Backpacking in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, Day 3, Return to the East Fork Trailhead – August 29, 2016

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Cliffs of breccia, rising above the forest of aspen and conifer, East Fork Cimarron River in the Uncompahgre Wilderness

The previous day’s rain had persisted during the night and had at some point changed to snow.  Unlike the night before, when the snow had not stuck at all, this snow stuck just a bit, but then only in well shaded locations.  I was well rested after yesterday’s long repose and thus rose early from my tent to make breakfast.  A damp chill pervaded the forest, but as I hike with a set of polypro regardless of the season I kept warm.  Sitting upon a log where I had set up my camp kitchen, I gazed at the grasses and forbs for they had been in the process of turning from green to yellow in preparation for the oncoming Winter.  A pleasing odor wafted about me, spruce sap mingling with the other flora’s rich aroma and all that then combining with the counterbalancing scent of decay.  This latter smell is not at all unpleasant but rather a pleasing reminder of Nature’s ability to recycle.  That leafy litter mixed with conifer needles also harbors life.  A secret world of fungi exists about us and most folks don’t know that it exists.

The rain or snow had stopped by the time I had risen.  The bit of snow made quite the impression on me, for, although I camped at twelve thousand feet, over three weeks of Summer remained and I thought the episode a spectacle of sorts.  Once the dogs and I had consumed our grub I began the task of packing up camp and making ready for the hike back to the trailhead we had departed a couple of days previous.  I decided not to make any forays into the woods nearby due to the repeated presence of the sheep, plus at least three hunting parties roamed the nearby forest.  In addition, and most importantly, I needed to be back in Gunnison, Colorado, where I make my home, to pick up Lady Dog, my elder three-legged dog who no longer joins our hikes, from the kennel.  Should I tarry, I would worry about time management.

A quarter of an hour before eight and camp had been packed and Draco and Leah, my two German shepherd hiking companions, were now loaded with their saddle packs.  I hoisted my pack up onto my shoulders and we bushwhacked our way back to the trail to commence our return journey.  The day before I had filled up on water close by but had found it to be unsuitable for drinking.  I’m not sure exactly what made the water bad. Perhaps drainage from an upstream mine had leached into the stream or maybe a natural discharge was responsible, but regardless of the exact nature of the source this water was not potable.  I worried about my hydration but also knew that the extra gallon of water I routinely store in my car on these types of trips would now come in handy and may prove my immediate salvation.

The hike had been soggy most of the time and today would be no different.  Although absent of precipitation, enough moisture had accumulated to produce muddy trails that most likely would not dry out anytime soon.  Some sunlight streamed through the clouds, but it was fairly scattered.  I gazed about at the mountain scenery and marveled at the colorful display about this northern most extension of the San Juan Mountains.  I soon ran out of water, but as the sun’s strength had been diminished I did not feel any urgency for slaking my thirst.  My filter had broken earlier in the month and I now relied on chemicals to purify the water I would collect from whatever source.  The problem I had was that it takes a few hours for the chemicals to be effective and by that time I’d be back at the car with its water stash, anyhow.

The dogs and I retraced our steps back down the East Fork Trail No. 228 until we reached the East Fork itself.  This high sub-alpine valley allows extensive views of the surrounding mountains.  Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn and Matterhorn Peaks reared their craggy heads above the yellowing greenery.  Some of the soils on the flanks of the mountains are colored red, indicating a high mineral content and adding further hues to Nature’s palette.  I stopped often to look up at the majesty behind me while nearly simultaneously admiring the view downstream where the breccia cliffs had been eroded into many odd shapes.  As I declined in elevation the yellows faded out into the emerald lushness of the lower valley where Summer still held sway.  This rain may be tedious to hike and camp in but it is the reason why so many wonderful things grow here and is responsible for the overall lushness.

Approaching the breccia-basalt boundary, for lack of better term describing the relative hardness of the respective rock, I took time to peer down at the raging river hidden in its steep-walled canyon.  Here more mining remains slowly decay into their elemental forms.  I failed to take photos of this site feeling that I didn’t want to sully my experience in the natural world by including remnants from crass commercial exploitation.  Yet, I now regret that I didn’t document what I had seen as, for better or worse, it is now part of the landscape and some would find this unique site of interest.  On the small private in-holding, up above both the river and trail, a yurt had been installed and what a fine retreat it must make.  I do envy the folks who have the wherewithal to live and visit there.  All of this is part of what my map calls the Silver Jack Mine and the small tributary that enters from the east is called Silver Creek.  A salubrious setting, in my opinion.

The hike rolled on over eight miles paralleling the East Fork Cimarron River.  I had seen this very same place two days ago but once again found myself marveling at the geologic and topographic oddities shaped out of the easily carved breccia.  Waterfalls plunged off cliffs in myriad locales and a few patches of perpetual snow lingered up in the well shaded nooks where direct sun rarely, if ever, fell.  I stopped often, less worried about my time constraints now that I had begun the hike, to admire the variety of scenes that drew my attention.  The East Fork was barely a trickle relative to its wide cobble strewn bed and I thought how amazing it must be to witness this river as a freshet when the snows all melt and torrents of water pour out of the mountains.

I reached the trailhead with ample time to spare for the drive home and was relieved to slake my thirst with the water that I had cached for exactly this type of situation.  The metallic and polluted water had also negatively affected my innards and I made immediate use of the nearby outhouse.  This had been a challenging hike in many regards.  I didn’t complete my goal of hiking up to the summit of Uncompahgre Peak, the domestic sheep had disturbed my quietude and posed danger to my canine companions, and some, but certainly not most nor generally, of the hunters seemed rather intolerant of sharing space with myself and others and thus had further upset my equanimity.  The rain also put a damper on my mood as I was tired when I began the hike after a long work week and now had another many days of work to suffer through.  Still, the land itself revealed a gorgeous rainbow of colors that excited my soul.  I had remained mostly warm and dry under challenging conditions and saw sights that caused me to smile often and occasionally laugh with mirth.  Could this hike been better?  Yes, but it was what it was and I am thankful for having had that as opposed to no hike at all.  Also, it isn’t bad to be reminded that I could stand some improvement myself and further enhance my backcountry skills.

Backpacking in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, Day 2, Unsuccessful Attempt to Summit Uncompahgre Peak – August 28, 2016

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Slippery defile on the trail up to Uncompahgre Peak, looking west over the northern San Juan Mountains. I turned around at this point.

