Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Animas River Trail in Winter-Durango

The Animas River Trail is about seven miles of paved all season trail along the scenic Animas River in Durango, Colorado. The route began to take shape in the 1970s and continues to lengthen as the years go by.
I started my hike at the Santa Rita Park and hiked north. The Santa Rita Park is a short distance south of the junction of Highway 550 and Highway 160 on the west side of 550. This is an easy access if you are arriving in Durango from the west. There is a visitor information center at Santa Rita Park and also a Whitewater Park. During the summer months kayaks and rafts are frequently visible in this area.
There are many interpretive signs along the trail. North of Santa Rita is a view of Smelter Mountain and the site of the San Juan and New York Smelter that opened in 1882. The smelter closed in 1930, only to reopen during World War II for Uranium and Vanadium processing. All the buildings and tailings were removed by 1992. It is possible to hike to the top of Smelter Mountain from trails a little further south.

In 2011, the historic Durango Power Plant has been restored and converted into the Discovery Museum. The emphasis of the displays is hands on science activity for children, but the historic boiler room and examples of the historic machinery are also on dislplay.
The segment near the historic Main Street Bridge and Rotary Park has several interesting features. The trail crosses a bridge that is parallel to a Durango to Silverton rail line bridge and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has a facility just north of the bridge.

There is a short nature trail leading into the Wildlife facility which includes a hatchery for Cutthroat Trout. The nature trail has interpretive signs explaining the importance of riparian, or stream side habitat. There is also a display on Elk with an interpretive sign explaining the activity for each season.

In winter, the elk descend from the high country to lower elevation pastures, where they sometimes find traditional areas now covered with houses.

The Colorado Cutthroat is a true native of Colorado while the Rainbow Trout is an import from the Pacific Northwest. This display is only a short distance off the main trail.

There are several examples of public art along the Animas River Trail. The sunflower is just south of the parallel trail and railroad bridges. There is also a colorful Trout Wall art work south of the Main Street Bridge.
It took me 1:30 hours to arrive at the Durango Recreation Center, the north end of the west side trail branch. It is possible to go a little further north on the east side branch. My total hike took 3:10 hours including a lunch stop near the Durango to Silverton Train Station. I hiked for 7 or 8 miles on a sunny and mild 36 F late December day. There were many joggers and dog walkers and a few bike riders also enjoying the trail during my hike.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carpenter Natural Area Trail in Cortez, CO

The Carpenter Natural Area is a 72 acre area on the north and west side of Cortez in southwest Colorado. The area features a broad paved trail with a network of primitive trails along a creek with rocky mesas on the north and south sides.

Officially, the sidewalk heading north along the west side of Mildred Road from Empire Street is the beginning of the east side trail access, but anywhere in the Parque de Vida could be used as a starting point.

I started in the parking area for the Cortez Recreation Center and hiked past the pond on the west side. In mid November dozens of Canada Geese are grazing on the grassy lawn and floating in the pond.

I didn’t see a sign but the sidewalk route turns west at Hospital Drive and continues past the south side of the hospital complex downhill following a drainage. At the east end there is a small pond surrounded by cottonwood trees with cattails on the edges of the pond. Most of the natural area appears to be sagebrush fields with scattered Junipers and other desert grasses and shrubs.

At the entrance it is noted that the trail was made possible by the City of Cortez and the Colorado Dept. of Transportation. There is a plaque near the pond commemorating the donation of the land by the Chism Family.

Past the pond a mesa top area appears along the north side. Most of the primitive trails that branch off the paved trail explore the mesa top area.

I followed the paved trail to the west end, where there is a parking area and followed a side trail that circled around the mesa top and climbed along the north side. It appeared that most visitors use the west side access that is along Lebanon Road north of Highway 491.

From the mesa top area there are good views toward the LaPlata Mountains and Mesa Verde. The mesa top area looked like a good location for an Ancestral Pueblo ruins site, but I didn’t see anything.

My total round trip hike from Parque de Vida took 1:30 hours for about 3 miles. It was a 45 F degree sunny mid November day. In the fall of course, no flowers are in bloom and not many birds are active, but the paved trail probably makes this a good all season short hike.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dolores River-Lone Dome Historic Ranger Station

The Lone Dome Recreation Area is the 12 mile stretch of the Dolores River from below the McPhee Dam to the Bradfield Bridge, east of Pleasant View in southwest Colorado. Forest Road 504 provides easy access parallel to the river. In this area the Dolores River is changing from an alpine stream to a canyon stream. The flow is controlled at the dam.

