A Short Evening Hike on Spring Creek – June 10, 2017

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Draco and Leah above Mysterious Creek, near the confluence with Spring Creek

The two or three weeks either side of the Summer Solstice produces days of long hours and abundant daylight.  On this side, that is the late Vernal phase, the snows have yet to entirely melt from high passes and many of the streams remain engorged with runoff.  Thus, I cannot, or, rather, will not, make many hikes during this gorgeous time of year that I can make with less effort at other times.  Instead, in lieu of longer hikes I might explore trailheads or make short excursions that yet add to my accumulated knowledge of this part of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that locals refer to as the Gunnison Country.  After a long day of work enough hours remained that I could make such a hike on this day.  So, I rushed home, fed and otherwise cared for the elder dog, Lady, who no longer hikes and then loaded up my gear along with my two trusty hiking companions, Draco and Leah.  I knew not exactly what lay before me, but I figured it would be a good evening to drive out to Spring Creek and find a nice place to sit and watch the Sun set whilst sitting among the mountainous country of the Elk Mountains.

We drove north out of Gunnison on Colorado 135 to Almont where we turned right onto the Taylor Canyon Road, also known as Gunnison County Road 742.  I love this canyon and have hiked here off and on since arriving in town over a decade ago.  However, I haven’t explored many of the trails that emanate from the Spring Creek drainage.  Spring Creek is about five miles up the Taylor River, and forks off to the north.  County Road 744 follows the stream and eventually leads up to the Spring Creek Reservoir and adjacent Mosca Campground.   The drive up both drainages revels in scenery, as forests of conifer grow among the granitic outcroppings through which the water courses in rapid descent from the upper reaches.  Just above the reservoir the road splits and I take the right stringer, over a bridge, and park along Gunnison National Forest Road 880.  The dogs leap out of the car when I open the door and instantly begin to explore the mounds of earth heaped up about the meadow, home to alluring rodents.  I recall them before they get too frantic and we begin to hike on a subsidiary road designated as Road 880.1C.

At this time of year a dearth of wildflowers exists despite the abundant verdure seen everywhere.  I’m not sure why when other areas have early season blooms.  The aspen have fresh green leaves and a darker green is found on the freshly grown grasses.  Of course, the conifer is yet darker, adding contrast to the vibrantly blue sky and patches of snow yet clinging to the high peaks of American Flag and Italian Mountains.  This area is not a wilderness, as many roads wind along creek bottoms or cling tenaciously to precarious slopes.  Motorized recreation is permitted on the trails in this vicinity, meaning that I am perhaps better off bushwhacking at times or at least showing some patience when hiking here.  Now, though, the many people I see are mostly camping and enjoying the fine late Spring weather as evening approaches.

We walk up a mile or so to where the road ends and the Italian Connector Trail No. 648 begins.  It immediately crosses Mysterious Creek at its confluence with Spring Creek.  I decide that I don’t want to hassle with what looks like a somewhat challenging crossing especially since I couldn’t really hike much further before the onset of darkness.  So, I climb a small hill above the snow-lined banks of the creek, after the shepherds drink some water, and find a small perch upon which to sit and watch the Sun dip behind the peaks to the west.  An enjoyable evening I had in this quiet setting, far enough away from the motors to enjoy the quietude.  The lower the Sun dips the longer become the streaks of light and more pronounced the contrast with the shade.  A peaceful yet energetic display of light ensues and I watch until the final ray strikes the last eminence.  I don’t linger too long after the Sun disappears beneath the horizon and soon resume the hike back to the car.

I decided to add a small challenge by climbing up to Road 880 instead of retracing my steps.  The steep climbs taxes my legs but is soon enough achieved.  I find a short-cut game trail that eliminates a loop in the road and enjoy this little bypass more than most anything.  The aspen being green here at ten thousand feet suggests that Summer has almost arrived.  I wish I had had more time to explore, but perhaps I will this coming hiking season as I would like to make a couple of short loop hikes in this vicinity.  As I sit here perusing the map, I realize that this corner of the Gunnison Country remains relatively obscure to my knowledge and I look forward to further edifying myself with its topography.  Maybe I’ll see some elk, too!

