Friday, November 12, 2010

Carpenter Natural Area Trail in Cortez, CO

The Carpenter Natural Area is a 72 acre area on the north and west side of Cortez in southwest Colorado. The area features a broad paved trail with a network of primitive trails along a creek with rocky mesas on the north and south sides.

Officially, the sidewalk heading north along the west side of Mildred Road from Empire Street is the beginning of the east side trail access, but anywhere in the Parque de Vida could be used as a starting point.

I started in the parking area for the Cortez Recreation Center and hiked past the pond on the west side. In mid November dozens of Canada Geese are grazing on the grassy lawn and floating in the pond.

I didn’t see a sign but the sidewalk route turns west at Hospital Drive and continues past the south side of the hospital complex downhill following a drainage. At the east end there is a small pond surrounded by cottonwood trees with cattails on the edges of the pond. Most of the natural area appears to be sagebrush fields with scattered Junipers and other desert grasses and shrubs.

At the entrance it is noted that the trail was made possible by the City of Cortez and the Colorado Dept. of Transportation. There is a plaque near the pond commemorating the donation of the land by the Chism Family.

Past the pond a mesa top area appears along the north side. Most of the primitive trails that branch off the paved trail explore the mesa top area.

I followed the paved trail to the west end, where there is a parking area and followed a side trail that circled around the mesa top and climbed along the north side. It appeared that most visitors use the west side access that is along Lebanon Road north of Highway 491.

From the mesa top area there are good views toward the LaPlata Mountains and Mesa Verde. The mesa top area looked like a good location for an Ancestral Pueblo ruins site, but I didn’t see anything.

My total round trip hike from Parque de Vida took 1:30 hours for about 3 miles. It was a 45 F degree sunny mid November day. In the fall of course, no flowers are in bloom and not many birds are active, but the paved trail probably makes this a good all season short hike.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dolores River-Lone Dome Historic Ranger Station

The Lone Dome Recreation Area is the 12 mile stretch of the Dolores River from below the McPhee Dam to the Bradfield Bridge, east of Pleasant View in southwest Colorado. Forest Road 504 provides easy access parallel to the river. In this area the Dolores River is changing from an alpine stream to a canyon stream. The flow is controlled at the dam.

 There are two campgrounds in the area. I drove seven miles along the road and started hiking upstream at the Ferris Canyon campground, which has about seven camp sites and appears to be open all year. There is a short trail from the campground to the banks of the Dolores.

The campground has an interpretive sign discussing bald eagle sightings in the area. They can be best spotted in winter months hunting fish and birds from the cottonwood trees, and eagles also take advantage of winter killed deer and elk.

 The easiest walking is along the gravel road. In fall, as well as spring there isn’t much traffic along here. The south side of the road close to the river is mostly open grassy fields that also provide easy walking. About 1.5 miles east of the Ferris Canyon campground are the ruins of two old log cabin structures.

 The Forest Service map of the San Juan Forest shows a site for the Lone Dome Ranger Station, the first ranger station of the Montezuma National Forest in 1912. I looked for an interpretive sign to provide more information, but didn’t see one.

There is a pullover area along the gravel road with an old trail leading to these riverside structures. There are also some ranch related structures close to the road.

Along the north side are sandstone cliffs that look like they could support Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. The well watered location with oak, Pinon Pine and Junipers, and Ponderosa Pines, and a broad canyon bottom looks like a favorable location, but I didn’t spot any ruins from the road in the south facing cliffs.

In the north facing cliffs there is a small alcove that looked interesting as a possible archaeology site, but it was a long distance away. My total hike from the campground to the cabin ruins took 1:40 hours for about 3 miles. It was a 55 F early November day.

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