Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 4, Dubois, Wyoming, to Gardiner, Montana – October 17, 2016


The Gibbon River flowing through Gibbon Meadows

The storm that had been brewing for the past couple of days finally stewed itself into significance, for when I woke in the morning I found a fresh coating of several inches of new, wet snow.  I rose early and drove out on the snowy road, moving upstream along the Wind River towards Togwotee Pass on U.S. 26-287 headed west and north, respective to the highway’s designation.  Barely light when I started, I soon pulled over to study a monument made to those who cut timber in this area, the wood being converted to ties for railroads.  However I feel about the subjugation of Nature, there is no use denying that I benefit from the ability to travel around this world at my whim, but I can’t help feel that we need, generally speaking, less and not more.  Still, I respect the labor that people toiled over.

These thoughts lay on my mind as I continued to rise up to Togwotee Pass where I crossed, yet again, the Continental Divide and began to descend into the drainage of the Snake River via Blackrock Creek.  I stopped again at another scenic viewpoint, however the clouds had obliterated what I suppose is a fine view of the Teton Range so I instead ambled about a bit and admired the grasses naturally cured for the oncoming Winter.  Continuing the drive, I reached Moran Junction and turned right, or north, on U.S. 89-191-287 and passed through Teton National Park and the J. D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, a strip of land that divides the former from Yellowstone National Park’s southern entrance.  The road from the south follows the Lewis River up to the Great Divide and I thus crossed over once again to the eastern side.  At West Thumb I turned left towards Madison Junction, and recrossed the Great Divide twice more so that I briefly passed into the Pacific Ocean drainage before finally establishing myself on the Atlantic.  I made no stops other than to purchase fuel at Old Faithful until just prior to reaching Madison Junction where I stopped to walk along that portion of the Gibbon River just upstream from where it flows under the road.  There is something about slow flowing mountain rivers winding through meadows that always captivates me and I took a bit of time to walk along its grass-lined banks.

Driving north along the Grand Loop I next stopped at Beryl Springs to gaze upon the emanations of steam and hot mineral-laden water from a large pool, the rim of which is encrusted with precipitates.  My travels continued up to Gibbon Meadows where I once again pulled over and walked out to meander along the banks of the river that placidly flows through.  I have always found these meadows to fascinate my fondness of wide open parks within the Rocky Mountain wherever they me be found.  Often I had wanted to wander out and about but the presence of abundant wildlife, whose equanimity I have not wanted to upset, has not allowed this to occur but once or twice before.  Finding no elk or bison in the expansive park I decided at the spur of the moment to make this brief exploration.  I studied some tracks in the mud, and then walked over to a small grove of trees where I found a quiet place out of view of the nearby road to stand for a bit and contemplate the world.

I next stopped at the nearby Artist’s Paintpots, part of the small drainage of Geyser Creek, one of the numerous geothermal areas found within Yellowstone National Park.  Due to the sensitive and dangerous nature of these natural wonders visitors are confined to the trail that passes through a lodgepole pine forest and crosses a wet meadow before reaching, a half mile later, the colorful fumaroles burbling and hissing with escaping steam. Some of the venting gasses cause water to percolate up from the depths or create splattering mud pots, reminiscent of a boiling pan of thick chowder.   Despite the snowy landscape adjacent to this area I could denote numerous streaks of green vegetation where the water temperature created a salubrious situation for plant growth.  Walking the short loop trail, I gained a slight elevation, enough for me to look out and espy the different colors of the mineral laden phenomena that has earned this area its sobriquet.  The marvels of the Earth never cease to create wonder, and those pleasant thoughts accompanied me on my short walk back to the parking lot.

The snows had been decreasing in accumulated and active precipitation ever since crossing Togwotee Pass but when I stopped at Norris Geyser Basin the flakes came in a dense burst of large, wet globs.  The basin, with its raising steams and occasional gurgles, took on an ethereal appearance that made for a stunning walk but, for me, lacking waterproof equipment or that which could somehow capture images in the challenging light conditions, made photography not worth the hassle, although I find myself now wishing that I had taken more than two of the area.  I walked first out to Nuphar Lake and then around Porcelain and Back Basins admiring the ghostly forms of both the lodgepole pine and the wafting steams from the geothermal activity.  I enjoyed my walk along the trails and boardwalks, my footfalls silent when they landed on the cushioning snow.  Few others strolled about in this less than salubrious weather, but those of us who did made our own rewards.