A Day Trip on Some Obscure Roads of the Western Slope of Colorado – June 09, 2017

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Looking at Mount Sneffels and vicinity, from Dave Wood Road

I needed to unwind.  I craved seeing something fresh, exploring a place that I had yet to set my eyes upon.  For two weeks straight I had worked long hours and had barely been able to fill my mandate of hiking three days a week.  What hikes I had made were enjoyable and worth the effort but had been necessarily short.  Today I decided to forgo a long hike but decided instead to make a long drive that would take me all the way down to Dolores, Colorado.  I especially wanted to see the road between said town and Norwood to the north.  To get from Montrose to Norwood I would incorporate another back road that leads up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau.  A clear sky above and a full tank of gas invited me to the open road.  I regret the pollution I caused as it abets the demise of the forests I love but I satisfied a craving to see for myself what lies beyond the next rise.

Having worked myself into a frazzle I didn’t have the moxie to get up early, say, at the crack of dawn as I might have wanted to.  Rather I left at about quarter to eight in the morning, leaving Gunnison on U.S. 50 westbound towards Montrose.  I didn’t go very far before stopping at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area.  I pulled over at the Old Stevens Picnic Area where a large beach provides ample opportunities for off-leash dog adventure.  I let Draco and Leah, my two hiking companions and German shepherds both, out of the car and they proceeded to scamper about the sagebrush steppe on the prowl for any unaware rodents or rabbits that might happen to be afoot.  I led them down to the water and threw a stick out into the depths so that both dogs had an opportunity to get wet and spend some energy.

I soon loaded the dogs back up into the aged Subaru and continued our travels westbound on U.S. 50, feeling the miles slide by under the wheels as the engine’s humming I more felt than heard.  Windows down, the wind blowing cool under the warm Sun, music keeping the time, I soon settled into the mildly hypnotic routine of the open road.  The nearly even-contour of the road skims the water as it parallels the reservoir until rising up just west of Blue Mesa Dam.  Up and over a number of mesas the road meanders wildly in an attempt to avoid the narrow Black Canyon of the Gunnison River.  We then follow down into the shadows of Big Blue Creek where shade loving spruce thrive.  Soon, we climb up over Blue Mesa Summit and then down into the valley of the Cimarron River where the water from the north face of the Uncompahgre Mountains washes down to the Gunnison River.  Past the small post office and some Park Service facilities the road rises up a somewhat steep grade to Cerro Summit before descending down to the Uncompahgre Valley where lies Montrose.  Upon arriving in town I continue down the old alignment of U.S. 50 towards downtown.

I continued across Townsend Avenue, signed also as U.S. 550, and headed out of town on Colorado 90 westbound, a highway that leads up to the base of the Uncompahgre Plateau.  After a few sharp turns and constant perusal of the maps I found Dave Woods Road, a county road maintained by first Montrose, then Ouray, then Montrose again and finally San Miguel Counties, moving from north to south.  The road carries a variety of designations other than Dave Wood Road but they are somewhat redundant as that epithet carries with it a continuity missing from the multiple others.  We drive up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau until we enter the Uncompahgre National Forest where a small system of local trails meanders in and out of a few small drainages.  We had driven well over an hour to get to this point and both the dogs and I were ready to get out of the car a bit.

We hiked out about a mile on the Simms Mesa Trail Nos. 115.1A, 115 and 115.1B as they wound around through an aspen jungle of sorts.  I especially enjoyed seeing the wildflowers that grew in profusion and exploring a couple of small canyons that I believe are tributaries of Happy Canyon.  I found a good place to sit and enjoy a snack, and exalted in this bit of new-to-me country.  Draco and Leah wanted to chase the squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits that either ran away, squeaked an alarm or both.  After a bit of rest and hydration we moseyed on back to the car.  I could hike here all day, I thought to myself, but I really did want to explore this road further just to see where it goes.  I had had it on my mind for a number of years so we retraced our steps back to the waiting automobile and began again our travels south towards Colorado 62 in the vicinity of Howard Flats, just west of the Dallas Divide.  Along the way I came across a stunning vista of the mountains that rise up to Mount Sneffels.  Rolling parks of open meadow punctuated by ponderosa pine, and snow clad rocky summits towering up above, all under a blue sky… I became mesmerized and pulled over to take in the scene.