Although the air temperature had fallen low enough to allow the precipitation of snow overnight the ground retained enough warmth to not permit accumulation.  I rose early and made my traditional hiker’s breakfast, namely a couple packs of instant oatmeal with some raisins mixed in and a cup of black coffee.  I had dressed lightly afterwards because I knew that I would warm up with the hiking that I had planned, namely a trek to the summit of Uncompahgre Peak.  Draco and Leah, my two ever-present German shepherds, shook out themselves vigorously in preparation for movement and I gathered my day gear and made for the trail, first crossing the unnamed tributary of the East Fork Cimarron River near which I had made camp the previous evening.  The trail, East Fork No. 228, parallels this creek up towards its nearby headwaters and soon crosses into the alpine tundra above treeline.

Some color had shone on the clouds over the peaks of this northern most reach of the San Juan Mountains during dawn but mostly the day was gray.  My camp sat under the western flank of Uncompahgre Peak and just north of Matterhorn Peak.  Besides these two named peaks a plethora of high points, the only denomination assigned being an elevation, reared up over the valley below.  The rocky rim of a collapsed caldera, of tremendous size, had spewed forth an immense volume of igneous rock over millions of years.  Thus these mountains are geologically distinct from the main chain of the Rocky Mountains to the east, where the rock had been uplifted.  The rocks there could be sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous of intrusive nature.  Here, the land felt different due to its past although biologically there are many similarities.  These mountains, the San Juans, are seemingly one vast volcano and what a spectacle that must have been when active volcanic activity.

I had noted earlier that the snow level had descended to about thirteen thousand feet and I then began to wonder about the reality of my making the planned ascent of Uncompahgre Peak.  I wear light footwear and in general have a certain amount of fear of slipping and falling.  I looked up towards my route and saw that the one steep section was snowy.  Well, I had come this far, so I thought to myself, so I might as well hike up as far as I feel comfortable as the journey will be enjoyable and revealing regardless of whether or not I make my goal.  So far, the hike was fairly wet and muddy due to the moisture from the previous day and night’s rain and snow.  But the scenery was beyond spectacular.  The yellows and greens of the vegetation at senescence mixed with cloudy sky and patches of occasional cerulean sky to create a color sensation.  Some reds tones where hinted at in the grassy flora and the grey rock coated in a light layer of fresh snow added to the sublime setting.  A mile of hiking and I reached the junction with the Ridge Stock Driveway Trail No. 233.  Here I turned to the left, or east, and continued up a short distance to one of the many unnamed passes that separate the Cimarron forks from the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  My view opened up expansively and I could see Broken Hill rising up above thirteen thousand feet in elevation.  That epithet could apply to any number of peaks in the area and is fitting considering the number of cliff faces found strewn above these basins.

I had crossed into El Paso Creek, a tributary of Henson Creek that drains into the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River at Lake City, the county seat of Hinsdale County.  I could look the mile and a half across basin to see the trail climbing up towards the high divide with Nellie Creek from whence the majority of climbers approached the peak that I now sat on the northern flank of.  I was making along circuit to cross from the western slopes to the eastern rise where a more or less gentle route climbed up to the rocky eminence looming above.  The color sensation continued as I walked down to the creek itself.  This basin I found to be a locale of sublime alpine beauty.  The cloudy sky had parted enough to remove the threat of rain for the moment.  I did make contingency plans regarding electrical storms should one form in the area.  I could reach the shelter of the sub-alpine forest that grows in sundry defiles, but the potential that I might not be able to recross the high, exposed alpine pass did exist.  In itself it would be a major inconvenience but not fatal.  Still, I thought that I had some hours before I needed to worry about thunderheads forming as the atmospheric trend indicated fewer clouds for the next couple hours at least.

Over four miles or so I would climb some twenty five hundred feet.  I remained tired from the previous day’s exertion and I felt every foot, although I did not consider the total elevation gain nor the grade of the climb to be particularly difficult.  I climbed up to the divide to look down into Nellie Creek but my view also opened up so that I had exchanged my isolated view of surrounding peaks for one that espied the great chain of the San Juan Mountains to the south.  I had risen above the snow line where an inch or two clung to the rock and flora.  This would not be enough to impede hiking but I would use caution on any rocky or steep area.  The snow contained a fair amount of moisture and thus had become slippery.  The first part of the climb was across a broad meadow that rose up to a southerly cliff face.  The trail, No. 239, ascended steeply but still not terribly.  A half a mile later the meadow ended in a field of talus and now caution would be exercised as I walked across the rocky trail.  The slope steepened as well and I did not relish the thought of sliding off the trail.  Still, it was not anything to be truly concerned about but rather aware.  I enjoyed the climb up the handful of switchbacks as my view expanded with each reversal.  I could see over to the Powderhorn Country where rose Cannibal and Calf Creek Plateaus.  The clouds floated above, perhaps only another thousand or two feet above the highlands that I now trod upon.  Some where intertwined with the highest summits and they continued to obscure the West Elk Mountains and Sawatch Range to my north and northeast, respectively.

I reached a high meadow that was bounded on the north by the slopes rising to the summit and on the other three sides by steep declivities.  To the north and west the drop offs could be called cliffs such is their angle of descent.  The trail beyond this point crosses talus and then climbs a steep gully to reach the relatively gentle table lands that then rise up the peak itself.  This part is what concerned me as I don’t have confidence to dance around the rocks when slick conditions prevail.  Nonetheless, I decided to have a go at the summit since I had come this far.  The talus I passed without problem but when I reached the gully I then realized that my initial suspicions had been correct and that I would not reach the high point on this day.  The dogs seemed to be doing well as their quadruped traction provided them with good grip.  I had foolishly left my hiking staff back at camp as I generally use it only when carrying my fully loaded backpacking backpack.  Having it in my possession might have made the difference but, alas, I would have to visit this eminence some other day.  I had made the peak nearly a decade ago, prior to my regularly carrying a digital camera, and I thought it a good idea to come up and renew my acquaintance with this mountain so as to record that part of its essence that translates to digital collection.  There are, of course, many aspects of the mountain that can only be experienced first hand and some that will remain hidden to most while being exposed to a few.  Wily mountain, the stories you can tell.

I retreated to the high meadow where the trail enters, or exits, the switchbacks.  Just then a large cloud rolled over the meadow and engulfed us in a field of grey.  I walked south, away from the trail, and sought out a point near the southern cliff, where I could sit in solitude and contemplate the world.  I sat far enough away so that I didn’t have to worry about the shepherds plunging over the edge but close enough so that I did not allow them freedom of movement.  I commanded them to “down” and this they swiftly did.  Perhaps recognizing my own repose they put a bit of effort in preparing their own bed and thus put themselves at ease as I unloaded a bit of kibble for them along with my own comestibles.  Generally, I carry six items of midday food.  One I’ll have as a snack before noon, four I’ll eat as lunch and then the sixth I’ll consume between the noon meal and supper.  What works for me is to have an apple, a cheese stick, dried fruit, nuts and two snack bars.  I may add or delete items as I see fit, sometimes adding, for example, a small meaty item to supplement my protein intake.  I may also divvy the food up into four small meals instead of three, or combine the three into two.  It just depends on the day.

