Friday, December 30, 2011

Discovery Museum on the Animas River Trail

One of the historic sites along the Animas River Trail, in Durango, Colorado, is the Durango Power Plant. In 2011, the historic plant has been restored and re-opened as the Durango Discovery Museum.

I started my hike on the Animas River Trail at the Santa Rita Park. Following the trail north, it is about 2 miles to the Discovery Museum. The Santa Rita Park is about 1 mile south of the junction of Highways 160 and 550.
In 2011, there is a $9.50 charge for adults. Much of the interior space is devoted to hands on activity for children, with an emphasis on electricity. The displays are still in development but there was a lot of activity on the day I visited.

I thought the most interesting area for adult visitors was the old boiler room area and the adjacent turbine and generator. This large room also has a screen for video displays and some chairs for viewers. The manufacturing information attached to the boilers says Heine Safety Tube Boiler, and Risdon Iron Works Builders, SF CAL. 1908, and also Utah Copper Company 1906. There are also antique valves, pumps, and gauges in the boiler room.

One of the boiler doors is open for a view of the boiling tubes. Originally the power plant used coal, and converted to gas in the 1940s. In the mid 1970s the plant was shut down and sat idle until 2002 when the renovation activity began. The exterior was completed in 2006.

 Sitting just outside of the boiler room is one of the turbine engines and an attached generator. The manufacturing inscription says General Electric Company. The Durango Power Plant was one of the first on the western slope of Colorado to use AC power.

The Durango Power Plant used California Mission style architecture with two twin towers on the north end. The east side tower has an unusual way for visitors to climb up to the top of the tower for the roof top views both outside and inside. There is a circular series of steps, but the climber has to twist from side to side to make the climb. This unusual climb can start at the floor level or about halfway up after climbing normal stairs.

From Santa Rita Park it took me about 0:45 minutes to arrive at the Discovery Museum. My total hike with the museum visit and some searching for the Durango Pumas on Parade took about 3:30 hours on a 40 F degree late December day.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hohokam Puzzle Exhibit at the Anasazi Heritage Center

Beginning in the winter season of 2011 to October 2012 the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado is hosting the Pieces of the Puzzle – Hohokam Exhibit displaying new ideas on the Hohokam Culture.
The Hohokam culture is known for the extensive irrigation works on the Salt River in the Phoenix, Arizona area. An easy to visit Hohokam site is the Pueblo Grande site located at 4619 East Washington Street, near the northeast side of the Sky Harbor Airport. One of the large pictures of the exhibit is an artist rendition of the Pueblo Grande site.

The format of the exhibit emphasizes the concept of a puzzle, the interpretive signs in the form of jig saw puzzle pieces. There are four puzzle pieces: Who are the Hohokam, How do we know how old things are, How do we know if people migrated, and How do we count ancient people?

The Hohokam name refers to a specific culture that is part of a larger group referred to as the Huhugam. The Huhugam are the ancestors of the current tribal group known as the O’Odham. Recent analysis of pottery pieces has allowed researchers to break the period from 1300 to 1450 AD into small time segments. This allows the dating of the occupation of different sites. One of the newly identified styles is called Phoenix Polychrome and is dated from 1375 to 1450 AD.

A clue to whether the population was influenced by immigrants is found in the way pottery was manufactured. The Ancestral Pueblo people of the Mesa Verde area used a coil and scrape method, while the Hohokam used the paddle and anvil method. One of the displays shows this technique along with the associated tools.
It is assumed that potters will change their style of decoration more readily than their traditional method of manufacture. In 1275 AD, new styles of pottery began to appear in the Hohokam region. Were these traded in, were the ideas transferred from the Ancestral Pueblo area, or were Ancestral Pueblo people moving into the area? Although these pieces looked and were manufactured like Ancestral Pueblo pieces, the sand used as temper was from the Hohokam region, so immigrants to the area were responsible.

The 1275 AD date is also the time that the Four Corners area was beginning to lose population. The main gallery of the Anasazi Heritage Center has dissecting microscope displays on how pottery is analyzed. There are also many examples of the Black on White and Corrugated styles that can be compared with the Hohokam styles.

There are two computer displays with different video programs that describe the population changes that occurred in detail. Using the analyzed pottery pieces as clues, it is thought that there were movements from the core communities close to the Salt River to the peripheral sites at the ends of the irrigation canals.

As immigrants arrived in the Hohokam region, the existing communities experienced ecological and social stress. Communities coalesced into larger and more defensive sites and there was more emphasis on crops rather than wild foods. These stresses led to gradual reduction of the population over several generations from 1300 to 1450 AD. Eventually the Hohokam disappeared as a separate culture, but remain as ancestors.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Hawkins Preserve in Cortez

The Hawkins Preserve is a 122 acre site on the southwest side of Cortez in southwest Colorado. It was donated by Jack Hawkins in the 1990s to the Cortez Cultural Center, and though private is open to the public. The parking area can be found with a west turn on to Verde Vu off of South Oak Street and then following the signs along a gravel drive. There is a small sign at the turnoff.

