I gladly left my day of work behind me. Having brought Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, up to doggy daycare I retrieved them and set out on a short evening walk just north of the town of Crested Butte. This late in the season I knew that I wouldn’t have much time before darkness overtook us. Thus one aspect of this hike that I took advantage of was the easy access to the trailhead, barely a quarter mile from town on Gunnison County Road 4. I parked at the first, southern of two parking lots. Signage advises using this lot due to the limited parking at the end of the road. Although I found out that I could have parked there this day I wouldn’t have even bothered to try during the busy Summer season.
I’m not exactly sure who maintains these trails. Some of the property is land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees much of the land in the western United States. Some is owned by the Crested Butte Land Trust, and some of the trail seems to be easement through private property. I made a minimal attempt at searching the internet to find out that information and can only conclude that some sort of collaborative effort between the two aforementioned organizations as well as the Town of Crested Butte has been arranged. While perusing the ethereal database the typical descriptions that I read about this part of the trail network, for many trails extend well beyond the Lower Loop, were “mellow”, “easy”, “level”, “all skill levels”. One description said “moderately trafficked” but that seems a bit too sanguine unless using Fifth Avenue as a reference for “heavy”. This trail is, in my book, heavily used, but can that be any wonder? Sublime scenery so close to town that nearly anyone can walk or ride out, and most do. During Summer, nearly everyday someone on my crew name-checks this trail network as what they did before work or will do after.
Departing the trailhead the dogs immediately entwined themselves within the canine spectrum of perception. I admired the visual aspect of the scenery, and the natural order of things as much as my limited senses of hearing and scent allow. The scenery is grand, as laccoliths have pushed up seemingly out of the ground, although their formation is a bit more complex than that. My sense of sight does allow me to appreciate the tapestry of life that graces the topography: the willow growing in masses, grasslands replete with forbs, dense forest of lodgepole pine, spruce in the danker aspects, aspen colonies en mass. I can hear the birds, and smell the conifer, and the overall sense of being in the mountains pervades. I, the modern man, despite my proclivity towards the outdoors, have lost, nay, never truly activated much of my ability to sense the world around me. Still, I have learned much over the years and love to see what grows and lives, thrives and dies, on the Earth.
The hike I took was fairly straightforward. Walking along the road I had a great view of Slate River, Peanut Lake (including signs warning of toxicity, a relic of the coal mining in the area), Mount Crested Butte, Anthracite Mesa and Gothic Mountain. At the end of the road I continued on the wide version of the Lower Loop. There is also a single-track version that parallels the other. Most of the trail is planted on top of the old Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow-gauge railroad. Earlier I had walked past “The Gronk”, remnants of an old coal tipple. This odd-looking concrete structure has earned a place in local lore. The trail follows the Slate River closely for much of the hike until towards the junction with the Gunsight Road. A large meadow spreads out there, at the junction, and it is approximately where I ended the hike. I lingered a bit but as the shadows increased in magnitude I soon restarted my hike in the opposite direction. The shepherds dutifully followed, or raced ahead, depending on what caught their attention. We returned to the car just as dusk settled over the region, filling the sky with the softer palette of colors found at crepuscular light. The dogs had been stimulated all day, running around with the pack, and had now worked off their energy in a positive way. The same might be said about me!