A “Good Morning ” Hike to Lamphier Lake – June 26, 2017

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Relaxing near the old cabin near Lamphier Lake

A gorgeous day awaited the intrepid hiker.  Blue skies above spanned the horizon and a few bulbous clouds irregularly dotted the firmament.  Knowing that I had to work later in the day I insisted on a morning hike to Lamphier Lake in the Fossil Ridge Wilderness.  It seems that I visit this lake at least once a year, sometimes twice or thrice.  Three miles from the Gold Creek Trailhead and Campground the trail winds up along Lamphier Creek to reach the lake of the same name.  This trail has a few hallmarks of having been born a mining road, back when that activity more commonly dotted the hillsides.  I rose with the Sun, made a quick breakfast and then packed up before driving out to the trailhead.  As usual, my two German shepherds, Draco and Leah, accompanied me on my Rocky Mountain peregrinations.

Summer not a week old the Sun had risen high on its daily arc by the time I reached the trailhead.  However, the mountain air remained cool yet and dew sparkled on everything inanimate.  The vegetation positively glowed a vibrant green and yet snow clung to the high ridges about Broncho Mountain.  I planned on taking about an hour to reach the lake, and set a torrid pace along the cobble-filled path of the Lamphier Lake Trail No. 428.  Most maps call this the South Lottis Trail, named for the creek north of Gunsight Pass.  At least one map denominates this as the Gunsight Pass Trail.  My name referencing the lake is, to be sure, a colloquial expression, but one so often used that it might as well be named such.  Regardless the name, the control number remains constant.

On our hike up we crossed Lamphier Creek twice, the dogs lapping up water as I hopped from rock to rock or balanced on a log.  I noted some wildflowers but decided today to focus more on the greater mountain landscape.  Managed by the Gunnison National Forest, I am happy to be visiting this corner of the Gunnison Country.  Here thick forests of spruce and fir grow and even this late in the season I found snow in small patches.  At some point we pass by the upper limit of aspen growth and we enter the sub-alpine life zone.  A dampness pervades, but the Sun warms us enough so that I don’t mind.

Reaching the lake, I found the surface to be almost mirror-like in its smooth surface.  The reflection off the nearby high ridges and deep gullies shows cornices and snowfields clinging to the stone, impervious for the moment to the Sun’s warming rays.  I admired the view from the lake shore as the shepherds investigated the resident squirrels.  Remaining standing, I imbibed the totality, recharging my spirit.  I then followed a trace of a path skirting the lake, up an old abandoned trail, until I reached a cabin allowed to enter a state of deterioration.  Set back from the lake a few hundred feet and maybe about a hundred above I find it sad that this small relic can’t be repaired so that hikers could rent it, if so desired, on a limited use basis.  After feeding the shepherds their kibble, I sat in the shade and ate my snack.  Then I napped.

Rising from my nap I led the canines down to the lake shore.  By lucky happenstance I found that the trout were very mobile and swimming about in profusion.  I clambered out onto a largish boulder that sits a bit offshore.  From my perch I could watch the fish swim by.  I sat thus enthralled for another half an hour or so before I finally decided that the time had come that I should begin the hike back down to the trailhead.  Nothing of particular note occurred on the hike down the trail.  It took barely an hour, cruising downhill over the familiar path.  Of course, I would rather have spent another hour or two at the lake or in the general vicinity, but working as a cook does help to fund these excursions and pay the bills.  Or so I told myself as I walked out of the wilderness.  Still, I felt blessed to have had the morning to myself, to see so much grandeur in such a small space of time and place.  The shepherds approved of my hike, and we all enjoyed each other’s company.  This time of year a magic pervades the mountains and I am only too happy to be caught in the spell.

Smokey Hike on Williams Creek Trail – June 22, 2017

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Geranium caespitosum, possibly, on the Williams Creek Trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

The Lake Fork of the Gunnison River departs from the parent just above the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  Like its parent, the tributary is inundated under the waters of Blue Mesa Reservoir.  However, above the dam the river yet runs free with the melt waters from the snows collected during the Winter.  The headwaters lie in the mighty San Juan Mountains, a series of volcanic calderas now extinct for some thirty million years.  The second largest naturally occurring lake in Colorado lies just above Lake City.  Lake San Critobal is only some seven hundred years old, having been formed by the geologically recent Slumgullion Earth-flow.  Past the lake lies an vast expanse of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Gunnison National Forest.  Upon the lands of the former would I go hiking on this day.

