Mount Harvard – October 02, 2016

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Bear Lake, in the Horn Fork Basin, just under the main ridge of the Sawatch Range

The previous year, that is, Twenty-Fifteen, I had hiked up to Mount Harvard with my two German shepherds on a peregrination through the Sawatch Range of Colorado.  Neither dog is especially adapt at scrambling over large rock, and both have a healthy respect for drop-offs.  We came close to reaching the apex, but about sixty or seventy feet from the summit I turned us all back, as the canines seemed unhappy about the situation, and I could not foretell what peril might lie above the declivities I then saw.  Therefore, I had resolved that in Twenty-Sixteen I would return sans dogs and make that last scramble up the pitch to reach the aerie that had been just out of reach.  I rose early, determined to be not dissuaded, as I knew that soon enough the early season snows could soon end my hiking season.  The Sun rises relatively late in early October, and as first light doesn’t begin to diminish darkness until after six, I left sometime around four in the morning.

I left my home in Gunnison, Colorado, and drove east over the nearly empty U.S. 50 towards Monarch Pass, that transitory, relative to highway speeds, point, one of many, on the Great Divide that parts the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  The highway miles slipped by easily as I transited the Sawatch Range, my mind sensing the landscape around me from memories created in congruence with certain parts, say a curve for example, of the familiar road.  At Poncha Springs I turned left and north on U.S. 285, and along that road, to the left, the mountains rose up in a dark mass that blotted out the stars while on my right the Arkansas carried away the snow melt that never truly ceases to emanate from the crags’ rocky embrace at the various headwaters.  At Johnson Village I left the latter highway to continue westbound on U.S. 24.  West by highway designation, but by the compass I kept north, and within a mile came to the small city of Buena Vista.  Here I did turn west, and traversed by automobile a series of county roads, the specifics of which are too tedious to enumerate.  What matters is that I drove up the stony North Cottonwood Road, also known as San Isabel National Forest Road 365, until I reached the North Cottonwood Trailhead.  I suppose it almost goes without saying that I now found myself in a deep canyon formed by North Cottonwood Creek.

In order to ensure that the physical and mental well being of my shepherd companions had been met, I had risen much earlier than four so that I could take the dogs out for a standard jog, which entails running out to the end of the airport and back.   When I arrived at the trailhead, the light had not yet begun to show in the east, and as tired as I was I decided to sit pat in the car and nod off for ten to fifteen minutes prior to beginning my trek up to Mount Harvard.  I never truly fell asleep and watched as one or two other cars arrived at the parking area.  Two other young people, coming up from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs I would find out later, were busy preparing for their own adventure, headlamps jolting around like jumbo sized fireflies.  I listened to the radio spew out the daily harangues, one group or another casting disparaging fulminations upon the other, until I sickened of the ritualized diatribe.  Gratefully, I turned it off and tuned myself in, instead, to the sounds of Nature once I exited the cooling vehicle.  The rumbling creek, just behind, still thundering even now in low water.  Wafts of pine odor filled my nostrils with each imbibed breath, and deep did I draw them in.  I gathered my gear, and wits, and set off to find the actual trailhead, the precise location of which I was only vaguely aware.

I soon found my way and began hiking through the dim light upon the Horn Fork Trail No. 1449 paralleling the rushing waters of North Cottonwood Creek.  Somehow, that this trail isn’t denominated by the creek’s name is a bit perverse, almost, but certinainly unexpected.  However, in the end, the moniker isn’t that important but rather simply denotes the location instead of the essence.  Dawn arrives quickly in the mountains, and the Rockies of Colorado are no different in that regard.  Two miles of hiking now accompanied by radiant visibility and I reached the junction with the Kroenke Lake Trail No. 1448.  It forked to the left and continued following North Cottonwood Creek.  I took the right fork and began to now climb in earnest.  That first two miles certainly gained some elevation but not much in the scheme of things.  This new drainage that I then ascended is known as Horn Fork Creek and it leads to Horn Fork Basin, residing as it does between Mounts Harvard and Columbia, as well as the main ridge of the Sawatch Range, that which is the Continental Divide.

By the time I had made another half a mile the Sun’s early, long rays emitting from the east were striking the rocky crags to my west and then shone upon the crowns of the conifers above me.  The clear sky, deep cerulean, had few if any clouds upon which those golden rays could strike and thus produce the romantic sunrise seen not occasionally in these very mountains.  Today, however, the rays lasted briefly, thrown upon the pinnacles and eminences that, as large as they seem to loom above a puny human like myself, were soon engulfed by the azure dome.  The dawn transit glowed with its customary encouraging promise of a fine day to be had, and soon morning and bright sunlight arrived in full.  I continued to trek upward, leaving the aspen behind to the lower elevations and entered the sub-alpine in a state of elation.

As I hiked ever up I phased into the alpine tundra life zone, Mount Columbia casting a dark shadow over the basin.  I reached the same plateau as Bear Lake and looked over at that emerald gem sitting in its rocky setting.  Up I continued, increasingly amazed at the vast talus slopes and moraines that had formed over the countless centuries and past glaciation events.  I felt small, and the temperature kept my physical plant chilled, having even produced ice on the trail, none too surprising this first week of October.  The Sun then lit up the ridge behind Columbia and suddenly crested, casting warming shafts of light down upon this poor child.  I looked up at Mount Harvard and began to think it audacious that such a creature as myself should attempt to lodge myself upon its craggy head.

With each step I gain another foot of elevation, occasionally and briefly retreating into a small swale or some other such cause of losing a bit of my previous made gain.  This mattered not, for each step is also a footfall in an alpine wonderland, and I savored each moment spent here in the embrace of the Rocky Mountains.  The Sun, the Autumnal foliage, fresh and clear air, sparkling water, chirping rodents, soaring ravens and the rock gardens seen all about me remind me of why I have chosen to live this life for I believe that I am in heaven.  I am now, in my mind as I write this, on a ridge overlooking Bear Lake and ahead of me I espy the trail leading ever upwards.  Two stout souls pass me on the trail, both much younger than I, and I envy them their fresh bodies as I must admit to the puerile hope of having been the first to make the summit that day.  The final wall approached and the grade increased as I began to climb the series of rocky switchbacks that lead up to the point were the dogs and I stalled out last time.

