bikes, are restricted to designated trails and roads.

Draco and Leah, my two intrepid German shepherd companions and hiking buddies, accompanied me on this trek and therefore when I fired up the car they hopped in.  As we cruised east on U.S. 50, Draco eagerly stuck his head out the window, interested in all that transpired.  Knowing that the dogs would be anxious for a break after weaving up the western flank of Monarch Pass, I pulled over at the summit and let them wander around in the early morning light.  A fine Summer day awaited us, all blue sky, and the cool mountain air invigorated my being as I drew in each breath.  We didn’t linger too long, just enough to walk down along Gunnison National Forest Road 906 about a quarter of a mile.  The whole stop added about fifteen minutes to the journey.

Rolling down the eastern side of Monarch Pass on U.S. 50, I contemplated the geologic forces that created this realm, and simultaneously marveled and rejoiced at their being.  At Poncha Springs, I turned north and piloted the car on U.S. 285 until reaching Chaffee County Road 270, where I turned north, or, in other words, back towards the west where the Sawatch Range now reared up.  Dominating the horizon, perhaps better defined here as the skyline, the highest peaks rise some six thousand feet plus from the valley floor adjacent to the Arkansas River.  The tall peaks reach up well above treeline, and their granitic mass stood out, gray and monolithic, above the verdant forest below.

The routes changed numbers and I now cruised up Road 272, the slope of alluvial deposits ever steepening.  As the elevation increased, so did the density of the forest.  Initially, I had driven through grassland, the only trees, deciduous in nature, denoting the route of creeks with abundant live water.  Passing over the boundary to the San Isabel National Forest, individual trees began to grow, and as I rose I saw that they became more stout and tall.  I was in a heaven of sorts, as these were ponderosa pine, perhaps my favorite tree.  Chaffee County Road 272 became San Isabel National Forest Road 272, and I drove on until reaching the junction with road 274.  Here, according to the map, is the Winter parking area.  While I could drive on, I decided that this would be a fine place to start and would make completing a loop hike easy.

The drive hadn’t been extraordinarily long, but after disembarking the automobile, the dogs and I wandered around briefly in the sweet smelling forest, replete with morning dew and shafts of bright yellow penetrating light.  We dithered about for ten minutes or so before I hoisted my pack upon my shoulders and started off walking down Road 274, also known as the Eddy Creek Road, since that is to where it leads.  We crossed, about three or four hundred feet along the way, Raspberry Gulch, a shallow defile and fairly minor drainage that rises up to treeline but not beyond.  Within a couple tenths of a mile, we came to Road 273, the Raspberry Gulch Road.  I would lead us up this road to the Colorado Trail which, in these parts, skirts the base of the mountains.  The dogs scampered about joyously, animated by various ground and tree dwelling rodents.  I admired the web of life in its entirety, noting the grass mingling with the Mountain Mahogany all of which grew beneath the towering ponderosa.  Of course, much else grows here and I smiled at the grandeur of this diversity, admiring those same rodents that the dogs find compelled by their inherited predatory lineage to chase and become obsessed with.

Reaching the Colorado Trail No. 1776 we turned left again, and began heading south.  Initially, our hike gained modest elevation and the first half a mile I strolled along easily, admiring the forest and its various odors.  However, as we neared Little Browns Creek we began to climb in earnest.  The alluvial deposits faded and soon the dogs and I scampered up and around outcropping of native granite which comprises the Tertiary intrusive rock found here.  Another mile of hiking brought us to the junction with the Little Browns Trail No. 1430.  Here, I turned right and began to head west, up into the Sawatch Range.  Early on, I could make out the tall peaks of the first salvo of summits that rear up to the blue canopy above.  Once in the canyon, cut narrow and deep by Little Brown’s Creek, the sky remained visible, but much less of it, and the peaks disappeared behind the high rocky ridges.  What the ridges did not obscure the forest did, and an increase in elevation brought a concomitant increase in density of spruce and fir.

Four miles of hiking awaited me until the trail crossed over the divide between this drainage and Brown’s Creek.  Occasional openings in the forest allowed me to glimpse Mount White to the south, said peak rearing its head up to Thirteen Thousand Six Hundred and Sixty-Seven Feet.  To my north lurked the massif topped by Mount Antero, one of Colorado’s numerous 14’ers.  The canines had climbed, with me, some fifteen hundred feet already.  Now, we would gain about three thousand, roughly seven hundred and fifty feet per mile, or about a sixteen percent grade.  I felt great, and continued along unimpeded by fear of the exertion.  I saw no other people along my path and felt very much in a backcountry setting despite the lack of designated protected wilderness.

Once having gained the sub-alpine life zone, the trees began to thin out.  As the trail climbed the gully on its northern, and therefore sunny, side the forest began to thin and large swathes of meadows paralleling the creek became common.  I was especially enthralled with the bristlecone pine at the higher elevation, perhaps my second favorite tree.  Pink fireweed and blue Campanula grew in abundance and this could do nothing but enhance my joy.  Climbing ever upward, the trees disappeared entirely and naught remained but the alpine tundra.  Much of the north face of Mount White formed a jumbled mass of talus.  I found this setting to contain a sublimity that percolated through my soul as I strode along.

Reaching the summit, we descended a small elevation onto a plateau of sorts that lingers above the main stem of Brown’s Creek.  Instead of heading directly towards the road that would lead us down into the valley, where we would turn east and descend towards the original trailhead, we climbed up to another divide to the north.  I made sure to admire the patches of yellow paintbrush and the white bistort that flourished in this harsh environment of short, moderate Summer and long, cold Winter.  This divide allowed a view to the north and down into Baldwin Gulch.  Much of the Sawatch Range to the north could be seen although most of it remained hidden from view despite my thirteen thousand foot plus elevation.  Many rocky peaks surround the upper headwaters of Brown’s Creek besides those already named.  Mounts Antero and White loomed to the east, while to my west a serrated divide rose up to numerous unnamed summits.  Amazingly, this is not the ultimate ridge as the Continental Divide parted the waters still five miles further.  To my south I could make out Cyclone Mountain, Carbonate Mountain and Tabeguache Peak the apices of which rise up towards or exceeding fourteen thousand feet in elevation.