The Williams Creek Trail technically starts on Forest Service property and shows up on one map as Gunnison National Forest Trail No. 240.  The route quickly, between a quarter and a half a mile from its beginning, passes onto land managed by the Department of the Interior under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management.  I had wanted to visit this trail but never done so, therefore I felt excited to see this part of the Red Cloud Wilderness Study Area for myself.  Unfortunately, my enthusiasm tapered due to the presence of a heavy layer of smoke blown in from regional forest fires.  The clouds sailed across the sky, but only a few, and otherwise the day invited me to explore an early Summer mountain paradise.

My concern with this hike centered around the lack of water that I might find on the high exposed ridges to my south.  The hike started at about ninety-two hundred feet in elevation and thus I found many species of wildflowers that one would expect to find in the montane life-zone of the Colorado Rockies.  I paused often to snap a few photographs of whatever bloom attracted my attention.  We quickly left Williams Creek to climb up a side tributary until reaching a ridge that runs perpendicular to the main chain that we were headed towards.  Initially, water flowed abundantly or pooled up conveniently but after climbing up through the sub-alpine to reach treeline water became scarce to non-existent.  Some snowbanks suggested relief for the dogs but their panting tongues hinted at dehydration and heat overload.

This trail also has some rough sections full of knife-edged stones cut from the sharp igneous rock.  This proved challenging for the pups’ paws.  The smoke also diminished my interest, as noted earlier.  My intent had been to hike up to Grassy Mountain, climbing about thirty-five hundred feet up to its summit, but I stopped well short of that goal.  This was due both to my own fatigue as well as the dogs.  The south face we climbed was blazing with the hot Sun, and I wished that I had left a couple of hours before I did.  Starting this hike on a sunny day at eight in the morning, or earlier, would be more advantageous than ten, so I found out.  We climbed a ways up onto the shoulder of the broad mountain and stopped just as the trail begins to swing to the east towards the summit.

We sat for a time, having found some shade on the lee side of a small sub-ridge, under trees stunted by the elevation.  Here some snow lingered so that when I fed the dogs their kibble they could supplement that with snow that would subsequently quench their thirst.  I have to admit feeling a bit melancholy about this hike.  My fatigue ate at me and I also felt somewhat oppressed by the smothering smoke.  We hiked back down to the trailhead, and although we hiked some five or six miles in each direction, climbing well above two thousand feet vertically, I felt that I had spun my wheels most of the hike.  The dogs, I noted, were relieved it seemed to head back the way we came.

Only now, months later and three seasons removed, do I note how beautiful this hike was.  The smoke isn’t as apparent in the snapshots as I recalled in my mind, although it still casts a haze over the landscape photos.  The wildflowers displayed a great diversity and included a few species that I see only in these mountains.  The ridges clad in cornices of snow created that epic scenery found in mountain settings on blue days.  Everything has a reason, including failure or rebuke, and I have found over the years that wisdom comes from listening to the mountains.  Why force the situation when doing so clearly would involve discomfort at the least?  Looking back, I know that finding this area was a blessing to me, and I now look forward to revisiting this area on a more salubrious day.  Still, despite my wan attitude, I felt lucky and appreciative to have taken this hike, a sentiment that occurs whenever I’m fortunate enough to explore the wildlands of the Rocky Mountains.

Morning Hike to Mill Creek and Cunningham Reservoir – June 21, 2017

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A view of Mill Creek, looking up to the West Elk Baldies

A nice easy hike awaited me on this first full day of Summer.  The day previous I had celebrated the solstice with a nearly all-day long hike.  Today I had to work so my hiking would be limited to the morning hours.  I decided to take Draco and Leah, my two stalwart hiking companions and German shepherds both, up to Mill Creek to see the gorgeous valley that lies there.  This Mill Creek, and there are many throughout the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere, tributes to Ohio Creek which itself majorly contributes to the Gunnison River.  I slept in a bit and got a fairly late start this morning, but I knew that it would not matter since it would be unlikely that I could or would cross Mill Creek at the ford during high water.  Thus, I figured that by parking at the Winter trailhead, even though I could drive further, I would hike about two and a half miles before I had to turn back.  I could explore the meadows a bit, and follow an alternate route back to the trailhead, but overall I wouldn’t be gone more than about three or four hours.  Plenty of time to get back and commute to work for my night shift.