I find the route up the final bit of scrambling and it is about what I thought it would be, relatively easy for me, using a bit of due caution, but perhaps too challenging for my shepherds.  If it needed to be done it could be, but I am sure it would be stressful for all involved.  Some dogs would do fine here, but both Draco and Leah are not particularly adept on rocks nor face with alacrity cliffs and drop offs found in fields of boulders.  With the final climb I reached the summit of Mount Harvard, elevation fourteen thousand and four hundred and twenty feet above sea level.  I found the two young gentleman, cadets at the Air Force I find out, and we engaged in conversation about the wonders to be found in such a place as this.  The views of the Sawatch Range extended to the north and south, a chain of unbroken mountains for many a mile.  Close by I could see the rocky eminences of Mounts Belford and Oxford, as well as the totality of the upper basin formed by Pine Creek.  I could also see too many far off points to enumerate, but with the recognition of each I imagined in my mind’s eye what lay between here and there, and often found myself drawing in experiences of past days to elucidate myself.

I sat and contemplated the world around me before finally packing up and returning essentially by the same route.  I made haste, wanting to return home and release the dogs from their confinement.  Despite my rapid tempo I paid heed to the natural world around me, albeit with less emphasis on the particulars but instead with a realization of the whole.  I knew that this could be perhaps the last time this season to see the hibernating vegetation, even if most of it was already cured for the onset of Winter.  I could still recognize most of the common forbs by their seedpods or leaf shape and structure.  My stride felt good and that made me happy, and I gave a blessing for this day as I returned to the trailhead, for it had been an exemplary hike.

Loop Hike Above Lower Cement Creek – September 26, 2016

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Looking down at the Slate River, from the Farris Creek Trail No. 409, a fine day in Autumn

Another fine Fall day presented itself to the Gunnison Country and, though I wouldn’t get an especially early beginning, there would be no reasonable way that I could stay entirely at home on such a day as this.  Thus, our adventure began in mid-morning when Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds cum hiking companions, accompanied me to Cement Creek, a tributary of the Slate River which, with the Taylor River, forms the Gunnison River at Almont, Colorado.  At the confluence of Cement Creek and the Slate River lie an initial rise of the Elk Mountains.  We parked at the Farris Creek Trailhead, though, to be clear, that name is in reference to where the trail headed and not our then-current position.  Naturally, when I let the dogs out they ran amok, releasing some of their pent up energy that accumulated during the drive.  I brought them under control swiftly, for there is ample enough automobile traffic to warrant caution.  Therefore, I soon led them over to the trailhead and we began to hike up the Farris Creek Trail No. 409.  I let the dogs go, unleashed but under strict verbal control so that at the first sign of any wildlife, big or small, I could recall them both immediately to my side.

We strode up the small unnamed gully, winding up a series of switchbacks, every story of which opened up views upon Cement Creek as well as the Slate River.  I could make out Red Mountain’s aspen strewn hillsides with a greater expanse at every footfall.  The aspens, this first week of Autumn, had begun to decrease the amount of chlorophyll that they produce during the height of the growing season thus allowing the bright yellows, oranges and reds to become visible on its foliage.  These days are a wonder to behold and I was bedazzled by the combination of Fall coloration and clear azure skies that stretched from one horizon to the other.  We kept on climbing, reveling in the freshness of this Autumn morning and enjoying the Natural world.  We followed the trail up to and over a ridge the opposite side of which leads to a broad meadow the forms the headwaters of an unnamed drainage just north of Cement Creek.  The deep grass had all cured by this point, and the dogs, barely visible enshrouded in the vegetation that reached up to my waist, and I hiked up to the ridge above that leads to Point Lookout.

There used to be a trail along this route, but this particular alignment has been reclaimed and rerouted along a less steep route to meet the needs of the local mountain biking community.  I’m not entirely certain as to the route and destination of the new trail and that is why I chose to hike cross country up to the Double Top Trail No. 405 where it crosses a saddle adjacent to Point 10958.  Opposite from that point relative to the saddle lies the ridge that runs out to Point Lookout.  I led the dogs up that way intending to cross over another small saddle and then climb to Point Lookout but eventually found the way too cluttered by downed trees and talus.  I could have continued along that way but the shepherds are ill suited to such a trek and, after sitting upon the ridge and enjoying the surrounding view, I led the pack back down to the trail below.  That steep descent proved a bit of challenge for footing but was a joy nonetheless.  Fall is such a special time in the Rocky Mountains that I feel blessed for having been able to wander about, listening to elk bugle and basking in the sunshine.

Now hiking along the headwaters of various offshoots from Walrod Gulch, I kept to the trail, making an easy hike that I occasionally shared with a passing mountain biker.  Everyone who was out, no matter their mode, seemed to be enjoying this fine day.  I do like wilderness, but this backcountry still exudes a wildness that soothes my soul.  At the next trail junction I led my canine companions along  the Walrod Spur Trail No. 405.2A, and we continued to wind around the upper reaches of Walrod Gulch at a steady contour, where lush meadows are bordered by large groves of colorful aspen.  Another mile of hiking brought us to the Walrod Gulch Trail No. 412 and here we began to descend in earnest along the main stem of the eponymous gulch.  Down we went until, instead of walking up above, we became increasingly surrounded by the steep slopes of these mountains.  After a mile of hiking we reached the Walrod Gulch Road, also known as Gunnison National Forest Road 740.2C, and from this junction continued down the gulch and its narrow confines of coniferous forest, grassy meadow and aspen groves.

We had nearly completed the loop when we reached Cement Creek about a mile and a half above where we had started earlier in the day.  Although I had to walk along the busy road for a portion of this last leg I was able to lead the dogs down the Lower Cement Creek Trail No. 636 for about half of the distance.  I had had a fine day out with my German shepherds and they had also enjoyed the hike, judging by their generally animated countenance.  These mountains are spectacular in their own right, and it is no wonder to me that so many people enjoy coming out this way.  However, do not necessarily expect to find quiet recreation, as there are many trails open to motorized use.  Still, I found my sense of peace and quiet not overly abused and felt lucky to have had this day here.

A Hike from Ohio Creek to Gibson Ridge, and Back – September 26, 2016

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Aspen of Glory, and why early Autumn is so excellent

Draco and Leah, my two German shepherd hiking companions, joined me on this excellent hike that began and ended in the upper end of the Ohio Creek drainage and reached its midpoint on Gibson Ridge, said divide parting the waters between Coal and Carbon Creeks.  An incredible Fall day, the likes of which are a joy to partake, greeted us with a fine strong Sun, moderate as well as comfortable temperatures, pleasing odors of fresh air mingled with forest, and sublime coloration within the aspen groves.  Our modern society seems to constantly desire to increase the spectacle of Nature through an endless parade of artificial guises.  I can’t but help to feel a bit repulsed at some of this conceit when a day in the woods provides an endless bounty of its own reward, an ode to the Creator, if you will.  Why bother with the setting in Avatar, fascinating that it is, when I can live my own dreams and life in the inherent grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.  Finding the miracle in the common, every step of the way, is why I hike.  Some days finding the miracle can prove difficult for me, as I am slogging along tired and miserable from whatever ailment prevents me from noticing the joys of life, but seldom do I trek far before some one of Nature’s creations grab my attention and jolt my mind back to what is key to my rapture.  Other hikes produce a heightened state of well-being from start to finish, and blessed was I to have this day be one of those.

