Monday, November 26, 2007

Anasazi Hertage Center Interpretive Trail-Escalante Ruins

The big bend of the Dolores River in southwest Colorado is now flooded under McPhee Reservoir, the second largest lake in the state. On the south bank, on the site of the Anasazi Heritage Center, there is a 1 mile round trip interpretive Lookout Trail that describes some of the plants and natural history of the area.

In the 1920's the town of McPhee, CO, on the big bend of the Dolores River, was a busy timber town. They suffered some setbacks, such as devastating fires, and the site is now submerged, along with many Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. In the 1980's a large dam a few miles downstream created McPHee Reservoir.

Besides being scenic and providing fishing and boating opportunities, the reservoir stores irrigation water that flows around the area in canals and feeds the hay and bean fields making the area greener than it would be otherwise. The small Dominguez Ruins site is near the museum near the beginning of the trail.
 The trail up to the lookout point and Escalante Ruins site is paved and climbs with switchbacks. There are interpretive signs and benches along the way. This is a good botany trail with many of the key trees and shrubs identified with comments on their possible uses.

The small museum and visitors center on the site provides displays on the vanished pueblo people and information on the numerous archaeology sites in the area. The Heritage Center also acts as a visitors center for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

In 1776 the first European Explorers, led by two Spanish friars, Escalante and Dominguez, came through this area, searching for a new route to California. They stopped on this hill overlooking the River of Our Lady of Sorrows, the name they just gave it, and examined the ruins, reporting that they looked like the ones they had seen over closer to Sante Fe, NM.

They wandered a little further north and west, but eventually wandered back without success. The expedition established part of the main branch of the Old Spanish Trail, a trade route that allowed goods to pass between California and the central part of North America.
There are two excavated ruins sites here named for the two Spanish Explorers. The larger site on the hill top is named for Escalante. This site is thought to date from 1129 and to show Chaco Canyon influence, though Chaco was in decline at this time and its influence was declining.

The thick walls surrounding a central kiva and T shaped doors are among the Chaco characteristics There are remains of 18 other small ruins sites on this same hill.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kennebec Pass above LaPlata Canyon

The LaPlata Canyon is between the Animas Valley and Durango to the east and Mancos to the west, in southwest Colorado. There is a 14 mile road up the canyon to the Kennebec Pass and though the road starts out paved, by the last four miles it is a rough 4WD road. The north turnoff from Highway 160 is across from the Hesperus Ski Area.

The last sement of road too rough for me to drive so I started my hike about 2 hours, or 4 miles, below the pass. It was beautiful in the canyon but relentlessly uphill. The LaPlata canyon area was originally a hot mining area and there are interpretive signs and discarded relics along the way, old industry mixing in with lush wildflower meadows.

Lower down, where there are some ranches and houses, everyone seemed to have a homemade sign protesting some new proposed mining activity and they seemed quite intense about it. "Go mine Uranus" shouted one sign.
The Kennebec pass taps into the Colorado Trail, a 483 mile route from Denver to Durango. I only went about a mile on the actual trail and encountered a mountain biker who seemed lightly loaded and was stopping to walk on a steep section. I asked if he had just started on the nearby trail head, and he said he had started at Denver, about 460 miles away.

The mile I walked was to the right, or east and leads 21 miles to the Junction Creek Trailhead near 25th Street in Durango. Turning left leads 53 miles to a crossing of Highway 550 at Little Molas Lake.

The meadows up here were as lush with wildflowers as any place I've seen, and the mountain peaks to the north seemed endless. One of the trail segments up here is also known as the Indian Ridge trail, and was used by the Utes to travel to the hot springs over by Ouray, CO. a town that calls itself the Switzerland of America.

Another trail segment is known as the Slide Rock Trail. It is possible to hike to Kennebec Pass on this trail from the Forest Road that starts at Junction Creek and continues past the Animas Overlook Trail.

A short side trail led to a small abandoned mining camp. The camp outhouse, hanging out over the edge, provided an excellent view of the Animas valley with the bustling town of Durango in the distance. I hiked in late July and didn't see any patches of snow near the trail or road. My total hike was about 10 miles.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Calico Trail-South Trailhead

The south end of the Calico National Recreation Trail in southwest Colorado climbs into the high forest country between the Dolores River valley and the West Fork of the Dolores valley.

The trail head is about 26 miles north of the town of Dolores on Highway 145. It is about 2 miles north of the Bear Creek Trailhead. The trail head elevation is 8050 feet.

The Priest Gulch Trail begins at the same trailhead. The Priest Gulch Trail follows Priest Creek and the Calico Trail  crosses the creek and starts climbing steeply.

As the trail climbs steeply, there is a good view of the Dolores River valley below. The trail head is across thehighway from a commercial campground. When you see travel trailers on the highways getting away from it all, they are headed for places where they can live under crowded trailer park conditions.

The forest here is lush, with Ponderosa pines, firs, and spruce, aspens, and good wildflower displays. I walked uphill steadily for 2:20 hours, maybe about four miles.

If I had made it to seven miles I would have come to the intersection with the Priest Gulch Trail and could have looped back. This trail appears to get a fair amount of horseback use. Horses seem to grind trails into a narrow shallow trench, so narrow that I have trouble walking on them.

There is another connection between the trails that I reached after 1:15 hours. I was going to take this route back so I could see both trails but I had trouble finding it, and then there was a bolt of lightning and the crash of thunder. Then it started to rain and I was at least 0:45 minutes from my car. If I had found the connection, it descends steeply and crosses Priest Creek about 2 miles from the trailhead.

I think the Calico Trail started as a route for sheep to get to the high pastures  there are remnants of old fences along the trail. The trail goes on for about 15 miles to the beautiful place called "The Meadows" at the foot of the San Miguel range of mountains in the Lizard Head Wilderness..

(There is a post on the north end of the Calico Trail in the Four Corners Hikes-Telluride blog. The north end of the trail has some of the most spectacular mountain views in the area.)

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Morrison Trail at Bear Creek

The Morrison Trail starts at the popular and well marked Bear Creek Trailhead, about 25 miles north of the town of Dolores along Highway 145 and the Dolores River in southwest Colorado.

This is mostly a deep forest hike through thick Aspen and Spruce with a few Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine mixed in.

Rather than following Bear Creek up toward the La Plata Mountains, it crosses and climbs steeply up onto Haycamp Mesa.
 The forest is so thick it's hard to get any good views of the nearby mountains. But finally, up high there are good views to the north.

Down low, the trail passes by some old ranch buildings and the Aspens were starting to show some fall color.

I hiked for 2:30 uphill, and took 1:30 to come back down. There were no mileage markers on the trail,and I turned around at a random mud hole, but I think I went about eight miles total. The Morrison Trail continues on and crosses Lost Canyon and then ends at the Transfer Campgound area where it merges with the Chicken Creek Trail.

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