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.