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.