Friday, December 25, 2009

Dolores River Hikes From End to End

The head waters of the Dolores River are in the Lizard Head Pass area along Highway 145, south of Telluride in southwest Colorado. There are many trails in the head waters area including a main trail head a little south of the Pass.

The Groundhog Stock Trail starts at the Cross Mountain Trail Head, about two miles south of the Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado.

The Groundhog trail ends at the east end of The Meadows along Forest Road 535, and the south flanks of Mount Wilson come into view.

Just west of the Meadows another headwater flows out of Navajo Lake and becomes the West Fork of the Dolores River. Look for the Navajo Lake Trail and the Kilpacker Trail there. There is a network of trails to find in the Lizard Head area and more along the West Fork of the Dolores River. The Geyser Springs Trail leads to the only true geyser in Colorado. (Look at Four Corners Hikes-Telluride for these headwaters hikes.)

The Bear Creek Trail is just off the 145 highway in the Dolores River Valley, about halfway between Dolores and Telluride, and goes up into the National Forest toward the La Plata Range of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

The trail alternates between being high on the valley side above the fast running creek or right down along the bank. The Morrison Trail begins at the same trailhead. The Priest Gulch Trail is also in the same area.

The big bend of the Dolores River in southwest Colorado is now flooded under McPhee Reservoir, the second largest lake in the state. There is a little known Big Bend Trail that begins near the Dolores cemetery.

The McPhee Stock Trail starts at the Mataska Recreation Site just below the McPhee Dolores River Dam 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.

On the south bank of the McPhee Reservoir, on the site of the Anasazi Heritage Center, there is a 0.5 mile Interpretive Lookout Trail that describes some of the plants and natural history of the area. This is a good botany trail with many of the key trees and shrubs identified with comments on their possible uses.

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. There are two excavated ruins sites here named for the two Spanish Explorers.

The Dolores River Canyon is downstream of the McPhee Reservoir and is close to Dove Creek, CO, the pinto bean capital. Driving there you go past rolling bean fields and then turn on to a gravel road and are suddenly descending hundreds of feet into a deep narrow canyon. There is a rocky road along the river for about 12 miles north and a rougher trail afterwards. The Dolores Canyon is deep and very scenic, a clear stream and tall Ponderosa Pines.

The other boat launch sites on the lower Dolores all have hiking opportunities. Bradfield near Pleasant View has 2 miles of old ranch road along the south side of the river as well as the main forest road on the north side that leads to the Lone Dome Recreation area.

The Big Gypsum Valley boat launch has a 2 mile stretch of road along the river where there are rock climbing sites before the stream enters another long section of wilderness canyon. Hiking can continue into the Little Gypsum Valley across the bridge.

At Bedrock, there is a 3 mile trail that leads to a good petroglyph site and to the junction with LaSal Creek.

The Paradox Trail is a 105 mile mountain bike trail in western Montrose County, just to the east of the La Sal Mountains. Between Bedrock and Uravan, an alternate section of trail, called the River Road, follows the Dolores River downstream to the confluence with the San Miguel River. The Paradox Trail is named for the odd situation where the Dolores River flows perpendicular across the valley, entering and exiting through steep canyons.

The Dolores and San Miguel start in the same area. The water flowing south from Lizard head Pass near Telluride, flows about 50 miles south in the Dolores River before turning back to the north. Water flowing north from the same pass enters the San Miguel system and flows west. After long journeys apart, the waters rejoin in this remote canyon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ridge Point Lookout Trail-McPhee Reservoir

The Ridge Point Lookout Trail is the road in the McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area that leads to the campground, boat ramp and a lookout point. The McPhee Reservoir is Dolores River water in southwest Colorado, a little downstream of the town of Dolores.

In winter, when the normal trails are muddy or snow covered, the paved road provides a hard surface to hike on. The road may be closed to vehicles or it will have very little traffic. It is a 4.2 mile round trip to the lookout point, with the option to continue down to the lake by the boat ramp.

At the lookout point there is a concrete compass with interpretive signs identifying the geographical features around the 360 degree views. This is one of three easy to get to view points in this area. Nearby, the Anasazi Cultural Center Interpretive Trail ends at a good view point. The best view point in the area is at Park Point, the highest point in Mesa Verde National Park.

