Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beaver Creek Winter Sports Trail

The Bald Hill Trail is an unofficial segment of the Beaver Creek Winter Sports Trail in the San Juan National Forest near Dolores in southwest Colorado.

The trailhead for the Beaver Creek Winter Sports Trail is at the junction of Forest Road 526 and 532 near the gas compression facility, about 10 miles past the turnoff for House Creek Recreation Area on McPhee Reservoir.

The Beaver Creek Massacre Trail is not far from the same junction. There are interpretive signs at the 526/532 junction showing a map and information on wildlife in the area.

I walked the segment that starts about 2 miles east along Forest Road 532 at the Road marked 532A.
This rough road heads generally southeast and climbs through forest of Ponderosa Pine and Gambel Oak before reaching a meadow area with Long Draw Reservoir, a small wetlands area.

As the trail climbs there are more groves of Aspens and there are several large crags of dead Ponderosa Pines. One of the large crags was marked with a small sign designating it as a wildlife tree.

Another large wildflower filled meadow arrives after about 2 miles and Bald Hill becomes visible. The road continues on toward Oak Knolls Reservoir and the connects with the Boggy Draw Road and Trail System.
There is another small wetlands reservoir at the base of Bald Hill. I turned around here and returned to the start point. It took about 1:00 hour uphill to Bald Hill and 0:45 back down for a total hike of 1:45.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McPhee Park Ponderosa Pine Trail

The McPhee Park Old Growth Ponderosa Trail is an unofficial route in the San Juan National Forest just west of Dolores in southwest Colorado. The route starts at the junction of Forest Roads 531 and 526 about seven miles past the turnoff for the House Creek Recreation Area on McPhee Reservoir.

According to the antique sign, in 1925 a sample of virgin Ponderosa Pine was set aside. This point is only about 10 minutes of walking down road 531.

The road is well graded and this park like spot can be easily driven to. There is not a sign along the main road 526, so you have to be alert and know to turn on 531.

Some of the Ponderosas are noticeably bigger around and taller here than in other parts of the forest. There are also some very tall dead trees that are important habitat for woodpeckers and other birds. These large crags are often missing in managed forests.

Ponderosa pine has a long clear trunk and a high short open crown. It averages 42 inches in diameter and 165 feet tall at maturity. Ponderosa pine reaches maturity in 300 to 400 years.

As the trees reach maturity, the bark thickens to as much as 4 inches and breaks into large, flat, yellow-brown, scaly-topped plates separated by deep furrows. Old trees have a characteristic yellow bark and are locally named Yellow Pine.

The wood is highly desirable, light in weight, rather hard, strong, and relatively fine-grained. The road past these huge trees gets rougher as you continue south and swings around back north to make an easy loop trail that takes about 45 minutes to walk.

The route follows along the rim of a creek valley thick with Ponderosa and a few Aspens. Ponderosa pine is common in mountain and plateau areas at elevations between 5,700 and 8,900 feet. It develops a taproot early in life, which helps it to survive extended drought periods, especially long, dry summers.

Near the end of the loop there is a small constructed pond and an open meadow. The Ponderosa have male and female cones on the same tree. The male cones are small, yellowish, and in clusters. Female cones average 4 inches in length when mature.

The tips of the cone scales are armed with short, sharp, out curved prickles. The female cones, like all pines, require two growing seasons to mature.

The road gets a little better and climbs back up to Road 531 very near the junction with Road 526. I walked the loop twice in 1:30 hours.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beaver Creek Massacre Trail

The Beaver Creek Massacre Trail is an unofficial hiking route in the San Juan National Forest on Roads 525 and 238 west of Dolores in southwest Colorado.

I started at the junction of Roads 525 and 526 which is about 9 miles past the turnoff for the House Creek Recreation Area on McPhee Reservoir. This junction is a spot where industry intersects with forest as major power lines and a gas compression station are in sight, not to mention cattle grazing and log trucks rolling through this multi-use area.

This is an area of Ponderosa Pine, Aspens and some wide meadows. I walked south about 0:50 minutes to the junction with Forest Road 238 which entered a large meadow. There were a some wildflowers in the meadow and good views back north towards the San Miguel Mountains.

The Beaver Creek Massacre site is at about the first mile point along this route. It commemorates a low point in settler-Ute Indian relations where on June 19, 1885 a group of cowboys ambushed a peaceful Ute camp. "The Utes must go!" had been white settlers’ rallying cry. The 6-10 Utes murdered that morning had official permission to hunt in this area in order to supplement their meager government rations.

There were Ute reprisals which caused considerable panic in the region and led to the building of Fort Narranguinnep nearby. Apparently the names of the cattlemen involved were kept secret until fairly recently even though the event was more than 100 years ago. There is a commorative marker at the Fort Narranguinnep site, with a few remains of the structure, and also room to hike in the forest.