 There are two campgrounds in the area. I drove seven miles along the road and started hiking upstream at the Ferris Canyon campground, which has about seven camp sites and appears to be open all year. There is a short trail from the campground to the banks of the Dolores.

The campground has an interpretive sign discussing bald eagle sightings in the area. They can be best spotted in winter months hunting fish and birds from the cottonwood trees, and eagles also take advantage of winter killed deer and elk.

 The easiest walking is along the gravel road. In fall, as well as spring there isn’t much traffic along here. The south side of the road close to the river is mostly open grassy fields that also provide easy walking. About 1.5 miles east of the Ferris Canyon campground are the ruins of two old log cabin structures.

 The Forest Service map of the San Juan Forest shows a site for the Lone Dome Ranger Station, the first ranger station of the Montezuma National Forest in 1912. I looked for an interpretive sign to provide more information, but didn’t see one.

There is a pullover area along the gravel road with an old trail leading to these riverside structures. There are also some ranch related structures close to the road.

Along the north side are sandstone cliffs that look like they could support Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. The well watered location with oak, Pinon Pine and Junipers, and Ponderosa Pines, and a broad canyon bottom looks like a favorable location, but I didn’t spot any ruins from the road in the south facing cliffs.

In the north facing cliffs there is a small alcove that looked interesting as a possible archaeology site, but it was a long distance away. My total hike from the campground to the cabin ruins took 1:40 hours for about 3 miles. It was a 55 F early November day.

528614_Russell Outdoor Logo 125x125

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Colorado Trail at Kennebec Pass & Taylor Lake

The very scenic Kennebec Pass is 26 miles of trail from the Durango Trail head of the Colorado Trail in southwest Colorado. A trail access point in the vicinity is northwest along the Junction Creek Road, Forest Road 171. 

Drive past the Animas Overlook Interpretive Trail for 10.9 miles on the bumpy but drivable road to road 171N that makes a left turn. After 0.7 miles on 171N, the Colorado Trail crosses with space for parking. The trail head elevation is about 10,200 feet.

The first segment of trail climbs steeply with switchbacks through spruce and fir forest along the south flank of Olga Little Mountain. After the switchbacks the trail emerges from the forest and crosses a long scree slope with views south to 12,518 foot Snowstorm Peak and 12,388 foot Cumberland Mountain. Along the scree slope I heard and saw several of the rabbit relative pikas that mountain hikers like to see.

It is 3.1 miles from the road 171N starting point to the 11,680 foot Kennebec Pass. At the pass there is a side trail up to a small mining ruins site that sits on the northeast shoulder of Cumberland Mountain. Olga Little Mountain is on the north side of the pass. This segment of trail appears on some maps as the Slide Rock Trail, but all the signs that I saw only said Colorado Trail.

It is another 0.6 miles from the pass to the parking area that is at the top of LaPlata Canyon. The LaPlata Canyon road is rough at the top and not every vehicle can drive all the way. Along this stretch near the parking area some of the widest mountain views in the area. 

The San Miguel Mountains in the Lizard Head Wilderness stand out. In midsummer, this is also a very rich wildflower area, but in late September most of the color had faded. It took me 1:40 hours for the 3.7 miles to reach the Kennebec Pass parking area. Along the road just below, there are some artifacts from the LaPlata Canyon mining era visible.

The Colorado Trail continues west and after 1.4 miles reaches a trail junction with the Shark’s Tooth Trail near Taylor Lake. The moderate sized lake sits in the basin below a ridge of peaks. At the trail junction, there are two trail signs giving the mileages to other destinations in the LaPlata Mountains.

The Colorado Trail continues up the slope to the north of Taylor Lake and turns north where it is also known as the Indian Ridge Trail. The Sharks Tooth Trail circles around the south side of Taylor Lake, crosses the ridge, and continues to a trail head on Twin Lakes Road 6.25 miles away. My side hike from the Kennebec parking area to Taylor Lake took 1:20 hours for about 2.8 miles.

The return hike has good views down LaPlata Canyon and across to the west side of Cumberland Mountain and Snowstorm Peak. My return downhill hike took 1:30 hours for a total hike of 4:35 hours for about 10.2 miles. It was 52 F degrees at the start point at 10:30 AM and 62 F at 3:10 on a warmer than average late September day. I carried 3 liters of water and drank most of it.

                                    18407_$5 Shipping on Orders of $99 or More!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ramparts Hills Forest Roads-Echo Basin

The Ramparts Hills are an igneous rock outcrop in the Echo Basin area of the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The Echo Basin Road is a north turn off of Highway 160 about 3 miles east of Mancos. Forest Road 566 continues where the pavement ends. 

