Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fort Narraguinnep & Narraguinnep Canyon Trail

During the second week of August 2009 a forest fire broke out in the area near Narraguinnep Canyon east of Cahone, Colorado. A report I saw mentioned that a forest lookout tower had to be evacuated.

The forest tower that I know of in that area is the Benchmark Lookout Tower. The road up to the tower overlooks Narraguinnep Canyon from the north. I visited the tower in July 2008 while looking for hiking opportunities in the area. I and my dogs were invited to climb up and I had an opportunity to talk to the lady working in the tower. I was startled to learn that she had spent every summer in this remote elevated room for nearly 20 years.

I had previously noted that the interpretive sign at the Jersey Jim Tower near Mancos, CO said that towers had largely been replaced by satellites and airplanes, but she said that Benchmark was still in full operation. The road leading to Benchmark Tower is about 4 miles and would make a nice walk but the views are blocked by the forest bordering the road and the reward would only come at the end of the hike.

The Narraguinnep Canyon Trail starts near Fort Narraguinnep Historic Site along Forest Road 514 in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. This hiking route follows Forest Road 575 for about three miles down the Narraguinnep Canyon.

The first section of trail passes through an open meadow area with good wildflowers. The hill sides along the creek have Ponderosa Pine and Gambel Oak. Road 514 continues to the north and climbs up toward the Benchmark Lookout Tower and overlooks the Narraguinnep Canyon.

This area is about 11 miles north of the McPhee Dolores River Dam. There aren't any official hiking trails in this part of the forest, but many side roads that make good hiking routes.

The Fort Narraguinnep Historic Site marks the place where cattlemen in 1885 built protective structures fearing reprisals from Ute Indians following the Beaver Creek Massacre, the last Indian battle in Colorado.The Fort site is west of the Forest Road junction through a gate. There isn't a sign close to the main forest road that points out the site. I hiked the wrong way at first, looking for the Fort up the valley to the east.

There appear to be the remains of two old structures made from the local Ponderosa Pine.  The Beaver Creek Massacre was on June 19, 1885 and the massacre site is about 15 miles to the southeast. (There is a blog post describing a hike in that area, use the labels.) The Fort Site is at the base of a Ponderosa Pine and Oak forested hill on the north side of a creek.

Deeper into the canyon the Ponderosa Pines start to dominate along the route. Some of the Ponderosas show scorch marks from a forest fire that didn't kill them. Aspens and Oaks are mixed in.

After about 1:00 hour and three miles I reached the Narraguinnep Reservoir, a pond and wetlands area. There was at least one brood of this years ducks on the pond. Mid-summer wildflowers were good in the open areas near the pond. I turned around at the pond and returned for a 2:00 hour total hike.

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