The views to the north and east include two of the nearby mountain ranges, the LaPlatas and the San Miguels with the reservoir in the foreground. The LaPlata Mountains had a lot of gold mining activity, mostly in LaPlata Canyon a little west of Durango.

Many of the trails in the San Miguels near Telluride still have ruins sites and ghost towns along the way. To the west the Abajo Mountains in Utah are visible. Below the view point is the site of the timber town of McPhee, which prospered in the early 1900s, but is now flooded. McPhee processed the Ponderosa Pines which dominate this part of the San Juan National Forest.

There is the short Can Do Trail running 0.5 miles from the nearby campground to the Lookout Point and then another 0.5 miles down the hillside to the boat ramp area. In winter, the trail will often be snow covered and muddy. The information sign says there is an Anasazi site about half way from Ridge Point to the campground.

This area had one of the largest archaeology projects in history, associated with the reservoir project. There are two excavated sites at the nearby Anasazi Heritage Center and several more on the same hill. This hike takes about 2:00 hours for 4.2 miles. I hiked it on a 45 F degree mid November day, a few days after an early winter storm.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Smelter Mountain Trail in Durango

Smelter Mountain is the area south west of the intersection of Highways 550 and 160 in Durango in southwest Colorado. It is part of the Bodo State Wildlife Area. Traveling past this relatively dry looking mountain you might notice the many radio antennae on top.

The most popular trail head for hikers is near the junction of Highway 550 and County Road 211. There is a small parking area designated for hikers but no other signs at the trail head. From the trail head the route climbs steeply for about 1 mile with about 1200 feet of elevation gain and provides wide views up and down the Animas River Valley.

I started my hike at a more obscure trailhead about 1 mile south of Road 211 at the west side of the Bodo Park business area. There is a short dirt road that seems to provide service access for the large power line. This southern trail head might be favored by hikers that want to climb the 7844 foot Carbon Mountain.

After the dirt service road ends there is a vague trail that continues up the ridge and swings south toward Carbon Mountain. I didn’t see a clear trail leading to the peak. The Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper terrain gave way to a thicket of Gambel Oak.

There may be a peak route that I didn’t see, but at the thicket I turned toward the north and worked my way down to Road 211. The Carbon Mountain climb could be a separate hike from Smelter Mountain, but I did them both as a loop.

County Road 212 makes a nearby junction with 211 and leads to the top of Smelter Mountain and the many radio towers there. The Road 211/212 route is a way to the top for mountain bikers. There is some industrial activity in the Bodo Wildlife Area. Large power lines and gas lines pass through and there is a large stabilized tailings pile that looks like a dam.

In September 2009 there is also construction work for Lake Nighthorse, a new reservoir that is primarily for water supply for several of the Indian Reservations in the Four Corners and also for the cities of Durango and Farmington, NM.

A new 280 cfs pump station has been installed on the Animas River near Santa Rita Park. Pumping began May 4, 2009 and as of September 2009 the reservoir is about 20% full. It is estimated that the lake will take 18 months to 3 years to fill. The planned volume is 120,000 acre feet.

Road 212 extends for about 3 miles past numerous towers. There are good views on both sides of the road.

After the last radio tower the road transitions into a trail and descends toward the southeast to the Road 211 trail head.

The views to the north are of the most interest toward the city center of Durango and the mountains just to the west. 

My total hike took 4:45 hours for about 7 miles including my lunch stop in the developed area in the Bodo Park commercial area. Most hikers will probably choose either the Carbon Mountain route or the Smelter Mountain trail and not do both on the same hike. I carried two liters of water on an 80 F day in early September, and drank another two liters at lunch near the finish.


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geyser Springs Trail

The Geyser Springs Trail is a 1.25 mile each way trip to the only true geyser in Colorado. The trail head is about 23 miles north along the West Fork of the Dolores River Road from the junction with Highway 145 which is about 15 miles north of the town of Dolores. There is also access coming south from Telluride along the Dunton Road south of Lizard Head Pass

The trail head parking area appears to be newly constructed for 2009. The trail immediately crosses the West Fork of the Dolores using some large placed stones. As these stones might be underwater during the spring runoff, late summer and fall are the best times to visit here. The trail head area is about 2 miles south of the Dunton Hot Springs site.

When driving past Dunton, it appears to be a well preserved privately owned mining ghost town. It has a low key appearance but is actually a somewhat fancy resort. Among the attractions of Dunton are the hot springs from the same underground thermal source as Geyser Springs.