The commemorative sign for the Beaver Creek Massacre was dedicated in 1983 but has fallen into disrepair. I spent 2:00 hours hiking out and back along this route. The Forest Roads continue much further than I hiked. The Historic site is only 15 minutes of hiking from the junction and can be driven to.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rusts Sawmill LoopTrail

The Rusts Sawmill Loop is an unofficial route that uses segments of the Boggy Draw Trail System in the San Juan National Forest just west of Dolores in southwest Colorado. It goes past the Rusts Sawmill Historic Site.I started at Forest Road 257 which is at the Bean Canyon hairpin turn on paved Forest Road 526. The lengthy Bean Canyon Trail crosses Forest Road 257 about 100 yards down the road.

I turned right or south and followed the Bean Canyon Trail up the scenic side canyon for about 20 minutes until the junction with the Boggy Draw ATV Trail, then left or north.

The forest up the side canyon has a lot of aspens at the bottom with Ponderosa Pine on the canyon sides.

The Boggy Draw ATV Trail follows a main power line in this area. I followed this route north, climbing out of the side canyon and looping back toward Bean Canyon.
The ATV Trail seems to split at the rim of Bean Canyon. The more heavily traveled choice seems to plunge roughly straight over the side. The alternate to the right is more of an easy switchback route that veers away from the power line, then turns back towards it.

The forest here is Ponderosa with Gambel Oak. The alternates rejoin near the junction with Road 257.

Turning left or west on Forest Road 257 leads back to the start of the loop, about a mile away. On the left is the Rusts Sawmill Site.
The interpretive sign is in ruins as is the old sawmill site. This was the first major sawmill and railroad to the western part of the forest and operated in 1905-06. Rust had his own four mile rail line connecting to the main line in Dolores.

It took me about 1:10 to walk this loop of about 3 miles.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Oak Knolls and Dolores Canyon Vista Trail

The Oak Knolls Trail is an unofficial route off of the Boggy Draw Road 527 in the San Juan National Forest just west of Dolores in southwest Colorado.
 I started on unmaintained Forest Road 249 which is 9.4 miles north from the main trailhead of the Boggy Draw Trail System. There is a small reservoir near the junction of Road 249 and the Boggy Draw 527, and Road 249 continues north. The forest here is Ponderosa Pines and Aspens.

After a few minutes of hiking the Boggy Draw ATV trail crosses Road 249. The ATV route to the east is of interest as it leads to a point known as Canyon Vista, and there is also hiking to the west.

I skipped past the Canyon Vista trail and continued on. The forest changes from Ponderosa Pine to Oak, and there are some oak covered knolls. Wildflowers are good along this section of forest also, and there are a few views of the San Miguel and LaPlata mountains.

It took me one hour to get the Oak Knolls Reservoir, the distance appears to be about 2.7 miles. The reservoir looks like a good wetlands area, lots of aquatic plants and probably supports a few broods of ducks.

On the return hike I turned on an apparent ATV trail to the east. There is actually a loop route to the Canyon Vista point, though the trail head map only shows an in and out route. Coming from the north arm of the loop, it took 30 minutes to get to the Point where there are commanding views of the Dolores River Valley.

The Canyon Vista point overlooks the area where the West Fork of the Dolores flows into the main Dolores River. The return loop back to Road 249 took 20 minutes and my total hike to Oak Knolls with the Canyon Vista loop was 2:20.

The alternative route to the west I’ve called The Forest Restoration Trail. In this part of the forest there have been some efforts to restore the conditions that prevailed before settlement.

At the junction of the Canyon Vista Loop segment of the ATV trail turn left or west instead of right. This part of the forest is Ponderosa Pine with some patches of Aspens and an under story of Gambel Oak. After a few minutes the trail passes along the north side of the Boggy Draw Reservoir and I could see my car, so a shortcut is available here.

A little further there are some signs of timber operations, adding some interest. Among the listed goals of the Restoration Project is to provide products to the timber industry, but also reduce risk of catastrophic fires, reduce the risk of insect and disease outbreak, increase wildflowers and wildlife, and produce larger trees.

Foraging birds such as the mountain chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, pygmy nuthatch and yellow-rumped warbler can help spur the growth of Ponderosa Pine trees in the West, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study. The study showed birds removed various species of beetles, caterpillars, ants and aphids from tree branches, increasing the vigor of the trees.

Hiking through this area, I notice that some of the Ponderosas are marked with a slash of orange paint, which I think means these are the ones to be cut. The pine wood is highly desirable, light in weight, rather hard, strong, and relatively fine-grained. There are also small groups of cattle back in this area in summer. So as I recreate, I pass grazing, and timber operations in the multi-use area.

After about an hour of hiking there is a junction with another major power line and some views to the north toward Lone Cone Peak and slightly west to the Disappointment Valley. The ATV trail turns back to the south at this point. This segment of ATV trail has good views at both ends, here and at the east end overlooking the Dolores River Valley. After enjoying the views I returned to Boggy Draw Reservoir, using the short cut, for a total hike of about 1:40 hours.