I returned to the mainstream highway system at Colorado 62 after my exploration of Dave Woods Road.  The pavement follows Leopard Creek down to the San Miguel River and the junction with Colorado 145 where Colorado 62 ends.  A turn to the left, upstream, would take me to storied Telluride but I venture downstream, continuing westbound.  The canyon of the San Miguel River is one of my favorite places.  The walls are often composed of a reddish sandstone, sometimes even deeply so, and the conifer forest grows thick especially on the north face.  The color combination on such a day as this, with cerulean sky above, I find entrancing.  The problem I find often enough is that I can’t stop at nearly all the places that I’d like to, and today I decide to drive by the pullouts along the river’s edge.

After a narrow, roller-coaster-like drive along the narrow road the highway crossed the river and rose out of the canyon and on up to the mesa above.  A couple of miles before arriving in Norwood I turned left onto San Miguel County Road 44Z S.  This road, and its continuation in Dolores and Montezuma Counties, used to be part of the state highway system.  I would follow it all the way to its southern terminus at Dolores, the town.  Both the latter counties us the same designation for the road, County Road 31.  I had attempted to drive this road one other time in early May some years ago but got turned back by drifts of snow.  More than anything else I just wanted to see what was out here on this obscure byway, between two small towns nearly fifty miles apart.

What I saw mostly was open, rolling country, the towering peaks of the San Miguel Mountains, Lone Cone and the broad upper end of Disappointment Valley.  Mostly, everything was green with the new growth of early June.  I continued along the winding course, down one side of the valley and across to the other side where I drove up onto a broad plateau that a large ponderosa forest previously called home prior to the advent of logging.  I continued on to McPhee Park, where a logging company and the United States Forest Service preserved a stand of virgin ponderosa.  Interestingly, I found that I couldn’t really determine the difference between the second growth and the ancient forest.  I think that the preserved old forest was so minimal that is has sort of been drowned out.  Also, the fire suppression techniques that have been used over the past century have probably not allowed the natural agency of burning to eradicate many of the small trees and shrubs that would have ordinarily, sans dowsing the flames, been cleared out thus highlighting the majesty of the old mature trees and the concomitant open park.  Yet another example, I am afraid, of mankind’s hubris when attempting to profit from the exploitation of our natural resources.

Regardless of past or current practices, I felt compelled to get out and walk around in this area.  During the logging boom a railroad had been erected up to this plateau, almost certainly narrow gauge as the main line of the Rio Grande Southern, and its three-foot width, had run through Dolores to the south.  The tracks here in the San Juan National Forest had been ripped up decades ago but I could still discern the old bed.  I walked around, with shepherds happily bounding from one tree to another in pursuit of items interesting to canines.  I did not have any detailed maps with me, only the large-scale atlas that I use to navigate across landscapes.  Thus, not knowing my way around in a rolling or flat terrain without any features, I hiked only a short distance to the north, out into a large meadow before following the old railroad back down Beaver Creek and eventually to Rocky Draw.  I did find a place on the latter to sit and contemplate the world but generally I would say that this is not the place for quiet reflection.  Still, I did find something alluring about this locale and would spend more time here had I the ability.

I continued driving south to Dolores, a relatively short distance that ends in a steep decent down to river level.  The town is named for the river, and here we tie into the main highway system again.  This junction with Colorado 145 is the farthest that we’ll get today, the distant point on the loop.  I pause momentarily to take in all that I have seen and then turn left, heading northbound and upstream, towards Rico and Telluride.  Although back on the pavement, this road is somewhat lightly traveled.  The canyon is gorgeous, rimmed with a red sandstone upon which grow ponderosa, Douglas fir and some spruce where wet and shady.  The miles zipped by as we passed through the town of Rico.  Up towards Lizard Head Pass I stop to get out and hike for the last time today.

The snows here have barely receeded and still swaddle the higher peaks.  We hike up in the San Juan National Forest toward the Lizard Head Wilderness on the Cross Mountain Trail No. 637, and water flows everywhere.  After a half a mile or so I find a dry place to sit and absorb the stunning high country vista.  To my east rears Sheep Mountain, its peak culminating a rise up to thirteen thousand feet above sea level.  It is such a beautiful day.  The early June Sun blazes away, and I can practically hear the snow melting.  We still have nearly four hours of driving ahead of us so I don’t linger, although I’d like to.  We hike back down through the verdant meadows and cross the rushing waters of Lizard Head Creek.  The namesake formation from which all else derives its appellations rises above, sticking straight up into the sky looking uncannily alike which its name suggests.