The clouds set in but did not threaten thunderstorms.  Generally, they had been fairly idle and the wind blew not.  Any movement had been laconic and they gently bumped around the high country from one peak to another.  I could see people in the distance as the inclement weather had not prevented other folks from making the same attempt that I did.  There were a handful of tracks that indicated that some folks had decided to make the summit, and my hat is off to them.  We all draw different lines in the sand, so to speak.  Later on, I would meet a couple who were more concerned about lightening than I am, and I am extremely aware of lightening and generally am conservative about my exposure.  They I met while descending the switchbacks and had decided that since the cloud had set in the electrical storm would be soon to follow.  I dissented from that sentiment but would be happy to reach the pass and return to the valley of my camp nonetheless.

Descending from the flank of the peak, I reached the divide between Nellie and El Paso Creeks.  Sadly, the bawling of sheep reached my ears and I could soon espy them some mile and half away on the pass where I needed to head.  They were spread over a great swath of land and there would be no way to easily avoid their presence.  I sat and thought out my options when it fortunately, after about ten minutes of watching, became apparent that the sheep were moving slowly away from me.  I could follow and keep my distance without too much hassle.  I walked down the trail above El Paso Creek and two hikers, the people I believe had set the tent too close to the trail the previous night, came cruising by almost in a jog.  Two athletes from Western, the university located in Gunnison, had made it to the top and now where returning at a rapid pace.  I generally consider myself to be a fast hiker but these two’s pace I envied for its sheer physical grace.  I consoled myself with the thought that I would enjoy the scenery longer at my modest pace.

As I reached the creek  I noted that the last of the sheep had crossed the pass and I felt comfortable hiking up to that point.  I kept watch for stray sheep and shepherds, both canine and human.  Draco and Leah I allowed to go out in front but I kept them closer than I would have usually.  I enjoyed the scenery but felt bad for the flora and fauna of this fragile alpine environment at having been ravaged by the domestic animals.  Oh, well, I try to graciously share this land with all users but sometimes I find it a challenge.  I will say that I do appreciate that the sheep are kept moving fairly often and thus do not completely decimate any one given patch.  The clouds above me, I noted, had suspended their dissipation and seemed fairly static.  I knew that they would soon, in a hour or two or maybe more, begin to well up and form a solid mat above.  Therefore, I reckoned to myself, I had better make haste to this pass and find shelter.  I had plenty of time but would feel more comfortable once the task had been completed.

As we approached the pass I put Draco and Leah in “heel” so that I could ascertain the presence of sheep or not.  I had not heard any bawling close by so my hope was that they had continued on and not stopped along the trail anywhere close by.  Still, I felt that at this point, if needed, I could detour around them fairly effectively without too much concern should I need to.  As it was, the sheep had continued onward and for this I was grateful.  I continued on to camp where I decided to rest and relax a bit.  New hunters had entered the area but where exploring the forest on the other side of the trail from camp.  I remained observant for if I saw them I would like to alert them to my presence.  Shortly afterwards the rain began to fall and that was followed by the first rumblings of thunder from the highest reaches of the mountains.  The shepherds do not like the thunder at all and their discomfiture they soon made apparent.

Flashes of lightening I could soon see illuminating the clouds, followed ten to twenty seconds later by a great peal of thunder.  They dogs became more nervous, and I don’t think the hunter’s horses, tied up to trees, felt especially at ease.  Although I generally frown on the practice, I do permit the shepherds to enter the tent during especially inclement weather.  I must admit to feeling at ease in my tent, although flimsy compared to a house.  Certainly the tent would not truly protect me should the lightening directly hit it but it is sort of like putting blinders on a horse.  The dogs are more at ease as am I in the close confines.  The lightening approached, and the dogs, although lying down, expressed their concern with wide eyes.  I studied my map and relaxed as best I could.  The lightening passed, never striking too close nor with frequency enough to cause me great concern.  The rain continued unabated and some time later I could hear the horses headed off down the trail.

Due to the drenching rain, the presence of the sheep and my own weary physique, I decided to not explore anything further that day.  Instead of physical exertion, I made mental exertion by sitting in my tent or out under the trees when the rain stopped enough to do so.  I contemplated the world, meditated or looked over the map studying topography and noting points of interest.  The scent of the forest I drew into my nostrils and I would take a close look at the natural world in my proximity.  Eventually, the sun set and I made dinner for myself and fed the dogs.  It had been a somewhat wet and cold day, and also frustrating in some ways while graceful in others.  Perhaps I should have stayed home this weekend, but in someways it is character building to backpack in inclement weather and certainly I appreciate the easy days more afterwards.  Besides, the high alpine beauty during the morning hours was well worth the effort as was my climb.  The rest I needed anyhow, after a full week of work followed by this two-night backpacking trip.  Dinner I thoroughly enjoyed, as the warm food warmed my physical plant as well as my soul.  The night came on, colder than the previous one, and the rain turned to snow.  The shepherds I allowed in the tent overnight, despite my better judgement, but I was happy for the additional warmth and companionship and they were happy to not be in the wet and cold, I am sure.  In retrospect, the only true regret that I have is that I did not take more snapshots of the day, especially the cloudy meadow and the vicinity of the camp, and perhaps of dogs in the tent.  Let that be a lessen!

Backpacking in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, Day 1, East Fork Cimarron River – August 27, 2016

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East Fork Cimarron River in the San Juan Mountains

In my mind, at least, the precise definition of what might or not entail the upper Gunnison River basin has remained elusive.  Would it encompass the country solely above the Black Canyon? Or be inclusive of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River?  And what about Cebolla Creek, then?  Or, perhaps, in contradiction to the aforementioned upstream lower boundaries, the downstream limit reaches the North Fork and would then engulf the Black Canyon’s rim?  Regardless of the topographic boundary, my backpacking trek occurred on the Cimarron River, a branch of the Gunnison to which the former river tributes and drains the northern face of the northern most reach of the San Juan Mountains.  More specifically, I would hike along the upper reach of the East Fork Cimarron River, hence the East Fork, in a canyon carved from what I believe to be a breccia or other such crumbly conglomerate.  A significant portion of the mesas in the region are comprised of basalt and that rock tends to cleave clean and leave sheer faces.