In the parking area there is an information kiosk with a map showing the network of trails. A paved trail runs west along the north edge of the preserve. I followed the Slickrock Trail that starts at the northeast corner and travels southwest.
The Slickrock Trail is listed as 0.33 miles and then transitions to the Rim Route that is listed as 0.52 miles.
At the start of the Slickrock Trail there is an outdoor work of art that is the logo of the Hawkins Preserve.

These short trails visit several habitat areas including sagebrush fields, Pinon Pine and Juniper forest, and sandstone outcrops with potholes, before arriving at the canyon rim overlooking McElmo Creek.

At the rim, there are views toward Mesa Verde and the LaPlata Mountains in addition to the riparian habitat along McElmo Creek. Hiking is restricted below the rim except with a special permit. There are two log benches at the spot along the rim rock named Patrick’s Point.

Looping back away from the canyon rim back to the north, the Hawkins Pueblo is protected under a large roof. This site is described as from the Pueblo II period and was occupied for 350 years from 900 to 1250 AD.
A visitor can view the outlines of several room blocks. There are other small archaeology sites on the preserve, but I didn’t notice any of these during my hike.

 There are some unexcavated rubble piles nearby that are not under the protective roof. There may be some small alcove sites below the rim that can’t be viewed without the special permit.

On the return hike along the paved segment of trail there is another trail side work of art representing a buried and decorated pottery bowl. My hike at the Hawkins Preserve was for about 1.8 miles in 1:20 hours on a 56 F degree early November day. I didn’t see any other visitors during my hike.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Big Canyon Trail-Durango

The Big Canyon Trail is part of an extensive network of trails in the Telegraph Trail System on the south side of Durango in southwest Colorado.

The Big Canyon Trailhead is somewhat hidden behind an auto dealer on the northeast corner of Highway 550/160 and Dominguez Drive, across the highway from the Walmart. There is a marked parking area about 100 yards west of the trailhead. The Carbon Junction Trailhead and Sale Barn Trailhead are nearby alternate entry points into this system.

Many of the Durango City trails have good trail map signs at trail junctions that make it clear where you are and where the alternate trail choices lead. These trails are open to hikers, horses, and mountain bikes with most users probably riding bikes. At the Big Canyon Trailhead there is an interpretive sign explaining the importance of this wild area to Elk and Deer as winter range, depending on how severe the winter is.

At the trailhead there are two trails visible, the main trail leading into the canyon bottom and a thin trail descending from the mesa top. The main trail leads along a dry drainage through Gambel Oak, Pinon Pine, Utah Juniper and the lighter blue green Rocky Mountain Red Junipers. Bike riders describe this segment as swooping.

There are several large rock outcrops visible along the canyon bottom. After about 1.6 miles there is a trail junction with the South Rim Trail and a good map sign. I made a left turn onto the South Rim Trail.

This segment of the South Rim Trail returns toward the Big Canyon Trailhead along the mesa top, and overlooks the canyon bottom where I had just hiked. When it reaches the trailhead overlook, there is the thin side trail that was visible at the trailhead. I followed the steep side trail back to the trailhead to complete a 3.2 mile loop.

My short loop hike took 1:15 hours on an 85 F degree mid August day. I didn’t see anyone else while hiking but one mountain bike swooped past me just as I finished.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Animas River Trail (south)-Durango

The Animas River Trail runs for about 6.75 miles connecting many riverside park and recreation areas in the Durango area in southwest Colorado. The trail continues to lengthen over the years with some of the newest extensions being on the south end.

Visitors to Durango can easily access the Animas River Trail near the midpoint at Santa Rita Park, about 0.5 miles south of the junction of Highways 550 and 160. In the summer, rafts and kayaks are often visible in this stretch of river near the Whitewater Park. From the park, there is a nearly equal distance of trail leading north or south.

The segment leading south to the Durango Mall is more in wooded riparian stream-side habitat than most of the trail segments. There is a short side trail at one point leading to some Flintstones style rock slab picnic tables. There is an interpretive sign describing the site of the Weidman Sawmill, which operated during the mining era and continued until the 1970s.

There are good river views from the new trail bridge that is a short distance south of the Durango Mall. The interpretive sign on the bridge describes the Gold Medal trout fishing on the Animas River.

The six stages of the life of a trout are briefly described. The life stage terms used include redds, alevins, fry, and parr before becoming mature. Fishermen are urged to give the hard working trout a break and avoid casting over the spawning areas, March for the Rainbow Trout and October for the Brown Trout.

Toward the south end of the trail, there are views across the stream toward the rock formation known as the Purple Cliffs. There is a road bridge with a pedestrian lane across the river leading to the small Dallabetta Park that is the current south end of the Animas River Trail.

It took me about 1:30 hours, one way, to walk the south trail segments from Santa Rita Park, about 3.5 miles. In August 2011, there is some trail reconstruction behind the Durango Mall that causes a detour.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vallecito Lake Walk Path

Vallecito Lake is located about 20 miles east of Durango in southwest Colorado. The Vallecito Dam on the Pine River was built in 1938-41 and created the 2720 acre Vallecito Lake.