The shepherds practiced their typical routine, running amok at the slightest hint of rodent activity, as I walked along Gunnison National Forest Road 727, nee Bureau of Land Management Road 3115a, and enjoyed the deep aspen and conifer forest.  A warm June day and a hike in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado let me forget my worries.  I strolled along, making the occasional snapshot of wildflowers but on this hike I am captivated by the awesome geology of the eroded West Elk breccia.  This rock erodes into unusual formations that never cease to amaze.  Swaddled in a carpet of verdure, June is an especially propitious time to visit this realm.  The vibrant green of the aspen contrasted with the dark forest green of the conifer.  Towers and fins of rock shot up out of the cliffs, adding a touch of surrealism.

At the end of the road, past an in-holding of private property upon which sits some alluring cabins, I continued walking along the Mill-Castle Trail No. 450.  The trail passes through the dark forest to emerge in a large meadow that allows fine views up and down stream.  The shepherds and I approached the creek and, for today, the end of the trail.  It ran full, and although I could have forded it I didn’t see the point.  I would have had to turn around to go home, anyhow, so I led the dogs up to a small grove of large aspen and found a good place to sit and watch the world go by while I munched on some snacks and fed the dogs their kibble.  I sat down with my back against a log and studied the landscape.  An hour or so ticked by, and I savored every minute in the quiet forest.  But time moves on regardless of our wants and I got up and left my sacred spot to retrace my steps on the trail.

In the vicinity of the confluence of Mill and Little Mill Creeks a network of trails spans out beyond what the map represents.  Where the Mill-Castle Trail No. 450 leaves the old Eilebrecth Ditch No. 1 I continued on the bank of the old ditch and followed it to Cunningham Reservoir, crossing in the interim the Little Mill Creek Trail No. 455.  I admired the thick vegetation, and rejoiced at life’s annual pageant of resurgence.  I paused at the reservoir but not for long since I needed to return home.  The Sun burned fiercely on this minor south face and I found a few more species of wildflowers that I hadn’t seen earlier in the mostly shaded and damp climate that I had been hiking in.  An easy stroll down Bureau of Land Management Road 3115b led to the parent road, BLM Road 3115, and one of the finer views of Mill Creek.  We returned to the car under a sunny sky and I bid a farewell to the wildlands that sustain this place.  The sacred life force that sustains us all I keep in my heart regardless of my travels and exact location, but after a visit to such a place as Mill Creek I am rejuvenated.

Another Stunning Wildflower Hike, This Time to Cement Mountain – June 20, 2017

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The common, and thus under appreciated, Blue Flax, Linus lewisii; A yellow Sun in a cerulean sky

A mountain looms over the valley of the East River.  One that I had driven by repeatedly on my regular commute from my home in Gunnison to my job in Crested Butte, Colorado.  For years I had wanted to hike up to the summit of Cement Mountain, guardian of the creek of the same name.  I had tried one time before only to be turned back by excessive snow pack.  This day dawned with a nearly clear sky, only speckled here and there by a few lone puffy clouds, and I knew that the snowpack this year had become minimal enough to not impede me.  I left fairly early in the morning after having consumed a quick breakfast.  Draco and Leah, my two stalwart German shepherds and regular hiking companions, anticipated the mood and danced about the kitchen as I loaded the pack with our usual gear.  I fed elder Lady Dog and left her something good to chew on as compensation for having to leave her behind.  After I shut the door to the house the shepherds skittered about the yard until I opened the gate, and they then burst out and pranced about the car until I let them in.

We drove north out of town on Colorado 135, imitating my journey to the job, but about half way I turned off the highway onto the Jack’s Cabin Cutoff and piloted the old automobile up to the saddle that divides the Taylor and East Rivers.  Those two waterways join together in Almont and form the Gunnison River.  For whatever reason the East River has been the epithet assigned to the western fork.  Regardless of the nomenclature, I found myself parked at the terminus of Gunnison National Forest Road 813.2A in the great expanse of the sagebrush steppe.  Everywhere I looked on this exceptionally salubrious June day a sea of wildflowers spangled the otherwise ubiquitous grey-green of the sagebrush.  The Mule’s Ears, a montane sunflower, grows in fecund profusion here, to the extent that the flowers lend a yellow tint to patches of the steppe.

