A Hike to Independence Gulch – July 22, 2017

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Calochortus gunnisonii, part of Liliaceae, on the Independence Gulch Trail No. 234

For a number of years I had been driving by the Independence Trailhead located just north of Lake City without stopping.  Today, before my evening shift, I would indeed stop and explore.  Driving west out of Gunnison, Colorado, I cruised some eight miles on U. S. 50 to the junction with Colorado 149 and turned south towards Lake City.  However, some miles short of that small enclave I stopped along the highway deep in the canyon formed by the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  Technically, the trailhead lies on a small piece of Bureau of Land Management Property but all the trail signage indicates management by the Uncompahgre National Forest.  Draco and Leah, my two faithful and stalwart four-legged hiking companions, burst out of the parked car when I opened the door and immediately began to investigate the various spoor left by other canines.  After I gathered my gear we immediately set about climbing a few switchbacks to rise above the river.  At the first plateau we passed a sign denoting the boundary to the Uncompahgre Wilderness.

The Independence Gulch Trail No. 234 rises steeply for the first two and a half miles until reaching the junction with the Little Elk Trail No. 244.  It is mostly open and grassy with a few patches of conifer.  The cloudy day added some mist and haze to the landscape.  Formed from an ancient volcano, I would not say that these hills are rolling so much as layered.  They seem angular to me, formed from the broken rims of the ancient calderas.  The trail had climbed up above Independence Gulch, providing fine views of its deep chasm and the surrounding country.  After the junction, I led the dogs down through an aspen forest until we reached a large meadow directly adjacent to the aforementioned gulch.  Here I lost the trail and decided to sit and enjoy the morning.

This was the first hike that I could see the Summer wildflowers already on the wain.  Although the meadow sits at about ninety-six hundred feet in elevation, many flowers had already gone to seed.  Nonetheless, many remained to be admired and that is what I did.  I had wanted to continue on to Larsen Lakes, but since the trail’s continuation was obscure I figured not to push it and enjoy the scenery and wildlands that I now found myself in.  The shepherds romped around, chasing rodents.  The serious countenance that appeared on their faces provided some amusement as I sat and watched them go about their appointed rounds.

I also realized that I had forgotten to bring along another data card and that this one I had on my person had filled up to capacity.  I concluded to head home and revisit this area another day.  So, thus, the pups and I walked back up out of the meadow to the trail junction before walking down the ridge that would lead us back to the trailhead.  As usual, I found this hike elucidating, helping me to understand the topography of the area.  I wish I had had more time, and had remembered to bring along my other data card, but overall I was happy to have gone out and wandered around in the woods for awhile.

Bushnell Lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Wilderness – July 20, 2017

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Tilted rock layers of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising above the lower Bushnell Lake

I decided to change up my regular hiking routine and cross over from the Gunnison Country via Monarch Pass to visit the northern end of the Sangre de Cristo Range, that serrated, narrow line of mountains that runs from Salida, Colorado, south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  These mountains are divided into northern and southern halves, the dividing line straddling more or less La Veta Pass between Walsenburg and Alamosa.  Formed by great faults in the Earth, the mountains have been thrust up from the surrounding valleys and tower up to six or seven thousand feet into the thin air.  An intrepid hiker can climb thousands of feet in a few miles, crossing many life-zones in the process.

Driving east from my home in Gunnison, Colorado, I arrived at the Hayden Creek Trailhead which is one of many accesses to the Rainbow Trail.  That trail skirts the eastern flank of the range and connects to many trails that rise up into the numerous glacier carved valleys that often contain lakes formed by terminal moraines.  This area is all public land with a few private in-holdings, managed mostly by the San Isabel National Forest.  Today I would visit Bushnell Lakes within the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, some of the northern most such bodies of water in the range.  I chose these if for no other reason that I had not visited them before and they are relatively close to my home.  I could go further south but doing so would involve a longer drive.

