Sunday, August 22, 2010

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.