Having previously made use of this access to the National Forest, I knew that I could expect a spectacular display of wildflowers.  As I mentally prepared myself for the upcoming trek I admired the blooms readily visible to my naked eye.  Not only had I already been blessed by this floral expanse but I excited myself with the prospect of visiting two higher life-zones where I would probably see many additional species of flowering forbs.  Typical for the canine wont, the shepherds completely ignored the flowers unless some small rodent happened to pique the dogs predatory instinct, or some coyote had maybe piddled on it leaving an intriguing scent for their domesticated cousins.  Nonetheless, as I admired my surroundings enjoying the quietude, Draco and Leah ran about in ever increasingly larger concentric circles until I readied myself and guided us up the road.

New batteries and an empty memory-card ensured that I would be able to photograph every single species of wildflower that I came across.  To document all the different species I mandated as my goal for the day, besides the arduous hike that I had planned.  So, as the pups scampered about from chipmunk to ground squirrel, I languished behind on the road immersed in various blooms colored the spectrum of refracted light such as often seen in a rainbow.  This first mile of hiking provided me with some stunning views of the nearby mountains encapsulated in verdure under a deep blue sky.  Lingering snowpack added to the scenic majesty and I floated along figuratively on a euphoria that often overcomes me when out walking around in a mountainous environment.  Although I wandered around a bit, I also made haste so as to find some shade and water for the dogs.  Although early and none too hot, the Sun would soon warm up this exposed steppe and I looked forward to our immersion in the cool shade of the conifer and aspen forest ahead of us.

Some parts of this hike lie on exposed southern slopes and I happily crossed those knowing that the cool aspen would both enchant and provide relief.  The dogs and I followed the road to its conclusion near Roaring Judy Creek where a trail of the same name begins.  Crossing said stream provided some cool relief and led to our first real challenge.  We had to climb a steep, sunny gulch that could be called parched.  Once past that we would continue our climb up a ridge, exposed to the Sun beating down on us, until we reached the gates of rock well above us.  There is a trail of sorts that shows up on some maps but not others.  According to the signage, this is Roaring Judy Trail No. 552.  Regardless of its topography, it does receive a fair amount of use and is easy to follow.  Although some aspen provide shade this hike is very sunny and there wasn’t much the dogs and I could do but endure the rays beating down on us.  I found the views exhilarating but I could tell from the elongated tongues protruding from the shepherds jaws that they would be just as happy with some shade and water.  Gratefully, we hiked into a conifer forest where patches of snow had yet to melt.  Both dogs rushed forward and began to eagerly munch the snowpack as they lay upon it absorbing the cooling power.  Since the trail coincidentally leveled out it seemed only natural that I too stop and doff my pack so that I too could enjoy some liquid refreshment.

Hiking onward we shortly made the junction with the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553 and soon afterwards left the forest for an open glade filled with newly green grass and some higher elevation wildflowers.  We crossed a fork of Roaring Judy Creek and I decided that to climb Cement Mountain this would be a good place to leave the trail and make the mile and a half bushwhack up to the summit.  There was a path of sorts, barely discernible, that I would suppose had been made by a few other hardy height seekers.  The route I took wound through a dense forest but I had no real trouble with downfall.  My only real concern was my motivation.  I began to lose strength and had to mentally coax myself forward.  Having the same trouble in the past on occasion, I just reminded myself to enjoy the scenery and wildness of this ecosystem.  I did give a prayer of thanks when I left the forest and crossed into the tundra, thus allowing me to see my progress and future route, as well as the scenic basin rimmed in snow on the southwest flank of the mountain.  Here, I did briefly worry about exposure due to the hot Sun shining down onto the easily-warmed dogs, but needn’t have.  Enough snow remained in scattered patches to both cool and quench.

As soon as I gained the ridge I began to get hints of the view I would see upon reaching the summit.  The Elk Mountains stretched out in a panoramic view still mostly clad in snowy accouterments.  Puffy clouds dotted the sky from horizon to horizon all in a single layer that created a ceiling of sorts.  Cement Mountain rears up to twelve thousand and two hundred feet above elevation, thus putting the dogs and myself with certainty into the alpine life-zone.  I thrilled at the new species of wildflowers that I saw.  By new, I mean for the season or day, for I have seen all these species on other hikes in the past.  One step at a time, I continued on my trek, marveling at the glory of life around me.