Up on this ridge I took one of my numerous breaks but this one stands out in my mind due to the majestic mountain setting.  Roads lie upon the flanks of the summits, a remnant of mining from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.  A limited amount of mining continues in the area to this day and rockhounds have a fondness for this basin.  For myself all I wanted to do was to study the topography and marvel at the past sixty-five some million years of geologic history that created this place.  Thunderclouds began to build over the highest peaks, but they did not have any real energy behind them and it seemed unlikely that they would grow into a potential threat.  So, I lingered and watched the world go by.  I could hear a few machines but overall I felt serene and undisturbed by our society’s commotion.

At upper end of Little Brown’s Creek the trail by the same named had ended and I began to hike on two-track.  The first was designated as Road 278.A and this led me to the next divide where I now lay in repose.  Road 278, the parent road in the Forest Services’s numbering scheme, rose up from the Chalk Creek Road many thousands of feet below to the north at the outlet to Baldwin Creek.  To the south this road descended into the basin of Brown’s Creek.  When I had finished consuming my comestibles and emerged from my transcendental state, and the canines having done the same, I led us down this road past old mining sites and back into every increasingly lush vegetation.  The road descended to one high tableland before leading down to another.  Then we finally were led to the valley below.  This basin was at each elevation a revelation.  The alpine tundra gradually gave way to the sub-alpine forest, and here lush stands of willow suggested fecundity during this brief window of moderate temperatures.

Some three miles of additional hiking brought us down two thousand feet from the divide with Baldwin Gulch.  Here, the road ended and the Brown’s Creek Trail No. 1429 began.  Less than a half a mile later and I came to Brown’s Lake, one of many ponds in this basin formed by glacial action over the proceeding numerous millennia.  Here I rested again, although for a shorter duration.  The lake shore invited contemplation and who was I to refuse such a summons?  I had already hiked thirteen or fourteen miles and seven more lay ahead.  I would head mostly downhill but it would still be arduous.  I put the thought out of my mind and focused instead on the beauty found nearby.  The small lake shone as a mirror and reflected the blue sky above.  Minimal wind and moderate temperatures made for fantastic hiking and I bid farewell to the high mountain valley as I began to descend Brown’s Creek.

The hike down tired me out, which surprised me not, due to the gravity enhanced impacts upon my knees and other parts of the leg.  Near the bottom I took a small detour to investigate some falls on Brown’s Creek and sat briefly to enjoy the spectacle of tumbling water.  The sight and sound both sooth me and this final rest recharged my physical being as well as my mental state.  Just further on, the creek entered a fairly flat bottom land which opened up into a park of sorts.  Rising all about me were the ridges that ran down from the heights of the eastern flank of the Sawatch Range.  I made it back to the Colorado Trail, turned left to leave Brown’s Creek, cross Little Brown’s Creek and then turned right back onto the lower part of Brown’s Creek Trail.  A few small ponds surrounded by aspen gave me yet another glimpse of mountain splendor.

I kept walking and finally reached the Brown’s Creek Trailhead on Road 272.  I explored the area a bit, especially where Little Brown’s Creek tumbled through the ponderosa forest.  A final mile and a half awaited me so I don’t linger long.  The evening was on, as I had been hiking some eleven hours or so since departing in the morning.  The shepherds showed amazing endurance, and while I walked along slowly, admiring the forest and putting aside the lurking pain, they scampered about, continuing to investigate all purported and reliable signs of rodent activity.  Reaching the waiting car, we hoped in, all tired but not exhausted.  The day had been a wonder of transition between elevations as well as envelopment in the natural world.  As I rolled home, gratitude filled me with a rapture that comes from immersion into the wonders of our world.

A Hike Around Timberline Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness – July 31, 2016

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Timberline Lake below the Continental Divide, in the Holy Cross Wilderness

The last day of July dawned bright and I decided to expand my horizons by visiting a location that I had not seen before, well outside of my normal territorial range.  The plan, as effected, involved crossing the Great Divide and driving up the valley of the Arkansas River to the city of Leadville from where I would journey up past Turquoise Lake on the Lake Fork and begin to hike.  Part of my motivation came from the desire to see something outside the bounds of the upper Gunnison River basin and a trip to the Arkansas drainage always cheers me up.  Because I would spend so much time in the car, and wanted to potentially play tourist in some non-canine venues, I decided to leave the dogs behind and thus would make one of the very few truly solo hikes of this year.

Administratively, this hike occurred on lands under the stewardship of the San Isabel National Forest, towards its northern extent.  Also at its northern end, I was under the eastern slope of the Sawatch Range, that mighty bulwark that forms the Continental Divide, courtesy of a batholith, in central Colorado.  This hike, barely two miles in length, would also constitute my first foray into the Holy Cross Wilderness, most of which has been designated on the opposite western slope beyond the divide.  I parked my car at the appropriately named Timberline Lake Trailhead, which serves not only the lake access but the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails in this area.  Immediately, I crossed the Lake Fork over a well constructed bridge and came to a trail junction.  I chose the right fork to the lake, allowing the left to go unexplored, and commenced my trek up a shallow grade through meadows resplendent in Summer’s verdure.

I would hazard a guess that this lake, like so many in the high Rockies, formed due to a blockage of the drainage from the formation of a terminal moraine at the end of the last ice age.  Throughout the higher country can be found evidence of glaciation, generally denoted from the U-shaped valleys, but also due to the moraines commonly found and inclusive of angular chunks of rock showing little effect of rounding from water.  Set in its bowl below high ridges where yet clung snow, the lake sparkled in the sunlight.  A fine setting, one that called for both relaxation and admiration, as well as further exploration.  I paused to admire Nature’s handiwork before continuing my minor peregrination.

The formal trail leads to the lake and then continues a short distance on the south side.  Having located myself on the northern side I found but a minor trace circumnavigating the lake through swamps created by springs, piles of jumbled rock and through the sub-alpine forest typical of the elevation.  One bog contained the aptly named bog orchid, Platanthera spp., the pretty but small white flowers growing on each plant in a neat vertical column.   Besides admiring the flora I gazed at the geology and marveled at the forces that brought this landscape together.  Jagged rock on the slopes, protruding in fins, while the meadows above looked smooth and easily passable, assuming one could reach them.  While my sight was elevated I noted the increasing density of the cloud cover and decided to move on.  By this time I was near the inlet to the lake and consequently decided to mosey back towards the trail on the south shore.

