Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Colorado Trail at Kennebec Pass & Taylor Lake

The very scenic Kennebec Pass is 26 miles of trail from the Durango Trail head of the Colorado Trail in southwest Colorado. A trail access point in the vicinity is northwest along the Junction Creek Road, Forest Road 171. 

Drive past the Animas Overlook Interpretive Trail for 10.9 miles on the bumpy but drivable road to road 171N that makes a left turn. After 0.7 miles on 171N, the Colorado Trail crosses with space for parking. The trail head elevation is about 10,200 feet.

The first segment of trail climbs steeply with switchbacks through spruce and fir forest along the south flank of Olga Little Mountain. After the switchbacks the trail emerges from the forest and crosses a long scree slope with views south to 12,518 foot Snowstorm Peak and 12,388 foot Cumberland Mountain. Along the scree slope I heard and saw several of the rabbit relative pikas that mountain hikers like to see.

It is 3.1 miles from the road 171N starting point to the 11,680 foot Kennebec Pass. At the pass there is a side trail up to a small mining ruins site that sits on the northeast shoulder of Cumberland Mountain. Olga Little Mountain is on the north side of the pass. This segment of trail appears on some maps as the Slide Rock Trail, but all the signs that I saw only said Colorado Trail.

It is another 0.6 miles from the pass to the parking area that is at the top of LaPlata Canyon. The LaPlata Canyon road is rough at the top and not every vehicle can drive all the way. Along this stretch near the parking area some of the widest mountain views in the area. 

The San Miguel Mountains in the Lizard Head Wilderness stand out. In midsummer, this is also a very rich wildflower area, but in late September most of the color had faded. It took me 1:40 hours for the 3.7 miles to reach the Kennebec Pass parking area. Along the road just below, there are some artifacts from the LaPlata Canyon mining era visible.

The Colorado Trail continues west and after 1.4 miles reaches a trail junction with the Shark’s Tooth Trail near Taylor Lake. The moderate sized lake sits in the basin below a ridge of peaks. At the trail junction, there are two trail signs giving the mileages to other destinations in the LaPlata Mountains.

The Colorado Trail continues up the slope to the north of Taylor Lake and turns north where it is also known as the Indian Ridge Trail. The Sharks Tooth Trail circles around the south side of Taylor Lake, crosses the ridge, and continues to a trail head on Twin Lakes Road 6.25 miles away. My side hike from the Kennebec parking area to Taylor Lake took 1:20 hours for about 2.8 miles.

The return hike has good views down LaPlata Canyon and across to the west side of Cumberland Mountain and Snowstorm Peak. My return downhill hike took 1:30 hours for a total hike of 4:35 hours for about 10.2 miles. It was 52 F degrees at the start point at 10:30 AM and 62 F at 3:10 on a warmer than average late September day. I carried 3 liters of water and drank most of it.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ramparts Hills Forest Roads-Echo Basin

The Ramparts Hills are an igneous rock outcrop in the Echo Basin area of the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The Echo Basin Road is a north turn off of Highway 160 about 3 miles east of Mancos. Forest Road 566 continues where the pavement ends. 

The area near the junction of Forest Road 566 and Forest Road 331 is known as the T-Down Park and there is a corral just west of the junction. The Echo Basin area is promoted as a winter sports area and there is an interpretive sign describing some of the species that winter in the area, including elk and the rare Lynx.

The Ramparts Loop Trail has a trail head near the T-Down corral and there is another trail head at the primitive campsite that is visible about 200 yards to the west. The Ramparts Loop appears to be a new trail as it doesn’t appear on any of the area maps and isn’t mentioned on the Forest Service website trail information page.

The trail is open to horses, bikes, hikers, and motorcycles. The first clockwise segment heads south and enters aspen forest and then passes through a meadow area with good views to the west. Turning west, the trail re-enters forest and descends along the drainages on the south side of the Ramparts Hills.

I only continued for 0:45 minutes and then turned around while still on the south side of the hills. I wasn’t sure how long the loop was, and my original hiking goal was to look for the views that might be on top of the Ramparts Hills. (There is another post where I hiked the whole loop, use labels to find.)

Near the T-Down corral, Forest Road 331A is visible and leads along the south cliff of the rocky outcrop. There forest on top of the Ramparts is very mixed with Ponderosa Pines, Junipers, Gambel Oak, and maybe some Lodgepole Pines out at the west tip.

It took me about 0:30 minutes to hike out to the end of this segment of road with great views to the west. The road splits at about the halfway point and I stayed to the left. From the view point I could see the Ramparts Loop Trail curving around and heading north, but I couldn’t see where it goes from here.

There are at least four reservoirs visible as well as Mesa Verde and Sleeping Ute Mountain. In mid September, the Echo Basin area is open for Elk Hunting by archers. There were several groups in the campsites preparing for the hunt. I spent a total of 2:30 hours hiking in the Ramparts Hills area, and there are more roads and trail to explore.