I continued north along the Grand Loop past many other places worthy of stopping and exploring but I did so only once more, at the Glen Creek Trailhead, and walked out on the Fawn Pass Trail a mile or so.  I left the trail and crossed Glen Creek above which I found a grassy hillside upon which I deposited my being.  Now I took time to admire that which now fascinates me, that object of admiration being the ecological value of such a large swath of land set aside from exploitation, beyond tourism, of its vital natural resources that allow it to function as a living organism composed of individual parts.  I gazed upon Terrace Mountain where years ago a friend pointed out wolves chasing a herd of elk as we sat snacking upon our comestibles.  This day, however, not much stirred and I stared out on the grasslands and forest of Gardner’s Hole, the grass yellow and the willow denuded of leaves in preparation of the oncoming Winter.  Ever since arriving in Dubois I had been walking in grizzly bear habitat but now I felt their presence that much more, this being the core of their local range.  Colorado, where I make my home in Gunnison, and many other western states have extirpated their grizzly bears for the benefit of the livestock industry, something that I find reprehensible and morally questionable.  I pondered all this as I sat enjoying the sunlight filtering through the clouds, for as I had driven north I had left most of the snow behind.

I slowly wandered back to the car and drove down to Gardiner, Montana, where friends had a place for me to sleep.  Passing through the Golden Gate, I left Gardner’s Hole behind and noted the mass of Mount Everts in the distance.  This is one of my favorite views, and always fills me with happiness to see this view.  It had been a full, although low key, day although initially the snowy driving conditions had caused some consternation as I had been concerned that some of the park roads would be closed.  Mid-October had produced a slight winter storm but isn’t that the Rockies?  I felt ecstatic to hike around and explore the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and especially felt altruistically towards my hosts who allowed me to stay here in the center of it all.  A blessed day, indeed, this had dawned.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 3, Hiking Above West Torrey Creek – October 16, 2016


Under Whiskey Mountain, on the trail of the same name, in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness

The day broke somewhat cloudy and stormy, but the Sun nonetheless shone down upon my temporary residence in Dubois, Wyoming.  I made breakfast and then headed out of town, eastward, a few miles, until I turned onto Fremont County Road 411 and drove up to the Trail Lake Trailhead where I parked the car.  The wind gusted occasionally as I took stock of my situation, looking up towards the towering ramparts of the Rocky Mountains.  A great mass of granitic rock had thrust up through the sedimentary layers that had formerly lain above it and those layers had been bent, tilted and lifted.  I gathered my gear and headed out on the trail towards Whiskey Mountain, just above Torrey Creek as it emerged from the glaciated valley that drains this face of the Wind River Range.

I soon entered the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, named for Thomas Fitzpatrick, an eminent Mountain Man and explorer of the region in the early Nineteenth Century.  This area exists as part of the Shoshone National Forest, part of the great estate that is our public lands here in the western United States.  As is typical of so many hikes in the mountainous regions I began to climb immediately, and a third of a mile onward I came to a trail junction that would allow me three choices of destination.  I took the right fork and began working up a series of steep switchbacks on the Whiskey Mountain Trail No. 804.  This led me up above West Torrey Creek and under the namesake mountain.  I descried the sedimentary layers above me as well as on Arrow Mountain, across the valley, and marveled at the sight of so much mass having been heaved substantially upwards.

As I gained elevation I could begin to see out to my east, onto the prairie lands that I had crossed the previous day.  Also, concomitantly, the gusts increased in strength and frequency.  Looking down into the creek, some thousand to fifteen hundred feet below, I could espy the polished granite, smoothed from the action of the ancient and now melted glaciers.  At the trailhead the ground had been moist due to overnight rain but as I climbed I eventually entered the region where the first snows of the season had begun to accumulate.  The wind gusts now began to hurl themselves at me unabated, and distant views became more difficult to see as snow flew about furiously.  Reaching another trail junction, I continued on the left fork, Trail No. 804.2A, and went headlong into the furies.  The next two miles of hiking I made on a more or less level bench, but due to the winds that did not desist I might as well of been climbing uphill.  Occasional conifers provided shelter, but most of my memory of this portion of the hike is of blowing snow.