Although by now extremely tired I could see the summit up ahead and made my strides slowly but without pause until I had reached that lofty goal.  I paused to study the surroundings and then continued on another short distance until I found a place on the precipice of a small cliff area that allowed me to face north and bask in the glorious mountain setting.  The lower elevations had taken on the unique green of late Spring when all the vegetation exuded a freshness that makes the vernal months something to revel in.  Sitting down with my water and food I soon satiated my cravings and got to contemplating the majesty of life.  Oh, glorious day!  How blessed I am to have been there at this time.  The snapshots help me remember but in reality nothing can replicate the expansive feelings that come over me when I am on top of the world.

Sometimes in places like this I feel a certain form of eternity overcome me.  The vast infinite reminds me that as much as I am sometimes forced to ford the currents of our mainstream lifestyle, I am also strong and capable of finding those eddies of awareness and being that make it all worthwhile.  After a while, without thinking about it, I rose and began the long trek back to the trailhead.  This quest of mine to reach the summit had been completed, but now the arduous part awaited.  I didn’t take the exact route down that I had used on the way up.  Instead I followed the ridgeline all the way until the pass that divides Roaring Judy Creek from Rosebud Gulch.  I enjoyed this bit of extra excursion as it kept me above treeline a bit longer.  Rejoining the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553 I headed west back into the Roaring Judy drainage and walked down to the glade.  This setting exudes a salubrious bearing and I paused to wander about the marshy creek banks and create more snapshots of some species of wildflowers that I had missed on the way up.

Returning to the junction with the Roaring Judy Trail No. 552 I forewent that trail and continued on the left fork via the Cement Mountain Trail No. 553.  We crossed the creek and entered a thick forest until reaching the end of the trail at the Rarick Road.  Also called Gunnison National Forest Road 813.A2, this route allowed me a shorter albeit steeper route back to my waiting automobile.  Besides, it also allowed for a diversity of scenery and I generally prefer to make a loop hike when I am able.  Most of the remainder of the hike went by like a blur.  I continued to stop and snap photographs of wildflower species yet to be seen or documented on this day’s hike.  Mostly, however, I concentrated on keeping my trek from turning into a trudge.  While truly too beautiful for me to suffer much, I did acknowledge my physical frailty as I worked my way down through the lodgepole pine and aspen forests that blanket this ridgeline.

Leaving the gully behind and its cooling Douglas fir I initially dreaded the last mile of hiking across exposed sagebrush steppe in the hot late afternoon Sun.  I needed have worried.  In the cool aspen forest where the Rarick Road ends at Gunnison National Forest Road 813.2A the pups found enough water to keep them hydrated and refreshed.  The hike had taken such a long time that by then the late afternoon Sun had morphed into a cooler early evening Sun.  Enough clouds sailed overhead to also provide a bit of shade cover.  As I hiked along I noted that the shepherds seemed able to muster enough energy to continue on pursuits of hapless rodents.  Likewise, I still possessed enough vigor yet to pause and admire the streaks of color that ran through the sagebrush.  These gardens are a natural wonder to behold in their own right, and I again felt blessed to be here at this time.  Approaching the car I knew that my odyssey for this day at least had come to an end.  I let out a cheer before unlocking the doors and airing out the hot car.  The dogs loaded up, I put down the windows and cranked over the engine.  I drove us down to the Taylor River and back to Almont before heading home to Gunnison.  So many people bustling about on the highway but I know that most of them only dream of the type of day I just had, exemplified by exploring the wildlands and a bit of self-reliance, all mixed with a dash of mental fortitude and a soupcon of physical prowess.  I smiled as I drove on, arm perched on the window sill, in no particular hurry.  What a great day.

Exploring the South Flank of Red Mountain – June 17, 2017

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Leah looking over the sagebrush steppe towards Mount Axtell on the right. Carbon Peak in the middle and the Anthracite Range on the left

Living in the City of Gunnison, located in the central mountains of Colorado, I am blessed daily by the regal peaks that surround us.  Most of them are distant, some twenty-five to fifty miles away,  but regardless of their proximity I have visited many of them over the years since I moved here in August of Twenty Aught-Four.  I had often wished to visit Red Mountain, a flat-topped monolith capped with a layer of basalt or rhyolite disgorged during the volcanic eruptions some thirty million years ago.  Located north of Gunnison, I see it daily.  However, due to access issue and my own code of honor regarding certain roads, I have never been close to the top.

