CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 12-13, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness (06/22)

You can plan or you can take things as they come. After completing segments 1-5, I landed in Fairplay. When smoke rolled in from the fires in Arizona and New Mexico I moved on to Buena Vista and discovered proximity to segments through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

The sign seems incomplete. What happened to PEAKS?

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness was designated by the United States Congress in 1980 and it now has a total of 167,584 acres. It’s a subset of the Sawatch Range. When the tradition of naming the nearby peaks after universities including Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Princeton and Oxford.

I broke segments 12-13 into several section hikes. Like most long distance trails, the Colorado Trail has best seasons. I used this blog article published by the Colorado Trail Association to guide my planning (link). They also have active facebook groups sharing feet-on-the-ground conditions.

Silver Creek Trailhead

Segment 12 – Silver Creek Trailhead to Waverly Mountain Ridge

I initially hiked north from the trailhead, covering the southern 14 miles of this segment as an out and back for a total of 28 miles with 5,000′ elevation gain/loss. The high point was nearly 12,000′.

This section was all about Harvard; Harvard Lake and Mount Harvard. “Mount Harvard was named in 1869 when Harvard geology professor Josiah Whitney led a surveying expedition into Colorado to investigate rumors of soaring 17,000-foot peaks deep in the Rockies. After crossing Trout Creek Pass, they named the highest summit in sight for the expedition’s sponsor: Harvard University.” Source: Summit Post

You see the big peaks almost immediately. Peak Finder informed me none of these were Mount Harvard.

I found the trail grade and terrain to my liking and was soon at the first Harvard Lake.

The second lake was much nicer with lots of fish jumping and swimming. You can see Mount Harvard off to the right.

I felt like I was in the mountains when I found plentiful natural water, often with bridges for civilized crossings. I never carried more than a liter unless dry camping. What a relief after the first 5 segments.

The bridge was a much better option than the log, after losing confidence several years ago when I got vertigo and fell.

There were a few remaining snow patches, but none that impeded travel.

I was super excited to find these Jacob’s Ladder blooms.

And maybe more so to find one of my all time favorites, Western Pasqueflowers.

Heading toward Dr. Seuss mophead mode
Mopheads glowing in the early morning light

A few other blooms.

Blue eye grass ?
Penstemon

I love above treeline trail.

This was from near my campsite the first night. Little did I know the next day I’d be dropping way down into that canyon.

I was happy to find this campsite that offered both protection from the wind and nearby views.

Sunrise views.

I got an early start the next morning.

I considered a side trip to Rainbow Lake but once I realized it was too much ascending I decided against, but not before I was welcomed by my first Colorado bear.

A friend noticed this bear had been tagged. I was told in Colorado bears have a 3-strikes policy. This bear has one more chance. I’m really glad it was well mannered during my encounter.

I believe this is Mount Harvard at 14,421 feet, the highest summit of the Collegiate Peaks and the fourth highest summit in the contiguous United States.

The guidebook says the side trail to Elk Pass and Missouri Basin along the Pine Creek is a worthwhile detour. I’d hoped to have enough energy but these big passes were keeping my humble.

Tundra wildflower heaven!

The WOW factor was high. I believe this is Mount Oxford.

Much of Segment 12 parallels the Arkansas Valley with the Buffalo Peaks in the background.

I spent my second night at Harvard Lake and caught early morning light.

With a storm brewing the lighting at the smaller Harvard Lake was nice as well.

I met several CDT thru hikers taking the East Collegiate Peaks route, including the Netteburg family of 5 kids, with one being under the age of 1. WOW!

This section ended with me saying thank you to a trail crew headed out for the day, and them gifting me croissants.

Segment 13 – Silver Creek Trailhead to Mount Yale Pass

The next day I hiked south from the trailhead. It was an overcast day with occasional sprinkles and lots of fog. I knew my chance of seeing views was 50/50 but since I’d need to reach the pass from the other side eventually to complete the segment I was willing to take the chance. This was a 7-mile out and back hike gaining/losing 2,600 feet with the high point about 12,000 feet.

The trail crosses Silver Creek on this sturdy bridge before beginning the climb, up, up and more up. It was a mix of reasonable and unreasonable grade.

