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.

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