The land on this side of the lake was a bit easier to navigate, as it mostly consisted of flat land, open forest and more dry ground than soggy.  Of course, this also meant that this side has earned higher accolades and has become more popular, judging by the trail’s level of use and other signs of human presence.  I had seen what I wanted to see and thus decided to amble back towards the trailhead as the first rumbles of thunder rolled over the canopy of clouds.  I paused to explore one of the upper meadows when it appeared that the storm’s significance had diminished.  This would be my final break and I took time to admire the various apices of the high ridges before completing the day’s hike.  I had enjoyed my small adventure outside of my usual sphere of exploration and this meandering through the headwaters of the Arkansas River introduced me to some fine mountainous country.

Thunderclaps over Waterdog Lake – July 25, 2016

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Gunnison’s Mariposa Lily, Calochortus gunnisonii, most likely. Found on the Waterdog Lake Trail near Station Eleven

I had driven from my home in Gunnison south on Colorado 149 to the hamlet of Lake City, which is also the county seat of Hinsdale County.  Set along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River in the northern portion of the San Juan Mountains, this area qualifies, depending on the rubric used, as one of the most remote in the lower Forty-Eight.  As might be expected, there is ample public lands in the vicinity, generally managed by the Gunnison National Forest or the Gunnison Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management.  In the northwest corner of town is a trailhead, the stewardship of which is maintained by the latter.  I would expect that a control number exists, but I did not find it and thus will refer to this trail by the name on the signpost, to wit:  Waterdog Trail.

This particular trailhead must be one of the least scenic in the state, adjoining as it does the waste water treatment plant for Lake City.  The first quarter mile of the hike conjoins with a driveway that accesses private property.  I felt like I was walking up to visit a neighbor or some such, except that at the last possible chance the foot trail swung up to the right and began to climb a steep and dry slope through a series of switchbacks placed atop a number of old wagon roads.  The switchbacks allowed a fine view to the west of that portion of the San Juan Mountains drained by Henson Creek, and after passing under a strand of transmission lines the trail continued through a dense aspen forest.

Make no mistake, though, that, although this is ostensibly backcountry, it is in no way wilderness.  Therefore, expect some human presence throughout the entire route.  Besides the aforementioned accouterments of civilization there are also barbed-wire fences, old brick kilns used in the production of charcoal and an old cabin that was established as a base for rearing trout in the previously fish-free lake.   In fact, sadly, the waterdogs, another name for newts or salamanders, for which the lake is named have essentially been eradicated by the introduction of the finned swimmers.

Regardless of all of this unfortunate history, I was determined to enjoy my hike with my two faithful German shepherds, Draco and Leah.  After the first stage of the trail we climbed through a dense montane forest of aspen.  This climb was long and steep, or so it seemed.  Perhaps because I was unaware of my location and couldn’t see any landmarks with which I could plot my trace I felt that this next part took a long time.  In reality, it didn’t and I soon found myself entering a pass that led to Horse Park.  Just below Station Eleven lay a haven of wildflowers.  In particular, the Mariposa Lilies stood out.  Surrounding them grew Scarlet Gilia, a potentilla and some daisies.

Continuing on I kept an especial lookout for the gathering clouds now forming off to the west.  My start occurred a bit later in the morning than I had wished thus I now began to factor time and terrain into my plans, besides the atmospheric conditions.  We climbed a hill sparse with forest but rich in grass.  Cresting the high point of this hill we then descended a mild declivity to Park Creek, the very stream that drains Waterdog Lake.  Here grew some enticing yellow monkeyflowers on the banks.  The woodsy forests and grassy parks all suggested lushness, and the luxuriant verdure epitomized Summer’s gift.

Rising up the acclivity opposite the creek, also gentle, the trail tied in with a road the exited the nearby private property that occupies most of Horse Park and environs.  The arrow on the sign, complete with official Bureau of Land Management emblem, pointed to the left and thus I followed that choice.  While I normally don’t care to hike along roads, the general public could not access this two-track and therefore the likelihood of traffic would be minimal.  The lake now lay about a mile up the trail cum road.  Along the way the sub-alpine life zone I began to notice when great blooms of columbine and sunflowers began to rise up from the aspen forest floor.  My stroll along this route was most pleasing to my senses.

The road more or less parallels Park Creek on the route to Waterdog Lake.  Passing through the forest, I became aware that the clouds had gathered menacingly and I predicted that I would have minimal time to spend at the lake.  The road steepened a bit towards the end, and I suspected that the lake would come into view.  Once past the ultimate rise, I saw the lake’s glassy surface spread out in its mountain setting.  Most of the lake shore was adorned with the thick forest of spruce typical of this eleven thousand foot plus aspect of the Rocky Mountains.  Across on the opposite shore rose up a slope of talus.  This place exudes serenity.  Gazing up, I could see a small bit of Mesa Seco, one of three broad plateaus in the region.  Perhaps a landslide created this lake, as the massive Slumgullion Slide is only a few miles away and I would suspect that similar geologic conditions could exist here.

This shoreline was infested with a massive amount of yellow wildflowers, Asteraceae especially growing in abundance along with at least a dozen other families.  I had stopped at the bakery in Lake City and bought me some viands with which to replenish my depleted stores of energy.  A more excellent day hike meal would challenge any who dare to take up the mantle, excepting I would venture to exclaim the virtue of backcountry sausage roasts.  Regardless, an excellent feast I consumed with vigor just as the dogs gobbled up their kibble that I had hauled up for them.  Just as I deposited the last lip-smacking morsel into my belly the first peal of thunder rang out from a far distance away to the west.  It was soft but intimated imminent arrival of electrical storms that I would rather avoid.  Thus, with vim, I gathered up my gear and decided to descend back to lower and generally safer elevations.  In this case I worried about the exposure as much of the area was relatively flat and offered no alternatives for lightening to strike should a storm descend directly atop the plateau.

The hike back I made mostly in haste, stopping briefly to inspect some of the kilns that I saw from the trail.  I also could not resist capturing a few more images of the wildflowers.  Originally, I had planned to idle about the lake a bit more and then perhaps explore more of the shoreline.  That will all have to wait until I visit again.  Once I gained the aspen forest below Horse Park I began to feel a bit more relaxed.  The thunder continued unabated but never really gathered into the potent storm I had feared might form.  Still, I don’t care to cause myself menace by exposure to the more lethal aspects of the weather here in the Rocky Mountains.  I would like to return to Waterdog Lake for another round of exploring plus the enjoyment of idling listlessly about its scenic shore.  A finer day I could not have, and I very much look forward to making my dream reality.