It had rained hard the previous night. Droplets on the columbine were a treat, so much better than dust.

No wishes to be made from this dandelion seed ball.

I felt like I was hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

This California gal was so confused.

I found an old cabin.

And some very wet Dr. Seuss flowers.

Oh look a sign that includes PEAKS.

My legs were fried by the time I got to the pass but the guidebook said I needed to hike up this hill for best views.

YES it was worth it! I stayed about an hour watching the fog swirl about.

Mount Yale

You can see a bit of a trail up Mount Yale. Much of the mountain is hidden in the fog.

Mount Princeton
Mount Columbia

The flowers tried to steal the show.

Wandering around the tundra I found this bloom. It looks a bit like Forget Me Nots.

Bino Bob for comparison. He’s 1.25″ tall.

On the way back I got a hint of what I missed.

Avalanche Trailhead

Segment 13 – Avalanche Trailhead to South Cottonwood Trailhead

I needed a day with less climbing. This small section was perfect although I could tell my muscles were tired as I struggled even with this minimal elevation gain.

It was a lovely walk along Cottonwood Creek.

The trail was lined with red columbine but I found one pink columbine, although it photographed more purple.

Another special find was coralroot orchids.

This view shows Mount Yale in the background to the right, and a visualization of the climb to the pass.

Segment 13 – Avalanche Trailhead to Mount Yale Pass

I wasn’t looking forward to the climb and would have liked one more rest day, but the weather forecast indicated this was to be the last bluebird day for a while. It was 7 miles round trip with 2,700 feet elevation gain/loss. There were many areas with grade beyond my comfort zone, but if I wanted to complete this segment I needed to buck up and get it done.

You are almost immediately welcomed to the wilderness and provided a view of the pass.

Soon enough I was back up the pass and up the hill to the viewpoint. What a difference from the day I hiked up from the other side and found the mountain surrounded by fog.

Mount Yale

I saw one person headed up this path on Mount Yale.

I couldn’t help exploring all the alpine tundra plants. I read it can take a century for these matted plants to spread a foot in diameter.

South Cottonwood Trailhead

Segment 13 – South Cottonwood Trailhead to Mount Princeton Pass

I hiked south before reversing course on this 9.4 mile 1,200 foot elevation gain/loss round trip jaunt.

I said goodbye to Mount Yale and kept it in my rearview mirror as I made my way south toward 14,197′ Mount Princeton.

I was ecstatic to find several blue columbine blooms, the Colorado State flower, along the early part of the trail where it paralleled the river before climbing up to the pass though a nice forest with occasional views.

A few other blooms caught my eye as well.

And then it was finally time to say hello to Mount Princeton.

Mount Princeton Trailhead

Segment 13 – Mount Princeton Trailhead to Mount Princeton Pass

This 8.25 mile 1,300 feet elevation gain/loss round trip hike was in general a kind and gentle forest walk.

This section began with a one-mile road walk.

Since I wasn’t planning on hiking road sections I considered driving up the road to where the trail connects. In hindsight I was glad I chose to walk as it’s steeper than my car likes and there’s no parking. I didn’t hike the southern 5.5 mile road walk section of this segment.

There wasn’t much remarkable about this hike. You glimpsed views of Mount Princeton.

These lovely pink roses were the most prevalent bloom in Segment 13 so since I hadn’t previously shared, they’ll be showcased on this day.

Tent caterpillars had hatched and were dropping from the trees quickly becoming unwanted hitchhikers. I was glad to be wearing my hat. I don’t know if this is the same type of caterpillar but he wanted a free ride also.

This outhouse might be a cuteness award winner.

Clear Creek Trailhead

Segment 12 – Clear Creek Trailhead to Waverly Mountain Ridge

Was I saving the best for last? I wasn’t looking forward to this climb. I knew it would test my fitness so I first took a day off after 9 straight days of hiking these segments. This was a 10-mile, 2,800 foot round trip. I hiked south before reversing direction after reaching the ridge.

There wasn’t any exciting trailhead signage to mark Segment 12 or 11. It’s also a little odd as you first head for the creek and then veer left through a campground where there’s a bridge to cross the creek.