The Vallecito Walk Path is a system of constructed trails and road side paths that allow a visitor to walk all around the lake. On the east side, along the Pine River, there are private campgrounds that appear to block vehicles from driving all the way around.

In 2011, the Bureau of Reclamation is charging a day use fee of $3 for use of lake facilities including the Walk Path, with self serve pay stations at convenient use points.

I started hiking at the west end of the dam. There is a small parking area with a restroom and the Walk Path is clearly marked. The top of the dam elevation is about 7673 feet. The normal depth of water is 121.5 feet.

This southwest segment trail follows closely along the shore for about 15 minutes, and then climbs up to the paved County Road to avoid private property. The road segment ends at the south Public Boat Ramp.

At the north end of the Boat Ramp parking area the Walk Path resumes as a trail and leads for about 2 miles to the north Boat Ramp. This segment is the most trail like though it is close to the County Road.

There are mostly unobstructed lake views with the mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness coming into view. There are a few markers along this segment identifying some of the trees and plants. The south end of Vallecito Lake is dominated by Ponderosa Pine forest with a Gambel Oak understory.

There are a few Douglas Firs visible with Cottonwoods close to the shore. In early August there were some, but not many wildflowers along the Path.
On northwest side of Vallecito Lake, the artistic carvings become apparent with signs mentioning the Carvings Tour. These are the work of a local artist and began following the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire. There are at least 14 of these carvings a various points around the lake area. No. 6 is titled EMT and Eagle.

The Kaa-vi Nuu-ci Tuvu-pu Mountain Ute Park is also in this area. This park was developed in 2007-09 and includes a wetlands area valuable to waterfowl. There is also a Trailhead for a hike to Lake Eileen with an interpretive sign for the Weminuche Wilderness. It took me about 2:30 hours of walking to arrive at the northwest side after about 6 miles.
At the northwest end, there is a county road leading north to the Vallecito Creek Trail. Continuing around the north lake area there are three creeks feeding into the lake. On the northeast side, the Middle Mountain Road leads north into the forest toward the Tuckerville Trail and Cave Basin Trail. The north end of the lake area is dominated by spruce trees.

Along the northeast side of Vallecito Lake, the commercial development is reduced and the paved road ends. Segments of the Walk Path resume where possible parallel to the Forest Road and there are good views across the lake.

South of the Middle Mountain Campground, the road seems to be blocked by privately owned commercial campgrounds, but I continued walking. At the Middle Mountain campground area, a forest road leads north to the Pine River Trailhead.

The southeast lake side has three Forest Service Campgrounds in a row and views are mostly obscured by the Ponderosa Pine forest. As the road approaches the east side of the dam, the views open up.

There are two interpretive signs along the road that describe how Ospreys responded to the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire and how the fire affected the fishing in the area. Despite flames licking at their nesting trees the Ospreys persevered and fledged their nests.

The fishing was much affected by mud slides following the fires. Several thousand Kokanee Salmon were forced toward the surface to find oxygen and died of heat stress.

It took me 5:40 hours to walk all the way around Vallecito Lake, about 13 miles. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a sunny early August day.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Echo Basin Summer Wildflowers

The Echo Basin area is about 3 miles east of Mancos, CO on Highway 160, then 7 miles north on Echo Basin Road. There is a meadow area near the junction of Forest Roads 566 and 331 that is rich in summer wildflowers. This is near the Ramparts Hill Loop Trail and is part of the area called T-Down Park, in the San Juan National Forest..

I started my hike about 0.5 miles past the Forest Road junction on Road 331 at a point where there is a cow trail leading uphill into the meadow. There isn’t a trail all the way to the top of the meadow. Mostly the walking is easy but there are a few brushy spots to push through.

The most common flowers in the lower part of the meadow appear to be Erigeron genus Daisies and blue Lupines in the Pea Family. My identifications are based on the Peterson Field Guide No. 14 and the web site, but I’m not an expert. Some of these flowers have many species that hybridize and are difficult to identify exactly.

I think this one is Yarrow, a member of the Composite Family and flowers from May to September. The elevation at my starting point is about 9200 feet and there is about 400 feet of climb to the top of the meadow.
There are some patches of False Hellebore in bloom in early August. This plant is also called Corn Lily. It needs sufficient moisture to produce a bloom.

I also saw this somewhat similar large Lily type plant but couldn’t find a name for it. Toward the upper part of the meadow I saw a few Geraniums and small patches of the bright red Indian Paintbrush.

Another red flower that occurred in small patches is this tubular one. I think this is a Penstemon in the Snapdragon Family. I also saw a few blue Penstemons.

Near the top of the meadow near Road 566 are many yellow Asters. My guess is that these are in the genus Packera.
Also near the road are many Balsamroots. These are visible filling whole fields near the Ramparts Hills.

At the top of the meadow is Road 566 which I followed back down hill for 0.5 miles to Road 331 and then 0.5 miles back to my starting point. Mesa Verde and Sleeping Ute Mt. are visible in the distance.