Wildflowers and Geology in the Fossil Ridge Wilderness – July 24, 2016

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The uplifted sedimentary layers of Fossil Ridge

Yet another fine day in July awaited me and my two German shepherds.  The mountains about my home in Gunnison, Colorado, beckoned.  The clouds sailed by idly, with minimal threat of thunderstorms in their dissipated form, and the forest growth shone a vibrant green.  Thus, we loaded ourselves up and drove out to the Gold Creek Trailhead and began our hike up to Mill Lake and environs with the intention of climbing up to the high ridge.

Most of my hike would occur within the boundaries of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness and all of it would take place on the Gunnison National Forest, part of the broad expanse of public lands that belong to all Americans.  The shepherds set out, tails wagging and noses to the ground, as we hiked the first quarter of a mile over the rocky trail to the junction between the Fossil Ridge No. 431 and Mill Lake No. 532 Trails.  I chose the latter and the short, familiar two miles through the dense forest we walked fairly quickly, gaining fifteen hundred feet in the interim.

I have trekked here repeatedly through the years and know the path fairly well, so that I have many favorite locales.  There is one place in particular, where the forest has been swept away by an avalanche and naught remains but a jumbled pile of broken logs, that I can look up and see Fossil Ridge.  The flowers grow in profusion at this spot, due, I would suppose, to the sunshine otherwise unavailable a short distance away.  I always enjoy the creek crossings and the few switchbacks that act as mileposts.  Arriving at the last crest in the trail, the lake comes into view, a shimmering mirror that reflects the mountainous ridge above.  Here, the official trail ends, but I have learned how to extend my hikes when not in the mood to sit or return immediately.

The dogs lap up some water and we extend our hike by climbing a steep ridge to the north.  As we gain elevation the sub-alpine forest fades away until we pass treeline and enter the alpine tundra that defines the highest country of the Colorado Rockies.  The flowers, short-lived in the harsh climate that exists outside of July and August, bloom in full splendor and add dots of color.  I note our route ahead now that we have gained the summit of the ridge.  The next portion of our trek is over undulating hills until we reach the base of Fossil Mountain.  I have a clear view of Lamphier Creek and its scenic lake, besides Mill Lake.  Both bodies of water have been formed from the action of glaciers, as have their respective valleys.  The lakes themselves are formed from terminal moraines.  I ruminate on this as we walk, not really paying more heed than necessary to my footfalls.  The tundra gives way to a slope of gnarly talus.  Here, I must pick and choose a route over the coarse piles of stone.  Leah, especially, is not amused and I have to assist her over some of the more tricky moves.

We reach the summit and now most of Fossil Ridge is in view, as well as the distant peaks of the West Elk and San Juan Mountains.  To my east rises the mass of Fairview Peak, and I can not see the Sawatch Range beyond, although I know that it rises up to part the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Elk Mountains to the north remain invisible, as well, blocked by Henry Mountain.  Fossil Ridge has been uplifted thousands of feet by unimaginable forces created by the Earth’s internal workings.  I espy the sedimentary layers, eminently visible, and recall that limestone formed by coral reefs exists in the area.  Although I have never found any, partly because I have never really looked, the diligent sleuth might find some of the fossils that give the area its name.

This place, the high point that I am sitting upon, resonates with my soul and I sit back to enjoy my hikers lunch.  To my north, on Square Top Mountain, grazes a small herd of elk.  Accuracy requires that I state some grazed as others lay in repose on the large snow patch yet there.  The dogs don’t notice them, not surprising considering that the canines don’t have the eyesight I do, but they, too, gather in the solar radiation and collect heat.  Thus, they have wandered off to a small patch of snow upon which they sit and thrust their open jaws at, gathering in mouthfuls of the icy slush.  The elk wander off behind the aforementioned named peak, perhaps too hot even with the cooling effects of the snow, as the sun slowly crosses overhead.

We wander over the ridge between Fossil and Square Top Mountains once the elk have disappeared from sight.  They are timid, and rightfully so, in the presence of humans, as we can deal death from a relatively great distance.  I believe that they know we situated ourselves here, and perhaps that adds motivation to their movement.  Either way, they do no seem in a hurry.  The ridge is rocky and I choose, at one point, a poor route that leads into a rocky garden nearly impassable.  I recollect, after the fact, that on my previous crossings of this ridge, in the other direction, that I had always swung beneath the jumbled mass on a steep slope.  We climb up the slope of Square Top Mountain, but do not make the summit as the elk could be on the other side and I wish not to pester them more than I already have.

From here, there is a fairly easy route that leads down to Lamphier Lake.  This hike the shepherds and I make without any further diversions, leaving the high country to the ungulates.  We transition from the alpine tundra to the sub-alpine forest.  At the base of the slope we walk under massive pile of rocky detritus.  Snow patches linger and I understand why the mountains earned the sobriquet “land of the eternal snow”.  The flowers in this basin positively glow and I am agog at their magnificence.  I hadn’t planned to stop in the area but couldn’t help setting down my pack and wandering aimlessly admiring the blooms.  The dogs could not care one wit for my activity and instead pursue their own interest in the local rodent population.

I have hiked up and down the Lamphier Lake Trail numerous times.  This trail continues over Gunsight Pass and descend South Lottis Creek.  Thus on maps it is referred to as the South Lottis Creek No. 428.  However, this southern three miles is so frequently associated with both Lamphier Lake and Creek that the public has bequeathed this moniker, Lamphier, unto itself.  Regardless of the name, Draco and Leah, and I, strolled down this well-trodden path that might have been birthed as a former wagon road.  At one point I left the trail for a short while and meandered over to Lamphier Creek.  At this place, the creek passes by a field of talus.  I had never been here before, though just a stone’t throw from the trail, and sat down to better gaze about and enjoy the beauty.  The dogs and I had had a full day and this little respite became the resting coda of this hike.  We then cruised down the trail, moving from sub-alpine forest to montane.  The aspen shook their leaves, the rich green articles shaking with the breeze.  We passed the Lamphier Lake Trailhead and walked back down the Gold Creek Road about a quarter of a mile to the waiting conveyance.  This hike made strong positive memories in my mind and I am blessed to have had such a day in my litany of many similarly fine hikes.