I really like this penstemon.

Soon it will be berry season.

It would be easy to be fooled about the upcoming climb.

But the views make the climb worth it! It was great to see Mount Harvard again.

Mount Oxford (14,157) is the pointy peak to the right and Emerald Peak is in the middle (13,885′)

Emerald Peak
Mount Harvard 14,420′

Tips:

  • This was a fuel efficient way to section hike these segments as I took advantage of nearby dispersed camping.
  • Buena Vista was a great place to hang out between hikes. I often spent the afternoon using free WiFi available in the park to upload my photos and work on my blog. The markets were sufficient and I found a couple great restaurants. There are showers and laundry available also.
  • These are considered hard segments due to the ascending and descending. Segment 12 is 18.5 miles and going south has 4,866′ of ascending and 4,364 of descending. Segment 13 is 22.8 miles with 4,296′ ascending and 5,343′ descending. That’s 223 feet per mile.
  • Would I recommend as an out and back? Probably not unless (1) you are a glutton for punishment, (2) you want a quick weight loss fitness program, (3) you don’t have access to a two vehicle shuttle, or (4) you don’t want to pay for a shuttle or hitch between trailheads.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 1-5, Waterton Canyon to Kenosha Pass (06/22)

Hiking all or part of THE Colorado Trail has been on my agenda for several years and became a knee rehab goal. This 485-mile trail runs between Denver and Durango, passing through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. 

Much like other long trails, if you are thru hiking, you can’t pick best time for each section, but as a self-proclaimed cherry picker and section hiker, I’m happy to jump around when opportunities present. The first five segments (or sections) are lowest elevation and tend to heat up early, and with each passing week after snowmelt, water availability lessens. When the window opened and logistics came together easily, I found myself at this iconic sign.

Was I ready to traverse 70+ miles with significant elevation gain while traveling between 5,000 and 11,000 feet? hadn’t carried more than 2+ days of food since my knee surgery. I wanted to budget food based on 15-mile days but that would certainly set me up for failure. That far exceeded my training and fitness. Begrudgingly I packed 6+ days of food for 10-mile days. With thunderstorms forecast, possible frigid temperatures at higher elevation and exposure through a few burn sections, I added my rain gear and umbrella. I about cried when I saw the scale register 27 pounds. The night before I tossed and turned considering what I should remove. In the end I didn’t remove anything, and kept thinking of the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I was super excited to finally turn this concept into reality!

Segment 1 – 16.5 miles (2,380′ gain, 2,239′ loss)

The challenges of this segment include road walking on compacted surface in the heat, limiting miles to 8.7 if you don’t want to carry water for dry camping or if you aren’t able to hike 16.5 miles to the next water source.

The walk through Waterton Canyon was an easy stroll with restrooms, shaded picnic tables, and garbage bins every couple miles, plus nearby river access.

This canyon is known for Bighorn Sheep sightings. I thought it was going to be a bust but at the last rest area these youngsters came down the hill. They were headbutting and humping. It was an entertaining sight.

I was happy to be on single track with shade after the long road walk.

Another benefit of being a section hiker is that I didn’t need to share cramped campsites. I saw 5-25 hikers, runners and bikers daily, most out for the day or a section, as it was still early for the thru hiker crowd. I only shared a camping area one night out of five.

I finally earned some views and even saw some snowy mountains.

In this segment I found a few blooms including prickly poppy, grass widow, skullcaps, penstemon, larkspur, milkweed, columbine, and I believe euphorbia, plus lots of butterflies.

Prickly Poppy
Grass Widow
Penstemon
Big leaf viola
Skullcaps
Penstemon
The Colorado State flower, Blue Columbine
Iris

Segment 2 – 11.7 miles (2,482′ gain, 753′ loss)

Water is again a big challenge as there are only two sources. The first at the beginning and the second 10 miles later. There are two large burn areas devoid of shade.

The South Platte River is a bit of an oasis. I took a nice break in the shade before loading up with 4.5 liters of water for the climb and dry camping.

I used cooling strategies to get me through the exposed burn scar of wetting my shirt, head, hat and buff at the river, then adding my umbrella to keep me shaded.