Years ago I tried to get there from the east, off of Colorado 135, only to find what I thought to be an access gated at private property.  I have also been to the northern flank of Red Mountain but I don’t believe I can reach the summit without trespassing.  The access to the south is over lands controlled by the Gunnison National Forest but the road that leads up there, seven miles away from the parking area adjacent to the paved Ohio Creek Road, is rough and requires a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, and in my opinion ought to be closed to all motorized access anyhow.  I could reach the mountain in that seven mile distance by hiking, I knew, but often worried about the miles of exposure in the open sagebrush steppe and lack of water for the dogs.  It seemed like something always came up, that another mountain called me, and thus Red Mountain remained seen but unexplored.

Today would be the perfect confluence of conditions that would make a hike to the south side of Red Mountain.  Although mid-June, yet enough snow remained in drifts to not impede progress while providing the shepherds with ample opportunities to slurp up some of the frosty mass and thus slake their thirst.  The day would bring only a handful of scattered clouds and really no chance of lightening that could cause me concern.  The most important factor, desire to do this hike, also welled up strongly in my passionate interest of exploring anything to do with the local landscape.  So, with alacrity did we merry pack of three drive out from Gunnison and up the Ohio Creek-Gunnison County Road 730 to Hinkie Gulch, just inside the Gunnison National Forest Boundary.

Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, accompanied me as they normally do on my forays into the backcountry.  I let them out of the car and they instantly assaulted a stronghold of rodent activity.  While they were acquiescing to their predatory instincts, I gathered my gear and hoisted my pack upon my shoulders, and, taking one last look at the map, began to hike up away from the pavement and out into the sagebrush steppe.  Normally sere and ubiquitously grey-green, the steppe during late Spring is alive with multiple blooms covering the hues of the rainbow.  Immediately I became surrounded by Lupine, sunflowers, vetches, Scarlet Gilia and numerous other species of flowering forbs.  At one point the Mule’s Ears became so dominant that their large yellow flowers added a distinct yellow tint to the landscape.

I gained the most elevation during the first three miles of hiking, rising up along Gunnison National Forest Road 829 until I reached a divide between Ohio Creek and the East River.  Along the way I was pleased to find some ponds full of water so that the dogs could relieve their thirst.  The Sun beat down with a strong warmth but was not overbearing.  A few wan clouds scudded across the sky at a languid pace, occasionally casting a shadow down but generally not obscuring the cerulean sky.  At this point, Red Mountain dominated the skyline to the north.  I left the road and made a shortcut, basically taking the hypotenuse across a ridge and bypassing the right triangle that the road makes.  All along the route I kept finding new wildflowers.  I returned to the road, keeping the dogs in sight as they chases after small rodents.  The day kept its charm and before long I had reached the base of Red Mountain.  I left the road once again and hiked up a small drainage to reach Big Alkali Lake.  Even now I pause at the memory of the verdure.  I especially admired the tall Monument Plants, a species of Gentian, the numerous blooms of which are to be admired whenever come upon.

Here at the lake I found a nice place to sit and admire the view that stretched off to the south.  This fine day reminds me why I live here, working at a job I don’t particularly enjoy.  Not even a half hour from my backdoor and I am in a wonderland of natural beauty.  This type of day defines the acme of Spring hiking.  Plenty of flowers of all colors, snowbanks clinging to the mountains, the land swaddled in a blanket of greenery and puffy clouds dotting the deep blue sky.  My worries about water had been unfounded as it abounded in numerous ponds and even this named lake.  The dogs explored the nearby area, occasionally slurping up some of the cool liquid to quench their parched throats while I sat and imbibed my own.  Although I sat in the Sun, a cool breeze prevented me from heating up beyond endurance.  An hour went by and my curiosity got hold of me.  Besides, the shepherds had had enough of lazing around.  I can tell, because they stray farther and farther from our base and it soon becomes apparent even to me that they are ready for further travels.

Once in the vicinity of Red Mountain, I knew that it would not be likely for me to attempt to hike up to the summit.  It could have been done but at an extreme cost to me and the dogs so I decided to put it off until I could spend a couple of nights here.  Instead, I noted the topography, especially the routes that might prove useful for future reference.  Above the lake some benches rise in steady progression, each home to a grove of aspen.  I continued on the road, turning a corner and crossing over a pass of sorts so that I briefly trod into the drainage of the East River by leaving that of Ohio Creek.  This added another mile to our hike so I decided to stop and admire the view before returning the way I had led the pack.  To the east rose snow clad peaks and a sky the extended out beyond the crest of the Rocky Mountains.  The clouds streaked out in a progression, one puffed mass following another with plenty of space between each to allow the sunlight to mostly streak down unimpeded.