Reaching the lip of rock that would allow me to descend to Ross Lake below, I studied the terrain.  The snow had accumulated enough to make a trek down arduous, the snow making a descent over the rocky trail slippery, and I decided to not visit the lake itself but rather look down from above.  I found a grove of conifer that provided an ample amount of shelter from the wind and here I enjoyed a repast while also relaxing in this snowy clime.  I had had the foresight to pack for Winter and had brought along enough clothing to keep comfortable and dry as I remained stationary in the forest abutting a large meadow.  It seemed to me that the storm’s magnitude continued to increase and I soon decided to return the way I came, and thus I began to hike back to my waiting car.

The going east I found more pleasing as the wind helped to push me along rather than impede my progress.  The tracks I had made in the snow on my way in had been completely effaced from record as the winds erased all traces of my earlier passing.  Approaching the trail junction under Whiskey Mountain I happened to look up and notice a band of bighorn sheep grazing away on the slopes of that eminence.  Not wanting to disturb them I continued on my way after a short hesitation in my hiking.  Reaching the eastern end of the flats I took one last gaze upon the vast distances that I could make out where not obliterated by snow or cloud.  Down I went, feeling blessed for having this day out in the mountains, though it had proved a challenge of endurance at times.

Reaching the car I stashed a few items and then wandered around a bit so as to ascertain a few particulars regarding the location of another trail whose trailhead is a bit more obscure than the one that I had used.  Even now, in the Autumnal season of low water, Torrey Creek maintains a fairly large volume of flow.  Finding the trail, I made a mental note of it so that at some time in the future I might be able to return and know where I would be going.  I felt good about this hike and had enjoyed the change of scenery and ecology from my usual haunts.  The Rocky Mountains have a similarity in natural wonders regardless of any specific location yet each region also has certain nuances and flavors, if you will, that make exploring different realms of this mountainous kingdom elucidating upon my mind and soul.  I drove back down the road and returned to Dubois and my rented room.  There I stayed as the weather became increasingly stormy, relaxing in luxury, such as it was.  I had had a fine day and now made time, as dusk encroached and the clouds slowly faded to gray and then darkness, to reflect on my good fortune at having the opportunity to make this hike and have this day.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 2, Moffat County, Colorado to Dubois, Wyoming – October 15, 2016


Sunrise on Wyoming 70, east of Baggs

I woke early, well before first light, and fired up the waiting automobile from its overnight dormancy.  The headlights pierced the darkness and I slowly worked my way back the short distance to Moffat County Road 2 near Fan Rock.  I had camped on a small parcel of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and woke with the scent of the sagebrush steppe permeating my entire being.  Driving down to the county road, I stopped to unlatch the gate, a standard type constructed of barbed wire, and then latch it up again once I had passed.  I turned to the west and drove down out of this small hills onto the flats below where I could more sense the sagebrush flats rather than see them.  I followed the gravel highway until I reached Colorado 13, where I turned north on the pavement and sped on up to Baggs, Wyoming.  At the state line the highway’s designation changed from Colorado 13 to Wyoming 789.  The dawn had yet to truly begin when I rolled into Baggs and stopped for a vegetable omelet and coffee at the one restaurant that I found open at this early morning hour.

Leaving that hamlet behind, I left eastbound on Wyoming 70, headed up towards the Sierra Madre, a northern continuation of the Park Range.  Overnight the clouds had rolled in, casting a gray tint about the day, but this I did not realize when the sun rose over the mountains ahead of me, golden rays of morning light pouring forth from behind the clouds.  I continued my travels eastward, along the Little Snake River, until reaching Slater, Colorado, (where the highway dips back south of the state line for a short two mile stretch and maintenance seems to be performed by Wyoming) and then began to rise away from the river up into the foothills.  As I rose the sagebrush turned to grass and then the grass turned to aspen until finally that disappeared as well, turning to coniferous forest, as I reached up to the Continental Divide.  What I had not realized is that this was the opening weekend of hunting season in Wyoming and the Medicine Bow National Forest was packed with recreational vehicles to the extent that I wondered where all the wildlife could possibly hide.  There were literally dozens if not hundreds of camping outfits dispersed from the forest boundary up to the pass.

