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.