I was happy to find some shade at the 2.5 mile mark. I couldn’t carry those 10 pounds of water any further in the heat. It made for an early day but better for my wellness and success.

I was left wondering if I needed a helmet but thankfully no UFO’s bonked me upon the head.

It was a relief to reach the fire station and find the spigot on with water available. Such a humanitarian gift and one worthy of a donation (NorthForkFire.org) with no natural water sources in this segment after the South Platte River. The 4.5 liters I carried was just right.

Blooms I found on this segment in additional to those I saw in the previous segment.

Wild geranium I believe
Paintbrush in yellow, orange and red

Segment 3 – 12.5 miles (1,975′ gain, 1,549′ loss)

This segment has far fewer challenges with more plentiful water, shade, views, and gentle terrain. The trade-off is bike activity especially on weekends.

The sculpted rock formations dotted the landscape through this segment.

The highlight for me was finding this Abert’s Squirrel.

“Abert’s squirrel or the tassel-eared squirrel is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus native to the southern Rocky Mountains from the United States to the northern Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, with concentrations found in Arizona, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.”

This chipmunk in camp loved his salad. He ate so many greens.

Buffalo Creek was the best source thus far. I’d been surprised by the minimalist streams called creeks.

I heard some big ammunition fire but thankfully no stray bullets.

Segment 4 – 16.4 miles (3,271′ gain, 1,373′ loss)

The challenge in this segment is elevation as the high point is nearly 11,000 feet. I also found the 5 miles of steep, rocky old logging road at uncomfortable grade. There is also a lack of shade during the long 6-mile meadow section.

I was surprised this old road was considered trail once I entered wilderness. I was happy for shade but not for the unrelenting grade on very rocky surface. My initial impressions didn’t match my previous experience in this wilderness (blog link).

I was super happy to leave the road and find wonderful hiker grade single track trail.

I didn’t even mind when the trail got rocky as I made my way toward the pass. However I was very disappointed to find no view.

I’m guessing this 6-mile meadow is colorful with blooms if your timing is just right.

There were several side creeks sporting marsh marigolds.

Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, three-flowered avens, or old man’s whiskers
Hummingbird Moth

After exiting the meadow and climbing to another saddle, I was once again disappointed to find no views.

Segment 5 – 14.6 miles (1,858′ gain, 2,055 loss)

The altitude challenge is the primary concern; however there are also some long exposed sections without shade, as well as expected bovine companions and poo water.

This segment is considered the first of the best sections. I was thrilled to find views and long traverses.

My timing couldn’t have better as a trail crew cut 49 logs off the trail the previous day. I met them in the morning and shared my many thanks for this gift.

I was super excited to find this solo Fairy Slipper Orchid.

I suspect the meadows will be filled with blue iris soon.

Kenosha Pass marks the end of Segment 5, and for me the end of this 5 segment section. What a great reminder of my first steps back in 2017 (blog link).

This was a fab test of my fitness following my knee surgery and rehab. I’m super proud of myself for hiking this 70+ miles with about 10,000′ elevation gain.

I was thankful I finished a day earlier than planned as smoke blew in from the fires in New Mexico and Arizona. I would not have wanted to hike in those conditions (but would have had to).

Tips:

  • Consider earplugs if you are noise sensitive at night. There is a lot of plane traffic. You might also have noisy neighbors.
  • Have strategies for dealing with the heat, such as salt/electrolyte capsules and drinks, umbrella, and buff to keep wet. Sunscreen especially for lips.
  • Bring a water scoop and prefilter for minimalist streams.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Data Book are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

UT – La Sal Mountains, Tuk and South Mountains J&J Style (06/22)

Sometimes a little detour is needed, even if it means paying budget-breaking gas prices. So after spending a few weeks in Colorado, it was time to return west.

I had a nice view of the La Sal range on my way to Moab. I first explored the northern end in 2017 with Joan hiking Manns and Pilot Peak (blog link) followed by Haystack Peak (blog link).

Well look who I found? That’s right it’s another J&J adventure with my friend Joan. On our first day, we hiked from the La Sal Pass Trailhead to the snow line at 12,000 feet on Mount Tukuhnikivatz, aka Tuk.