The area near the junction of Forest Road 566 and Forest Road 331 is known as the T-Down Park and there is a corral just west of the junction. The Echo Basin area is promoted as a winter sports area and there is an interpretive sign describing some of the species that winter in the area, including elk and the rare Lynx.

The Ramparts Loop Trail has a trail head near the T-Down corral and there is another trail head at the primitive campsite that is visible about 200 yards to the west. The Ramparts Loop appears to be a new trail as it doesn’t appear on any of the area maps and isn’t mentioned on the Forest Service website trail information page.

The trail is open to horses, bikes, hikers, and motorcycles. The first clockwise segment heads south and enters aspen forest and then passes through a meadow area with good views to the west. Turning west, the trail re-enters forest and descends along the drainages on the south side of the Ramparts Hills.

I only continued for 0:45 minutes and then turned around while still on the south side of the hills. I wasn’t sure how long the loop was, and my original hiking goal was to look for the views that might be on top of the Ramparts Hills. (There is another post where I hiked the whole loop, use labels to find.)

Near the T-Down corral, Forest Road 331A is visible and leads along the south cliff of the rocky outcrop. There forest on top of the Ramparts is very mixed with Ponderosa Pines, Junipers, Gambel Oak, and maybe some Lodgepole Pines out at the west tip.

It took me about 0:30 minutes to hike out to the end of this segment of road with great views to the west. The road splits at about the halfway point and I stayed to the left. From the view point I could see the Ramparts Loop Trail curving around and heading north, but I couldn’t see where it goes from here.

There are at least four reservoirs visible as well as Mesa Verde and Sleeping Ute Mountain. In mid September, the Echo Basin area is open for Elk Hunting by archers. There were several groups in the campsites preparing for the hunt. I spent a total of 2:30 hours hiking in the Ramparts Hills area, and there are more roads and trail to explore.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Colorado Trail at Junction Creek

The Durango Trail Head of the 483 mile Colorado Trail is in the Junction Creek area, reached by a west turn at 25th Street off of Highway 550. There are two trailhead choices, the first where the pavement ends and Forest Road 171 begins.

 One mile further at the Junction Creek Campground area, there is a second parking area and another access point. From the campground trailhead it is 3.2 miles to the excellent lookout point called Gudy’s Rest. The starting elevation is about 7200 feet and it is about 8000 feet at Gudy’s Rest.

The first 1.6 miles from the campground trailhead follows high on the shoulder above Junction Creek through deep forest thick with Ponderosa Pines, Fir and Spruce, with some Narrowleaf Cottonwoods closer to the creek. In the morning it is shady and cool along this stretch. There are some views across the canyon to some cliff outcrops.

At 1.6 miles there is a small bridge across Junction Creek and the route gets somewhat steeper. The Colorado Trail appears to have been designed with mountain bikes in mind so the grades are moderate compared to other mountain hikes and the surface is mostly smooth and easy to walk on.

On a 70 F degree late August Saturday morning I saw 20 bikers, 12 hikers, and 1 horse rider during my 2:40 hours 6.4 mile hike. This segment is 28 of the 28 total for the whole Colorado Trail. A sign at the trail head shows a map of the 74 miles between Junction Creek and the Molas Lake area.

You don’t realize it but you can see the Gudy’s rest lookout point as you are hiking toward it. The obvious cliffs visible from below feature a comfortable log bench to sit and enjoy the view. It is 1.6 miles of switchbacks from the bridge to the viewpoint. It took me 1:20 hours of fairly easy hiking to arrive.

From the bench there are good views down Junction Creek and toward some of the mountains in the Durango Area. Gudy’s rest is named for Gudy Gaskill, named to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002, and the most influential person in making the Colorado Trail the national jewel hiking, biking, and horse trail that it is.

Animas Overlook Trail

The Animas Overlook Trail is a 0.67 mile paved interpretive loop in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango in southwest Colorado. The trail head is about 6 miles past the Junction Creek Campground on Forest Road 171. Turn west at 25th Street from Highway 550 to find Junction Creek Road.

The Junction Creek area is the south trail head for the 483 mile Colorado Trail and also has other trail systems popular with mountain bikers.

There are nine interpretive signs along the trail. The overlook near the trail beginning faces the mountains to the north and there is a discussion of the deposition of the sedimentary rocks into layers, later volcanic activity that deposited the minerals that have been found here, and the glacier ice age of 15,000 years ago that carved out valleys and left the jagged peaks where we enjoy hiking. Engineer Mountain and Sultan Mountain can be spotted from here.