Politically, the land I planned to traipse across is administered by the Uncompahgre National Forest.  I remained in Gunnison County, where I make my home in the county seat of the same name, to begin my hike.  The county has some far flung reaches, and it took me an hour and a half to reach the trailhead.  I would cross in and out of neighboring Montrose County on the drive.  A few miles up river and I would pass into  Hinsdale County on foot.  Once I set out from the trailhead, after wandering about for a quarter of an hour so as to shake off the stiffness induced by the mandatory seating arrangement of driving an automobile, I let the politics slip from my mind and then adapted the topographic, geologic, biologic, etc… realities of the land to my thought process.

Clouds made the local atmosphere humid, as the rain that fell became heated and visibly steamed off of the vegetation whenever the sun infrequently shined.  The trail, East Fork Trail No. 228, a mud soaked bog if I dare say, made up for its lack of decent tread by winding along the banks of the East Fork in its canyon intricately carved into fins and spires that occasionally passed a rivulet of water that formed a falls.  The whole scene, where not barren rock, was swathed in a carpet of verdure of mixed color depending on whether the vegetation consists of dark conifer forest, deep green of aspen or bright green of meadow and grassland.  The East Fork itself, a stream of rapid flow, purled through its cobble strewn bed, white water never far away.  The sky was filled with floating swirls of water droplets that streamed through the canyon’s various layers, hiding some and prominently revealing others with a new backdrop.  Rain gear I donned after half a mile of valiantly attempting not to.  I sneaked up under a small conifer to shelter myself.  Striking scenes of beauty regaled me wherever I cast my gaze and I soon trekked on to seek further.

After some addional miles of hiking I came to a scenic bar of gravel where I took a break from the trail.  The downstream view, a composition of gravelly stream, a nearby forest and a distant view of verdure swathed geologic spectacle, invited contemplation and I sat on a log while digging out a snack that I had stashed in an outer pocket of my pack.  I tarried not long for despite the majesty at hand I still wanted to continue farther.  Further up the trail I passed an in-holding of land that had previously been a mine.  A few remnants had found there way to the trail but mostly the site had reverted to nature.  Just upstream the East Fork canyon crossed a boundary from the breccia-like rock through basalt or possibly rhyolite, or something similar.  Regardless of exact mineral composition, the rock became solid and the water cut a deep, narrow canyon where the trail could not pass.  We followed up on a bench that denoted what I presume to be the upper surface of the harder igneous layer.  Slowly, inexorably, we pressed on towards the rim of the ruined caldera that had lined the giant volcanoes that lived some thirty million years ago.

At this point the valley widened out possibly due the scaring nature of Ice-age glaciation.  The rain hampered my progress but not my enthusiasm.  The temperature continued to fall as we climbed, and the shepherds’ breath and mine became visible.  The dogs seemed about as eager as ever, constantly aware of small furry beasts whenever they could be heard or seen.  Looking about the wide meadows gave me the vantage of seeing many of the high peaks, including Uncompahgre and Matterhorn Peaks.   These rear up two to three thousand feet above the valley that I then trod, and the clouds had lifted enough so that I could gaze upon the summits.  Approaching the sub-alpine and alpine boundary gave me a sense of palpable reality to the oncoming end of Summer.  Much of the grass and herbs had passed towards yellow near the eleven thousand foot contour.  Reaching the junction with the Middle Fork Trail No. 227 I knew that I had walked up some eight and a half miles.  Another mile or so would bring me to the Matterhorn Trail No. 135 and at the place I though I would find a good campsite.  This last climb was steep and slippery but seemed worth the effort.

Reaching the latter of the two junctions I met with great a great disappointment when I heard the constant bawling of a large band of sheep coming from the upper reaches of the East Fork.  Fortunately, the locations and diminution of the bleating suggested that they were actively crossing the pass the leads to the Middle Fork Cimarron River.  The sheep’s presence is a direct threat to my dogs for two reasons.  First, these flocks are often accompanied by guard dogs of a vigilant and combative attitude.  They would potentially thrash my dogs.  The guard dogs do ward off native predators, and thus I generally support the practice used by the shepherds who also herd the domestic beasts.  Secondly, the said shepherds also carry firearms that could unleash death instantly onto my pack.  So, I tend to keep very distant from the flocks when I encounter them and feel that a mile is about my limit and even then I am alert to the dynamic reality of the situation.  I had passed a couple of hunting encampments, as bow season had commenced a week or two previous, and it would seem that my hike had become diverse.  Some other backpackers had set up their tent an illegal twenty feet from the trail, setting a bad example especially when numerous fine locales offered a ready made site.  Still, the scenery was spectacular and once I had decided that safety from sheep had been acquired I set up my own camp in a nice grove of conifer that offered partial shelter from the storm.  Well off the trail, I could yet see passers-by if I cared to.  A nice setting, I felt lucky to have found it.

The hike had worn me out and I didn’t do much for the rest of the day.  I made camp and then wandered around in the meadows nearby before making an early dinner under the darkening sky.  The overall stream of moisture was flowing out of the Pacific Ocean unabated and I sat listening to the sound of the rain splattering.  Twilight approached and I crawled into the tent.  The dogs had dry places outside although I believe that they felt the right to occupy my tent along with, or perhaps even with the vacancy of, myself.  My tent, light and easy to carry, suitably kept me dry during the very deep sleep that followed after I lay down.  No stars were visible but the life giving moisture needed to grow the verdure that drapes over this area blessed me with its soothing drone and all was well in my world.  Just before losing consciousness, I noted that the rain noise had softened into the sound of wet snow falling.  Just another night, backpacking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at the end of August.

 

Flat Tops Adventure, Day 4, Wilderness to Home – August 22, 2016

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Draco on the Drift Creek Trail No. 815, above Lee Creek

My final morning in the Flat Tops Wilderness, stewardship provided by the White River National Forest, began with the dawn’s blooming of light.  I was simultaneously stimulated to begin my travels knowing that a full day of hiking and driving awaited me and willing to slide into a languid stupor while I savored my coffee and repose.  I strove for a balance between the two, making progress in chores sans haste.  The morning was full of the clouds that had slid into place during the night, blocking the sun, so I noted as I emerged from my tent.  Packing, I paid scant consciousness to the task letting the automaton in me take charge.  Meanwhile I looked about and noted the lush verdure and still, reflective pond some two hundred yards distant.  Had the sun been shining I believe that I would have sunk down into the ample vegetation and lied there for the better part of the morning.  However, grey day inclined me to movement and shortly after my gear had been bundled up I made breakfast and momentarily sat to take in the beauty and contemplate the meaning, or lack thereof, of life.