The return hike the dogs and I made fairly quickly.  I felt elated the entire distance.  The day proved to have met all the characteristics that I could have wished for.  Perfect weather precluded any worry about thunder.  The colors vibrated wherever I turned my head.  Cool water greeted the dogs when most required.  After waiting so long to have made this hike I now felt a pang of regret leaving so soon but know that I can return whenever I desire.  Perhaps I will find time to camp out near one the lakes sometime this Summer.  In the meantime, I am blessed to have had such a day.  The only sour note on the entire hike occurred when the camera ran out of battery power and I wasn’t able to entirely document every species of wildflower that I saw.  But I suppose that just adds another emphatic reason to return.

Hike on the Middle Fork South Arkansas River – June 15, 2017

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Looking up at the south face of Mount Aetna

I can’t remember one way or the other.  Did I have a day off and decide to make a hike later in the day, or did I have a short day at work and time enough to squeeze in this hike before sunset?  Regardless, I decided that this would be a fine time to scratch that itch.  The “itch” being a two-track that I had been driving by for some twenty-five years and all the time wondering where it went.  Thus, I loaded up the dogs, Draco and Leah, and drove from Gunnison, Colorado, where I make my home, up to and over Monarch Pass via U.S. 50.  I coasted down grade some few mile until reaching the hamlet of Garfield where I pulled off the transcontinental highway and parked my car adjacent to the South Fork Arkansas River.

Having crossed the Great Divide, and passing from the Pacific drainages to those of the Atlantic, I entered the San Isabel National Forest.  The only real hiking that I have done in this immediate vicinity is nearby at Waterdog Lakes.  On this day I wanted to hike up the Middle Fork South Arkansas River to its terminus at Chalk Creek Pass.  Although rugged mountainous country, this is no designated wilderness as many mines and roads remain from the days of exploitation of our natural resources.  Still, it is quiet country and I looked forward to seeing what exists in this area.  The previous year I had made a small foray on this glorified trail, San Isabel National Forest Road 230, but turned back after about half a mile of hiking due to the snowpack then extant.  Now, much less snow clung to the hillsides and, letting the German shepherds out of the car, we all began to hike up into the mountains.

The dense forest of aspen and spruce rises up to Taylor Mountain and stretches out to fill the valley.  Initially, I can’t see very far.  A few cabins are scattered about on the old mining claims.  Some are dilapidated while others are currently inhabited.  I cross Kangaroo and Columbus Gulches, both of which stream down from the southern face of the aforementioned mountain.  After a mile we pass the Boss Lake Trailhead.  Hiking upstream we come under the looming tower that is Mount Aetna.  By now, the forest has thinned a bit and I can see up towards the summit past Hoffman Park.  I am worried about this forest because fresh sign of beetle kill is evident and I can only hope that the beetles thin the trees out a bit instead of killing them all.  I find it hard to believe when people do not think that climate change is occurring.

Past Mount Aetna there are more mining claims and some interesting cabins.  The valley also widens out and a large meadow forms in the valley bottom.  Here I am especially happy to walk around.  The river is running strong, full from the melting snow running off from the higher peaks.  The thin air fills my lungs with each breath, so cool and fresh.  So fresh, I feel like I am almost imbibing a liquid.  I breathe freely as I hike, pleased with living.  Soon enough, I find that snow has begun to clog the bottom of the valley as well.  When I reach the end of the road and the beginning of the trail, the Hancock Lake Trail No. 1422, I decide to turn back.  But I am enticed by seeing the pass and continue on another quarter of a mile through heavy snow until reality sets in.  Still almost two miles distant, the pass will have to wait until another day when more salubrious conditions permit.

I eschew the latter part of the trail that I had just hiked.  The shepherds are running around heedless of the wet marsh but I am ready to find a dry place to sit.  We bypass the snow-clogged trail and return to the trailhead.  Marsh Marigolds and Globeflowers bloom with the twin fecundity for which they are known.  Both are Buttercups and can look identical but have some differing characteristics.  I enjoy them both as I know that they will herald in the wildflower season at higher elevations.  I find a nice place to plop down my bottom, and sit and admire the high ridge before me.  This ridge is part of the Continental Divide, and I bask in the shadow of the epic backbone of the North American continent.