Views to the south are toward Durango. The interpretive signs discuss the town’s beginnings as a rail depot for the mining, timber and tourist industry. The wildlife in the forest here features deer and elk, coyotes along with smaller animals like the Abert’s and Red Squirrel.

Black Bears aren’t mentioned but I saw one crossing the road on the return drive. The Animas Overlook is at 8700 feet of elevation and is a transition area from Ponderosa Pine and Gambel Oak mix to a Fir and Aspen mix. Some of the Ponderosa Pines along the trail show scorch marks from a Prescribed Burn, a technique to renew the forest growth.

One of the trees pointed out along the trail is the White Fir. I haven’t seen the White Fir pointed out before in the regional forests. Usually the Douglas Fir is the one that gets pointed out in the Spruce and Fir forest mix, or in the moist canyon areas in Mesa Verde. The Southwest Colorado Wildflower web site mentions Subalpine Fir but not White Fir, so perhaps these are different names for the same tree.

The Douglas Fir isn’t a true fir but more related to hemlocks. The Subalpine Fir has silvery bark with cones that point up from the tops of branches rather than dangle like pine and spruce cones. Douglas Fir has brown bark with some orange tint in the crevices. Douglas Fir cones have distinctive little mouse tails sticking out from the cone scales.

One of the interpretive signs mentions the Falls Creek Archaeological Area in the hidden valley below the overlook. This 1500 acre area of the forest preserves archaeological sites from the Ancestral Pueblo Basketmaker period of 1500 to 2500 years ago. The area is divided in half by County Road 205 with the western half closed to all activity including hiking.

There is a network of trails open in the eastern half of the area. The most obvious feature of the closed area is a large alcove in the cliffs above the grassy fields.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trimble Point on McPhee Reservoir

Trimble Point is a triangular mesa top area overlooking the McPhee Dolores River Dam in southwest Colorado. It sits to the north of the Beaver Creek Arm of the McPhee Reservoir. The access for hiking is Forest Road 523, which makes a junction with Forest Road 514 about 1.5 miles east of the Salter Y. 

This area can be reached from both Dolores, CO and from the Bradfield Bridge near Pleasant View, CO. I started my hike 3.6 miles south of the junction next to the small Campbell Reservoir to make the hike about 8 miles. The one lane Road 523 is drivable for about another 2 miles past where I started.

The 2 miles to the end of Road 523 is a very pleasant forest walk, dominated by tall Ponderosa Pines, Gambel Oaks, with Aspens in some spots. At the end of the road I continued south through the forest, slowly for 20 minutes, looking for the canyon rim overlooking the Beaver Creek arm of the reservoir.

To continue west toward Trimble Point I had to backtrack north to get around a side canyon. Moving west, there is another forest road that doesn’t appear on the maps I have. This road is parallel to Road 523 to the south and makes a junction with 523 about 1.2 miles south of where I started hiking. I walked past it on the outbound hike but used it on the return.

There are well developed, fairly easy to follow cow or horse trails that head west across Trimble Point all the way to the end view point. The habitat along here gets a little drier and there are some open grassy areas. I saw several groups of cows grazing in this area and my hiking caused some minor stampedes.

At the trail end point, the best views are toward the junction of the Beaver Creek arm and the main channel. The views toward the McPhee Dam are mostly obscured by the forest. There are also views north toward the Dry Canyon fishing access road that switchbacks down the slope.

Out at the point, the Ponderosa Pines are replaced by the Pinon Pines and Junipers. On the return hike, I followed the cow trail to the small Trimble Reservoir. From the reservoir I navigated north and east until I came to the unmapped side road, and followed it north to the junction with Road 523. It took me 2:30 hours to arrive at the view point and my return hike, using the unmapped side road took 1:40 hours. My total hike was 4:30 hours and I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a 70 F degree late July day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Box Canyon Trail-Transfer Campground

The Box Canyon Trail is part of the San Juan National Forest Transfer Campground network of trails near Mancos in southwest Colorado. The trailhead is about one mile south of the campground along Forest Road 561. The first segment of trail that descends into the West Mancos canyon is also part of the Rim Trail and Transfer Trail loop hike.
The 1 mile descent into the West Mancos canyon is about 500 feet of elevation change through a lush forest of Gambel Oak, Ponderosa Pines, Aspens, and a few Douglas firs. The roar of the West Mancos River can be heard all the way down. Follow the trail signs downstream at the bottom, including the one that sends horses to one river crossing and hikers to another.