The morning meal having been completed I now stowed the remainder of my gear and readied my pack.  I burdened the dogs with their panniers and hoisted my own burden upon my shoulders.  I gathered up my hiking pole and took one last look around before making my way along the faint path towards the main trail, some quarter of a mile away.  Reaching it, I turned ourselves to the right and Draco and Leah eagerly ran out ahead, investigating whatever their noses found of interest.  The yellow Goldeneye continued to grow in abundance and added its yellow color to the otherwise green meadows.  I always enjoy the sun, but the cloud cover was light and did not threaten rain.  Thus, the temperatures remained perfect for hiking and I enjoyed the trek through numerous small meadows and the surrounding aspen forest.  I stopped occasionally to take in the scene, whether it be small meadow, trickling brook or dense aspen forest.

Two hours later I had crossed a bridge over East Marvine Creek and found myself back at the trailhead, albeit on another trail than the one I had departed.  The loop had been completed.  It was now half past nine in the morning, and as I unloaded my gear and stashed it in the car, I took one last look around.  The Flat Tops Wilderness had been a revelation.  For me, an unknown land had come alive and I mentally made plans regarding my next hypothetical visit, whenever I may be blessed again that I could visit.  For the present, I had the entire day to enjoy the journey back to my home in Gunnison, Colorado.  On the outward journey I had had to make haste and took the well traveled route.  I resolved that I would explore some back roads while I was in the area and then take a longer but more scenic route to my home.

I started the engine and put the car into gear, and then drove down the bumpy road back to Rio Blanco County Road 8.  The direct route would have had me turning left, but I went right instead.  Thus, I continued upstream on North Fork White River and my enchantment with this area continued unabated.  The road forked, and the right fork continued on the North Fork White River, up towards Trappers Lake, a place that I would like to see.  However, for the time being, I continued on the main road to the left that climbs up to Ripple Pass.  Before ascending the pass in earnest, I stopped at the Lily Pond Trailhead where the Lily Pond Trail No. 1811 rises up and made a quick hike.  I didn’t go far, only to the Flat Tops Wilderness boundary, just enough for me to gather my wits before I continued on my journey.  I was excited to see some new country and had always wondered what this area looks like.

From Ripple Pass, I descended via a set of county roads down to the eastern terminus of Colorado 317 at Pagoda.  This obscure state highway is one of very few that I had yet to drive along and I was happy to check another off my list.  The country changed from aspen forest to high desert along the way, and I enjoyed the scenic drive greatly.  I followed Colorado 317 to its junction with Colorado 13 where I turned to the south and headed back to Meeker.  There, I stopped and enjoyed a burger at a local fast food joint before continuing on to the interstate on the Colorado River.  The quick way home would have been to take Interstate 70 westbound to Palisades.  I decided to go east to Glenwood Springs.  From there I took Colorado 82 to Carbondale and then Colorado 133 up along the Crystal River.  This country’s scenery is unparalleled and delves into the western extreme of the Elk Mountains.  Along the way, between Redstone and McClure Pass, I stopped to let the shepherds out.  We all traipsed down to the river, running low but clear, and here the dogs lapped up some water and waded out into the main current.  In Spring, I would not allow this as they would be swept away, but now during late Summer, the low water barely came up to their knees.

Up and over McClure Pass we went.  I made one final stop along the way, at the Drift Creek Trail No. 815.  We hiked out a half a mile or so, just enough to stretch our legs.  Although part of Gunnison County and the Gunnison National Forest, this area, part of the East Muddy Creek drainage, is so far from my home that I have seldom visited it.  Nonetheless, it is beautiful and I was taken aback by the splendid view of the Ragged Mountains.  I made a mental note to myself that this area needs further investigating at some point in the future.  No wilderness here, but still some wild country exists.  From there, we all drove home over Kebler Pass through the lush and scenic lands that I am extremely fortunate enough to call home.  I had had a great journey and felt much edification with my new found knowledge and appreciation of the world around me.

Flat Tops Adventure, Day 3, East Marvine Creek – August 22, 2016

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Draco on the East Marvine Trail No. 1822 in the Flat Tops Wilderness

Yesterday’s hike and been long and physically strenuous.  Today’s would not exert as much as I would hike downhill and hike about two-thirds the mileage that I did the previous day.  Thus, dawn found me lying in my tent, sound asleep until the sun struck the shelter and woke me from my slumber.  A beautiful day promised by the clear sky and mild temperatures, I emerged from my portable hovel, dressed and promptly found a place to sit and watch the world go by.  Overnight temperatures had dropped enough to leave a rime of frost on everything so I gathered up the warmth of the new Sun before leading the dogs down to the lake shore where they could lap up some water and I could filter what I needed.  Breakfast I prepared a hundred feet away on a small slope that promised a warm setting under the sunlight.

According to the map, which I perused while masticating my morning victuals, a trail led up to the summit of Big Marvine Peak.  My heart was instantly set upon hiking to the summit so that I could espy the surrounding country and study the topography of the wonderland.  For I had waken on the top of The Flat Tops, a series of large basaltic plateaus lying atop an uplifted anticline.  The area is generally called the White River Plateau, said river draining much of the realm.  My night had been spent at Twin Lakes, one of many bodies of water that ply their stillness atop the mesa.  The only real question I posed to myself was whether I should climb up first and then return to pack up camp or pack up now and haul up all my gear.  Because of the added four to five miles of hiking required of the former, I decided on the latter.  The elevation gain would not be extravagant and thus I felt no unease about the climb with a full pack.  I didn’t want to leave my gear unattended because I would feel a compunction should some hungry critter raid my stash.

I packed up my gear and started out towards the peak, hiking along the East Marvine Trail No. 1822.  I enjoyed the wide open spaces atop the high plateau, an alpine wonderland.  The clear day saluted us with a cheerful warmth that didn’t heat up too much.  The trail to the peak was scarcely marked on the ground.  No sign marked the junction and only a faint trace across the tundra marked the way, except that occasionally a cairn made of a tall stick set in a pile of rock marked the route.  Once at the northern base of the mountain the trail became more defined and a slow but steady climb ensued.  Reaching the top, I became enthralled with the views.  Far to the north I could see a chain of mountains that I had espied the previous day.  I concluded that those must be, most likely, the Elk Mountains.  This fascinated me, since I lived on the other side of those mountains.  I thought of the time it took me to drive here and what type of wayfaring would have occurred prior to the common use of private automobiles.  The surrounding countryside I found remarkable for its vastness of wildlands beyond the designated wilderness.  I sat and let my soul wander but we soon departed for no water could be found here and the dogs would soon need to slake their thirst.