To reach the lakes I would need to climb some thirty-five hundred feet in elevation.  This gain would occur over some five miles.  Initially, I left the trailhead on the Rainbow Trail No. 1336 climbing up the North Prong of Hayden Creek.  The forest here is thick, and perhaps confining with dense undergrowth, comprised of many conifers and the always ubiquitous aspen.  Along the way up I stopped to admire some of the wildflowers but many had already gone to seed.  I don’t remember much from this portion of the hike except the steady uphill climb to the junction with the Bushnell Lakes Trail No. 1402.  From this point I could see towards the northwest, along the base of the range, all the way to the Sawatch Range and its own serrated crest.

The trail junction sits in a saddle between Hamilton Baldy and the main chain.  The trail rises up into ever-thinning forest and the steepest part of the hike is here.  Rounding a sharp bend that brought us into the Stout Creek drainage, I felt that I was floating above the Arkansas River Valley below.  We had transitioned from the montane to the sub-alpine, leaving the aspen behind.  As the valley narrowed its glaciated profile became more and more defined.  Some of the sedimentary layers had been tilted from the horizontal to an angle in excess of forty-five, making me wonder at the forces necessary to do that.  As we made the final climb, a rumble of thunder reminded me that we were in the monsoon season, and that I needed to beware electrical storms especially as we had some hiking to conclude over bare rocky outcroppings.

Reaching the lowest lake I found a garden of wildflowers growing in profusion.  Most of my favorites were in bloom, and the riot of color coupled with the sound of tumbling water from the nearby cascades brought on a meditative peace.  I doffed my gear and wandered around in a state of bliss.  The shepherds did their own thing which most likely involved slurping water up from the lake shore and bothering rodents.  After a while I decided to climb up further to the top side of the waterfall and see the middle lake.  This proved to be a stiff climb but I certainly enjoyed the additional garden.  The lake seemed to hang and I thought its setting a monument to the divine.  I had wanted to visit the upper lake but decided against that due to time constraints, the gathering thunderheads and the additional expenditure of physical effort.  The map shows a trail leading up to the highest lake but I found nothing but a bushwhack up a steep slope, further daunting my interest.

I returned to the lower lake and wandered around its shore, enjoying the scenery until I decided to move on down the trail.  The rumbles had grown more frequent and began to get ominously close.  Lightening striking down anywhere near me causes a certain amount of discomfort to my countenance, so I packed up my gear and began the descent to the trailhead.  I briefly thought of stopping to make a short climb to Hamilton Baldy but decided to bypass that option.  I did begin to worry about the time I had spent away from home.  The long drive combined with the long hike, time wise, made me empathetic to Lady being home alone.  So, down we went, back to the trailhead where the car awaited.  We drove back down San Isabel National Forest/Fremont County Road 6 to the hamlet of Coaldale and then turned left, westbound, onto U.S. 50.

I don’t truly remember some of the details of this hike, except that I recall a sense of elation tinged with a bit of regret at not pushing on to the higher lake.  Mostly I have impressions, a gestalt formed by many similar journeys in the past and present.  To wit:  I’m sure that Draco and Leah loaded up in the car with their never-lacking enthusiasm; Lady, my then elderly canine, I might have left with a bone to gnaw on; I would bet that I stopped to pick up a snack and coffee before leaving town; leaving somewhat late in the forenoon I’m sure that traffic was heavy due to the busy Summer season; the shepherds most likely hung their heads out the windows if not sleeping in the back; most likely we made our routine stop atop the pass after ascending U.S. 50 to its highpoint; I reveled in the high country and gave praise to that part of my life that rejoices in living in the mountains.  In other words, not a bad day!

A Hike to Mount Peck – July 19, 2017

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Looking down the western slope of Monarch Pass

Having only minimal time before my abominable job would start, I decided to take a hike up nearby Mount Peck, which sits directly atop the Great Divide that parts the waters between the two great oceans.  In some ways I feel fortunate to live here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and at other times I wonder if it is worth the hassle.  My boss is a petty tyrant, vindictive and petulant – a man child, if you will.  The job prospects in the mountain resort towns are designed to keep a person living in poverty, exposed to whatever whim such capricious bosses may wish to heap upon you.   On the other hand, I don’t live in a big city, fouled by snarled traffic and constant commotion.  Most people look at me with a certain amount of envy when I describe how much hiking and exploring I am able to do on a weekly basis.