Hiking Adventure to Crystal Peak – July 12, 2016

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On the Larson Lakes Trail, just west of Point 13091; note Uncompahgre Peak to the right. Alpine glory created by Alpine Sunflowers, also known as Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, but specifically as Hymenoxys grandiflora. The pink or fuchsia blooms are a species of Castilleja, perhaps Haydenii or, more likely, Rhexiifolia, if indeed either

Another blessed and blue July day awaited me to set forth and explore the world around me.  Thus, I packed up the Subaru and drove to Lake City via Colorado 149 from my home in Gunnison about an hour away.  Arriving at the former I stopped at the local bakery and bought some sustenance for the forthcoming epic hike in that part of the San Juan Mountains that reach north into the Uncompahgre Wilderness.  I would only skirt that aforementioned wilderness although I don’t exactly understand why the lands I traversed were left outside of the official boundary.

Ultimately, I disembarked the automobile at the Crystal/Larson Trailhead, the name of which refers to two sets of lakes.  The trailhead adjoins the New Cemetery that is well shaded by conifer.  Technically, it is possible to drive up a half a mile or so further, but the road is steep and slippery and parking options are extremely limited, so, like most everyone else, I park here.  Draco and Leah are ready to leap exultantly from the car when I open the door but because of the immediate proximity of private property I keep them in check, and they remain at heel for the first quarter of a mile until we are past human habitation.

The road is indeed steep and in places gaining traction when wet is difficult.  There is water running down the ditch, and this and the dense undergrowth suggest the moist nature of much of this forest.  When we reach the end of the road the dogs and I are presented with a choice of direction.  I decide to hike counterclockwise, and choose the right fork the sign of which declares that it is the Larson Lakes Trail No. 236.  The trail continues the steepness of the road but soon levels out.  I ignore the spur trail to Thompson Lakes as I would like to gain the high alpine country.  Most of the way is under a thick canopy of aspen and spruce with little to no view.  Nonetheless, the forest is soothing to my soul and I note my progress on the map the best I can.  Soon, I look down into Larson Creek.  This defile is deeper than I would have thought, but then the views are that much more sublime.

The trail winds down to cross the creek and then rises up the other side where another spur trail leads up to the lakes named for the creek.  The main trail leads up to a small divide where the forest parts and open meadows stretch out, all verdure and Summer’s vibrancy.  I cross over to Independence Gulch and find the trail that leads up directly from Colorado 149 at another trailhead north of Lake City.  I have hiked nearly five miles or more at this point but don’t slow down much as I know that another mile of trail will bring me up to the alpine tundra and the high ridges and peaks that I am in quest of.  The thunderstorms are not predicted to roll in today, but I still retain a quotient of caution lest I become ensnared in a predicament of my own folly.

The trail winds around a bit on its ascent and then it suddenly crests the final ridge and I behold an alpine meadow spangled with the yellow blooms of alpine daisies.  Up ahead, about a mile off, lies the high ridge that is my goal, still retaining a speckling of snowy patches about its flanks.  Between the yellow are occasional bursts of fuchsia belonging to a species of paintbrush.  A few harmless clouds idle by and the cerulean sky retains its prominence in the heavens above.  I can see Point 13091 directly ahead, its flat surface forming a cap over the gentle slopes below, and to the right and beyond lies the summit of mighty Uncompahgre Peak where the heights rise above fourteen thousand feet above sea level.

The previous year I had wanted to climb Crystal Peak but had timed out due to the building thunderclouds.  Today I would have only my mental attitude to dwell on, my inherent insecurities sometimes causing doubt and fear.  But, regardless of whether I complete the quest or not, the trip itself is always worth the time and effort.  For now, I glide across the alpine meadow, figuratively walking on sunshine.  I reach the Crystal Lake Trail No. 235, which was the left fork at the end of the road that I traipsed up on the initial segment of this hike.  I am also at the boundary of the Uncompahgre Wilderness, and a right turn will take me deeper into the interior of this wild country.  I turn left, however, to complete the loop and to additionally find a route up to Crystal Peak.

I had thought initially that I could walk the ridge from Point 13091 to Crystal Peak, and I should be able to excepting for the cliff on the southern side of the former eminence.  It may be possible, but from my distance viewpoint I was doubtful and decided to climb over a small ridge from where I deduced that a relatively gentle slope would lead up to Crystal Peak.  I had to avoid a large talus slope and some swamp but otherwise the bushwhack up to the peak was fairly easy and straightforward.  I met one other soul and we were both surprised at seeing the other.  He had come up from Nellie Creek on the west side, and I was in awe and professed my complements.  Likewise, he felt the same about my route.  I love being in the mountains.

What a fine view to be had here.  I could look down directly into Modoc Creek and tributaries of Nellie Creek.  I gazed upon Crystal Lake and then cast my view out upon the vast San Juan Mountains, their rugged ridges rising above deep gullies.  All was a bright green that announced the final culmination of the year’s greening up.  Here we sat for some time studying the terrain, me with my eyes and the dogs with their noses.  I was exploding my mind with the geologic and topographic wonder at hand while the dogs were captivated by the presence of the various rodents that make their home here.

Finding a route down the eastern flank of the mountain proved to be a challenge.  After two false starts I finally found a game trail that circumvented some nasty cliffs and led down instead a steep slope through toilsome fallen timber.  Walking around this ridge, prior to descent, I found some excellent fields of wildflowers and felt more alive than usual.  The alpine tundra was welcoming and the dogs were happy to alleviate their thirst by munching up the snow from the patches yet clinging to shady crevices.  Like most mountainous areas, craggy land here is more the rule than the exception and I reflect on my earlier good fortune at finding a pleasant route uphill to the summit.

The down hill bushwhack moves along slowly but I enjoy the tromping through the off-trail wilds.  I know that it is only a matter of time before I cross the maintained trail.  I find groves of woods, meadows, springs, swamps, small ponds and other trappings of the mountains.  I am happy to find the trail and the relatively easy hiking that it affords but also know that I will be missing much by staying the beaten path.  I hike another mile and wander over to the lake that I had espied from above.  Crystal Lake offers a number of pleasing locales to sit down and enjoy the solitude.  I choose one in timber so as to get out of the sun.  The peak had been somewhat exposed but this place was salubrious to man and canine alike.  I had shade, so did the dogs and they could splash in the water and get a drink whenever the fancy struck them.  An old picnic table sat ideally situated under a large spruce, and here I perched myself upon the planks and tilted my hat across my face.