Along the side of the highway is a monument to Thomas A. Edison commemorating this place  to his coming to a realization as to the potential use of fiber from his fishing pole as a suitable filament for the electric light bulb.  Below lies the sparkling emerald of Battle Lake, the head of Battle Creek, so named due to a battle between fur trappers and Native Americans in the mid-Nineteenth Century.  At this present time I am more interested in what remains of the wild world and when I reach the Great Divide I pull over and decide to take a hike.  At this lofty elevation the snows have already arrived, but then have mostly melted off and only remain as patchworks throughout the forest.  This area is part of the Medicine Bow National Forest and I walk south of the highway on the Continental Divide Trail No. 412 about two miles or so.  I go far enough to enter the Huston Park Wilderness.  A sub-alpine forest awaits me, and I take note of the red stone found here, as I enter the drainage of North Fork Encampment River.  A too brief visit I make, but am interested in travel as well so I soon return.

Returning to the car I continue driving east along Wyoming 70, down to the town of Encampment, which lies on the main stem of the eponymous river.  The main branch flows from the south and has its headwaters in Colorado, but I have time only to stop and hike a short distance along the banks of the river in a deep canyon.  This country is drier than the mountains that I just exited from the west, and the cottonwoods along the river’s bank remain yellow with their leaves yet on the branches due to the warmer weather.  The hillsides are replete with vegetation of a more shaggy nature, congruent with elevation and sere atmosphere.  Upstream, this river passes through a wilderness area of the same name before ending on the east side of the Park Range in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.  One of many such drainages that in my heart I would like to visit in person and explore more extensively someday.

The day has flown by already, yet when I reengage the car I find that the clock has yet to reach eleven in the morning.  I drive north on Wyoming 230 for ten miles until I reach the junction with Wyoming 130, and continue on the same point of compass but having changed highway designation.  The miles roll off, one after another, as I churn the air on my passage towards Interstate 80.  To my right the Medicine Bow Mountains steadily diminish until finally, at Elk Mountain, still a mighty rampart above the flats I am crossing, they terminate.  The sagebrush steppe dominates the landscape every way I look.  I think about the natural and human history, oral and written, and how each relates to the other.  It would be nice to live in a world where society respected the native flora and fauna more than now, but at times I feel the meagerness of hypocrisy when I express this.  Still, despite my speed and the rapidity with which I cross, my heart sails out over all the nature that I espy.

At the four-lane limited-access thoroughfare of commerce, known as rural interstates, I join the modern day Main Street of America, piloting myself west towards the City of Rawlins, across the intervening miles of sagebrush and distant mountain ranges.  I left Interstate 80 and continued northbound on U.S. 287, rising up a smallish creek until reaching the eastern Continental Divide.  I enter the Great Divide Basin, closed it is to waters escaping from its confines.  The Ferris Mountains rise to my right, and I recross the divide near Muddy Gap thus descending towards Sweetwater River.  I now wish that I had stopped to take more snapshots but am anxious to make miles so I fly by with little regard to the natural world.  Ahead of me rises the Granite Mountains, and after making the sharp left turn at the junction with Wyoming  220, I pull over to view Split Rock, an important way marker on the Oregon and California Trails.  This is a good place to stretch my legs after the confining environment of the auto, and I go out to observe the guide signs before scrambling up some of the granite to observe the Sweetwater River and Split Rock.  I sit and place my hands upon the solid rock, bespangled with pink and white crystals and speckled with black.  The sun warms my back and I enjoy the repose, and let my mind wander to days gone by when this area had abundant wildlife and open range free of the manufactured nightmare of barbed-wire, and imagine what the sojourners, be they Mountain Men or Mormons, would have seen and experienced.