But I digress, and now return to the subject at hand.  Leaving fairly late in the morning, I drove out to Monarch Pass on U.S. 50, about a half an hour plus five minutes drive east of my home in Gunnison, Colorado.  Another problem with living here is that all the folks who visit here bring along their bad habits: speeding recklessly, tailgating, passing on double yellow, etc… It takes a person with great equanimity to put up with the regular dose of insolence doled out by people who are supposed to be on vacation yet who can never seem to slow down and relax.  It would be easy to point my (middle) finger at a particular state from which many visitors arrive but in truth nearly everyone is guilty of these transgressions.  I apologize for this further tangential departure.

I parked the car at the top of the pass and dutifully ignored the tourist-traps and began to hike out on Gunnison National Forest Road 906 the short distance to Gunnison National Forest Trail No. 531.  This area is not a wilderness and is open to mechanized and motorized travel, so beware if you expect to not share with those whose outdoors experiences center on machinery.  Regardless, it is fairly quiet and wildflowers abound in the gorgeous scenery.  Within a mile of hiking on the road and trail I left both behind and bushwhacked up the northern ridge of Mount Peck, straddling the divide itself.  To my west I could see the vast expanse of the Gunnison Country while to my east I could sense although not see the vast Great Plains that lie beyond the mountains.

The recent beetle epidemic, occurring in the last decade, has decimated much of the forest in the high country, and, sadly, this area is not immune.  Thus, many dead spruce stand silent and ghostly.  At least some of the trees have survived.  How can people not believe in human-caused global warming?  Fortunately, there is evidence that the new generation of saplings, already growing stout, will create a new forest out of the ruin.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed the numerous hues found in the wildflowers.  Draco and Leah, my stalwart canine hiking companions, enjoyed the patches of snow remaining from the abundant Winter.  No live water exists along the trail itself, being too close to the summit for streams to form.  They refreshed themselves often on the un-melted cornices, frolicking and writhing on the cooling snowpack.

Reaching the summit, we sat and enjoyed a snack.  I could stare down onto the small drainages where these mere tendrils collect the snowmelt on its first phase of flowing down into the greater rivers that send it to the oceans.  To my east lay North and South Fooses Creeks, part of the Arkansas River system that disgorges its burden eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.  On the western flank Burnt Timber, Park and North Agate Creeks collect the flow before adding it to the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers.  This watershed exits the landmass in the Gulf of California, part of the Pacific Ocean.  There is something powerful about such a divide such as this, and in my mind’s eye I can make the journey in either direction.

Time being limited, we did not stay long, especially since no shade exists on the summit itself.  I led the dogs down the southern ridge of the summit to the trail.  Reaching the path, we turned back towards the north and made a small loop.  Along the way back to the trailhead I stopped frequently to identify the species of plants that I saw.  Since this hike would encompass only four miles or so, I knew that I had plenty of time to dally and examine whatever caught my interest.  The clouds sailing overhead suggested that later in the day thunderheads would billow up, but for the time being no thunder registered from the heavens.  We returned to the car with plenty of time to spare so that I could drive home and then head out for the job.  I do feel fortunate to live here although with a bit of trepidation did I depart for work.  Still, I know that in moments of stress I can close my eyes and put myself out into the wildlands that sustain us all with clean water and pure air.

Rocky Mountain Jungle on Coal Creek in the West Elk Wilderness – July 14, 2017

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A beautiful meadow with Mount Gunnison in the distance

When the word jungle is used most people associate that term with the sub-tropics if not the tropics themselves.  On the western slopes of the West Elk Mountains, however, the storms coursing across the continent from the Pacific Ocean slam into the risen masses of elevated rock.  Here the moisture collects and precipitates down before combining with the warm Sun.  This allows a lush vegetation to thrive. Thus a jungle of aspen and conifer rises above a dense understory that often towers above a human’s head.  I have noted this phenomenon elsewhere in these mountains and am always amazed when walking through the dense growth.

