Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dolores River at Slick Rock

Slick Rock is one of five boat launch sites along the lower Dolores River in southwest Colorado. It is 28 river miles below Dove Creek and 14 river miles above Big Gypsum Valley. On the road, it is 22 miles east of Dove Creek on Highway 141.

The Slick Rock site is the only one of the five launch sites that is on private property and there is a fee to park there. About 1 mile further east on Highway 141 there is a pull over point with an old road that descends to the river bank and provides about 1.3 miles of trail along the Dolores River. The area with the trail is on the BLM managed land.

This trail is slightly upstream of the boat launch point and travels further upstream. The Dolores River flows alongside Highway 141 from the trail down to the launch. The flow of the Lower Dolores River is controlled at the McPhee Dam about 60 river miles upstream.

During the time period that I hiked the water release had been steady at 70 cfs. During late July local showers could cause temporary increases in flow. I noticed that the flow 50 miles downstream at Bedrock was steady at about 52 cfs during my hike but shot up to 170 cfs later in the afternoon, before gradually decreasing.
The trail descends to cross a dry creek bed and then passes through a gate. A sign on the gate reminds visitors not to disturb archaeological resources. The Dolores River is very silty here after leaving the Dove Creek area still very clear. There appears to be a lot of willows along the bank but not much other riparian habitat. I checked the large boulders along the way for petroglyphs and kept an eye out for ruins sites but I didn't notice anything.

The east side of the Dolores River next to the trail is steep and rocky while the opposite side is grassy with mild slopes. There appears to be a trail on the other side of the river that continues further upstream. After about 1.3 miles and 0:35 minutes of hiking the trail fizzles out. My total hike took 1:10 hours for 2.6 miles on an 86 F degree late July day.

Hamm Canyon in Big Gypsum Valley

Hamm Canyon is a side canyon on the north side of the Big Gypsum Valley in southwest Colorado. The Big Gypsum Valley is about 34 miles east of Dove Creek on Highway 141. After 8.2 miles west on the Big Gypsum Valley Road, there is a side road near some old corrals that can be used as a trail toward Hamm Canyon.

The Big Gypsum Valley is mostly BLM managed land with some mining activity on the south side. This trail is about 5 miles before the Big Gypsum raft launch site on the Dolores River. There are also some hiking opportunities near the raft launch area.

It is only about 0:20 minutes of hiking across the grassy valley floor to a junction of old roads. One of the old road options turns west and continues for several miles along the base of the rocky cliffs.

I continued north into the canyon for a short distance. There is a pour off point at the head of the canyon. The habitat in the canyon changes from the grassland to Pinon and Juniper forest. I was looking in this area for petroglyphs but didn’t see anything on the canyon walls. This area looks like Wingate Sandstone cliffs sitting on the Chinle layer.

I also looked at several of the large boulders near the mouth of Hamm Canyon to the west. I think there are petroglyphs here somewhere but I didn’t find them. There are other archaeology sites in this area.

In the first mile of the Big Gypsum Valley road I had the luck to see three Pronghorns. I saw this group at about 9:30 AM on July 23, 2012. My hike at Hamm Canyon took 2:10 hours for about 2.5 miles of walking. It was 72 F degrees at 9:50 AM and was 86 F at my 12:00 PM finish.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Owens Basin Trail from Echo Basin

The Owens Basin Trail is a 3.5 mile route toward the base of the LaPlata Mountains near Mancos in southwest Colorado. It can be thought of as a side trail from the West Mancos Trail that has a trail head at the Transfer Campground. There is also an access from Echo Basin.

The Echo Basin road is a north turn from Highway 160 about 3 miles east of Mancos. The paved road becomes Forest Road 566. The access to the Owens Basin Trail is after a left turn onto Forest Road 566A. It is 10.6 miles from Highway 160 to the trail head, with the forest road passing the Ramparts Hills, and the meadow areas of T-Down Park and Lucy Halls Park.

The elevation at the trail head area is about 9600 feet. The initial segment on the old forest road descends about 300 feet to a crossing of the South Fork of the West Mancos River. In mid July during a dry year this was an easy crossing. 

Continuing on there is a junction with the West Mancos Trail that begins at the Transfer Campground 5 trail miles away to the west. It took me 0:30 minutes to arrive at this junction. About 5 minutes of hiking further east, the West Mancos Trail splits off to the left and climbs toward the Shark’s Tooth Trail. The Owens Basin Trail continues to climb to the east.

The trail passes through Spruce and Fir Forest with Aspens mixed in. There are several large scree slopes along the way. On one of the scree slopes there has been some retaining wall construction that is probably from the mining era. I could hear the squeaks of pikas at these scree slopes but I didn’t see them.

Wildflowers were better in the moister higher elevations during a relatively dry year. In mid July there were many butterflies among the flowers. The best name I could find for this one is the Hesperis Frittillary. I also saw many black and white butterflies that resemble the one known as Weidermeyer's Admiral. Shoulder high Larkspurs, Monkshoods, and Evening Primroses were the most impressive wildflowers I saw. I didn’t see any large wildlife but I saw one blue grouse. 

I think the mountains most visible near the top of the Owens Basin Trail are Burwell Peak at 12, 664 feet to theright and Spiller Peak at 13,123 feet to the left. There are good views of the headwaters of the South Fork of the West Mancos as the water tumbles down in a cascade.

To the left of Spiller Peak there might be some glimpses of Babcock Peak at 13,149 feet. I stopped after 2:30 hours at a good view point that was at the top of some steep switchbacks near the end of the trail. There was a large tree covering the trail at that point obstructing the last  0.25 miles. 

The peaks further to the left are obscured somewhat by the forest. I think there were some Sub-Alpine or White Firs growing at this viewpoint. There are good views across this scree covered basin. A creek flows out of the basin but there isn't a lake. The elevation of my stopping point was about 10,700 feet. 

My return hike took 2:00 hours for a total hike of 4:50 hours for about 8.5 miles. It was about 65 F degrees on a mid July day with no threat of afternoon rain, and I carried 3 liters of water. I saw 2 other hikers and 8 horse riders during my hike.

528614_Cool Camo Russell Outdoors