Even at sixty-five miles an hour I can gain a feeling of how vast this country is, and I speed my way up to Lander passing through much gorgeous country with distant views of the Wind River and Absaroka Ranges.  At Beaver Divide I leave the Sweetwater and cross Beaver Divide, which action brings me to Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Little Wind River.  This is a beautiful spot, but I can’t seem to pullover to enjoy the view for want of additional miles.  I pass through Lander and continue on my way, northbound on U.S. 287.  At Wyoming 132 I turned right and cruise north through grasslands until I cross the Wind River and reach U.S. 26 in the Kinnear Valley.  I turn left and drive westbound until again reaching U.S 287 and follow co-designated U.S. 26 and 287 up to Dubois, where the Rocky Mountains begin their dramatic rise and the sedimentary strata has been upturned to near vertical in some places.  Nearly dark and with foreboding clouds in view, plus a general weariness on my part, I am self-goaded into purchasing a room for the night.  It is off-season and I am offered such a good rate that I decide to spend two nights here, having additionally received an upgrade to a kitchenette.  I am tired, not just from the day but from an full Summer’s worth of hiking and working.  I make a quick trip to the grocery store and buy some dinner before returning to an evening of relaxed contemplation.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 1, Travel from Gunnison, Colorado, to Moffat County, Colorado – October 14, 2016


Dusk in Moffat County, Colorado

The preparations had been made. To wit: the dogs I had kenneled, the house I cleaned and the car I packed – there was naught to do but plop myself into the driver’s seat and turn the ignition before bidding adieu to my home, at about a quarter after ten in the morning, in Gunnison, Colorado, as I commenced my journey of nearly two weeks about Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. I left town on Colorado 135, headed north, but followed that busy highway only a few miles before turning left onto Ohio Creek Road, also designated Gunnison County Road 730, and thus directed myself towards the Anthracite and Ruby Ranges. A gorgeous Fall day graced this drive and I nearly became awestruck at the beauty of the foliage on the aspen. I couldn’t help but stop to take a few photographs, although not yet an hour from home.

The pavement ended, I drove up and over Ohio Pass before turning to the west on County Road 12 and crossing Kebler Pass.  I descended towards the immense aspen forest found between Marcelina Mountain and the two Beckwith Mountains, and I marveled at the sight of the yellow foliage clinging yet to the branches.  The road wound down out of the forest into the narrow lowlands surrounding Anthracite Creek.  I followed the road down to its end at Colorado 133, and here I turned north, upstream along Muddy Creek.  Muddy and Anthracite Creeks merge where the roads do and form the North Fork of the Gunnison River.  I left that river behind as I climbed upwards towards McClure Pass.  To my right rose the mighty rampart of the Ragged Mountains, towering over the willow lined creek below and the aspen covered hillsides to my left.  The miles whizzed by on the broad pavement but I slowed here and there as conditions warranted.  An hour and a half on the road, and I had yet to leave my home county.  I slowed when I reached the pass, and this I did not mind as it gave me time to contemplate the beauty of the Crystal River’s drainage, that which empties the eminences of the Elk Mountains.  I stopped again, and stood on the road’s shoulder to take in the wonders that filled my gaze.

The highway coursed along the river’s bank, the waterway sharing its deep canyon above which rose slopes of red sedimentary rock, supposedly the remains of an ancestral chain of the Rocky Mountains which had risen and subsequently been eroded prior to the mountains that we see now.  Below the Town of Marble I finally passed out of Gunnison County and into Pitkin.  I stopped once again at Hayes Creek to observe the falls there, as I had perused this fact on the roadside sign just prior.  The waters where severely diminished owing to this being the dry season in the mountains, as most of the snowpack had now melted off.  Still, the setting of red sandstone I found somewhat enchanting.  The pavement continued downstream and this way I headed until it straightened out into the more broad valley of the Roaring Fork.  At Carbondale I reached the northern terminus of Colorado 133 and turned left, downstream still, on Colorado 82, a busy four-lane highway that carries visitor and commuter traffic between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.  That part of the drive resides in my mind as a blur, nature almost entirely subjugated to the highway engineer’s, and ultimately society’s, whim.  I did note that geologically I had entered a lower phase of the sedimentary record and the rock had turned the color of the more traditional yellows, browns and grays found throughout the world.  I reached Glenwood Springs, nestled in a deep canyon of the Colorado, nee Grand, River at the confluence with the Roaring Fork.  More red sandstone in the steep hills I could see.  Here I turned to the right on Interstate 70 and upstream along the Colorado as it divulges from Glenwood Canyon.  This narrow canyon barely holds the river, a railroad and the four lanes of the interstate highway.  One of the last such limited-access highways built in Colorado, its placement and design had seen two decades of controversy prior to construction.  The result makes for an enchanting drive over a series of viaducts that supplanted the notoriously large road cuts as envisioned by the original ideas that led to discontent among the local population who treasured the geologic and biologic integrity of this special place despite so much infrastructure already in place.  Towards the eastern end of the canyon I pulled over and took a moment away from driving to admire the natural beauty of the area, doing so while standing on the bank of the Colorado River.  I love the Rocky Mountains and felt blessed to be able to make occasional peregrinations outside of that which is familiar to me, thus I thought as I admired the sparkling waters.