There are a number of repetitive names given to many waterways in the Gunnison Country.  Some examples that come readily to mind are “willow”, “bear” or “elk”.  The appellation “coal” is similar.  These mountains, the West Elks, were formed by volcanic eruption tens of millions of years ago, but on the perimeter lie vast deposits of sedimentary rock through which the volcanic action penetrated.  Much coal is found here and even now is extracted from the Earth.  I now live in the city of Gunnison, Colorado, downstream from the town of Crested Butte.  The latter sits squarely on Coal Creek which drains into the Slate River, but this drainage has naught to do with the one that I am talking about now.   This Coal Creek drains into Anthracite Creek before pouring its waters into the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

To get to the Throughline Trailhead on the north side of the West Elk Wilderness I had to drive nearly two hours.  Amazingly, I never left Gunnison County during the entire drive.  I don’t remember if I drove up Ohio Creek or through Crested Butte to reach Kebler Pass, but regardless I drove out on County Road 12 before turning up the narrow one-lane road to get to the trailhead.  Technically, this Coal Creek Road is designated as Country Road 12A where it passes through private property thus garunteeing legal access, but also goes by the name of Gunnison National Forest Road 709.  Either way, it ends at a remote ranch.

I parked the car about a mile and a half shy of the road’s end, where the trailhead sits.  The last and only previous time I was here this place was a defacto campground, crowded with hunting camps.  Now, in mid-July it sat nearly empty.  My goal was to reverse the loop hike that I had done a couple of years earlier.  I would attempt to hike counter-clockwise instead of the opposite.  I have to say, this area is a mish-mash of various trails and the information shown on various maps often conflicts with each other and with what is on the ground.  Because of the heavy growth navigation becomes a real challenge.  I would not have been able to complete my earlier hike, nor this, without the aid of signage combined with expert map-reading abilities.

Rising above the verdure in the vicinity of the trailhead are three prominent landmarks.  To the northeast rises Moseley Ridge, to the southeast Kaufman Ridge and to the west the mighty mass of Mount Gunnison.  The latter’s rocky outcroppings added a gray hue to the otherwise verdant expanse.  I drove down the narrow road, cliffs rising on one side and falling on the other.  Reaching the trailhead, I drove down and across Robinson Creek before parking in a grove of large spruce.  The shepherds eagerly leaped out of the car once I let them and began to scamper about from tree to tree as the numerous squirrels chirped at them in agitation.  I gathered my gear, checked my maps, oriented myself with the aforementioned landmarks and then set off on the Throughline Trail No. 860 in the Gunnison National Forest.  We soon entered the West Elk Wilderness, following Coal Creek upstream.

The trial parallels Coal Creek and the gurgling water coursed over the numerous cobbles on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  Although green, this area isn’t the wildflower spectacular that is found not too far east.  Still, what does grow here does so with a certain extravagance.  We hiked up two miles to the first trail junction.  I had been here before, and noted that no signage denoted the junction, so I kept an eye out for the trail but I could not find it due to the heavy grasses.  I knew I was in the correct area so I decided to head out cross country.  This proved to be challenging as even the grasses reached my waist and chest.  After trudging about for a quarter of an hour I finally found the Navajo Flats Trail No. 857 and headed up towards the crossing of Kaufman Ridge.