The drive back to Gunnison is gorgeous.  After crossing the pass we re-enter the San Miguel River drainage and drive through the amazing high country about Telluride.  There is a reason property costs so much here, as many folks desire to own a piece of this mountainous land.  We descend through the narrow canyon down to Placerville and Colorado 62 where we continue our northward and eastward progress up and over Dallas Divide.  The grade down to Ridgeway flows by and at the eastern end of Colorado 62 I stop at the traffic light where the junction with U.S. 550 lies.  I turn towards the north again and at Montrose I turn to the east on U.S. 50, crossing Cerro Summit headed for Gunnison.  After a long day, over twelves hours of traveling, we arrive home weary but satiated.  I would like to revisit the distant country to the south that I had seen, but perhaps spending a couple of days instead of one.  There is so much to see and explore!

Flowery Hike on East Elk Creek – June 06, 2017

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Sunburst Lupine

I had time not to make a longer hike, one that I would have preferred.  The dreaded job awaited over the horizon, that which is the future, and thus I could spend only a very few short hours tromping about in the woods, or rather the sagebrush steppe.  The flowering season in the lower elevations had been blooming with alacrity.  Colors speckled the grey-green of the steppe, and the newly verdant flora radiated the aura of rebirth that the Vernal has represented timelessly.  Many a time have I hiked in the lower reaches of East Elk Creek, finding solace in this remote canyon that, while not designated wilderness as per congress, retains a wildness that allows me to access my inner heartfelt spirit.

The data on East Elk Creek is fairly routine.  A fairly short drive west of my home in Gunnison, Colorado, along U.S. 50 will bring the intrepid explorer to the Curecanti National Recreation Area.  Within that area stagnates a great amount of water in the impoundment known as Blue Mesa Reservoir.  The recreation area was designated solely to mitigate the impacts of the drowning of so much land that had been treasured by the local population.  Fishing and boating, camping and picnicking, all worthwhile activities in and of themselves, are encouraged uses but pale in comparison to the free flowing river that once reigned.  I use the muddy beaches as a place to throw the ball for the dogs, but would gladly give that up to have back the Winter elk grounds and sagegrouse leks, small resorts and family ranches. Still, it is what it is and at least the land and water remains accessible to the public.

There is no official trail that leads up East Elk Creek.  A two-track leads up past a small picnic area that is adjacent to a group campground, and on into state land.  This land, and a significant acreage nearby, was purchased through funds appropriated from the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937.  Beyond the state land the canyon rises up into some property managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  At the five or six mile mark the canyon changes land agencies again and finally rises to its headwaters in the Gunnison National Forest.  Having a familiarity of the property boundaries, and rules involved with access for each agency, plus any potential private property or locally controlled lands, is a modern day necessity for navigating some of the wild regions of the Rocky Mountains.

The excitement, for Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, was palpable.  As soon as I flipped the turn-signal on, with its audible clicking, they both stuck their heads out as if on cue.  Leah squeaked and whined a bit as we pulled up and with a burst of energy both dogs leaped out of the car and began to busily investigate anything that invigorated their olfactory senses.  I kept them away from the creek itself, now a freshet with the melting of the snow, and led them off up the road as I hoisted my pack onto my back.  My main goal today was to hike out to and then back from one of my favorite individual trees in the Gunnison Country, a large ponderosa pine.  Ponderosa pine is perhaps my favorite species of tree and one up here in this canyon, for some reason or other that I am at a loss to explain, always captures my attention.  Remarkable enough in its esoteric manner this tree I find worthy of hiking out to see much in the same way as I might do for a mountain peak or high alpine lake.  Along the way I planned to stop and make a snapshot of every blooming species of plant that I could find.  Mixed up with the fine late Spring weather, the day would exude a buoyant joy of life not to be found in the cramped kitchen within which I would soon find myself confined.

The road that I alluded to earlier used to follow the canyon up for miles; it was obviously bladed out of the hillside with a bulldozer some many decades ago.  Two miles up a trailhead had been established and the road closed permanently beyond.  More recently, the last mile and a half seem to be closed to use due to beavers damming the creek and flooding portions of the road.  That is fine with me, as I often feel that road access needs to be scaled back on the public lands in a general manner.  There are manifold reasons for this including but not limited to wildlife habitat, pollution from runoff and maintenance expenses.  Regardless, the road crosses the creek twice in rapid succession.  The crossings aren’t really dangerous but rather annoying so I have chosen to alter my regular routine when hiking this canyon.  The shepherds and I hiked up about a quarter of a mile along the road before veering off to the right and hiking up a steep slope to an old irrigation ditch that the National Park Service uses occasionally.  The bank of this old ditch makes a convenient hiking trail and also obviates the need of the two creek crossings.  Because the ditch is up high against a warm hillside I also see some species of flowers here that I would not have had I stayed in wetter clime of the creek bottom for the entire hike.

