Autumnal Equinox on Lake Branch, Off Piste – September 22, 2017

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A grove of aspen on Lake Branch

Personally, I often fell the need to declare the equinoxes and solstices some sort of national holiday.  Alas, also personally, because of the service industry job that I hold it is likely that should somehow inconceivably a holiday come to be declared I would be working anyhow as I do now on the majority of the major holidays.  Thus, I would suppose, this day would not have been altered much from the actual reality that I experienced, to wit:  A quick hike before work, exploring an unknown corner of a familiar region.  Perusing my ingrained knowledge of the local region I had made a recollection of a place I thought might be interesting to visit, and so the shepherds and I loaded up in the old Subaru and drove out of town via U.S. 50 eastbound almost to the small town of Sargents.

A mile shy of that aforementioned town I turned off the main road and onto Gunnison National Forest Road 780.  That bumpy road then leads on for two miles where the Long Branch Forest Facility sits in a large meadow.  I could drive another mile, but have always chosen this as my defacto trailhead.  I let the shepherds out of the car and while they investigated scent posts and rodent dens I gathered up the gear.  Soon, Draco, Leah and I walked through a gate and continued on Road 780 through a mixed conifer-aspen forest.  The road ends a mile up, and thus the lack of a through route keeps traffic to a minimum.  Paralleling Long Branch is a large meadow where willow traces the path of the water.  Although cloudy, no precipitation seems imminent and much blue sky may be seen.  The aspen and other deciduous vegetation has begun to turn yellow and adds to the vibrancy of the day.

Arriving at the official Long Branch/Baldy Lake Trailhead affords the dogs and I a choice of two trails.  I choose to take the western fork,  denoted as the Baldy Lake Trail No. 481.  We cross Long Branch and begin to trek up the trail.  This drainage is called the West Fork and there lies an open expanse of sagebrush and ponderosa pine on its northern side.  The northern side having a south face remains fairly warm and dry.  The southern side of West Fork confers a north face and thus has been shrouded in a thick forest due to the cooler nature of that aspect.  Hiking along for a mile or so we come to a southern branch of the West Fork.  This has been named the Lake Branch, as it drains Baldy Lake located about two miles upstream.  We cross the West Fork and follow an unofficial trail up into the drainage.

Some of the aspen here are ablaze with color, a palette of reds, oranges and yellows.  Much, however, remains green.  Our hike continues up the game trail about half to three-quarters of a mile.  The sky is mostly cloudy but enough sunshine streams through the gaps to keep us warm.  No noise beyond what nature concocts can be heard.  I find a place to sit, partially in the sunlight of the sagebrush steppe and somewhat shaded by the overhanging aspen.  The shepherds lie down nearby, now alert to the potential of feeding on kibble.  Wind rustles the leaves and a few birds exclaim pleasing melodies.  On this more protected aspect the ponderosa pine have given way to lodgepole, and a dense forest of this latter conifer stretches on for miles in some places.

The Lake Branch is but a trickle but yields enough water to easily quench the dogs’ thirst.  The undergrowth is dense near the creek but not impassable.  After our rest I lead the pups down to the water and then back down the light trail.  I’m guessing that this trail was created by cattle that graze here during the Summer, and is used by wildlife and humans as well.  Thinking about my impending shift later in the evening I lead the shepherds and myself back down the trail to the trailhead.  Along the way I admire the sagebrush steppe interfacing with forest. I am happy to be out walking on this day of transition from Summer to Autumn and wish I could extend my visit, but am content with what I have seen.  The heavy scent of pine and sagebrush mingle as I return to the old guard station and this pleasing odor I carry away with me back home.

2 thoughts on “Autumnal Equinox on Lake Branch, Off Piste – September 22, 2017

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