Monday, June 4, 2012

Sage Hen Trail to McPhee Reservoir Overlooks

The northwest side of the McPhee reservoir area of the Dolores River in southwest Colorado is known as the Sage Hen area.

There is the rough Forest Road 500 that runs straight north for 4.3 miles to the McPhee Dam and a single track trail that takes a more wandering route in the same direction, and then connects with the forest road. These trails are closed to vehicles and are used by horses and mountain bikes in addition to hikers.

Both trails start at the normally closed gate, with the single track veering off to the right after about 60 feet. The first mile or so of the single-track cuts through a sage plain area.

The trail then passes through islands of Pinon Pine and Juniper forest with open areas of sage giving some views over the lake and to Mesa Verde and the LaPlata mountains. There are also thickets of Gambel Oak in this area. After about 2 miles there is an intersection with the segment of rough forest road 500A that leads down to the reservoir edge. The trail continues on but the lake can make a good turn around point for a 2 hour hike, or there is a loop option using road 500A.

From the shore here both of the McPhee Reservoir developed recreation areas are visible across the water. To the left is the House Creek recreation area and to the right is the McPhee area, both offering campgrounds and launch ramps for boating and fishing.

Continuing on, the Sage Hen Trail heads north and west toward the McPhee Dam area, skirting around a side canyon of the Dolores River. There are some high points where there are good views east toward the LaPlata Mountains and north toward the San Miguel Mountains and south towards Mesa Verde..

I got off the trail and searched some of the hilltops for archaeological sites. Some of the hills in this area have pottery shards and rubble piles to find. I saw a few pottery shards in this area but the archaeological sites here are subtle and elusive. I did find some good overlook points for the McPhee Reservoir. The Beaver Creek arm is to the right with Trimble Point in the center. Dry Canyon is to the left.

Further west there is a partial view of the McPhee Dam. The trail that is visible across the canyon is the McPhee Stock Trail. The Mataska Recreation Area and the beginning of the lower Dolores River are visible below the dam.

The return leg of trail follows along to the power line that is close to Forest Road 500 and the single-track trail makes a vague junction with Forest Road 500 close to the junction of Forest Road 500 and Forest Road 500C. Hikes from the trailhead area to the overlooks of the McPhee Reservoir are about 10 miles and have taken me 4:30 or 5:00 hours.

(There is another post on the segment of Forest Road 500 that goes directly to the McPhee Dam. Use the Sage Hen label to find.)

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