The canyon is steeply v-shaped, the rims a stark cliff of basalt from the ancient lava flows that originated from the volcanoes that are now the West Elk Mountains.  Below the hardened basalt, or maybe it’s rhyolite, lies the West Elk Breccia, a rock formed when the volcano exploded and mixed the fragmented crater with newly emitted ash to form an igneous rock that has many irregularly shaped and sized chunks suspended within a fine matrix of relatively loosely conglomerated particulates.  The breccia erodes in a manner most peculiar, and throughout the mountains hoodoos and such are found, often with a singular rock sitting atop a pedestal of the matrix rock that is protected from erosion.

The dogs and I enjoy a leisurely stroll up the trail.  Foolishly, I had forgotten to bring along my back-up data card and I suddenly run out of capacity to store additional digital snapshots.  By this time I have arrived at the tree that I had sought. While I sit and enjoy my snacks the dogs eat some kibble.  I also peruse the string of snapshots I made on previous outings and delete a few that are obviously flawed or duplicated.  Nonetheless, I am able to make only a few more additional pictures of flowers that I see.  I believe that I counted upwards of about three or four dozen but can only document about half that many.  Although I could have thought things through a bit more I don’t let it get me down.  The day is splendid, and I soak up the peaceful quietude as I sit under the sacred tree.  Time slips by and after an hour or so of relaxing in the shade I begin the trek back to the car.  Each step I am grateful for, finding a small but palpable connection with the wild things be they fauna or flora, or the land itself.  When I leave for work hours later I still have a smile on my face, a smile derived form the fresh memories of this glorious day and the wonders to be found even on the shortest of hikes when out exploring the wildlands of the world.

Hiking the Almont Triangle – June 04, 2017

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Leah in a sea of Paintbrush atop the Almont Triangle on a fine late Spring morning’s hike

An early start to catch the sunrise spurred me into action.  I surmised that the day’s bloom would be somewhat spectacular and I was not disappointed.  I loaded up Draco and Leah, my two German shepherd hiking companions, in the pre-dawn and stopped to buy a cup of coffee and snatch a quick breakfast before driving north of Gunnison, Colorado, on Colorado 135 north towards the small town of Almont which is situated at the confluence of the East and Taylor Rivers, where the Gunnison River is formed.  A short distance north I pulled off the highway and parked the car at the western terminus of Gunnison National Forest Road 810 at the southwestern base of the Almont Triangle.  This triangle is a mesa that rises above the Taylor River on one side forming a deep canyon.  Another side is bordered by the East River and the last is formed roughly by the Jack’s Cabin Cutoff Road.  A haven for wildlife during the Winter the area is closed to all access.  But now in early June the elk have mostly moved off to higher country and I thought it a good chance to see what grows up there now that the gates were unlocked.

For over a decade I have been driving by this two-track many times a week but had never visited the area, so I was fairly excited to be exploring some country that was new to me, especially this close to home.  I let the dogs out of the car in the dawn’s gloaming, and they scurried back and forth from one sagebrush to another investigating other dogs’ leavings as I hoisted my day pack upon my shoulders and led our group out from the makeshift trailhead.  I immediately found some Evening Primrose flowers in full bloom, and knew right away that I had come to the right place.  These large creamy white blooms occur mostly during the night hours before withering during the sunny day.  A short distance nearby I stopped to admire some yellow Fringed Gromwell, another good sight for my admiring eyes.  It was dark enough yet in the early morning that I used my flash to capture the images.

I studied the map before hand and had decided to hike up towards Point 8964, a summit the lies astride the dividing ridge between the two aforementioned rivers on their first few miles of existence.  From that point I could continue northeast along the divide up towards a radio tower just beyond Point 9345.  Leading the pack up the road and over the first rise, I decide to follow the two-track about a half a mile.  Most of the other flowers I could see were still furled up after the chill night, but I knew that after the Sun rose they would spread their petals and add some color to the landscape, hues seen only during a scant few weeks.