I drove up from my home in Gunnison, Colorado, through the valley of Ohio Creek before terminating my drive at a pull out adjacent to Gunnison National Forest Road 730.1B, a short, as in half of a mile, bumpy two-track that abruptly ends, sans turnaround for larger vehicles that are technically permitted to drive out there, at Trail No. 436.  Perhaps for that reason not too many vehicles make the trip out and traffic is light to say the least.  However, its mere presence reminds me that the land I would be trekking upon is not protected as wilderness and could potentially be destroyed by mine tailings, although the likelihood of that disaster is diminished in recent years.

I put aside the political intrigue and started walking through the conifer forest found along the first part of the hike.  I stopped to read the plaque that describes how the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad ran out of money and ended operations here in the upper watershed of Ohio Creek.  They had graded this part but never had rails been lain upon its bed.  The first, and last, mile to be hiked would occur on this abandoned bit of less-well known railroad lore.  When here I often think about what might have been, for now I certainly appreciate the clean water, fresh air and thriving ecology.

The previous day had had precipitation in the form of a couple of inches of snow.  Early season snow tends to melt off rather quickly with the Sun’s rise, and today, the direct rays would soon change ice to water.  But what immediately grabbed my attention were the shades of flaming hot oranges, yellows and reds found on the aspen, some of which still had tinges of green as well.  This display reminds us that Winter will soon arrive, but on such a fine day as this that seems far away, those cold furies that soon grasp this region.  Out we hiked, the dogs and I, passing the road’s end and continuing to where the railroad had graded out a large balloon loop so as to reverse the direction of the proposed train as it would have gained elevation.  We continued on the trail, heading up to the shallow, and difficult to discern, divide between Ohio and Carbon Creeks, that latter be the tributary to the former.

This trail is not steep, but does traverse a wide variety of common templates found in this part of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Thus, we hiked out through meadows,conifer forest, aspen forest, across small creeks and over talus fields.  Added to the sublime Autumn colors, the surrounding mountains tower over us as we hike along.  Two miles in and we pass into the Carbon Creek drainage and are surrounded by Carbon Peak, Mount Axtell and Whetstone Mountain.  This valley is sublime, and I can only ascribe to lassitude for why I have not camped here at least one time.  This location has proven to be gorgeous at any time of year, and my presence here cheers up my countenance immensely.

Another two miles or so and the dogs and I found ourselves on the the high point, relative to the trail, of Gibson Ridge.  I climbed above trail to the same point under some conifers that I had on a previous hike, only having climbed up from Coal Creek, to sit and have lunch while I gazed out onto Whetstone’s flank and espied the Elk Mountains to my north.  I sat here in mountain heaven, a day that is meant to be savored, perhaps, more than any other.  Hard to say for sure, but today was without a doubt truly outstanding.  After eating our respective meals, I had toted along some kibble for the shepherds, I gathered my gear and began to lead the pack back down the trail whence we had ascended.

The sublimity of the hike out resembled that which I had experienced earlier on the way in.  All days should be this good, but in the context of the modern money-making wage slave that I am, I feel lucky to have had this one.  Draco and Leah had a fine day as well, investigating rodent sightings and generally animated, but I don’t believe they saw much special about what we were doing other than it is always special to get out and romp around.  In most ways I feel like this, that any day out in the woods, where I’m hiking, exploring, just sitting or even napping, is better than a day of work done especially for pecuniary gain.  Yet this day, maybe as a result of our evolved consciousness, I found divine.

Summit Hike to Mineral Point and Mount Augusta – September 18, 2016

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Rocky crags above Baxter Basin on a perfectly blue sky day in the midst of the waning days of Summer

The waning days of Summer extolled their virtues upon the Gunnison Country as blue sky exhibited unusual clarity and produced moderate, salubrious temperatures all accompanied by the bright palette of color displayed by the vegetation now preparing for its annual hibernation.  Reds, yellows, greens and oranges on the vegetation announced the oncoming of colder mornings and the inevitable snows the blanket this realm with a white veneer annually.  Work had been consuming much of my time and physical being, but today I would relinquish the title of cook for that of hiker.  My goal would be to crest the rocky summits of two peaks on the northern portion of the Ruby Range, that being a small chain of peaks just west and north of Crested Butte, Colorado.  Located within Gunnison County and managed by the Gunnison National Forest, some of the mountains are part of the Raggeds Wilderness while the ridge line of other portions form the eastern boundary to said wilderness.

Due to the rocky nature of this hike I decided to leave behind my two usual hiking companions, Draco and Leah, German shepherds both.  We had been hiking amply during the year and occasionally I do prefer the quiet solitude found by hiking truly alone.  This sort of terrain is not suited to their paws nor mode of travel, and them traipsing on and near rock strewn cliffs can be foolhardy.  Thus decided,  I drove from my home in Gunnison, Colorado, north on Colorado 135 up to and through Crested Butte before continuing onto the Slate River Road that parallels the river of the same name.  At the former mining town of Pittsburg I parked the mechanical beast and began my hike.  Prior, however, I did take a few moments to compose myself and truly immerse my mindset into the beautiful mountain scenery found about me.  I can’t truly appreciate the natural world at any other than walking pace, and even then it is surprising at what I miss or otherwise fail to discern.

I immediately crossed the low flow of the Slate River to begin trekking up Poverty Gulch on the eponymous road, known also as Gunnison National Forest Road 734.2A.  The small valley formed by this drainage is fairly flat although narrow and the mountains rise up dramatically on either side.  Towards the headwaters I could see Mineral Point, one of the two peaks that I would attempt to summit this day.  This particular trek along the lower part of the gulch I have made numerous times over the years of my living in Gunnison, Colorado, including twice in Twenty-Sixteen.  I stopped along the way to admire the small waterfall in the narrows of the gulch before continuing to the relative flats beyond, all the while dazzled by the vibrant seasonal coloration.  Two miles on I stood at the first major confluence in Poverty Gulch, namely the southerly unnamed fork that leads up to Baxter Basin.  I continued to the north and here the road has been closed to mechanized vehicles to better protect the natural resources as well as for fiduciary reasons.

