Friday, May 28, 2010

Chicken Creek Nordic Trails

The Little Bauer Loop Trail and Upper Little Bauer is the 4.2 mile southwest portion of the Chicken Creek Cross Country Ski network of trails. This 32 mile system of trails can be accessed from County Roads 40 and 41 north of Highway 184 between Dolores and Mancos in southwest Colorado. In summer this loop system provides easy hiking and biking in the San Juan National Forest.

I started my hike at the end of County Road 40 in the parking area by the small Sellers and McClane Reservoir. From Highway 184, the turn off is marked as the Millwood National Forest access. I didn’t see a sign identifying the reservoir but there is a sign that says cross country ski parking.

 I started along the road that is marked as Forest Road 236 that starts to the north. The road that bends east after about 150 yards is marked 385D. The 385D road leads east and runs along the north side of Little Bauer Reservoir. In spring the channels carrying water to the reservoirs are flowing with a lot of water.

I detoured around the north side of Sellers Reservoir along a west leading minor ATV trail toward Joe Moore Reservoir. Fishing at Joe Moore Reservoir includes Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass, and Green Sunfish. There is a road that follows the east side of Joe Moore Reservoir but it reaches a dead end at private property. 

There may have been a group of Loons diving in the middle of Joe Moore in late May. From Joe Moore I cut back east and returned to the Bauer Trail walking through the open forest. After rejoining the trail I followed it clockwise.

I didn’t realize I was on the Chicken Creek Ski Trail system until I saw the signs at the junction of the Upper Little Bauer Loop and the Rush Connecter. At that point there are trail signs and a map. The route is marked with blue diamonds posted on the trees.

Along the trail segment south there is an open meadow area with a single picnic table and a fire ring. The trail otherwise mostly passes through Ponderosa Pine forest with and understory of Gambel Oak and a few scattered Rocky Mountian Junipers. Snowmelt water from higher elevations flows under and alongside the trails for part of the way. In late May I didn’t see any wildflowers in bloom here.

The southeast corner of the loop passes very close to County Road 41 and then passes along the north side of Little Bauer Reservoir. The overall route is nearly level and the walking is easy and there are a lot of loop options in this area. I spent 2:10 hours on the Upper Little Bauer and Little Bauer loop on an 80 F windy late May day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mud Springs Trail

The Mud Springs Trail is in a 1.5 square mile BLM area on the southwest side of Cortez in southwest Colorado. This area includes a side canyon of McElmo Canyon and the parking area is along County Road 21 just west of the Cortez Airport. There is a network of trails in the Mud Springs area, some for vehicles and some for hikers, horse riders, and mountain bikers. In 2010 the area is temporarily closed to vehicles as a new management plan is being developed. The parking area appears to be recently built but there aren’t any other facilities and there isn’t any information on the Travel Information sign.

I followed the hiking trail that branches right off the dirt road about 100 yards from the parking area, The trail passes through a sagebrush area and climbs slightly through scattered Junipers and Pinions toward a canyon rim. This side canyon of McElmo is probably the main feature of the Mud Springs area.

There are a few historic inscriptions on the south facing canyon wall from the 1920s. Further down canyon there is an odd cave. It looks like it was partially excavated and might have been used for storage. In the vicinity of the cave it is possible to climb to the canyon rim. On the rim I found a trail that mountain bikers and horse riders are using. This trail leads along the McElmo Canyon rim and has some good views over County Road G.

The horse and bike trail leads west and merges with the vehicle trails at the head of the side canyon. Some of the old vehicle trails have dead branches over them and there are signs saying the area is closed to open vehicle travel. I walked back down canyon to the trail that leads back to the parking area. My total hike in Mud Springs was about 3:00 hours. There are more trails to find here than I covered. I was the only visitor on a windy late May 70 F degree day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Big Water Spring Trail

Big Water Spring is located 22 miles north of Bradfield Bridge along Forest Road 504 in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The Bradfield Bridge area is a popular boat launch area on the lower Dolores River below the McPhee Dam and Reservoir. The Bradfield Bridge can be accessed from Highway 491 near Pleasant View, Colorado.

Big Water Spring is at the end of the drivable Forest Road and is in an area of wide meadows surrounded by Ponderosa Pines and scattered patches of Aspens. The spring appears to now be in a well box and surrounded by a rail fence. There isn’t any other apparent development in this area. The Canyon of the Dolores River is about 1.5 miles directly west of Big Water Springs and makes a good hiking destination.

A short distance west of Big Water Spring is the Big Water Study Plot. The antique sign says that the plot was established in 1933 and that the plot was grazed in 1944 and 1945. Past the study plot there is a small constructed pond. A horse or cow trail leads west from the pond and can be followed through the forest. After about 0:45 minutes there are views into the wide Dolores River Canyon. Walking through the forest, there are a couple of old roads crossing the trail and perhaps signs of old logging campsites.

This section of the Dolores River Canyon is a little north of Dove Creek, Colorado. There is an old road at the canyon bottom that is good for hiking and biking. This is the part of the canyon that is visible from the publicized overlook that is near Dove Creek.

It is possible to walk north and south along the canyon rim here to get different views. I didn’t go further than the rim, but to the south is Mountain Sheep Point which probably has great canyon views. The north facing slopes here support Ponderosa Pines while the south facing slopes are covered with Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers. There are a couple of ranch houses visible on the western rim. My hike here took about 2:10 hours for about 4 miles on a 56 F degree windy early May day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Glade Lake Trail

Glade Lake is a 50 acre wetlands area in the western part of San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. From the Bradfield Bridge Recreation Area on the Dolores River it is 14 miles north on Forest Road 504. Glade Lake is clearly visible on the east side of the Forest Road.

On the southwest edge there is the remains of an old corral and there is a fence around the site to exclude cattle that is easy to step through. The surrounding forest is Ponderosa Pines with patches of Aspens. There isn’t as much cattail and bulrush here as I was expecting. 

There is a current multiyear wetlands restoration project that features Glade Lake. The fence that excludes cattle encloses 280 acres around the lake and good vegetation responses have been observed. This project has already received an award from the Forest Service Program Wings Across the Americas, a program focused on birds, bats and butterflies. There are four other wetlands in "The Glade" area that are part of the project.

At the north end of Glade Lake there is what looks like an historic berm with an antique flow control structure, constructed using locally available rocks. It reminded me of the 800 year old water management efforts at Mummy Lake at Mesa Verde National Park.

I spent 0:50 minutes walking completely around the lake clockwise, on a windy 56 F degree early May day. The most common bird I saw was the American Coot, mostly congregating in the center of the lake. Near the edges I saw several Mallards and Northern Shovelers, plus one Eared Grebe and one Canada Goose.

A fight of Yellow Headed Blackbirds passed through and there were groups of Swallows. Around the edges were Killdeers. About 1.5 miles north of Glade Lake the Forest Road crosses the area called “The Glade.” This wide level area between forested hillsides had some flowing water and looks like a good area for hiking and apparently has four wetlands areas associated with it.