I decided to take a short cut, rather than hike back directly to the trail and then head north to East Marvine Creek.  This type of bushwhacking is fraught with a certain amount of peril for I had no real knowledge of the land and my shortcut, while certainly shorter, could entail much more time in passage.  However, I noted that water impounded in numerous small ponds in that new area would also allow the dogs a drink.  Off we went, and the landscape did not prove too challenging to cross.  In fact, I found a trail of sorts and followed it back to the East Marvine Trail and, to my amazement, found signage at the junction indicating that I had been on a system trail, Big Marvine Peak Trail No. 2258.  This trail is not on my map, unlike the other faint trace, but does make sense when looking at the topography.  I turned left and soon reached the rim of The Flat Tops where I began to descend into East Marvine Creek.  I turned around to look at this landscape one last time before bidding adieu and then trekked downward on the declivity.

Leaving the tundra behind I soon found myself in a coniferous forest.  Another drop in elevation and aspen started growing into the mix.  Where the meadows opened up between the forest, large swaths of a yellow flower grew in profusion.  Certainly a species of Asteraceae, possibly Goldeneye, Heliomeris multiflora, but possibly not.  Numerous small ponds and lakes dot the area and after another three miles of hiking I found a fine location to camp for the evening.  Small streams of purling water tumbled down through luxuriant grass, either beginning or ending in small pools.  I found a fine setting to pitch camp, however cattle had obviously been grazing here recently and their stench took away some of the salubrious nature.  I despise cattle grazing on the public domain, especially in an area designated as wilderness.  They pollute and destroy so much, with barely any recompense to the public.  Fortunately, they were not directly in the area and I didn’t have to listen to them bawling all night.  Why are cattle more important than wildlife and people?

Camp I made in mid-afternoon and the rest of the day the dogs and I spent in repose.  A few cumulus clouds sailed overhead but didn’t block the Sun. We did hike and explore a bit, but nothing strenuous.  Nearby my temporary abode I saw a family of ducks floating across a pond.  Later, after a nap, I decided to have supper a half a mile away where I found a nice setting beside a small stream.  Shortly thereafter I turned in, having enjoyed the sunset, and watched a few stars wink on with the oncoming darkness.  I had had a fine day, and felt blessed to now settle down under the open sky, surrounded by the wildlands of Colorado.

Flat Top Adventure, Day 2, South Fork Canyon to Marvine Creek – August 20, 2016

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In the Flat Tops Wilderness, Marvine Lakes

I woke to clear skies and moisture laden vegetation, the latter a remnant from the previous day’s precipitation.  The canyon’s visage shone brightly but the Sun had yet to rise.  The dogs greeted my incipient motion with their own daily preparations.  Stretching and yawns accompanied various audible contentments prior to a vigorous display of tail wagging and general happiness.  I soon rose and donned my clothing and, grabbing a few items, led the canines on a short adventure around the various nearby locales.  One chore I wanted to conduct was to sit upon the bank of South Fork White River and use my pump filter to gather water for the day.  This chore I find noisome, an unwarranted labor caused by pollution in the form of microscopic organisms, although I do enjoy the sitting near the purling waters wherever I might find them.  A fine day presented itself, and this initial stroll helped me gather my wits and simultaneously invigorated my olfactory senses with the odor of the late season flora.  I can’t describe this smell, other than to say that it reeks of the Rocky Mountains in seed.

I led the dogs back to camp and fed them their morning repast of kibble while I breakfasted on my usual camper’s fare, namely oatmeal, raisins and a solitary cup of coffee.  I decided that having made up my mind to return to the vehicle and seek another locale for backpacking due to the fire on Lost Solar Creek, about two miles above me in the South Fork Canyon, I might as well not linger too long.  This fire did not seem troublesome nor worth much worry but I decided to depart the area lest the smolder should ignite into flames and cause me grief later.  Therefore, directly after consuming my victuals I packed up camp and began the hike back out to the South Fork Trailhead where I had parked the afternoon before.

The hike out passed uneventfully, my only regret being that I had wanted to make the return hike about three days hence after a long and satisfying loop about this part of the Flat Tops Wilderness.  Well, as the saying goes, the best laid plans often go astray and I am not adverse to using an abundant amount of caution when out hiking by myself with the two canines in tow.  Despite my regret, I had enjoyed my short time in the South Fork Canyon and I noted the difference in quality of the light between the previous evening and this morning.  I stopped a couple of times on the hike out to sit by the river bank and note the clear waters flowing rapidly through narrow defiles or placidly pool in deep pools.  The few scant miles passed by quickly and before the Sun had arced very high the dogs and I returned to the car where I loaded up our gear and drove back down to the main stem of the White River.  Once there, I turned right and headed up the north fork of that aforementioned river.

In the week leading up to my hike I had studied various options for a three night backpacking trip.  Thus, when confronted with the sudden change of plans I had prepared in my mind other options where the next two nights could be spent.  In the end I chose to drive over to the Marvine Trailhead, mostly because of it lying proximate to my current position.  The numerous lakes along the route appealed to my sense of salubrious settings and the trail leads directly to The Flat Tops where I could appease my strong desire to see them.  Also, this new starting point would allow me to make my two-night backpack into a loop hike.  Driving up along the White River and Marvine Creek further enchanted my senses and my feeling of the previous day, that I had stumbled into a sublime setting, repeated itself on this short drive.

At the trailhead I could choose my fork.  I decided to ascend the right fork and descend the left.  In other words, I would rise up to The Flat Tops via Marvine Creek and the Marvine Creek Trail No. 1823.  The process of unloading the car and donning gear I repeated with Draco and Leah.  A notice about the fire had been posted here as well, but as my new route steered clear of that area I paid it scant heed.  The blue sky above promised fine weather for the day and the dogs and I soon left behind the trailhead, traipsing through a verdant garden of grass and aspen.  Marvine Creek flows through a narrow defile here but the canyon is generally wide open and lush.  I found this country beautifully constructed and thoroughly enjoyed the hiking.  I had no plans on where to stop, but felt good and strong, so I kept moving.  We stopped briefly at Slide Lake, and here the canyon bottom opened up and I clearly saw the rim of The Flat Tops looming above, a citadel of basalt begot by a ferocious expulsion of magma atop this risen plateau.