The trail climbs from about 8500 feet to 9100 feet through aspen and spruce forest with a few views across the canyon. About 100 yards before the geyser there is a small sign that advises foot travel only into the sensitive geyser area. Well before arriving at the site there are whiffs of sulfur and maybe small puddle hot springs along the trail.

The geyser itself is a small pool and looks like the back wall has been constructed. When I arrived there was a boiling appearance. Warm water overflowing the pool drips down a slope into the creek flowing on the backside.

Viewing from the creek side, there is an old inscription that says J Luther 1901. I suppose this is old enough to consider historic and has an interesting story. The Forest Service information on the Geyser says the water is 82.4 F degrees. I dipped my hand in and the turbid water was warm but not hot. I was interested to see if unusual plants would be growing in the warm micro-climate here. There were ferns lining the pool, but they also grow along the creek, so I didn’t detect anything unusual.

I watched the geyser for about 45 minutes. There was good boiling activity as I arrived and it gradually slowed down to more of a simmer, but the water was never calm. About 40 minutes after I arrived the intensity increased again. The water level at the maximum intensity during my visit was about 1 or 1.5 feet higher than at low intensity. There wasn’t any spurting or jets shooting high in the air. Not spectacular but certainly interesting.

It took me about 30 minutes to arrive at the site and 30 minutes back and I lingered and chatted with other hikers for another hour for a 2:00 hour total visit. It was about 65 F degrees in mid August. I carried 1 liter of water but didn’t need to drink until the end of the hike.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Gold Run Trail-Bear Creek

The Gold Run Trail is a 2.5 mile multi-use route that provides access from Haycamp Mesa to the middle part of the Bear Creek Trail in the San Juan Forest near Mancos in southwest Colorado.

The trail head is about 7 miles north of the Transfer Campground along Forest Road 561. It can also be reached from Forest Road 556 leading east from Dolores, CO

The elevation at the trail head is about 10,700 feet and the forest is mostly Engelmann Spruce and Aspens. This trail appears to be popular with horse riders and the trail head area has some extra facilities for managing the horses. The trail switchbacks down the hillside mostly through deep forest with an elevation change of about 1700 feet.

There are a few open meadows spots giving views across the Bear Creek canyon. The Bear Creek Trail has a trail head along Highway 145 about 22 miles north of Dolores, CO. The Gold Run Trail junctions with the Bear Creek Trail at the Bear Creek 6 mile mark. After the junction, the Bear Creek Trail pushes further east toward the LaPlata Mountains and connects with other mountain trails.
There is a bridge crossing Bear Creek at the trail junction and some interpretive signs discussing trout and stream habitat. The life cycle of trout is summarized and the importance of pools and streamside plants is discussed. There was a project here to improve the trout habitat. Logs and rocks were placed in the stream to increase the number of pools and plants were added along the banks. The water here looked crystal clear. The spruce trees along the creek might be called the Colorado Blue Spruce.

I stopped my hike at the trail junction and returned back to the top. I saw one group of horse riders and one group of motorcycles during my hike. Mid-summer wildflowers were good along the trail with a lot of the colorful Indian Paintbrush. Probably due to the use by horses, there were a lot of flies in the meadow at the bottom near the Bear Creek.

The interpretive signs indicated that cattle grazing along Bear Creek was halted in 1987. It took me about 1:00 hour to descend to Bear Creek and 1:20 to climb back to the trail head and my total hike was 2:40 hours for the 5.0 mile round trip. It was about 60 F degrees in late July, partly cloudy and there was a brief shower while hiking back up.

Visitors to the Gold Run Trail area approaching from the Transfer Campground will go past the Jersey Jim Lookout Tower. An interpretive sign indicates that the tower has mostly been retired, with airplanes and satellites now providing the fire lookout coverage.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Old Railroad Grade Trail-Mancos

The Old Railroad Grade Trail is a 5.7 miles section of the old Durango and Rio Grande route between Madden Peak Road and Cherry Creek Road east of Mancos in southwest Colorado. Madden Peak Road turns north off of Highway 160 and is signed about 5.6 miles east of Mancos. The Old Railroad Grade is an east turn 1.2 miles along Madden Peak Road and is marked as Forest Road 568.