The hiker crossing is large log with some upturned branches that provide some help with balancing on the rounded surface. In the middle of the primitive bridge there is a gap between the helpful branches that made me nervous for two steps. Not so bad in July but probably harder during the roaring spring runoff. The horse crossing looked to be shallower water but without a bridge.

Just past the bridge, the trail splits providing an option. I stayed to the left, staying north of Box Canyon Creek and heading for Gray Beal Springs, another 1.25 miles according to the trail sign. The climb to the mesa top has some views down the West Mancos Canyon with some glimpses of Mesa Verde.

This shady climbing segment has more Douglas Firs with some spruce visible deep in the Box Canyon. The other trail option leads toward Coyote Park on the south side of Box Canyon.

The mesa top area has a series of wildflower rich meadows with views toward Mt. Hesperus and the LaPlata Mountains. In early July, I didn’t see any flowing water in the area of Gray Beal Springs, just a dry creek bed. After these lush meadows, the trail looks like an old road and continues east.

The Box Canyon Trail is more or less parallel with the West Mancos Trail, but on the mesa top south of the West Mancos River. Both trails eventually arrive at the old mountain town of Golconda.

I went about 4 miles to the small Box Canyon Reservoir at 9280 feet elevation, about 1000 feet above the West Mancos River. There was another view of the LaPlatas, and very long distance views back to the west. I could see the Bears Ears way out in southeast Utah. I also saw a coyote near the reservoir, scampering along the edge of edge of the patch of Aspens.

 It took me 2:15 hours to reach the small reservoir and 2:00 hours to return for a total hike of 4:15 hours for about 8 miles. In early July, it was about 62 F degrees at 9:30 AM when I started and about 80 F degrees at the 1:45 PM finish. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

It is possible to access the distant end of the Box Canyon Trail using the Box Canyn Spur Trail that begins in Echo Basin, east of Mancos, CO.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Weber Canyon Trail

The Weber Canyon Trail is the dirt road segment of County Road 41 between Weber Mountain and Menefee Mountain south of Mancos in southwest Colorado. County Road 41 is an extension of South Main Street. The route changes from paved to gravel to dirt as it goes south.

(The Weber Canyon Fire at 5:00 PM June 23, 2012 from Highway 145 between Cortez and Dolores.)

I started my hike 5.6 miles south of the intersection of South Main and Highway 160 at a point a little beyond the start of the dirt road segment. This whole route can be easily driven and a hike could start anywhere.

Both Weber Mountain and Menefee Mountain are BLM land areas but seem to have few public access points. They both look like detached islands of Mesa Verde, with the sandstone cliffs and Pinon Pine and Juniper forests. Weber Mountain on the west is 6303 acres and Menefee Mountain to the east is 7089 acres.

Both areas rise 1500 to 2000 feet and are supposed to be rich in wildlife. The Pinon Pines here don't seem to have suffered from bark beetles like other nearby forest areas. There is about 3.5 miles of hiking along the dirt road before a gate that says private property.

About 1 mile before the gate there is a vaguely marked section where both Weber and Menefee can be accessed from the same point on the road. This section is about 0.25 miles long and is just south of a series of three ponds. At the end of the access segment there is a BLM sign that says no access to public lands beyond this point.

The access west to Weber Mountain has a fence around it and there is a deep eroded wash to cross before reaching the mountain slopes. This might be the only access to Weber and there are several obstacles. Menefee Mountain to the east has several points where it can be accessed including across from the fence. The hike along the road was scenic and there was no traffic.

I didn’t see any trails but I tried hiking uphill on the Menefee side. The lower part of the slope was open enough to climb without much trouble and there is a shelf area that isn’t very hard to reach. I went a little above the shelf but there are layers of steep cliffs above and I stopped about halfway to the apparent top.

There are some good views up above but mostly the forest is thick and the views are blocked. I haven’t seen any information that there are ruins sites on Menefee or Weber Mountain. I didn’t see any sign of ruins in the limited area where I hiked. I scanned the cliffs that I could see from the road but didn’t spot anything.

It took me 1:20 hours to hike the road segment and I spent about 1:30 hours climbing up the Menefee slope. My total hike was 4:30 hours on a warm late June day. I started at 8:30 when the temperature was 70 F degrees and it was 85 F at 1:00 PM when I finished. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

There is a similar hiking opportunity on the west side of Weber Mountain. County Road 38 runs between Mesa Verde on the west and Weber Mountain but access to the public lands is blocked by private property, only the views are available. A highlight of the alternate hike is that the Mancos River flows close to County Road 38.