Upon reaching the flat mesa surrounding the first mentioned point, I could see up and down valley, and the clear sky ensured that I had spectacularly sharp outlines to enjoy gazing upon.  Looking up the East River I could make out the Elk Mountains, still clad in snow.  To the south rose up the San Juan Mountains, many dozens of miles distant.  But the real show was right around me.  The orange Paintbrush grew in staggering profusion and as the Sun crested the horizon the first rays from the orb lit up each goblet in a stunning display of wild glory that left me standing with jaw agape.  It was the acme of wildflower hiking, as far as I could discern, to be out at dawn where the short-lived bright color dominated the landscape.  I did naught but stop to smile and soak in the marvel of Spring’s rebirth.

Once the horizon had been broached the Sun came on quickly, bringing forth gorgeous warmth and allowing additional flowers to unfurl.  The amazing atmosphere found at dawn had dissipated, however.  So fleet, the changing from night to day is always a special time that I revel in.  Although my map doesn’t show it, I was not surprised to find a two-track on the ridge.  The road is a legal access and is designated as Gunnison National Forest Road 810.A2.  I led the pack along the road admiring the canyon below me containing the Taylor River as well as the high peaks and ridges that I could see off in the distance.  One problem I encountered was a lack of water for the dogs.  This I realized was one of the reasons why I had never hiked here.  As we got closer to the radio tower, I found a trough set up to water livestock and allowed the dogs to help themselves.  They did just that, taking in big droughts and satiated their thirst.

Just east of the radio towers I found a nice rock to sit upon, where the towers were hidden from my view and where I could look into the canyon below.  I could hear the occasional car driving by on the road below but generally I found this area to be nice and quiet despite the lack of wilderness protection.  In the shade of some Douglas firs I sat and admired the world going around, happy to be temporarily rooted in this spot.  After our rest and snacks, for I had brought some kibble for the shepherds, I initially led the dogs back the way we came.  First, though, I explored a jut of land closer to Point 9345.  I though it a good place to camp and was happy to have made the small effort to explore the area.  For our return I decided to hike on the East River side of the ridge, following Gunnison National Forest Road 810.1A from the towers down to the parent, Gunnison National Forest Road 810.  Turning left at the junction we made our way back towards the trailhead.  Along the way I found more flowers to admire.  The sunlight had by now warmed up the air considerably and the insects were buzzing about pollinating everything in sight.  Everything shone in a radiant verdure and I felt blessed to be out walking on such a day.

A few aspen shaded us, but mostly we walked in the open among the sagebrush steppe.  A few ponderosa pine grow here and I enjoyed seeing them, perhaps my favorite species of tree.  Although fairly low compared to surrounding high points, the Almont Triangle allows for some fine distant views, and I felt as if the world focuses its attention on this place.  We finally arrived back at the car and I noted that the Evening Primroses yet bloomed.  I thought it a fine way to finish our loop, admiring the flower at the end of the hike that which I had admired at the beginning.  A day of work awaited me, so I dallied a bit before finally loading my gear, the dogs and myself in the car and driving back down the highway to home, where I could rest a bit and reflect on the fine morning that I had just had.

Flowers South of Tomichi Dome, and A Hike on Willow and Gold Creeks – June 01, 2017

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Looking south from the Tomichi Dome Access Road, over Tomichi Creek and towards the Cochetopa Hills

I felt a bit exposed.  Out on a sagebrush flat, nothing taller than me in sight, and ominous clouds continued to sail about the valley, virga here and rain there.  No peals of thunder resonated across the sky… yet – but the implications caused me to decide not to continue on my planned excursion up towards the southern slopes of Tomichi Dome.  Instead, I decided to make another hike up to a higher point, but one swaddled in a friendly forest and which also has better escape routes should lightening cluster on the specific ridge I would hike up.

As it was, I hiked a short distance along Bureau of Land Management Road 3094, admiring the blooming flowers that spangled the gray-green of the sagebrush steppe.  My plan had been to continue up to the southern edge of the laccolith, mimicking a hike I had made some years ago.  Earlier in the season I had attempted the same hike but had turned back because of a wandering herd of elk that I didn’t further want to displace.  I walked about half a mile out into the steppe where I could look at the wildflowers and gaze across the valley of Tomichi Creek, all of which was colored in the deep green of new grass, towards the Cochetopa Hills.  However, I couldn’t disengage my mind from its concern about the meandering cells of moisture already, at this early morning hour, streaming down here and there.

