Thursday, July 17, 2008

McPhee Stock Trail-McPhee Dam and Lone Dome

The McPhee Stock Trail starts at the Mataska Recreation Site just below the McPhee Dolores River Dam in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, and climbs out of the Lone Dome Dolores River Canyon to the north rim. A trail from the south rim also accesses the dam area coming from the Sage Hen area.

The first part of the route climbs the service road toward the top of the dam and then switches back along a steep trail. There are good views down the canyon of the lower Dolores River, a good trout fishing area. The water flow in the Dolores is controlled release from the dam.

The trail is steep for the first 30 minutes and then flattens out for about 15 minutes. With the elevation gain Ponderosa Pines start to dominate and there are a lot of Rocky Mountain Red Juniper, with softer blue green foliage than the similar Utah Juniper.

As the trail climbs, the main channel of the McPhee Reservoir comes into view along with the Beaver Creek arm. In the distance Mesa Verde is visible. The lower part of the trail is Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper with Gambel Oak forest.

There is another 15 minutes of climbing to the top of the mesa. Near the top the McPhee Dam comes into view. Both the reservoir and the river below are visible. Sleeping Ute Mountain is visible to the south.

After about 1:05 of mostly uphill hiking the trail veers through a corral area. I walked through the corrals to the forest road on the other side. I stopped at the corral and returned to the canyon bottom for a total hike of 2:00 hours.

The forest road in the corral area is 511B and is 6 miles south of the Salter Y junction, Road 511B makes an obscure junction with road 510/511 just before the 2 mile descent down to the Dry Canyon fishing access point on the McPhee Reservoir. In Dry Canyon the sandstone layer that forms the foundation for the dam is exposed.

On a different hike I started at the 511 and 511B junction and walked the short distance to the corral. Road 511B continues west through the forest to Hoppe Point overlooking Salter Canyon. I hiked about 1.5 miles west but kept close to the Dolores Canyon Rim, rather than follow the road. The views of McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores River are similar to those along the McPhee Stock Trail but a little higher. I kept an eye out for Indian Ruins along the rim but didn't see any. This second hike was 2:30 hours, walking mostly slowly through the open forest and scanning with binoculars.

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