The walking is easy and the road is relatively smooth as you might expect on an old rail grade. This section of trail is advertised locally as an easy mountain bike route. This area is on the southern flank of the LaPlata Mountains.

The views from an elevation of 8250 ft. are toward the agricultural area in the valley along Highway 160 and to Menefee Mountain and Maggie Rock, formations with the last of the Mesa Verde sandstone layers. The views are obscured somewhat by two sets of high voltage power lines that parallel the trail.

The forest in the first few miles is mostly Gambel Oak with scattered Ponderosa Pines, with the pines getting more dominant toward the east. About 1 mile along the trail there is a side trail leading 0.75 miles to the Target Tree Campground that is along Highway 160. Another 0.5 miles leads to Aspen Pond, a small pond surrounded by a grove of Aspens.

I hiked about 4.3 miles to the curiously named Starvation Creek that flows right across the road. There are also Aspens growing along the creek and I noticed Douglas Firs and Narrow Leaf Cottonwoods in this moister area.

On the return hike, about 0.5 miles back west of Starvation Creek I saw a Black Bear on the north side of the trail, from about 150 yards away. After a lifetime of never seeing bears on any hike, this was my second bear sighting in the same month. The bear was running up the slope, stopped to look back at me, then climbed over a new looking fence and disappeared over the ridge. For the second time I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture.

The area near Maggie Rock on the south side of Highway 160 is the site of a ranch that was owned by western writer Louis L’Amour. L’Amour would often spend summer vacations at the Strater Hotel in nearby Durango and also had this ranch as a retreat. He considered building a replica old western town on the ranch site to be named Shalako after one of his characters, but this project was never realized.

It took me 1:50 hours to arrive at Starvation Creek and 1:40 to return for a total hike of 3:30 hours for about 8.5 miles. An afternoon thundershower was building and chasing me back. I carried 2 liters of water on a late July day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Italian Canyon LoopTrail at Boggy Draw

The Italian Canyon Trail is an 11 mile outer loop on the east side of the Boggy Draw Trail System in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado.

The Main Trail Head is about 3 miles west of the town of Dolores at the point where County Road W changes to Forest Road 527. The Boggy Draw Trail System is multi user for mountain bikes, hiking, and horse riding and doesn’t allow motorized except on the separate ATV Trail.

The Boggy Draw Trail is the central loop of the system. The Mavericks Trail is an additional inner loop to the east, and the Italian Canyon Trail connects at two points to the Mavericks Trail. To travel the Italian Canyon Trail you end up covering at least half of the Mavericks Trail also.

I started my hike at the main Boggy Draw Trail Head. It is not obvious, but the south end of the Mavericks Trail is directly across the Forest Road from the Trail Head signs. Hiking counter clockwise on the Mavericks Trail, the south connection of the Italian Canyon Trail is about 2 miles along the trail.

It took me about 0:40 minutes to arrive there. This terrain here is slightly rolling through Ponderosa Pine forest with an understory of Gambel Oak. There are a few open meadow areas and some constructed ponds, with a moderate amount of wildflowers. This system is easy to moderate for mountain biking.

The middle part of the hike emerges from the Ponderosa Pine forest and has some good views overlooking the Dolores River Valley. To the east the LaPlata Mountains and Mount Hesperus stand out. To the north up the valley the San Miguel Mountains are visible.

After the view points, the trail re-enters the Ponderosa forest and cuts back toward the Mavericks Trail. The northern connection with the Mavericks Trail doesn’t have a good sign like the south connection does and could be easily missed when traveling on the Mavericks Trail in the clockwise direction. This is a good hot day hike as most of the route is shaded, but there aren’t many view points or other points of interest in the Boggy Draw system.

I saw a Black Bear on this hike, the first time I have ever seen one on any trail. The bear was lumbering along, about to cross the trail just as I came up over a small rise. We were only about 30 feet apart and both of us stopped abruptly, both startled. The brown colored bear made a quick pivot and sprinted about 100 yards back the way it came and stopped, looking back.

By its size I took it for an adult and I didn’t see any cubs. As I stepped forward to look, it turned again and continued to jog off into the forest. The entire encounter only lasted about 20 seconds, and was over before I could take a picture.