A series of switchbacks led me to the crossing of the waters of Poverty Gulch.  This country is sublime, rising up sharply and thus reminding me that this landscape had seen immense forces of our own Earth pushing more buoyant igneous rock up and through the sedimentary layers that had previously lain above and were now eroded away, excepting on the flanks where the formerly horizontal layers now lay askew in many a direction.  Continuing on my way I crossed over rubble and wound up the hillside between Cascade Mountain and Mineral Point, towards the old Augusta Mine, a facility that in my opinion, to judge from the sludgy orange metallic smelling discharge, could use some sort of remediation to prevent its continued pollution of downstream waters.  Before reaching the point of this acid mine drainage I charged my way up a series of old trails that subsequently brought me a point above the uppermost lake that sits just below Angel Pass.

Above the old mine the route I chose became steeper than the old road leading up to the adit.  Cascade Mountain is aptly named and on my upward trek I enjoyed the visual stream of white water pounding the rock below it while simultaneously listening to the distant roar.  As I ventured higher the grasses inexorably gave way to scree, the latter presenting difficult footing.  I chose to climb up to the small saddle between Mineral Point and Augusta Mountain before climbing the ridge up to the former eminence.  Previously, I had attempted to climb the slope directly to Mineral Point but had found it too challenging for the shepherd dogs and, besides, it was also somewhat disruptive of the local fragile ecology.  Now, sans dogs and having chosen an improved route, I gathered my strength and pushed up to the summit from where I set my gaze out across the Elk Mountains.

Mineral Point is prominently visible from downstream, resembling a ship’s prow only inverted, on the Slate River, a sublimity heightened by the fact that it is surrounded by many other outstanding peaks and yet still stands out.  I had wanted to climb up to its summit for many a year, but only now had finally done so.  I sat for a spell and celebrated my achievement by studying the landscape around me.  I noted the glaciated chasm through which the waters of Slate River descended to the valley below and espied numerous distant peaks of the Elk Mountains and beyond to the north, east and south.  My view to the west was limited to the main ridge of the Ruby Range, but I would soon be able to view farther in that direction once I had reached the peak of Augusta Mountain.

Having filled my vision with the grandeur of the serrated mountains I descended back to the saddle intermediate to the two peaks.  Thus accomplished, I began to climb up the second of the two mountains.  This route has more rocky outcroppings that at one point required a deviation from the ridge itself onto the slopes where a bit of scrambling and hand over head climbing awaited me.  For a short distance, about a hundred feet, I felt that I was on the edge of the world although I would not at all call this a cliff but rather a steep slope.  I felt exhilaration at climbing up to Augusta Mountain and the view of the western drainages rewarded my intrepidity.  Various peaks before obscured from my direct vision now popped up into view, especially Marcellina Mountain and the West Elk Mountains in aggregate.  The vast expanse of aspen forest west of Kebler Pass could also be discerned as I stood upon this eminent point on the divide between the Slate River and the North Fork of the Gunnison River.  Really, I thought to myself, I could not have picked a day better suited to my current activity as the clear skies precluded any chance of precarious weather and allowed for views as far as the horizon would permit.

A local family joined me, arriving from the connecting ridge to Angel Pass, the route I planned to descend.  Ah, youth, I thought, as the two children romped around on the rocks with abandon and deftness.  They were planning to descend the route that I had just ascended, a trickier climb going down.  We paid our mutual respects and continued on our respective routes.  I headed down towards Angel Pass, where an old trail, a relic from the mining days, would lead me to Baxter Basin.  As I descended the ridge, winding around outcroppings here and sliding down talus there, I noted the family I had earlier seen had safely navigated down the steepest part of their descent.  They headed up to Mineral Point as I reached Angel Pass.  Supposedly, a trail used to descend the western side of the pass but I could not find any trace of it.  Nonetheless, the view into Middle Anthracite Creek is without superlatives that do it appropriate justice.  I stood around for a while, amazed at the mountainous setting I wandered in, and then began to walk down the trail towards Baxter Basin.  My circuitous route would enable me to circle around Cascade Mountain, I knew, having done so numerous times before.

I sat at the divide between Baxter Basin and the small unnamed basin that lies between Augusta and Cascade Mountains.  The various hues springing forth from the vegetation were apropos for the season and shone brightly under the brilliant Sun.  This day was so fine for my peregrinations that I hated for it to end but end it would whether or not I wanted it to, therefore I continued my hike down into Baxter Basin by following the old mining road that has now been closed to mechanized use.  After my summit climbs this route seemed fairly tame, but the nature of the well-worn trail is such that many loose rocks provide some unstable footing and I used care so as not to twist an ankle or otherwise cause an untoward buckling of my lower limbs.  The descend was enlivened by the aforementioned vegetative colors, and I walked along in a state of rapture, each breath I drew in a fresh rejuvenation of my physical as well as spiritual well-being.

At the lower end of the basin I rejoined the main stem of Poverty Gulch and its wide lower valley.  I had passed this point on my way up and thus completed a small loop.  Looking downstream I could see the looming mass of Anthracite Mesa, a long ridge that divides the Slate River from Washington Gulch, on the flank of which grows a forest of aspen that displayed their seasonal greens and yellows.  Walking back down the Poverty Gulch Road I continued to be nearly overwhelmed with the colors of the flora, the aspen, not surprisingly, especially.  Some well meaning and considerate people in a four-by-four offered me a ride down, but I politely refused, as I generally do in such situations, for I like to finish what I start.  A quarter of a mile along I found them on the side of the road changing a flat tire, and had to laugh at the situation, as did the occupants of the vehicle.  Despite the hassle, they were happy to be out and about on such a day, as was I, and they were soon on their way, we all sharing salutations as they passed me a second time.

Soon enough I had transited the length of the lower gulch and reached the Slate River where the road crosses it, just above the confluence proper with Poverty Gulch.  I stepped gingerly across the low-flowing river, using logs and rocks to keep my feet dry.  I plodded myself over to the car, and stretched my muscles out a bit before taking one last look back up at where I had been, somewhat amazed that I had done so.  I saw an acquaintance from Gunnison, who, with her husband, were just now parking and taking a short stroll with their daughter up the road.  Oddly enough, we had seen each other in this exact same place almost exactly a year before.  We all had a chortle over the coincidence and it reminded us all of the benefits of living in a small community where many of the people you see are your neighbors and friends.  Thus exalted, I drove down the road along Slate River to Crested Butte before heading home, exhausted but smiling all the same.