A long hike yet awaited us so after an hour’s repose we made haste down the trail, leaving the sub-alpine and descending to the drier montane.  I wasn’t really in a hurry, but wanted to make tracks nonetheless.  There was plenty of time to observe and enjoy the natural spectacle.  No matter the life zone, wildflowers and green flora abounded.  Groves of aspen provided ample shade at times, while other stretches of the hike were exposed to a strong sun.  About half way down we stopped briefly at Hay Lake to rest a bit and take in the setting.  This entire section of trail has a fine view of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and the flanking slopes covered with dense forest.  I remember the fatigue that I felt towards the end, but it was a minor nuisance when compared to the fantastic day that had blessed me with its beauty and grace.

Summer’s Majesty in Poverty Gulch and Baxter Basin, A Loop Hike Around Cascade Mountain – July 11, 2016

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Baxter Basin garden on a fine day in mid-July

One of my favorite hikes in the area above and about Crested Butte, Colorado, centers on Poverty Gulch.  This gulch is a fairly deep canyon that drains into the Slate River near the old mining town of Pittsburgh.  There is a road, Gunnison National Forest Road 734.2A, that leads up into the gulch but I have never driven there preferring to make the trek instead.  However, living the modern life that is centered around our need of mobility, I do drive up from my home in Gunnison through Crested Butte and then up the Slate River Road until I park the machine in a park where the Poverty Gulch Road crosses the Slate River.  Surrounded by steep ridges on either side of the Slate River, this area receives heavy use during all seasons, being a favorite place for many recreationalists.  So, if solitude is what you are seeking this may not be the best place to come.  Yet, I don’t find the human presence overwhelming especially when compared to the abundance of natural beauty found here.

So, starting somewhat late in the morning, just before ten o’clock, I was not too surprised to see people moving about here and there, but generally the area is peaceful.  I let Draco and Leah out of the car and they sprint from one previously scented shrub to another either collecting data, adding their own or both.  While they are thus preoccupied I gather my gear and tidy up the car prior to making my way over to the river crossing.  The German shepherds come immediately when called and splash across the waterway heedless of wet paws while I gingerly pick my way across to avoid wet feet.  There is some private property about so I keep the dogs close by and we don’t stray from the two-track.

Immediately, the flowers greet us with cheerful blooms that trumpet the arrival of Summer.  The greenery aligns with the cerulean sky above to cast a warm glow upon this mountain setting.  Ahead of us is Mineral Point, a huge wedge shaped eminence that divides Poverty Gulch into forks.  The main fork is to the right but I choose the left, which is also where the old road leads up to the Augusta Mine.  Beyond that there is an old trail that leads up into the unnamed basin below Angel Pass.  That is my goal, the basin, and I would also like to summit Mineral Point while I am in the vicinity.

The initial hike along Poverty Gulch and Road 734.2A, henceforth referred to as the Poverty Gulch Road, covers a gentle grade and is strewn with the wildflowers that make a mountain visit so special.  The sky is near cloudless thus the only rainbow that shows is among the various blooms and their multi-hued palette.  We pass a waterfall and the sound of crashing water fills the gulch.  This area is mostly uplifted sedimentary rock of various earth tones yet patched with streaks of white snow from the past Winter.  It is steep and high, and the feeling reminds me of a walk through a cathedral.

We pass the trail that leads up to Baxter Basin and continue on the Poverty Gulch Road.  Another half a mile along and the road has been closed to vehicular traffic.  It is extremely rocky and the crossing over Poverty Gulch has been washed out.  Also, it only leads to the old mine up above and goes no further.  These reasons, I would suppose, are why it has been closed to motorized use.  Crossing the gulch is a bit treacherous as the water is rushing by and narrows to pass through a flume of rock.  Draco leaps through confidently and I follow, carefully choosing rocks from which to make a series of quick hops.  Leah is not eager to cross and only with some coaxing on my part and whining on hers does she finally haphazardly cross, almost stalling in the middle of the freshet only to begin again just as she starts bobbing downstream.  Safely across, she shakes herself off before bounding up to join Draco in further adventuring.

The remainder of the walk up to the old mine is somewhat tedious over a rough road rife with large chunks of angular rock that make hiking difficult.  Still, each switchback rises me up a bit more and the down valley views are stupendous, all the while adorned with increasing varieties of wildflowers.  I have no desire to visit the old mine, having done so once before and finding a stream of orange water emitting form the entrance.  The dogs would undoubtedly want to drink this water and I would prefer that they don’t.  I’m not too worried about their hydration as plenty of snow patches abound throughout the area.

Just shy of the old adit is an old trail that leads up above the mine.  I look back down and see a lake below the mine and on the flanks of Cascade Mountain.  It is mostly covered in ice or filled with snow.  There exist two lakes in this small basin, and I would be willing to bet that if the lower lake is icy so will be the upper.  Still, the snow is melting rapidly as attested by this basin’s water pouring down over a series of pitches that have given the name cascade to the adjoining mountain.  Up we go, climbing some five hundred feet up the steep flank of Mineral Point until we leave the trail to climb straight up.  The trail heads over to the pass with Baxter Basin and I wanted to see a bit of the upper basin and climb Mineral Point before ambling over that way.

The initial climb is across some alpine meadow but once we crest a small ridge there is a huge snowfield which must be crossed.  The dogs have four paws on the ground and this gives them an advantage over those of us who are merely equipped with two feet.  However, I brought an ice ax along and this helps my situation immensely.  We climb up and up and begin to climb the steep flank immediately below the summit of Mineral Point.  The dogs are not having a good time in the loose scree, and neither am I.  The flowers growing here must have a short life in this high and exposed flank, but today they are beautiful.  I decide to stop and retreat down the hill after a moment’s repose.  I will come back up here sometime without the dogs as I know that they don’t really care for this sort of activity.

We descend the steep slope and recross the snowfield, bearing off in a slightly different direction, so that we are headed for the natural crossing of the creek emitting from the upper lake, which is indeed covered in ice and snow.  This basin doesn’t seem so large on paper, and is a fairly minor feature in this broad range of ragged peaks, but when out hiking I feel like a mote on these jagged ridges.  Crossing the creek, I come to a field of glacier lilies, marsh marigolds and some sort of yellow buttercup, contrasting nicely with the blue lupine.  At the pass that leads to Baxter Basin I note a small trail that leads up to Cascade Mountain and decide to cruise up to that high point and gain a view of my surroundings.