Had I continued up to the dome I would have been extremely exposed to lightening, so I decided to let this hike wait for another day.  The shepherds and I returned to the car, parked adjacent to U.S. 50, and drove west towards Gunnison but turned off on County Road 44 so as to make a shortcut to Quartz Creek.  I had attempted a hike earlier in the season that I had been rebuffed from due to the heavy snowpack then extant.  I thought that that snowpack would be now melted out of existence.  Once at Quart Creek I turned right again on County Road 76 and continued up to a little pull-off next to Willow Creek.  Here we would begin our second attempt at a hike on Gunnison National Forest Road 882.  My goal now centered on finding an obscure trail that had so far eluded my various explorations.

This road is one of my favorite hikes in the Gunnison Country.  I tend to visit this small canyon during Winter when a nice ski can be made.  Now, on this first day of June, the aspens radiated green from their leafed out tops and the grasses shone in their verdure.  I have passed the old cabin about a half mile in a number of times over the years, and have sadly watched it deteriorate into a heap of logs.  It could have been a nice place to rent out for the night had any attempt been made at preservation.  I’m not sure if the old cabin was a relic from the mining era or if it had been part of a cow camp; perhaps it had been used for both.  The namesake of this creek grows in thick clumps along the banks, as it often does on any Rocky Mountain waterway.  Granite outcroppings emerge from the soil sporadically, amid the retreating sagebrush steppe.  As we gain elevation it will disappear altogether.

Draco, Leah and I hike up Willow Creek until we meet its eastern fork.  The main stem heads off to the left here, as does the road.  We follow a subsidiary track, Gunnison National Forest Road 882.1D, up through a narrow gulch chocked with spruce until we emerge into a large opening where the sagebrush steppe yet reigns.  We continue on to the end of the road, where we find Gunnison National Forest Trail 609.  At this point we leave the sagebrush behind and climb into an extensive aspen forest.  We climb up a bit, immersed in the greenery of the forest, until we find Gunnison National Forest Trail 610.  I want to go to the right, but that will lead us up to an exposed point before making a descent.  I weigh the risk and decide to go for it, knowing that my total exposure will be minimal compared to the hike I had earlier turned back from on the south side of Tomichi Dome.

This is the trail that I had earlier been rebuffed from down on its lower eastern end, to which we now headed.  The trail gradually gained elevation, winding through the upper fingers of East Willow Creek, until we reached a saddle just east of Point 10535.  Patches of snow had yet to melt out, but presented no problem for hiking or navigation.  I expressed concern to myself that perhaps we would run into snow still chocking the gully further down, but I decided that it wasn’t likely at the lower elevations.  In the vicinity of this saddle a fine view of Willow and Quartz Creeks can be had, and on days when clouds don’t obscure the horizon a person can see clear out to the San Juan Mountains.  Today, however, the horizon was washed in gray.  After our stopover, where the dogs played with each other, gobbled some snow and rolled around on it, we hiked down a short distance to a meadow where the unmarked junction with Gunnison National Forest Trail 611 lies.  It would be hard to find if I hadn’t known about it form earlier hikes.  We continued hiking down the former trail, following Bear Gulch closely.

Water ran down through Bear Gulch, its pleasing tinkling a constant accompaniment as we hiked down through another aspen, willow and granite filled defile.  As I had predicted, we found the snows absent and I had only to dodge some downfall before reaching the eastern terminus of the trail at Gunnison National Forest Road 771 on Gold Creek.  This road also doubles as a county road and while not busy there is some traffic so from this point forward I kept the dogs fairly close by.  Regrettably, I didn’t take any snapshots past this point, probably because I didn’t want to immortalize the landscape altered by humanity.  I now think that a mistake, since there is much that can be admired for its beauty.

I walked down to Ohio City where I regained Gunnison County Road 76 in the Quartz Creek drainage.  I turned right again, to close the loop, and hiked out along the pavement about a mile or so until I reached the car.  I had wanted to hike that Trail 609 for some time as it was the only one in the area that I had not tread upon in the past.  The last three or four miles of hiking I had done under increasingly clear skies as the thunderheads had dispersed during the afternoon.  Usually they tend to congregate more towards the end of the day, but not today.  So, although initially turned away from my first choice of a hike, I had had a good second choice to choose from and quickly made the decision to pursue that option.  I got a bit wet towards that highpoint on the saddle but remained comfortable throughout.  I found it interesting to have found a dearth of wildflowers in the higher regions while the sagebrush positively glowed with blooms.  A good day for both canine and human, we loaded up and drove back down Quartz Creek to our home in Gunnison, physically satiated from our activities.