La Garita Mountains Backpacking, Day 3, Return Via South Saguache Creek – September 12, 2016

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Nascent hoodoos near the headwaters of South Saguache Creek in La Garita Mountains

Morning arrived after darkness parted way for the oncoming light of the inexorable dawn.  Up at twilight, I had eaten breakfast, fed the dogs and sat to enjoy Nature while contemplating the upcoming day, before striking camp and loading up the dogs, my two German shepherds, Draco and Leah, and myself with our respective burden.  Today would be our final day trekking about the La Garita Wilderness within the Rio Grande National Forest.  My plan would be to cross over a small pass to South Saguache Creek and follow that drainage back to La Garita Trailhead.  The aforementioned creek is a fork of Saguache Creek that exits the mountains on the northern, and upper, end of San Luis Valley.  It tributes to San Luis Creek and is part of that waterway’s endorheic basin, supposedly the largest such in Colorado.  Seven miles would take us to my waiting Subaru Outback where I would have a two hour drive home to Gunnison, Colorado.  I desired to leave early so that I could pick up the pack’s elder dog, Lady Dog, who I had kenneled for the duration as she is unable to hike.  At a half-past eight of the clock, we headed down and away from the slopes lying at the base of Halfmoon Pass on the Halfmoon Pass Trail No. 912.

We cruised along the trail, through the numerous Rosaceae shrubbery and across the unnamed upper fork of Twin Peaks Creek.  The Rose Family member bushes of this particular species are indicative of drier and perhaps well drained soil found about creeks.  We hiked up through some grassy fields before crossing a small forested summit that led us down into the lower unnamed tributary of Twin Peaks Creek.  Ten to twelve minutes after departing camp we entered a small mesa-rimmed park where there exists a junction with the South Fork Saguache Trail No. 781.  The trail’s exit from the park is obscure and I was glad, simply for the sake of expediency, that I had scouted out its location the two days previous.  We entered a dense but dead forest of spruce, another victim of the widespread beetle kill that had infested the forest some few years back.  The forest floor retained the moisture emitted from numerous springs and otherwise displayed its lush nature.  Up we went, following the faint path until we exited the old forest just under the rims seen previously from below.  Here in the flanks the properties of erosion had begun to cut out what I can describe only as nascent hoodoos.  The mesa tops are formed of a hardened igneous rock while the lower layers are composed of a looser such rock that tends to a certain predisposition towards odd carvings.

A fine sunny day had developed for our travel out of the wilderness area.  Clouds had formed overhead but still allowed for plenty of warm sunshine to entice feelings of salubrious good tidings.  At the top of the divide I paused to take my pack off and view my surroundings.  I studied the upper basin of South Saguache Creek and noted the possibility of a higher pass that would allow more direct access to Halfmoon Pass from this direction.  I suspect the route to be passable but will have to find that out at some other time.  This area also hosts a number of possibilities for setting up camp, and perhaps I will someday spend a night or two in its wide grassy park.

Five and a half miles of trail now waited us, all descending South Saguache Creek.  We strolled on after a brief break, and the mid-morning warmth shook off the late Summer chill of early morning.  The park we entered narrowed but not until we had trekked over a mile from the pass.  The ridges above us did not display the serrated edge that so many people associate with mountainous country but rather ran smooth as a razor’s edge, belying their sharp cliffs under the flat surface atop.  At the park’s lower end the creek cut into a lower layer of the hard igneous rock, perhaps a basalt or rhyolite, depending on the form of rock disgorged by the ancient calderas, and entered a narrow canyon.  The trail remained above for a distance and eventually came down to a relatively similar elevation.  Along this route we passed through the upper boundary of the aspen forest and their cheerful greens, yellows, oranges and reds added to the dazzling palette seen in the higher reaches of the Rocky Mountains during late Summer.

Roughly halfway down the trail, relative to the pass where I had taken a break, we passed the confluence and canyon of Twin Peaks Creek, that being the same drainage on which I had made camp the last two nights.  Perusing the map, and noting their corresponding topographic realities, I could see the miles ahead to where I would end my trip.  I was happy to note that for the most part, while the broad spruce forests seemed devastated, the bristlecone pines seemed for the time being to withstand the ravages of the native insect population.  The morning flew by, as I entered the timeless pace of rapturous hiking and we soon enough passed Unknown Creek, near the lower boundary of La Garita Wilderness.  We passed out into the large park that sits atop a large bench above South Saguache Creek.  Below this point the creek cuts into the lower hard layer in earnest and becomes more deeply entrenched into this lower strata.  I took a look back upstream as I paused one last time before concluding the hike.  I bid adieu to the La Garita Mountains and this eastern end of the wilderness of the same name.  I had seen sights the previous day that had bedazzled and which I had wanted to see for over a decade.  I stood there in silent standing repose, taking it all in, before turning about to begin the finish of this small adventure.

The last half a mile back to the trailhead I took a slightly alternate route from that which I had taken inbound.  I’m not sure quite what for the reason of two nearly identical trails but I suspect that one may have been a now decommissioned road. Regardless, I finished up the hike taking in a slightly different flavor of the same region, and broadened my outlook just that much more.  The sun shone down on us as we reached the end of the trail at about noon.  I put my pack down after unlocking the car and soon unburdened the dogs from their panniers.  Then, I stretched out my worn muscles before starting up the engine.  Both dogs lay stretched out in the back, as tired as I, I would suspect, as I slowly piloted the car down the winding dirt road, while my mind savored that wild country from which we had recently emerged.  Incidentally, I just learned that “La Garita” is Spanish for “the overlook”, an apt name especially when atop one of the vast mesas the rise up over this corner of the Earth.

La Garita Mountains Backpacking, Day 2, Wheeler Geologic Area – September 11, 2016

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Perplexing geology of the Wheeler Geologic Area, within the La Garita Wilderness

The dawn arrived with a flourish of rosy color that I admired while sitting upon a patch of grass consuming my victuals and solitary cup of black coffee.  Though Draco, Leah and I were in the shadowy bosom of the La Garita Mountains the sun’s light lit up the clouds above and reflected down upon us as morning alpenglow prior to the actual arrival of our Sol’s rays.  A distinct chill in the air pervaded my little vale, now that Summer neared its annual astronomical termination.  There was some frost about on the grasses and forbs but that would soon sublimate with oncoming warmth.  My thoughts I steered towards our forthcoming hike to the Wheeler Geologic Area and, for me, the conclusion of a decade-plus’s worth of wondering about the area.