The real challenge now began.  Various cattle and game trails veered off from the so-called maintained trail and it was only by recollection and deduction that I found my way to the summit.  Just below to the west of this crossing their exists some well-worn path that fails to show up on any map.  It seems to go from nowhere to nowhere, and twice now I have not been able to fathom its purpose.  It seems to have more traffic than the official trail but I can’t guess at who, or what, uses it.  I found a nice outcropping of rock surrounded by low vegetation, and we rested a bit.  Descending from the summit to the junction with the Kaufman Creek Trail No. 852 I once again lost my way.  I could see Haystack Mountain directly before me, but I wasn’t sure exactly where I was supposed to go, so we began to bushwhack in a general direction that I thought reasonable.  I became scared because the dogs, especially Leah, began to act wary.  They really couldn’t see anything, and Leah finally panicked and began to retreat the way we had come.  I had no choice but to retreat myself until I finally found her not too far away slurping up water at an ephemeral pond.

I missed the junction completely, although I remember their being signage there on my previous visit.  The difficulty lies with the livestock trails that meander off from the main trail and complicate navigation.  I can’t say I was truly lost or turned around, as I knew we were in the Kaufman Creek drainage.  But without the trail to follow the going was extremely slow.  About half a mile or so downstream from the junction I finally crossed the official trail and my mood, and the dogs’, lightened up considerably.  We then had an amiable amble downstream until reaching the well-marked junction with the Peter Creek Trail No. 856.  Here, Kaufman Creek drains into Robinson Creek and Peter Creek drains from the east.  The shepherds and I followed this new trail upstream a short distance until it forked.  The right fork goes to Elk Basin and left up towards the headwaters of Peter Creek.  I took the left.

The heavy vegetation continued unabated.  Again, numerous livestock and game trails split off from the official one, but on my previous hike I had noted this situation and with a bit of sleuthing I found the correct trail up to the summit.  Dropping down from the summit through a thick meadow of Corn Lily into Little Robinson Creek we came upon yet another trail junction with the Little Robinson Trail No. 850.  Depending on what maps I studied, there are either three, four or five trails that intersect at this point.  The signage on the ground suggested only three but I could clearly see a fourth rising up towards Moseley Ridge.  The fifth I could discern but not with clarity.  Regardless, we paused again and enjoyed the second of our two snacks.  Although resting comfortably I could not help rising and wandering around a bit until I found where the “fourth” trail crosses the creek before leading east up the ridge.

Six more miles of hiking would lead us back to the waiting car, and now on familiar ground in the form of a trail that I knew was well established we hiked along unimpeded by doubt.  We passed by one trail, denominated as No. 851, that leads up to Moseley Ridge and over to Cliff Creek, and came upon the northern terminus of the Kaufman Creek Trail No. 852, the same that we crossed some miles ago at the confluence of Peter, Kaufman and Robinson Creeks.  Another mile and a half or so and we reached the end of the hiking trails at the point where Gunnison National Forest Road 709 terminates.  Further hiking on the road at about an equal distance led us to the car.  This was one of the more challenging hikes in my recent memory, and I was truly thankful that I made it back along the loop that I had planned.  At one point I thought I would have to turn back and retrace my steps.

We drove out along the narrow road, having to back up at one point about a quarter of a mile so that a trailer could pass by.  Instead of returning home via Kebler Pass I dropped down into Paonia, where I stopped at Delicious Orchards for some locally grown delicacies, and then followed Colorado 92 around the south side of the West Elk Mountains, skimming the northern edge of the Black Canyon of the Colorado.  This road isn’t long by mileage but winding around as it does it takes a while to get from Paonia to Gunnison.  This had been a fine, adventurous day and the dogs and I saw, and sniffed, much country.  We were very happy to get home.  I unpacked the car and stowed the gear before collapsing on my bed, letting the day’s activities sink into my mind.  What a blessed day!  Stout mountains!  I thrive doing what I like to do and again felt blessed to have had such a day, irrespective of the difficulties that I encountered.