I rejoined the interstate and its hurried traffic until I exited at Eagle County Road 301. This road parallels the Colorado River while the main thoroughfare followed the Eagle River, a southern tributary.  This shortcut to Colorado 131 I found closed due to reconstruction of a bridge and thus I returned to the bustling Interstate 70 and continued eastbound until I reached the former aforementioned highway.  I turned north on the narrow two lane road, relieved to begone from the maddening flow.  This flow could be considering maddening, I would suppose, as all driving might, but at least my insanity is here shared by few others.  This detour and my stops had cost me a bit of time and so I now made haste as I dearly wanted to get beyond Steamboat Springs prior to darkness.  Still, I didn’t exceed the speed limit so much as not make any further stops, something that I now regret as a few pictures of the Gore Range to the east or the Flat Tops to the west I would now treasure.

I traveled from end to end on Colorado 131, leaving Interstate 70 on the south and arriving at U.S. 40 on the north, just east of Steamboat Springs.  The intervening miles had seen me recrossing the Colorado River and rising along Egeria Creek until, in a broad grassy plain, the highway crossed over the barely discernible pass into Chimney Creek, a tributary of the Yampa River.  I had crossed over into the drainage of the Green River and thus was leaving my home province, that which is part of the upper Colorado River.  Through the small towns of Yampa, Phippsburg and Oak Creek I did pass.  I remained yet in the State of Colorado but now set foot, or, rather, wheels, in a different topographic reality.  I began to feel as if I were really traveling and not just driving around, so to speak.  Now driving westbound I passed through the City of Steamboat Springs, a thriving Western Slope burgh home to renown skiing and a base for the mountain lifestyle.  The countryside hereabouts peaks out at lower elevations compared to the Rockies in the central part of the state, but this realm is a lush emerald jewel in the Summer that I often wish I had more time to explore.  A few miles west of town I left U.S. 40 and turned north on Routt County Road 129, a former state highway of the same number, and headed up the Elk River, a major tributary of the Yampa River.

I have been curious as to the outlay of the land in these parts for a number of years, and have wanted to see what lay about this road on its path to Wyoming 70 just across the state line.  I have tried to do this at least twice before, but in late Spring when the pass between the Elk River and Little Snake River had been snowbound.  I knew that in this season, mid-Fall, that, barring an early season snow, I would find the road clear and passable.  The pavement ends at the summit and the road suddenly becomes a narrow one-lane dirt or gravel road.  The lush Summer verdure had turned yellow, the vegetation mostly withered.  I was thrilled to see new country, even if from behind the windshield.  We descended steadily abut slowly, passing first from the sub-alpine conifer forest to a vast forest of aspen and then finally down into the grasslands and sagebrush steppe.  Good, wild country this, although not strictly wilderness.  I crossed into Wyoming and reached the aforementioned state highway.  Here I turned west and traveled a couple of miles until I turned back to the south, after recrossing into Colorado, onto Moffat County Road 1.

