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.

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