Wildflowers on the East River Trail No. 634 – July 12, 2017

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Draco and Leah on the East River Trail No. 634 in the Gunnison National Forest

One of the great easy wildflowers hikes in the vicinity of Crested Butte (the town) is on the far east side of Crested Butte (the mountain).  A simple drive out the Brush Creek Road, also known as Gunnison County Road 738, leads to the Brush Creek Trailhead.  This trailhead also serves a parking area for explorations of the larger vicinity.  By the time I arrived at quarter after seven in the morning it was surprisingly busy, people going to and fro with their packs and bikes, children in tow.  My desire today was to hike the two miles out to the end of the East River Trail No. 634 on the Gunnison National Forest.  I found many hikers out and about with the same purpose of mind as myself.  Namely, to get outside and enjoy the incredible verdant scenery spangled with wildflowers of all hues.

I let Draco and Leah out of the car but instead of letting them run amok I kept them in “stay” and put leashes on them once I was ready to begin the walk.  Many people walk a short distance only, meaning that they stroll out a quarter to a half a mile before returning to the trailhead after admiring the resplendent colors.  Some people had expensive camera and concomitant lenses set up on pricey tripods.  They moored themselves to one placed, focused on the most exquisite combination of natural beauty and digital (or film, for all I know) imagery possible.  I paused to take numerous photos of all the flowers I could find, joining the throng.  Earlier, I had set a goal of making a snapshot of every species I could find.  Even making quick snapshots this is a laborious proposition, especially with two large shepherds who do not necessarily appreciate wildflowers for their intrinsic beauty but are interested in the inherent value of the numerous rodents scampering about.

After leaving behind the majority of the congestion, about a half a mile away from the trailhead, I let the dogs stretch their legs and run around a bit.  That made things a bit easier, but still I could only keep on eye on the view-finder while the other kept tabs on the pups.  Interestingly, these intelligent beings have begun to cue into the sounds of my camera.  For example, we are hiking along and I see something that I wish to make a snapshot of.  I pause, breaking my stride, and this is the first cue they pick up on.  Then the Velcro on the camera is disarticulated, causing a ripping sound before the other familiar clicks are occasioned by the removal of the lenses cap and flicking on the power slide.  At this point the shepherds have summed up that I am stopping to make photos.  Often enough, they sit in place and wait until I am finished.

I have to say that this short hike was stunning from start to finish.  I moseyed along at a slow pace.  Everyone had smiles on their faces for obvious reasons.  Even the cloudy day, often a source of sorrow for many, somehow enhanced the beauty, as some of the low stragglers helped to define the various small valleys nestled in the green foothills seen across the river.  The trial was a bit muddy but still kept its firm base so the hiking was easy.  At two miles the trail ends at a parcel of private property.  For most of the way the trail is up on the hillside but here at the very end it descends a short elevation bring the hiker down to a large grassy flat that affords a fine view of the surrounding mountains and drainages.  The dogs and I stopped here and ate a snack.  We rested before returning along the same route that we had come in on.

So many species of wildflowers exist here that it was inevitable that I would miss a few on the way out, so when I found some that I had not made a digital image of I would stop.  So many beautiful landscapes presented themselves that I also halted to exult in their beauty.  I think I was often laughing to myself that such a natural spectacle could exist.  By the time we arrived back at the trailhead, the dogs were both on their leashes and the crowds had more than doubled.  The parking lot was stuffed full, reminding me that during the busy season it is often well worth the reward to start early, or late as often the crowds diminish during the evening.  I piled the dogs, the gear and myself into the car and drove back down to Gunnison.  This had been a great morning and I feet blessed to live in such close proximity to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Morning Hike to Agate Creek – July 10, 2017

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Morning light streaming down into Agate Creek

Another frustrating day at work awaited me in the evening but fortunately I was able to get out of the house during the morning and head out to my beloved mountains.  Draco and Leah joined me and together we sped out of town eastbound on U.S. 50 from my home in Gunnison, Colorado.  We drove through the small hamlet of Sargents before beginning to climb the grade up towards Monarch Pass.  However, about half way up we stopped and exited the vehicle to begin our hike at a somewhat hidden trailhead on the Gunnison National Forest.  It took me years to figure out that the small highway sign labeled “Agate Creek” doesn’t merely announce that the creek paralleling the highway is called such but also serves to locate the terminus of the Agate Creek Spur Trail No. 484.2A.  Since that discovery, now itself gone by many years, I have repeatedly used this trail to access a beautiful piece of the backcountry.