Here a rain shadow exists between the Park Range to the east and the Uintah Mountains and Wasatch Range to the west, the latter two producing the aridity.  Sparse country to be sure, sere at times, but with a big sky that makes for a big heart.  I continued for a half a dozen mile to where the road forks and followed the right to the west, now designated County Road 2.  I kept on  going until I reached a little island of Bureau of Land Management land, where, just north of Fan Rock, I pulled over one last time for the day and ate a quick improvised meal to satiate my hunger.  I took a short hike to the north, following a ridge, and watched an amazing sunset, full of vibrant color, take day to night.  The land reeked of the pleasing smell of the sagebrush, and odor I happily associate with the drier parts of the interior western United States.  I crawled into my waiting sleeping bag and soon fell asleep, eager for the next day.

A New Adventure on Willow Creek – October 09, 2016


One of the last flaming aspen of the season, on the divide between Willow Creek and Illinois Gulch

There are too many Willow Creeks within Gunnison County for me to enumerate for the purpose of this essay, so I will confine my scope to this one in particular, namely that which is found as a tributary just below Ohio City on Quartz Creek.  Most often it is a refuge that I visit for a bout of Nordic skiing but on this day I decided to make a Fall hike through the foothills of Fossil Ridge, that uplifted ridge where at one distant time in the past marine invertebrates did live and die.  In none too much of a hurry I left home with Draco and Leah, German shepherds dogs both, and drove out to the makeshift trailhead that I use for this drainage.  Thus, I parked at Gunnison National Forest Road 882 and did commence to hiking by leading the pack up along the main stem of Willow Creek’s aspen, cottonwood and, appropriately enough, willow lined banks.  The Hillsides above, typical for the foothills of the Western Rocky Mountains, are strewn with conifer, Douglas fir, that prefer the warmer, drier clime and between those groves reach the upper limits of the great sagebrush steppe.  Groves of aspen denote locales where enough moisture accumulates to allow the roots of said tree to reach down and suck the water up through the process of transpiration.  The clouds overhead reminded me that Autumn had arrived, and Winter would soon similarly lay over the land colder temperatures.  Yet, as always, a fine day to be out and about in the country that I love.

When I reached Gunnison National Forest Road 882.1C I took that right fork and began to climb up to the dividing ridge between Willow Creek and Illinois Gulch, to the east.  Reaching the ridge I could see out beyond the Willow Creek drainage to the San Juan Mountains. I kept on hiking upwards until I reached the end of the road, really a two-track, and began to hike on Gunnison National Forest Trail No. 611.  I walked through a dormant, prepared already for the upcoming Winter, aspen forest and imagined what its lushness would have looked like a scant month ago.  The trail took me up and then around a small eminence before depositing me and the dogs on Bear Gulch, a tributary of Gold Creek.  Here this trail ended and I began to follow Gunnison National Forest Trail No. 610 to the west.  The lush lower elevations, including a pleasant meadow on Bear Gulch, gave way to lodgepole pine on another dividing ridge between the former gulch and East Willow Creek, a tributary of that drainage upon which I began this hike.

I enjoy this country, finding it rugged and the epitome of the mid-elevations of the Western Slope of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains in this region.  The landscape is not one of mind-numbing towers of rock, or craggy peaks that seemingly rise to the heavens.  Rather, the mixed aspen and conifer forest rolls off and over one ridge after another, interspersed with lush meadows or sere slopes of sagebrush, all teeming with wildlife and mostly unpolluted.  I could have taken a shortcut down East Willow Creek but decided instead continued to follow the trail at a contour that wound in and out of the various fingers of the watershed until we crossed over one final divide and returned to the main stem of Willow Creek.  Autumnal colors had graced us the entire route, and did so for the remainder of the hike back down the creek until reaching Quartz Creek and my waiting vehicle.  We passed East Willow Creek and I looked up the nose of rock to espy the snag that has denoted this point for many a year.  I noted all such familiar landmarks, including Devil’s Hole Gulch, two or three Forest Service roads, or rocky outcroppings, and felt myself gladdened by the friendly familiarity exuded by this area.  This had been a fine way to enjoy the afternoon of this blustery day, and I edified myself as to the topography of that realm upon which I had trod.  Aye, it is a blessing to live among these mountains, and I am glad for each day out that I am allowed.