My brief research finds that in Colorado, a Black Bears range can be 10 to 250 square miles and they prefer areas with Gambel Oak and Aspens. The Italian Canyon Trail is dense with Gambel Oak but I didn’t see any Aspens. They also like Serviceberries. I wasn’t carrying any food on this hike. Much later in the hike I saw some bear tracks for a few feet on a dusty part of the trail, but no further sightings. My total hike for about 11 miles took 4:30 hours and I carried two liters of water on a partly cloudy day in early July.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Morrison Trail-Transfer Campgound to Lost Canyon

The Morrison Trail runs for 8 miles from the Transfer Campground to the Bear Creek Trailhead that is along the Dolores River in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado.

I started my hike at the Chicken Creek Trailhead, slightly north of Transfer Campground and hiked 4 miles out to the rim of Lost Canyon and 4 miles back. The Transfer Campground near Mancos, CO is a hub for the network of trails in this part of the forest.
The Morrison Trail at the Transfer Campground end is a continuation of the Chicken Creek Trail that runs about 8 miles south to Jackson Lake in Mancos State Park. I followed the trail north from the trail junction and traveled further up Chicken Creek.

After a short distance the Morrison Trail climbs out of the west side of the Chicken Creek canyon and then descends into the Turkey Creek drainage. The forest in this area is mostly Aspens and Engelmann Spruce.

The trail crosses several Forest Roads. At one of the roads there is a stream on each side of the road with small pedestrian bridges. Looking at the maps, this water appears to be channeled to some of the local reservoirs, maybe the Joe Moore Reservoir.

Climbing out of the Turkey Creek drainage the trail becomes available to motorized users except trucks and is mostly a two track narrow road for a couple of miles. In some places the trail crosses the Aspen Loop Trail, a long ATV route centered on the Transfer Campground area.

There aren’t any mountain views along this section and only a few meadows. There are some wildflowers along the way, Larkspurs, yellow lupines, a few dogtooth violets, white violets, asters, and Iris, but mostly dandelions.

I arrived at the edge of Lost Canyon after about 2:10 hours of hiking. There were some glimpses of the other side of this fairly wide canyon but the forest is very thick here. The good views on the Morrison Trail are at each end, but not in the middle. I turned around at the Lost Canyon rim and returned in about 2:00 hours for a total hike of 4:10 for 8 miles.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chicken Creek Trail to Jackson Lake

The Chicken Creek Trail has a Trail Head in Mancos State Park in southwest Colorado near the north shore of Jackson Gulch Reservoir. It runs north for about 8 miles before merging with the Morrison Trail.

 It can also be accessed from the Rim Trail near the Transfer Campground in the San Juan National Forest near the town of Mancos. I started my hike at the point where the Rim Trail crosses Forest Road 561, about 1 mile south of Transfer campground. This point can also be used to start two other loop hikes on the network of trails in this area.

Following the Rim Trail southwest for about 1 mile down into the Chicken Creek Canyon, I connected with the Chicken Creek Trail and continued south toward Jackson Gulch Reservoir. From where I started it is about 5.3 miles to the lake.

The trail mostly follows the creek, crossing several times and providing opportunities to get your feet wet. In this valley, the west side is dominated by Ponderosa Pines and the east side by Engelmann Spruce and Douglas Firs, with Aspens and Gambel Oaks mixed in.

There appear to be two historic sites along the trail. About 2 miles along the route a small creek joins from the west. In the area of the creek junction there are some old timbers and some sandstone brick remains of some sort of structure.

There isn’t any information at the site but it looks like some kind of mining operation was here.

About a mile further, there is a small wooden sign that says “Deans Sawmill Site”. There is a collection of metal artifacts still laying here.

I suppose in 700 years these artifacts will be sought after like pottery shards from the Ancestral Pueblo sites.

About 2 miles before Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the trail climbs out of the Chicken Creek Canyon and winds southwest to the north shore of the lake. Up to this point the trail doesn’t offer any views, instead it is a deep forest hike. This reservoir is the water supply for the town of Mancos and maybe for Mesa Verde National Park.

There are some good views across the lake to the nearby LaPlata Mountains. Instead of retracing my steps on the Chicken Creek Trail, I followed the Mancos State Park Road east around the north shore and then cut through a short section of open Ponderosa Pine forest north and east to Forest Road 561. This was a quicker route back to my starting point. It took me 3:15 hours to cover the 5.3 miles to Jackson Lake and 1:45 hours to return. My total hike on this looped route was 5:00 hours for about 9.6 miles.