Although this trail is officially open to motorized and mechanized modes of travel it generally receives scant use.  Rarely have I seen other users in this area and today would be no different.  We pulled over in the limited parking area and as the heavy Summer traffic sped by I imagined that most folks would assume I was suffering from some sort of mechanical problem with the automobile.  Instead, we egressed the willingly-shouldered vehicle with me exerting caution for the shepherds’ safety and quickly walked away from the pavement.  A half a mile of hiking would lead us to the Agate Creek Trail No. 484, and thus we began to descend down the switchbacks.

The lodgepole pine forest dominates this area, although some firs and spruce do grow in the shady aspects.  Regardless of the exact composition of the forest the pine-scented air invigorated my senses as we all strode down the trail.  Fairly steep, we dropped some four hundred feet before crossing the North Fork and then making the junction with the latter trail.  From the junction I turned my pack towards the east and upstream the main fork of Agate Creek.  We crossed the swift waters twice in a narrow canyon.  The snowmelt had decreased enough so that the crossing couldn’t be considered dangerous and as we strolled along I admired whichever wildflowers drew my attention.  The Sun quickly warmed the atmosphere but here in the mountains it can’t said to ever get truly hot.  Warm, indeed, and pleasantly so did the sunlight shine down on our blessed souls.

Another half a mile of hiking led us to the point where the trail exits the narrow confines of the aforementioned canyon.  Here, a wide miles-long meadow opens up with a resplendent verdure.  Agate Creek in this area winds around almost aimlessly as it drains inexorably, however slightly, downward.  Willow grow thick in the creek bottom where the forest stops and much else is covered by lush grass.  This early in the morning everything sparkled with drops of mountain dew.  I became entranced by the stupendous views of Mount Ouray, that epic peak still showing patches of snow in the recesses of its north face.  At this point I discovered that I had made a lapse in judgement having forgotten to transfer my previous digital images from the camera card onto my computer.  Thus, I ran out of storage for this journey and had to limit my photography.  I sat in the sunshine and went through the six hundred plus images I had stored on this card and deleted a handful that were obviously flawed or duplicated.  Still, I only created room for about a half-dozen further images so I had to ration my image making this day.

We continued onward to Burnt Timber Creek.  A small cabin resides here and has been left to deteriorate, like so many others on the National Forest.  I find this sad.  It seems to me that there would be a market for a cabin such as this.  Many people, myself included, would love a chance to spend a night or week in such a location, making use of what would be necessarily limited facilities but still a bit more luxurious than a backpacking tent.  I have been here before, and like my previous visits I explored the ruin, wondering at its purpose.  New for me on this short adventure was a quick exploration of the first third of a mile of Burnt Timber Creek.  I thought that perhaps I could find an old abandoned path or game trail.  I did not find any such trace, but nonetheless enjoyed wandering around in the dense forest with only the gurgling creek and forest songbirds audible.

I did not want to part with my location nestled in the Sawatch Range.  However, no matter how much I would rather not want to go to my job I am that type of person who heeds the call of duty.  Thus, I retraced my steps from the old dilapidated cabin, through the large meadow with expansive views, crossed the creek twice in the narrow canyon and then climbed back up the switchbacks until the dogs and I arrived at the waiting car.  Pulling back onto the highway is a bit of a challenge from that parking area but I managed without cutting anyone off.  Coasting down grade until I reached the base, I had time to reflect upon my latest short morning trek.  My hectic job might be difficult for an introvert like myself but I knew that if needed I could close my eyes, count to ten and imagine in my mind’s eye what I had seen earlier in the day.  I felt blessed to have hiked these few miles, and felt more at peace with myself and the world than had I stayed at home, cooped up feeling anxious about the impending shift.

 

 

Edit:  I found after examining another file that I had indeed carried a spare data card.  Apparently, I switched the data cards during my hike.  I have added fifteen additional snapshots from the hike.