At one time this area I now anticipated visiting had been a unit of the National Park Service and thus denominated as Wheeler National Monument.  Due partially to its remoteness the monument had its responsibility devolved onto the Rio Grande National Forest in 1950 and later had been included in the La Garita Wilderness.  The road that leads to within half a mile of the area has earned itself a reputation for difficulty, the Forest Service even going so far as to recommend the use of all terrain vehicles in stead of full-sized four-by-fours for access.  My own view of Nature and her wonders had decided me to visit this site by foot, eschewing motors as far as I reasonably could.  Of course, somewhat hypocritically, I had driven to the trailhead, but I suppose we all draw a different line into the sand regarding our morals and whims.

The mere presence of morning clouds puts me on notice that afternoon thunderstorms could be a potential.  When I had crossed Halfmoon Pass the day previous I had noted the wide expanse of exposed tundra needed to cross both to and from the geologic sculpturing I now planned to visit.  I made some calculations and put my worries to rest.  The likelihood of trouble seemed remote during the time frame I anticipated needing to return to camp or other shelter.  Therefore, once camp had been secured and the odoriferous items hung and fastened so as to conform to proper bear-proof etiquette, the shepherds and I bushwhacked down to the Halfmoon Pass Trail No. 912 where a six to seven hundred foot climb to the namesake pass awaited us.  The sun’s earlier promise of warmth, now made earnest, soon struck the chill from the earth and created among the alpine tundra a resplendent golden glow.

Reaching Halfmoon Pass I could see Bellows Creek below me and much else of the San Juan Mountains drained by the Rio Grande River.  An amazing scene to behold that I paused to admire.  Of course, I had my map out so as to become more familiar with the various monikers and their corresponding topographic points of interest.  I began the long steady descent towards the area just over a half a mile away.  Within a few minutes I could see a column of rock rising above the tundra and I knew that my geologic quarry (get it? pun intended) would soon be at hand.  I soon espied a finned tower of rock and deduced that that must be where I was headed.  About fifteen minutes later reached the topside of the Wheeler Geologic Area and had also crossed down into the higher reaches of the sub-alpine forest typical of the Rocky Mountains.  The beetles had gotten to the spruce here and most, if not all, of the mature trees had been killed and now stood as naked gray boles.  But the understory remains vibrant and I paused to admire the late season Asters and fireweed that continued in their respective blooms even as leaves turned red.  Here, also, younger conifers seem to already be reviving and the aspen continue to grow unabated.  The trail makes a loop around this strange outcropping, and, although I don’t know that it matters one way or the other, I decide to proceed to the left, in a clockwise manner.  We drop several hundred feet, passing a shelter house along the way, before meeting the trail from the dilapidated road.  Looking up stream on this small unnamed fork of West Bellows Creek I can see for the first time what all the clamor had been about.  The horizontally striated formations of loose volcanic soil, colored pale pinks and creams, had been formed into fins and these other strange formations that resemble beehives.  They looked similar to the old charcoal kilns made from brick, only smaller, found throughout the western United States.  The forces of erosion never cease to amaze me on a large scale when I contemplate their ability to move mountains, but here on the small scale their occasional creations can dazzle and fascinate the imagination.

I took one last glance at this peculiar scene, rising above the willow strewn stream.  I continued making the loop around the area and after a short hike came upon another setting of indescribably chaotic rendering in rock.  The powers that be had conveniently placed a bench here so I stopped and stared in wonder while I masticated a snack absent minded.  I could not remove myself from this scene for nearly half an hour, sitting mesmerized with my legs tucked up to my chest.  I surveyed the forest nearby and admired all that I could take in.  The place is so unusual geologically but otherwise conforms to typical flora found in this part of the world.   The soft hues set me at ease, and I wondered aimlessly through the aspen and conifer found nearby trying to absorb the oddities the confronted me and challenge credulity.

Time drifted on and I came to the realization that the sunny day would build up enough heat to possibly raise a thunderhead or two.  Therefore, I packed up that which I had earlier unpacked and stood, making ready to depart.  I took one last look before turning and heading off up the trail, Draco and Leah scampering out ahead.  I felt satiated for having seen with my own eyes one of the lesser known yet fascinating geologic sights of the Rocky Mountains.  Reputedly, part of the reason given to decommission this site was due to the Park Service’s head honcho deciding that it wasn’t spectacular enough.  Well, to each their own.  Supposedly he did say that the surrounding country was magnificent, and to that sentiment I wholeheartedly agree.  Hiking up along the trail led us to the top of the formation seen below.  I walked out off the trail a bit to get a better view and could only smile and laugh at the marvels of the Earth.  I don’t really understand why folks want to improve on Nature when there is so much that is nearly perfect in its primeval state.

I made one more off-trail exploration and this one I almost came to regret.  I thought that I could possibly climb to a small summit so as to take in a unobstructed view.  As I hiked up, Leah raced out ahead just as we entered a small chute perpendicular to its downward path.  I suddenly realized my grave error as the small ledge that had looked so much like a pathway abruptly terminated in a small and perilous ledge.  Leah had jogged out onto this ledge and became somewhat nervous, since a slip off the round surface would funnel an object off a cliff.  For Leah that would mean her instant doom.  She turned around, there was just enough room, gingerly but didn’t panic although I could see her legs shaking.  In a second she had reached safety but that was a long second.  I felt horrible for letting her endanger herself  but I must say that that situation I found myself in presented one of the most lethal and unsuspecting terrain traps I have ever seen.  In the end, making a summit climb was impractical for other rocky reasons so we went back down to the trail to continue our journey.

I began to reflect on the unfortunate situation I had put my dog into as soon as the shock of the event had receded and I had come down from adrenaline overdrive.  I am glad that Leah did not die.  I do worry about the safety and welfare of the dogs when we are in the backcountry, and generally assume that they have enough awareness and canine common sense to want to stay alive.  However, in the end I have always felt that I am responsible for the dog’s well-being regardless of the situation.  Well, call it a close call.  On the trail I soon found some wild strawberries and helped myself to a few.  They tasted great and soothed my frayed nerves.  I looked at the shepherds and realized that they were both carrying on as if nothing untoward had happened and I immediately resolves to do the same regarding the enjoyment of the day in particular and life in general.

Leaving the Wheeler Geologic Area behind, the dogs and I traipsed up to Halfmoon Pass where I could look down onto two different forks of the Rio Grande River system.  The clock had not yet made eleven in the morning so I decided to make a detour on my trip back to camp seeing that I had a full afternoon ahead of me.  I started to descend the northern slope of the pass but instead of following the trail back I continued on the Machin Lake Trail No. 784 to the west and the main stem of Twin Peaks Creek.  I more or less circumnavigated the basin of that creek, awash as it was in golden light of the late season grasses.  I followed the Twin Peaks Creek Trail No. 914 down into the lower portion of the basin and was surprised to find some flowers yet in bloom.  Once out of the basin and into the otherwise highest meadow, I found a sunny glen into which the dogs and I sank into the vegetation to relax in the salubrious confines of our Earth.  Here I shut my lids and soaked up the warm rays as the dogs did the same.  Time became immaterial as I let my body physically relax and my mind followed mentally.