What a fine place to sit, surrounded by deep defiles on all sides, the patches of snow contrasting with the bright verdure.  So green.  So blue.  So white.  And warm, these days exude pure bliss.  The most far reaching views are to the east and northeast where I can look out on the Elk Mountains but the immediate views of Poverty Gulch and Baxter Basin, Angel Pass and Augusta and Richmond Mountains, reward the intrepid soul with a grandeur that must be seen to be believed.  I look about and find a rocky perch upon which to sit and snack a bit as the dogs rest and gobble up some kibble.

Looking around, I conclude that I can descend via the southern face, which seems like a somewhat gentle and straightforward, if steep, decline to the road below.  This we do with no real problems and provides a nice contrast with walking on the road.  I decide to avoid the road altogether and descend Baxter Basin by bushwhacking near the stream that drains the area.  It is a bit of a challenge to navigate down the rolling terrain, avoiding swamps or thickets of timber, but I enjoy it more than had I stayed on the old road, with its rounded stones that like to slip out from under foot.  Besides, I have walked the road numerous times and this little side trek adds dimension and knowledge to my understanding of these mountains.

There are indeed mountains everywhere.  Schuykill Mountain looms up, strata exposed on its periphery.  That strata, I realize, had been laid down eons ago when this area was inundated by a shallow sea and has since been risen up into the sky, almost twelve thousand feet above sea level.  Our Earth, if not alive, is most certainly animated even if that animation escapes our detection most of the time.  This basin retains its magical properties, in spite of the damage done by the acclaimed mining heritage.  I would like to see some money spent on reclamation efforts to stem some of the acid mine drainage and staunch the heavy metals flowing into our waterways.  Still, the natural beauty of my surroundings trump the man-made damage.

I rejoin the road about two-thirds of the way down the basin.  I could bushwhack further but decide to avoid the steeply side forest and take the path of ease.  From this point on I don’t do much else but walk down to Poverty Gulch and then along the road of the same name until I return to the Slate River at Pittsburgh where I have parked my car.  I am in no real hurry, having no pressing burdens that need to be relieved, and thus the dogs and I stop to examine flowers or squirrels, as the case may be.  A few people in four-wheel drive vehicles pass by.  One offers a ride but I decline.  I’m here to hike and if possible I want to finish what I started. However, I am appreciative of the generous nature of the gesture.  A quarter of a mile on, I find those same people fixing a flat.  We all smile and laugh at the irony and I bid them good day.  They are well prepared and need no assistance from me beyond a few encouraging words.

The remaining walk down Poverty Gulch puts a smile on my face as I rejoice in the wonders of Nature in general and these mountains specifically.  The flowers are so stunning, especially when contrasted with the snows of Winter.  Again I exalt in the greenery found in all directions before making a final descent to the Slate River.  The dogs again scamper across the water and excitedly splash and drink as I pick my way across fortuitously placed stones. This day has been a blessing and I pay homage before loading up beasts, gear and finally myself and drive home to Gunnison.  I whoop out a bit, and the smile on my face reveals my exultation.

A Visit to Porphyry Basin – July 10, 2016

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Meadow on the Middle Fork Cimarron River

During May of 2016, I had written about a visit to Porphyry Basin that I had made on July 31, 2009.  During this hike I had noted that I had stopped for lunch and after consuming my victuals I climbed up to a ridge where I could see a large portion of the upper end of the Middle Fork of the Cimarron River.  I had left my camera with my pack and regrettably no snapshots exist of my quick visit to the ridge.  It had been seven years since that adventure and I had been pining ever since to return and revisit the ridge to see if the reality could match the memory.  Today, the tenth of July, 2016, I would revisit that realm.

Back then, in the late Aughts, my canine hiking companions were Lady Dog, now elder and frail, and dearly missed Sheba the German shepherd.  Now in the waning middle of the second decade of the Twenty-First century, I am almost always accompanied by Draco and Leah, my two faithful shepherds.  The route to get to the trailhead, and the trailhead itself, have changed little since that time, although there has since been a widening project on U.S. 50 near Blue Mesa Summit.

I had been working hard and hadn’t hiked for nearly a fortnight, which to me seemed as an unduly long time to go without some sort of revitalization in the woods.  Often times I like to rise early and arrive at the trailhead just as the sun crests the horizon.  This day, however, I wanted to sleep in a bit  and thus it was nearly eleven of the clock before I parked the automobile at the Middle Fork Trailhead.  The idea for an early start has two benefits:  One, the morning light is almost always sublime; Two, an early start allows avoidance of afternoon thundershowers which can be a hazard when out on some exposed ledge of rock.  Today, I would miss the light but the weather pattern was not expected to produce many clouds so I had no need to avoid that potential hazard.

The Middle Fork Trailhead is located adjacent to the Uncompahgre Wilderness at the end of Uncompahgre National Forest Road 861.  It took me nearly an hour and a half to reach this point by car, yet I remain within Gunnison County, except for a brief sojourn into neighboring Montrose County, before finally ending just inside the Hinsdale County line.  The drive itself is a wonder of changing ecosystems, from high deserts near Gunnison to the lush montane of this most northern extension of the San Juan Mountains.

These mountains were formed by vast volcanic eruptions some thirty to sixty million years ago.  Despite the great time that has lapsed since the last live lava flowed over the landscape, this area retains a tortured look due in part to the patterns of erosion that have carved out numerous fascinating statues and facades from the softer igneous rock.  Yes, some of this rock is relatively soft especially that which is composed of volcanic ash instead of the more resistant basalt, for example.

Stepping out of the car the dogs and I walk under a canopy of spruce and the damp smell of forest decay wafts up to my nostrils.  This area, on a vast northern face, is often moist even when sunny.  I am blessed to have such a day in July, when it would be more likely to rain than not.  The dogs run amok from tree to tree, either leaving additional scent or looking up vainly towards the chattering squirrels.  I draw in a deep breath and wander over to the sign post that states the trail’s name and distances to various points along the route.  I begin hiking and whistle my whereabouts to the dogs who immediately rush over and then cruise down the trail.

