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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aspen Loop Trail

The Aspen Loop Trail is a 40 mile route in the San Juan National Forest near Mancos in southwest Colorado. For a hiker the easy access is at the Transfer Campground, a hub for trails in the West Mancos River area.

I started at the parking area just outside the Transfer Campground entrance but you can drive an additional mile along Forest Road 565 to the official ATV Trailhead. The Aspen Loop was developed mostly for ATVs, but is also open to mountain bikes, horses, hikers, everything but full sized vehicles.

The route is a narrow forest road that starts east along the north rim of the West Mancos Canyon. The walking is easy on the relatively smooth surface. There is a parallel West Mancos hiking trail that descends into the canyon and follows close to the stream. Most of the two trails, above and below, pass through thick Aspen forest.

There are a few places where there are views across the West Mancos Canyon but mostly the views are blocked by forest. In early June there are many wildflowers in bloom, blue and yellow Lupines, Larkspurs, and Irises stand out. I saw a few bear tracks in the dusty parts of the trail but no bear sightings. There are two creeks along the segment I hiked. In the moist creek areas some spruce trees appear.

From the Transfer Campground I walked about 3.7 miles to a meadow that is part of the area called Beef Pasture. Climbing up to the top of the meadow, there are some views toward Mt. Hesperus and the LaPlata Mountains. The elevation change from Transfer to the Beef Pasture area is about 870 feet up. My total hike took 3:30 hours for about 7.5 miles on a 65 F degree early June day.

(There is an unmarked side trail along this segment that leads to the abandoned mountain town of Golconda. I walked this segment on a return hike from the West Mancos Trail.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lost Canyon Exploring

Lost Canyon is a tributary to the Dolores River, making a junction near the town of Dolores in southwest Colorado. The canyon head area is about 17 miles to the east near the Transfer Campground area in the San Juan National Forest. There is a canyon access to the middle part of Lost Canyon north of Joe Moore Reservoir along Forest Road 559.

I accessed the National Forest from the Millwood access road, County Road 40, a north turn from Highway 184. From the small Sellers and McClane Reservoir at the end of County Road 40 it is 2.9 miles to my starting point, an obscure pullover point along Forest Road 559.

At the pullover there is a two track trail that runs northwest through the Ponderosa Pine forest to a canyon rim. The walking is easy up to the rim but there the trail seems to end. I found a way down through the cliffs and continued north to the bottom of Lost Canyon.

At the canyon bottom I was surprised to find an irrigation canal flowing along the south side. The canal had a rough service road that would provide an easy trail but it was on the other side of the waist deep flowing water. I tried to continue downstream along the canyon slope, but the forest was too thick and I turned back. 

I noticed a cow path that went upstream and followed it to see if there was a way to cross the canal. The cow trail followed the slope about 100 feet above the canal. After about 0.3 miles I was ready to give up when I spotted the water control structure that is the beginning of the canal. It provides a convenient bridge across.

I continued west on the maintenance trail for about 1.2 miles to a point where there are some cliffs exposed at the junction with a side canyon. There is a short side road off the canal road that leads down into a meadow at the base of the slope below the cliffs. 

The forest along the canyon bottom appears very lush with some Colorado Blue Spruce, Douglas Firs, and Narrow Leaf Cottonwoods along with the Ponderosa Pines and Aspens. The canal doesn’t capture all of the Lost Canyon flow, some remains in the natural creek. After checking the maps, it appears that this canal provides water to Summit Reservoir.

Climbing the slope above the meadow is similar to the climbs in the Canyons of the Ancients. There isn’t a trail but it can be walked up if you pick your route. The main obstacle is the thickets of scratchy Gambel Oak. I climbed starting at the left end and angling to the right toward the canyon junction point.

On the mesa top it looks like there is a ruins site. There is a large oval of rocks with a smaller room on one end. This is an unusual site compared to the canyon sites further west. The rim location is not unusual, and the water supply below is normal, but the Ponderosa Pine forest is not typical.

There may be other rubble pile structures to find but the area is overgrown with the small oaks and it is both hard to maneuver and hard to see anything. I wanted to explore more under the canyon rim but couldn’t find a painless way to get there.

The views are very good from the rim area. All the local mountains are visible and there is a direct line of sight to Lookout Point at Mesa Verde.

My return hike took 1:50 hours. The slowest part was descending the canyon side back down to the meadow. The walking along the canal road goes fast and the return along the cow path went faster knowing where I was going. The total hike took 4:50 hours on a 70 F degree late May day. This is a moderately hard hike with the climbing and there is some route finding required in the sections without an obvious trail.