Some two hours later I ended my self-induced trance and reentered our world with a new found grace.  Clouds had begun to build with earnest over this part of the mountains and that compelled me to finish up our scenic detour.  It wouldn’t really make any difference or not to be in a tent as far as sheer physical protection should a bolt of lightening hit directly, but the dogs are more comfortable being confided when the thunder rumbles and upsets their equanimity.  When in an open area they just tend to want to find a place to hide, anyhow.  We continued following the creek down to the junction with the Halfmoon Pass Trail No. 912 where I turned up into the lower of the two upper unnamed eastern tributaries of Twin Peaks Creek.

The thunder did sound off but fairly far away and visible lightening made scant presence.  The premise of the tent as shelter soon gave way to the new theory of tent as wilderness retreat.  Already ensconced, I concluded that I might as well continue to enjoy my indolence.  I had been on the go all Summer, either working of hiking, so I felt no guilt at laying back to enjoy some stillness during the middle of the day.  Insects, what few remained, buzzed around, birds chirped and the wind rustled through the branches.  This state of half conscious observation I maintained until early evening when I felt that the time had arrived for some local exploring following my customary backpacking stew.  There had been some archery or muzzle-loading hunters nearby, so it had become easier to rationalize my earlier lassitude by not wanting to disturb their activity.  I noted that they had now departed the area, presumably headed back to their own camp.  Thus, Draco, Leah and I made a more thorough exploration of the area surrounding camp, wandering through the forest and tromping through the upper reaches of our hidden meadow.

Although a bit tired I soon spied the ridge above us, to the east.  I had seen elk there in the morning and now found inspiration to see what they saw.  Besides, it would be a fine place to watch the late sun, so I thought to myself.  Up we went the steep grassy acclivity.  I found, besides the expansive view, a pleasing small basin, filled with jumbled rocks and also hinting, based on the strength of the game trail headed that way,  at a potential passage into South Saguache Creek.  I found a fine grassy knoll to sit upon and admire the last colors of the day as the sun sank down beyond the western horizon.  Towering banks of clouds to the east lit up from the rays of light emitting from the opposite direction.  Soon, the day had come to close and I retreated to camp where I could slumber in repose.  I had taken time out during the day to remind myself that this date was the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic events in New York.  I had had a fulfilling and rewarding day, filled with explorations of sights that I had longed to see for many a year, and I solemnly give my thanks for living in a free country where I am able to do so at my own whim.

La Garita Mountains Backpacking, Day 1, Whale Creek to Palmer Mesa to Halfmoon Pass – September 10, 2016

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Twin Peaks above the creek of the same name, I’m hiking on Rio Grande National Forest Trail No. 912

I had been told that this particular corner of the La Garita Wilderness possessed little in the manner of trail signage, an, to foreshadow a bit, I soon found that that hint was correct.  More importantly, I had also heard about the odd geology that could be found at the Wheeler Geologic Area within the wilderness.  For ten plus years, an entire decade and then some, I had desired to see this setting for myself and this weekend I hoped to do just that.  Thus, the previous day I had kenneled my oldest dog, Lady, a true elder, and loaded up my two faithful hiking companions, Draco and Leah.  Those two German shepherds are always ready for an adventure and today we would begin one.

I rose early and departed for the remote La Garita Mountains of Colorado.  There is a triple divide that separates the Colorado River drainage from two forks of the Rio Grande River.  Because it is also a place where waters are split between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans this point is part of the Continental Divide.  It is also where one arm of the mighty San Juan Mountains meets the Cochetopa Hills and those aforementioned mountains to where I was headed this bright morning.  I grabbed a quick breakfast on the go, stopping at the one true twenty-four hour business in Gunnison, namely the Love’s convenience store, where hot coffee, a piece of fruit and a croissant sandwich awaited.  Soon afterwards I drove east out of town on U.S. 50 before turning south on Colorado 114.  Winding through Cochetopa Canyon, Draco with his head out the window investigating the passing of ourselves, we emerged into the large park of the same name under that portion of the Great Divide that runs along the hills of this oft used epithet.  All remained in darkness and I had to stop to make sure that I was on the proper dirt road leading off from the gravel county highway I had been traveling after departing the pavement of the state route.  I stopped to let the dogs out so that they could sniff about as we still had to bounce along for another half an hour and change before reaching our destination.

We crossed the divide and drifted into Saguache Park, a remote area I had been to only once before.  I followed, depending on what side of the divide I was, either Gunnison or Rio Grande National Forest Road 787 until I reached the La Garita Trailhead on the latter National Forest.  This is an area of stunning beauty, low key mesas and high, rugged mountains reaching up to the heavens all vied with the forests of aspen to outshine each other.  This area has had much of its conifer forests decimated by the beetle infestation that has affected so many parts of the western United States.  In some places no conifer remains alive except, somewhat encouragingly, younger trees.  Still, I loved the feeling of being here, in novel country that I had been so long keen on seeing for myself.

Reaching the trailhead at seven in the morning, I felt incipient eagerness build up in me as I made all the necessary preparation for our imminent departure from the machinery that defines our modern life.  The dogs had their saddle bags strapped on and I hoisted my pack onto my shoulders as we headed off on the South Fork Saguache Trail No. 781 through a broad meadow.  The grasses had turned yellow as had the aspen and all felt right in the world.  My first challenge would be to find the Whale Creek Trail No. 780 about a half mile on.  My hunch and the tale I had been told were correct, as I soon found a unmarked trail leading off in the direction I thought it should but without signage.  Fine, that makes things a bit more interesting.  I did eventually find a sign, but it had been knocked over and moved a bit.  I also found some trail poles that confirmed that I was, at least, on a marked trail.

The extent of the die-off of the conifer forest is stunning.  The aspens do not seem affected and may benefit by expanding their range a bit into the depths of the dead boles.  Only time will tell, and I hope we have the patience and maturity to let Nature apply the balm to the damage.  Still, Whale Creek itself remains a wondrous setting under mesas of hard igneous rock, perhaps rhyolite or basalt.  The upper reaches turn to sub-alpine and alpine beauty and the area seems well watered.  After about three miles the steady but mellow climb begin to steepen a bit.  We left the main fork and followed a tributary up and out of the canyon.  There was one place where the going was a bit confusing but ultimately I was able to suss the direction onto Palmer Mesa.  Regardless, the setting kept me entranced.  Reaching the crest of the mesa I could begin to expand my view and fascinate myself with whatever topography I could discern.