 

A Quick Evening Hike to Mill Lake – July 09, 2017

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Fossil Mountain reflected off the mirror-like surface of Mill Lake

As I muddle my way through life I often remind myself that compromise is part of my daily being.  My thoughts are none too light these days as I struggle with the choices I have made, my inability to succeed financially, the suffering I inflict or incur at my job, and the general angst I feel being an introvert in an extrovert’s world.  Oddly enough I find that the people whom I feel are enjoying some form of success frequently express some form of envy towards my free-wheeling lifestyle, that I am able to hike frequently and seemingly whenever I choose.  This happens when I display remorse regarding my round-pegged self fitting into a square-shaped society.  There are those few folks who are content and they are truly the blessed.  I suppose I shall have to be content only part of the time.

Such thoughts become the driving motive for some of my hikes, especially those that occur after a long day at work.  My mind may have been churning through all the permutations that my life might afford, and after hours of such ramblings I can get depressed at the hopelessness of the apparent situation.  But once I am out on a trail, hiking through terrain familiar or previously unexplored, these incessant thoughts begin to dissipate and I enter a state of transcendent bliss.  Thus, upon reaching home I desired not idleness and the confines of indoors, but sought the open expanses of the outdoors.  Within an hour I parked the car at the Gold Creek Trailhead adjacent to the Fossil Ridge Wilderness.  A short two to three mile hike would bring me to the lake and its environs.  Accumulated Winter snow had rebuffed my earlier attempt at hiking up to Mill Lake so I happily fled from urbanization to my mountain fastness.

It seems that I make a yearly pilgrimage to this part of Fossil Ridge, where glaciers carved out a rounded cirque that rises up to Fossil Mountain.  Some of that chiseled rock the flowing ice transported to a terminal moraine formed when the last glacier melted back from that point.  As I hiked up the somewhat steep trail I admired the forest and the wildflowers growing.  I wondered what beasts live here beyond the local rodent population that always proves a draw for the shepherds who often accompany me when I make a trek.  An open meadow with a view of the ridgeline is a favorite place to admire the beauty.  The lack of mature conifer and the tangles mass of grey logs provides tangible evidence of the immense power of avalanches.

The dogs and I climbed switchbacks, crossed Mill Creek once, stopped at the aforementioned meadow, climbed more switchbacks and then after a short stretch of relatively level ground reached the final crest prior to traversing the short descent that leads to the lake shore.   The surface was absolutely still and perfectly reflected the alpine splendor.  Snow clung at this late date in a few well-shaded crevices, patches of green swept up the slope until stopped by fields of talus and puffy clouds sailed by without thunder.  I had not much time for exploration so I led the pups over to a dry patch of grass which afforded a view to the southeast where I could make out nearby Sheep Mountain.

We rested not long.  Wildflowers beckoned and I found a few of my favorites to admire.  Draco and Leah scampered about a bit, first to the lake so as to slake their thirst and then followed by an excursion to the nearby talus and forest where an abundance of small furry beings attracted their interest.  Desiring peace, I put a halt to their adventure and recalled them to my vicinity where I directed them to lie down.  They did so, but without much enthusiasm.  I knew that the constant activity of the squirrels would command their attention.  That fact combined with the inexorable oncoming of sunset allowed me to make the easy decision to retire from the lake and begin the hike back to the car.

Reaching the vehicle in waiting I found that dusk had descended upon us.  The sky took on an ever darkening hue as we drove home.  My mind had worked through some of the mental difficulties that I had earlier been dwelling on.  I can’t help but think that a touch of Nature can help sooth almost anyone.  It seems to facilitate meditation.  Reaching home we three were greeted by Lady Dog, now sadly deceased, and her ever-thumping tail of happiness.  Barely nine-thirty at night, we piled into the living room enjoyed our mutual company.  Reading for an hour I finally decided to mosey off to bed, and thus shut off the lights and wandered slowly to sleep a peaceful sleep, thankful for the earlier outing.