The Marvine Lakes I would have to say are a scenic wonder.  About six miles up the trail these two somewhat equal sized lakes sparkle in their respective settings.  I had originally intended to spend the night here but the one situation that could compel me to move on occurred and I followed that impulse.  I would love nothing more than to visit once again and lounge about in indolence by the shore of either body of water.  However, the thunderclouds of the previous day had been burning off ever since discharging their energy and the trend continued today until the sky was cleared of any white mass.  The Flat Tops have very little relief and I would not want to get caught exposed there during a lightening storm.  Since this appeared to me to be a gift of sorts I decided that I must accept its receipt and thus continued climbing up past the lakes until I reached the headwaters of Marvine Creek.  My heart was torn, but I know that I could camp safely at the lakes almost any time whereas camping on The Flat Tops would have to be well timed, and now that moment had presented itself.

The flora and fauna in this area are much like that throughout the Rocky Mountains.  Perhaps its the topography that adds so much character to this area.  The vast fields of lava feel different than the uplifted masses more closely associated with the mountains.  Another four miles of hiking led us up out of the canyon and onto the vast nearly level surface of The Flat Tops.  It was just as I had imagined it would be and I shouted out a vast “hooray” for I had finally seen what I had wanted to see for so many years.  This alpine wonderland boggled my mind.  Vast fields of grass dotted with stands of conifer dominated by plateaus of broken lava lying at a greater elevation yet.  The dogs and I wondered over to inspect a few ponds where we could linger.  Our choice of campsites was near infinite.  After some deliberation I concluded to hike another two miles to Twin Lakes, the largest lakes in the vicinity.  Therefore, I turned to follow the eastward trace of the Oyster Lake Trail No. 1825.

I found an excellent camp for one night and soon had set up my tent and gear.  Evening had already approached, heralding the end of another day and after a brief exploration I fixed supper for myself and dogs.  I looked up into the sky and noted that the moon was out and that the night should be bright.  I took one last look around prior to sitting for my meal and again ascertained that there was no chance of thunderstorms rolling in and causing me grief.  Tired, I declined my own suggestion of an after dinner hike and instead lingered on the knoll about  camp and watched the sky change color from blue to orange as the Sun made it westerly course beyond the horizon.

I studied the map and the topography, identifying the nearby peaks and other salient features.  An interesting note is that Big Marvine Peak is less in elevation than the highest of the Little Marvine Peaks.  I know not of any other such occurrence and can only speculate that this topographic anomaly is due to the relative rise from the surrounding plain which creates the illusion that the big peak is more prominent that the other.  I took time to correlate the high points on the map to those on the ground and, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed my cartographic endeavor.  Once darkness had come down on the day as a curtain does on stage I headed for bed.  The long hike, mostly uphill, had tuckered me out, and I was soon relegated to the land of slumber.

Two things woke me up in the night.  Near midnight I woke to the bright moon and decided to rise and urinate, since I was awake anyhow.  Standing outside the bright light shining down from the moon lit up the realm so that artificial light was unnecessary.  The view of Big Marvine Peak lit up towering over the horizon was sublime and has burned an image in my mind that I hope I can hold on to for years to come.  No wind, the air did not move giving to all surroundings a stillness that invited quiet contemplation.  Later on, I had a terror dream about waking up and realizing that a huge thunderhead had descended on me and I had nowhere to go.  Guiding my subconscious, I perceived the unlikely nature of the events in my dream and quickly put an end to the nightmare.  Still, lest you be concerned that I don’t worry enough already about getting caught out in lightening let me assure you that I do indeed think about it.  The dream’s clouds were fairly amazing, I would have to say, black and denser than any I have ever seen, clearly an exaggeration.  Fortunately, the moonlit stillness about the lake was no dream but just another wonderful night on planet Earth.

Flat Tops Adventure, Day 1, Gunnison to South Fork White River – August 19, 2016

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Sunset rainbow across South Fork Canyon

The Flat Tops of Colorado lie atop the broad White River Plateau in a remote section of the Western Slope.  Huge basaltic lava flows lie nearly horizontal atop a massive anticline and, thus uplifted, form a broad mesa, dozens of miles across, near the boundary between the sub-alpine forest and alpine tundra.  Well known as a stronghold for big game, I had wanted to see this area for years and only now did I finally find the time and wherewithal to visit.  Three nights I budgeted to this adventure, and although loathe to apply abject pecuniary terms to the wild and free, my life is such that I must think in those terms.

Because I had worked the previous day and would work the day next after my return home I decided to lounge at home in Gunnison a bit later than I would have liked.  Ideally, I would have been up at the crack of dawn, packed and loaded, and headed out for the trail and surrounding wildlands.  Considering that I had slaved away in a hot kitchen all week so that indolent tourists could lounge about without any effort bragging about all the nothing they did that day I don’t take it as a slight that I should laze around the house a bit this morning.  Still, time and all the perils of its management I heeded lest I should not make the trip at all.  For I knew that six hours would be required to reach the trailhead, or so I suspected.  It could be five, maybe seven, and therefore I did expect to leave the house by ten.  Ample time for a relaxed breakfast, kenneling the elder non-hiking dog, Lady, and final packing of my gear, most of which I had precipitously done the prior evening.

All this accomplished, and more in the final preparation of my esteemed abode for my departure, I loaded up my pack and gear as well as Draco and Leah, my two trail worthy German shepherds and ever-present companions.  Having not much time I chose the most direct route to my destination, eschewing the back roads that I adore.  We left westbound on U.S. 50 and stopped about three-quarters of an hour later at East Cimarron, a wayside managed by the Curecanti National Recreation Area.  Mostly intended as fishing access on the Cimarron River, there are a few picnic tables and fire grates to assist those in need of lingering.  I have made use of them before and despite the proximity to the highway have found this to be a restful oasis.  The point of stopping now, however, was to allow the dogs to stomp around a bit in the river and slake any thirst they may have for I know that water would be scarce over the next few hours of driving.  Or, rather, that access to water would be scarce.  If you live, or visit extensively, here, you understand that concept.  The stop also allowed me to change my mental outlook from pure planning to more free form adventure so that I would enjoy my travels instead of looking upon them as a burden.

Once descended form the mountains into the Uncompahgre Valley about Montrose and Delta, the heat and aridity increased and continued on this vein for some time.  We verily flew along U.S. 50, sixty-five miles an hour, passing between the Uncompahgre Plateau and either the West Elk Mountains or Grand Mesa.  The whole took under two hours to reach the southern outskirts of Grand Junction.  It would have taken three or four days of hard traveling with horse.  I have read much of the history of the area and some of the early wayfarers and native peoples were extremely hardy.  Now, we consider it an affront to dignity should we find ourselves on a road that lacks pavement.  Ah, yes, says the axiom:  Times change.  They have before and they will again.  For now, this is what it is and I go with the flow, seeking the eddies that allow me to slow and enjoy what I can.