A Hike from Mill Creek to Lone Pine Gulch – May 24, 2017

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Mill Creek, resplendent with verdure, capped with snow, a gorgeous Spring day, cerulean sky above, corn lily on its way

I find it difficult to sleep-in when the seasonal swing brings about the glory of Spring mornings in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  The plan for this morning dictated that I should get up early and drive out to Mill Creek and make a short hike to the south, and then return and head up-valley to the dreaded job.  Then, afterwards having delved into the world of avarice, my world would be confinement in a barely-adequate lit room where I would have to react swiftly, with complete accuracy, amid the squalor and deafening noise.  However, for the morning at least, I could bask in a warm Sun, among fields of verdure and wander around at will where my imagination or desire would be all that binds my soul.  I foresaw all manners of glory to behold, from springs percolating with water to vast vistas of distant snow-clad summits, many of which I had personally visited at one time or another.

With the more positive thoughts filling my head, for the next few hours anyhow, I rose out of bed, donned my hiking gear, cared for the elder dog, Lady, who no longer hikes and then loaded up Draco and Leah, my two hiking companions, before driving off to a nearby convenience store to fill up on gasoline, coffee and a hasty but tasty breakfast.  After that last brief stop, we drove out of Gunnison, Colorado, north on Colorado 135 a relatively short distance before turning onto the Ohio Creek Road.  The name “Mill Creek” is an appellation that has been repeatedly applied to numerous creeks throughout the country.  Here in the Gunnison Country there might be as many as half a dozen such waterways.  I decided to visit the one that is a tributary of Ohio Creek, which is a large contributor to the Gunnison River.  Driving up valley, we were all ready to get out and move around over the earth and soil, but the drive had to come first so as Draco hung his head out the window, curious at all that we passed, I began to revel in the glorious day.

Nary a cloud sailed across the clear sky, excepting perhaps a few on distant horizons.  We turned off the main highway and drove up the gravel road, Gunnison County Road 727 to the lower trailhead on Bureau of Land Management Property.  Beyond this point the road isn’t plowed during Winter, but that was not a concern now.  There is also a fork of sorts in the road beyond this point.  Should I continue straight ahead I would hike up along Mill Creek.  However, the left fork traverses a number of small, parallel-running waterways that lead up to a high ridge perpendicular to all of those.  I, for some reason, had never really gone much further south on this road than about a mile.  Part of the reason may be that the property and access in the area isn’t clear to me, but today I determined to find out exactly where I could, or could not, legally go.  Thus, we hiked up BLM Road 3115 on a journey of discovery, so to speak.

I had time only to hike out to Lone Pine Gulch, not too distant from the trailhead.  I saw a small herd of elk grazing on the new greenery and generally enjoyed seeing the country side.  The aspen groves and forest had mostly leafed out but studying the landscape I could segregate the different colonies by noting the various shades of verdure, from the extremely fresh to that which had been around a couple of weeks.  Gorgeously the day shone, resplendent in all that was new and fresh.  Draco and Leah I kept close by so as to minimally disturb the wildlife, and we wandered along the road, over one ridge after another in a fairly short span of distance.  I came to one last high point and could look down towards Antelope Creek and Kenny Moore Reservoir.  Here I decided to turn around and begin the hike back.  I didn’t want to stay long here, for I had seen a point located half a mile away and off the road a bit where I could sit and scope out the world around me.

I led the dogs and myself up to the small point and found a place to sit among the sagebrush steppe.  The natural world bloomed around me, the flowers sending out invisible streamers of odor that invigorated my being.  The bright Sun beamed down, warming the dogs and me into a state of heady indolence.  Making a long hike during this time of year can be a challenge because of high water from the snowmelt and the fact that the snow itself still blocks passage over the higher and shadier aspects.  Still, for this moment at least, I could sit here and gaze out at the world going by and wonder at it all.  Most folks were buzzing about like so many angry bees, pursuing wealth and complying with the unspoken demand that we all work ourselves into a state of exhaustion.  I would join that crowd soon enough, but for the time being I could let my soul unwind simply by immersing myself in the glowing warmth found on some random hillside in the foothills of the West Elk Mountains of Colorado.