A hundred feet along I enter a large meadow and a more scenic locale is difficult to imagine when faced with the immediacy of this vista.  The Middle Fork rushes by, at a low ebb now that the snow melt is nearly complete.  There yet remain patches of white snow upon the northern aspects of the mountains and the mottled earth tones are thus dotted with streaks of the crystalline water.  The greenery from the flora is bright and lush and I could be a happy man by stepping no further and sitting down here to cast my gaze upon the u-shaped valley and receding ridge line.  I do linger a bit and am truly tempted to sit for a spell except that I am simultaneously desirous to visit Porphyry Basin.  I enjoy the moment and then hike on, knowing that I will be back to this point before the day ends.

Soon, the meadow closes and we are engulfed by the dense sub-alpine conifer forest.  Waterfalls tumble down from great heights everywhere it seems, partly due to the continued melt of Winter’s remnant snow.  Many of the high points are named, especially on the western ridge of this north flowing river.  Some of the epithets are for people but many monikers are descriptive.  To wit:  Precipice  and Coxcomb Peaks, the simply titled Redcliff or those names suggestive of rugged peaks elsewhere such as Wetterhorn and Matterhorn.  Two miles of hiking through this dank forest brings me to Porphyry Basin Trail, designated with the number 243.  I wander down to the swift water pouring out of the gulch and look at the deep, narrow cut through crumbly stone, perhaps a type of breccia.  I cross the water over tumbled down rocks to keep my feet dry but the dogs have no inhibition and wade straight through.

I have hiked an additional two to three hundred feet along the mainline Middle Fork Trail, number 227, and could keep going to the high basin of the Middle Fork Cimarron River but decide to keep to the plan and return to the trail junction.  The waters that I crossed and played around near turn out to be from Porphyry Basin, something that I did not initially realize.  The hike up to the basin is conducted through a series of switchbacks that bring me to a precipice that allows a view of a waterfall that transmits the aforementioned waters from the higher elevations to the lower.  I stop and scrutinize the situation before ambling on towards my ultimate goal.

At a certain point the trail crosses the creek and ascends to an old mining area.  There is an old cabin here, but no current signs of mineral extraction.  The trees are large for the sub-alpine setting and the rocky outcroppings above us are quite dramatic.  I recall that this area was home to a series of large calderas and think about what it must have looked and smelled like when there was live lava emanating from the broken crust.  Thirty million years of erosion has created a stunning wonderland of geologic oddity that never ceases to amaze and bewitch.

My next move constitutes a bushwhack up to the basin itself where a large alpine meadow swaddles the upper reaches of this small side drainage.  There yet remain patches of snow about the basin in stark contrast to the deep verdure and pinpoints of color that are the numerous wildflowers found here.  Over the creek lies a snow plug and I am in awe at the natural spectacle.  Still, I think to myself that I do wish that the Colorado Rocky Mountains yet hosted a population of the Great Bears that were targeted for extermination in the decades gone by.  We, we meaning our society and civilization, have treated out large predators with wanton disregard for their right to existence and I hope that we will eventually recant our destructive ways and allow those and all beasts to live out their lives as Nature intended.

Now, for me, comes the crux of the hike.  I look up the slope to my right and espy the gap in the ridge where I had stood those many years ago.  I begin to hike up and recall the incessant steepness required to ascend the incline.  The shepherds are not hindered by the surface of small, round pebbles that make traction for two-leggeds a challenge.  I climb up fifty to a hundred feet and stop to rest and reanalyze my ascent.  Repeat.  The dogs continually look back down at me and I swear I can catch a trace of mocking pity in their countenance but I must be imagining that last bit.  They disappear over the ridge and I worry about their safety should a cliff drop off.  I don’t remember what the slope is like on the far side.  As I reach the gap, still forty or so feet above me, I see two sets of ears pricked up in alert fashion and then as I continue the outline of my shepherds is clearly seen as they repose themselves upon a patch of snow from which they are busy lapping up mouthfuls of cooling crystals.  There is no drop off, but a slope of grasses and flowers that is steep but seemingly passable, although it is hard to see what may linger below.

I reach the top and now the vista unfolds much as I remember it.  I have recollections of grandeur and am not in the least bit disappointed.  The headwaters of the Middle Fork Cimarron River spread out below and beyond.  Coxcomb peak stands out on the horizon much like I remembered, a huge slab of rock tilted precariously atop a pedestal of stone.  It is so wondrous, this Summer overlook.  The day is beyond magnificent and I feel alive beyond description.  There is naught to do but sit and enjoy my hiker’s lunch as the canines gobble down their kibble.  What a fine display of mountainous majesty.  I climb a short point of rock to gain a view of the river down valley and am overwhelmed with a certain puerile glee, had I been observed by one with a more serious nature.

Satiated, I made ready for my imminent departure and hike back to the trailhead.  I discovered a game trail of sorts that allowed an easier descent and brought me to a higher point within the basin.  I noted a few places that would make a good place to pitch a tent and a sublime camping experience this would be.  I also noted that there was a faint trail on the other side of the basin that I belatedly realized would make an easier trek into and out of the area.  I decided to use this route back down to the old mining area instead of my bushwhacking trace.  This new route had the added benefit of allowing Draco and Leah access to water sooner than later.  Much water poured or seeped out of the earth and the two species of buttercups, Marsh Marigold and Globeflower, growing there suggested as much.

Near the old mining site the creek forks.  One fork leads up to Porphyry Basin and the other into a steep gully to the south.  For some reason I had missed the trail that climbs up from the rocky creek bed on the nose of the land between the two forks.  Perhaps because I was distracted by the trail leading up to the cabin.  I took one final look around, gazing up to the ridges rising in my immediately vicinity, rocky spires in some cases rising up out of otherwise smooth slopes.  We began the hike back down the trail and descended to the Middle Fork Trail.  My strides came easily and I felt a certain glide on this downward stroll.

At one point I found an access to the Middle Fork Cimarron River and walked out to the bank.  The turbulent, white crested water rumbled by, and I gazed up and down the valley enticed by my verdant surroundings.  I hiked back with a certain resignation at having to leave when I really wanted to stay.  There was no real hurry except that I would have to tend to Lady Dog’s chores by evening, so I slowed my pace a bit and near the trailhead sat down in a particularly outstanding meadow.  Map in hand, I had charted my progress down valley.  Before the short hike back to the waiting vehicle I took time to lie back and reflect on my well-being.  I was doing what I loved, hiking in the mountains and exploring the topography, geology, biology and overall synergy of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.