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.