By the time we leave, darkness has begun to envelop the mountainous country.  I gather my gear and wits, prod the dogs into rising from their prostrate forms, not too difficult to accomplish, and we begin to hike back down towards the car.  The Sun shines its last, but so close to Summer solstice that it is nearly eight of the clock before the ultimate rays strike the high peaks.  There isn’t much to do except return the way we came and thus we march back down the valley, leaving the meadow and the woodlands to the silence that they are much accustomed to.  A fine evening hike now behind us, I give blessings of thanks, happy to have been allowed the opportunity to get out and enjoy a cool, peaceful evening in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Morning Hike to Doctor Park – June 14, 2017

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Calypso bulbosa, Fairy Slippers or Calypso Orchid – the name pales next to the beauty, found here on the Doctor Park Trail

The last week of Spring came upon us here in the Gunnison Country.  Only a week away until the Summer solstice, and the days grew bright and long with plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the mountainous lands near my home.  Work beckoned, but not until the evening.  In the meantime I decided to hike up to Doctor Park, located on the spit of land that separates the Taylor River from Spring Creek.  This hike would encompass about eleven to twelve miles of hiking should I reach my destination, thus my leaving early became imperative to successfully returning on time to get home, change and drive up to work.

I rose early and fed the elderly canine, Lady Dog, and gave her something to gnaw on while Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, accompanied me on our adventure.  Eschewing breakfast at home, I loaded up my pack with snacks and then the two dogs into the car before driving over to the local convenience store to purchase my mandatory cup of coffee along with a quick, hot repast that I could consume while driving up to the North Bank Campground.  Driving slowly through the herd of overnight campers, I made it to the trailhead where the Doctor Park Trail No. 424 leads up from the Taylor River.  The dogs exhibited signs of excitement and scampered about as I made myself ready to hike.  Up we go!  We started hiking after I took a moment to gather my wits, and immediately climbed a series of switchbacks that lead out of the canyon.

If a problem exists on this trail, from a hiker’s perspective, it is the domination of the path by the mountain biking community.  My last experience here was so overwhelmed by bikes drifting downhill at speed that I swore I would never hike here again.  Today, however, I decided that I could share some space, especially since I left early and would most likely miss the crowds.  Besides, in all fairness, the bicyclists are generally polite and give warning when approaching from behind.  Still, last time I was interrupted in my hike about every five to ten minutes and could never really get my stride.  What I noticed now was the profusion of wildflowers that grew everywhere I looked.  Technically, Summer remained a week away, but this last week of Spring sure felt summer-like.  Everything alive shone out a green glow that was spangled with the multiple hues of wildflowers.

The trail climbs out of the ponderosa pines that line the canyon rim and into an area that is somewhat dry and exposed.  Still, many aspen grow here and eventually because the trail dips into Trail Gulch the clime grows wetter.  Thus, a wide array of  plants grow along the route.  Ostensibly, I went hiking, but I kept stopping to snap photographs of nearly every species of flower I saw.  I really can’t blame bicycles for breaking my stride when I am willing to do unto myself the same, albeit for differing reasons.  It took me nearly three hours to reach Doctor Park and find a place to sit where I could look out on the great expanse of the Rocky Mountains.  Ah, mid-June… so much is green.  Not just green, but vibrantly green does grow the fresh, newly-sprouted or leafed-out vegetation.  The blue sky and white snow-clad summits of the Elk Mountains and Fossil Ridge, the local chains of the Rockies here in the Gunnison Country, add to the scene of natural wonder and while the dogs rest or explore I sit and contemplate the world at large.

The dogs and I didn’t sit too long, for I still had to hike back and make preparations for the day’s work.  The hike back went much more quickly, partly because of the increased speed downhill but also because I took only a handful more of snapshots.  I had never previously thought this a great flower hike, but on this day, at least, it radiated with the diversity of life that makes any place special when seen at the right time.  While I did encounter a few bicyclists they didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the wild places that I had just visited.  We hiked back down rapidly and reached the car just a bit after noon.  The shepherds went down to the Taylor River and splashed around for a bit before loading up.  We drove back to Gunnison, tuckered out from the days hiking.  Five miles up and then five down, climbing from about eighty-five hundred feet in elevation to eleven thousand.  A fine day we had had, and now work didn’t seem like such an imposition.  Not a bad start to the day!