Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fish Creek Trail-Dolores River West Fork

The Fish Creek Trail travels along a major contributor to the Dolores River West Fork in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The trail head access is confusing as the Forest Road passes under an overhead sign that says “Fish Creek Ranch.”

The Forest Road access is about 12 miles north along the West Fork Road from the junction with Highway 145, north of the town of Dolores. Then the Forest Road passes through scenic private property for about 2.5 miles to the trailhead.

The last mile of Forest Road is in the Fish Creek State Wildlife Area and there are fishing access points along the clear running creek. The trail generally leads northeast along the west shoulder of the Fish Creek drainage.

The trail is open to hikers, horses and mountain bikes but probably doesn't get many bike riders. The forest here is mostly Spruce and Firs with Aspens, and there are Ponderosa Pines in a few places.

Near the trail head there is a plaque honoring Phillip Aschbacher, a long time Forest Service Engineer. There is more water management engineering in the forests than is immediately apparent. Some of this work can be seen near the creek across from the trail head.

After about 0:30 minutes of hiking there is a crossing of Little Fish Creek. Otherwise, the trail stays well away from the water, with frequent views but always from an elevated distance.

A major feature of the lower part of the Fish Creek Trail is a very large scree slope. I arrived the scree after about 1:30 hours of hiking and it takes ten or fifteen minutes to cross.

From the trail, I couldn't see any cliffs that were producing the scree, but these cliffs might be visible from the nearby Willow Divide OHV Trail that is above the east side of the Fish Creek Trail. I listened for the rabbit relative pikas that often live in scree slopes but didn't hear or see them.

Beyond and below the scree slopes there are some beaver ponds and some beaver lodges are visible.

In late May, I didn’t see very many wildflowers along the Fish Creek Trail, but there were quite of few of these butterflies flitting among the Irises. I think this is a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. I didn’t see any large wildlife but I saw tracks on the trail that I thought were elk. Two Mallard ducks were on one of the beaver ponds.

Past the scree slopes the trail has a steep segment. I turned around after 2:00 hours and about 4 miles. I think the trail continues for another 4 miles past where I stopped. The return hike took 1:50 hours for a total hike of 3:50 hours for about 8 miles. It was a 65 F degree sunny late May day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

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