Once on Palmer Mesa, my goal was to turn right, or west, and follow that broad landscape for five miles to Halfmoon Pass.  This should only be done on a day with minimal chance of lightening as finding a route off this mesa when in a panic could be challenging.  Today was perfect as only a few small clouds plied the sky above us.  However, the winds suggested that changing weather was not far beyond the horizon and thus we all rested a bit before following La Garita Stock Driveway Trail No. 787.  This trail is more or less non-existent but it really doesn’t matter as the route to take is obvious and no obstacles exists in this broad alpine tundra.  The view stretch out for dozens of miles as I could see, for instance, the West Elk and Elk Mountains to the north, and I felt exalted at my good fortune to find myself here now.

On Palmer Mesa the wind blew relentlessly and desiccated myself, at least, and I suppose the dogs, too, although I find that their fur generally makes them more or less impervious to the chilling and drying properties of the gusts.  As I walked along I could see ahead of us the towering unnamed monolith that forms the triple divide that I already mentioned and closer to me lies La Garita Peak, topping thirteen thousand seven hundred feet in elevation.  To my left numerous canyons descended to the Rio Grande River and to my right I could see the upper branches of Saguache Creek.  Canon Nieve (I can’t seem to figure out the tilde over the first “n” in “Canon”) and Canon Fernandez hint at this land’s previous administration by the Spaniards and Mexicans prior to our war with that latter nation that ended with the United States devolving responsibility onto itself for much what is now called the Southwest.  Surprisingly enough, the shallow lake, Laguna Hilda has ample water at this late date and the dogs slake their thirst.  For, if the wind doesn’t affect them then the sun certainly does, and they not only drink but wallow in the cooling liquid.

At least another hour of hiking we do across the top of Palmer Mesa before coming to Halfmoon Pass.  I think of all the tales I have heard of early day explorers and the ravages done by the near constant blasts on exposed skin.  Me, I only had to suffer for a couple of hours at most and felt no ill effects beyond mild annoyance.  The sheer force of the moving air mass compelled me to slow my pace, but in the end I was more amused by my situation than befuddled.  Reaching the pass also put me at the junction with the Halfmoon Pass Trail No. 912.  The winds here have abated somewhat in the shelter of the pass and I take a moment to unwind (pun intended) while studying the various drainages of Bellows Creek.  This is vast country and I marvel at the wonderful mountains.  Why do I love this open country so much when, despite the obvious beauty, this land presents some serious hardships for those that choose to reside in its forsaken embrace.  Yet the magic remains, and I am driven to that play the part of wizard of the Rocky Mountains.

The stock trail has placed me on the southwest side of the pass.  I hike up the few hundred feet to the summit so that I can look into Twin Peaks Creek and decide to make camp somewhere below, in the sheltered forest shy of a mile away.  I am loving my situation, surrounded by the talus, alpine grasses and water emitted from the nearby springs.  The hike down is steep, and I pass another trail junction with the Machin Basin Trail No. 784.  A rare sign denotes the meeting of the paths.  I continue on what I can discern of the trail, for much of it in this area is a general route that sees little if any official maintenance from Rio Grande National Forest.  Again, no matter, for the route is obvious, and the trail congeals from its dissolved strands at the place I would expect it to, where the stream itself gathers its diverse inflows into one narrow channel.

The trail crossed the creek and I decided that the bluff above looked inviting.  Thus, I led the dogs up to a small meadow raised above the creek and trail and found a nice place for camp well out of view.  Camp I built with the swift confidence that comes from repeated execution.  The dogs plopped down in a grassy swale and I soon followed, and there was naught to do but enjoy the comforts of Nature’s salubrious design.  I took note of the forest makeup and praised the fact that the younger conifers seemed to be unaffected by the recent beetle outbreak.  I studied the sky above and the few clouds that there lingered.  The grasses and shrubs and herbs I attempted to identify out of a sense of curiosity.  The creek, an unnamed tributary of Twin Peaks Creek, I could hear purling through its narrow channel.  All in all, I had found a late Summer paradise.

After a couple of hours of repose I decided that I would like to attempt to find one or two trail junctions a half a mile to a mile away, since I had found that some such nexuses had been with signage and other had not.  Thus I walked on the trail away from Halfmoon Pass and over a small divide that leads to another small unnamed tributary of Twin Peaks Creek.  Draco and Leah were excited at the movement and led the way as I allowed them to range out some thirty to forty feet.  Entering a small meadow where I suspected the South Fork Saguache Trail No. 781 would be, I was not too surprised nor worried to not find a sign.  Instead, I used my common sense and intuition regarding navigation and topography to stop, take a look around and attempt to deduce where I thought the trail would be.  Sure enough, about five minutes later I had found the trail in the general area where I thought it should be, the exit from the meadow marked by two blazes axed into trees in the common method.  I continued to follow the Halfmoon Pass Trail No. 912 until reaching Twin Peaks Creek itself.  I crossed the creek and found the Twin Peaks Creek Trail No. 914, which led off to the left, that is, upstream.  The trail I had been following leads downstream.  Neither of these trails really figured into my plans but I was just curious to see this meadow, anyhow, and now I have knowledge of this area stored in my cranium.

This area I concluded deserved some more of my attention, so I wandered around until I found a nice patch of grass to sit upon and admire the extensive meadow.  The dogs had nice access to water and I lay back to enjoy the sky.  I returned to camp afterwards, as the sun lowered itself beyond the ridges to my west thus heralding the end of the day.  I was in the early shadow, a bit too early to call it sunset, but nonetheless I knew that by the time I finished supper the dusk would be much nearer.  The shepherds and I languidly walked up to the snag upon which I had thrown my rope over a branch to hang the smelly and attractive food.  Filling up on the calorific substances, both the dogs and I felt satiated and content.  After cleaning up, stashing the goods and rehanging it all, we watched the sky slowly turn darker colors until finally stars could be seen.  The dogs had a ball to help occupy their being and they brought it along to the tent where I entered to fall upon my sleeping bag.  The canines would prefer to  venture inside as well but as the night was clear and dry I insisted that they sleep out.  They kept close, and I lay with my head out beyond the flap, resting on my clasped hands.  The stars indeed twinkled and I felt fortunate to drift off to sleep here in this corner of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.