At Colorado 141 I turned right and drove up to Interstate 70, that broad ribbon of commerce that cuts across the mountains and spills out onto the plains before crossing the broad Mississippi.  Traffic in town was slow and the heat oppressive, the dogs panting and heat waves rising off the pavement.  I was happy to move along. Eastbound I now headed, having circumnavigated the intervening mountains, along the Colorado, nee Grand, River.  The scenery consists of a mix between Colorado Plateau red sandstone cliffs and the nascent foothills of the western Rocky Mountains.  Zipping along at a fantastic rate I could nonetheless appreciate the magnitude of the geologic marvels in the vicinity.  The truck traffic on the limited access highway was stifling and I my heart gladdened when we exited onto the less-trafficked Colorado 13 at the small City of Rifle.  Here I stopped at a convenience store and bought a snack and coffee and then let the dogs out for a brief spell.  We were most of the way, but still had some driving to do.

Leaving northbound now we passed through an area of rent earth, the sedimentary layers of which had been bent upwards.  To my right lay the aptly named Grand Hogback which parallels the road most of the way to Meeker.  As is often the case, the sedimentary layers are interspersed with seams of coal, and the economy of this town is tied to the extraction of that fossil fuel.  My views considering the environment and energy production are at variance with the majority of the community, yet this longhair was treated kindly by the local populace.  My travels along the state highway system terminated at this point.  I left Meeker along a county road that follows the White River up to its highlands.  Now agog, I savored each second of travel, having wanted to see this country for so many years.  The river is broad and clear, and the scenery grand.  This isn’t the mountainous type of scenery that comes to mind when thinking of the central part of Colorado for example, but more subtle, wild and open.

The first half an hour or so out of Meeker led us to the South Fork White River and here I left the pavement and bounced another half an hour down the road until I reached its terminus at the South Fork Trailhead.  Finally!  Out of the car, one and all, and a quick stroll down to the coursing river where the dogs happily lapped at water and waded forthwith while I sat and gathered my wits.  I could now make a final transition between harried modern man and a more composed minimalist.  Returning to the car I donned my pack and gear, burdened the dogs with their panniers of food and dog equipment and secured the site prior to departure.  And then we were off and I moseyed over to the signpost to read the regulatory information pertaining to the Flat Tops Wilderness of the White River National Forest.  It was then that I found a notice about a small forest fire up valley, my destination, and then also remembered passing the White River National Forest ranger station in Meeker and the fleeting thought “maybe I should stop and see if…” only to let that thought slip away in my haste and presumed knowledge.

The notice stated that minimal nature of the fire, and that it was being monitored.  It also noted that the area was not closed but to use all due caution entering the area.  Having come all this way, and noting the general verdant nature of the vegetation, I decided to proceed with my hike.  My plan, however, was to hike five miles up to Lost Solar Creek, where smoldered the fire, and continue another two or three to camp.  The next day, according to my plan, I would move on to The Meadows, some thirteen miles distance from the trailhead before beginning to make my return loop thence to the aforementioned creek where the potential conflagration would be.  My thought was that I could hike up to the creek and descry the situation and make a decision about continuing at that point.

So, we soon marched forth, on the South Fork Trail No. 1827 and entered the Flat Top Wilderness almost immediately.  This locale also serves as the beginning, or end, of the South Fork Canyon, a deep defile that drains the South Fork White River.  The clouds were piled massively above, indicating the thunderstorms that are the province of Summer in the Rocky Mountains.  No wonder to me that a fire had been started by a bolt of lightening striking appropriate tender.  The river, as is the typical wont of most mountain streams, flowed clear and the setting hinted at a general salubrious nature.  Initially, the trail bordered the bank of the river but we also climbed a steep and sunny outcropping of rock that made me thankful for the shade cast by the clouds.  I would have to say that I fell instantly in love with this place and hope to have another chance to visit in the future.  As we moved up the valley I noted the mountainous quality of the vegetation:  Conifer on the hillsides swooping down to the valley floor where sagebrush and grass grew abundantly.  Aspen groves stood about seemingly randomly and I thoroughly enjoyed the hiking.

Along the way, Leah put up here hackles in an alert nature.  Initially, I thought that perhaps others were approaching on foot or equine with other canines.  Upon cautious investigation I discovered a moose browsing away about fifty feet from the trail, completely uninterested in our presence.  Not wanting to provoke its wrath, I kept a prudent distance and used the zoom feature on my camera to make a couple of hasty snapshots of this individual mega-fauna.  We kept on hiking through large meadows that offered plenty of choices for alluring camping.  At the junction of Lost Solar Creek are numerous cabins on an in-holding of private property.  I would imagine, deep in the designated wilderness, that anything here must have been hauled in by mules or some such situation.  I could easily spend a lifetime in this location, but an hour or so would have to do for the time being.

It took a bit of searching but I finally located the column of smoke rising from the smolder.  Hardly a conflagration but still a concern.  Had I been by myself, I would have proceeded as planned, knowing that I could always detour to an alternate trailhead and wrangle a ride back to my car should I have cause.  However, having the two shepherds along could complicate matters immensely so I decided to prevail with caution and decided to return back the way I came, to one of those campsites that I had noted earlier, and camp there for the night.  The next day I would return to the trailhead and decide on my next move.  I previously had two other plans for hikes in the region and realized that I could incorporate one or the other into this long weekend.

I made camp in a wonderful setting directly under the rim of Fowler Mountain.  The clouds gathered and precipitated a bit of rain that cast a double rainbow from one rim of the canyon to the other.  A more majestic setting is seldom encountered and even when presented many folks don’t have the time or inclination to make note.  Fortunately for me, I could relax and cast my gaze out upon the multi-colored refraction and dispersal of light until the spectacle ceased owing to the Sun’s and cloud’s shifting.  A short evening exploration led me about the nearby area, exploring by the rivers banks and some partially hidden meadows.  Supper I prepared towards dark, another well rendered edition of Tom’s Camp Stew, and commiserated my repast with the canines’ own of kibble.  Dark fell across the land early as we were tucked into the shadowy folds of the Earth, and I secured the dogs with their tie-outs.  The fire was not of a nature to cause me immediate worry so I soon tucked myself into my tent where slumber swiftly carried me off to subconsciousness.