As we hiked up Tuk, we had views of South Mountain, which we planned to circumnavigate the following day.

When we reached about 11,000 feet, we found our first Sky Pilot blooms.

The maintained trail may end at 1.5 miles but after that there was ridge walking, possibly my favorite type of hiking. However, first, we had more trail to cover after this false summit.

This is what I call a WOW per mile hike. Look at those views!

We could see down into Castle Valley.

We were thrilled to celebrate at 12,000 feet, although Joan has successfully bagged that peak when there’s a bit less snow.

It almost seemed like we should be singing Sound of Music.

This view from Medicine Lake shows the ridge and snow line on Tuk where we’d just hiked.

South Mountain Circumnavigation

Joan assumed correctly we might find some snow; counterclockwise would give us an out and back option. The loop route includes OHV roads combined with hiking trails.

At 10,000 feet, the aspen weren’t leafed out yet but we had early morning views of South Mountain.

And views down into the valleys.

When we reached this avalanche chute, we thought it might be turn around time.

It was icy, but with rock ledges, Joan led the way with the bum scoot method.

Thankfully the second chute had soft snow and I easily made flat kick steps.

We found an aspen corridor with arborglyphs, some dating back to 1924 often done by Basque sheepherders. The cursive writing is my favorite.

We found GREEN!

And then we found a LOT of snow! It was so much fun trying to avoid postholing.

We took a break at this awesome viewpoint where we could admire Mount Tukuhnikivatz to the left and Mount Peale to the right.

It was a perfect place to relax and celebrate our snow travel victories.

Double Tuk

On our last day, we couldn’t resist the pull to test ourselves on Tuk one more time, at least to the end of the maintained trail, as marked by this cairn.

We reminisced about our walk around South Mountain.

Said hello to our Sky Pilot friends.

It was another most excellent J&J adventure.

We found an amazing display of iris on our way down the mountain.

And then it was time to head east once again saying goodbye to Joan for now.

There’s something about that first kiss.

Resources:

CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (05/22)

I was ready to take a break from National Forests where hiking trails seem to rate much lower than other forms of recreation. With National Park in close proximity, I was drawn that direction. In the fall of 2017 I was running from wildfire smoke but sadly found more of the same (blog link). I hadn’t been to the South Rim so of course that’s where I started.

There aren’t any dispersed camping options near the south entrance so my first order of business was trying to secure a first come spot in the campground. Finding success, I drove the South Rim Road stopping at all the viewpoints. The position of the sun makes a huge difference is rock color and texture. In fact it took me until the end of my last day to finally capture best light on Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado. It’s 2,250 feet from river to rim.

Each pullover provides opportunities to learn about the geology, as well short walks to stretch those legs and get some exercise. I walked every maintained trail on both sides of the canyon this trip.

It’s a long ways down to the Gunnison River. In fact, the greatest depth from rim to river is 2,722 feet.

If this tree could talk . . .

Bunnies and birds were plentiful.

This bighorn sheep had enough of portrait sessions and decided it was time for a nap.

A benefit of staying at the South Rim Campground was hiking the nearby trails bright and early for best light, wildlife and bird chatter.

It’s not all about the canyon. The vegetation was varied and I was delighted to find myself in an aspen forest.

If you want to touch the river, or camp near it, or backpack along it without a steep off-trail scramble, it’s worth the drive down to the East Portal.

This is the Gunnison Diversion Dam. What’s cool is that later I hiked the Deadhorse Trail where I could look down from the rim and see this spot.

Play the game

Hiking Trails

There are four maintained trails along the South Rim ranging from 1.5 to 2 miles, and three on the North Rim with the longest 7 miles. There are also several inner canyon routes which require permits to enter the wilderness. More information can be obtained at the ranger station visitor centers. I thought I was interested until I attended the ranger talk and learned more details and decided it was well above my fitness level. The routes on the South Rim require a ranger interview in order to obtain a permit; on the North Rim permits are self issued.

Deadhorse Trail

This is one of the longer trails, and probably one of the least visited.

I thought the trail would take me up this peak, but I was wrong and happily so on this warm day. Although not apparent at a glance, there were quite a few wildflowers and butterflies.

You have to look hard to find the river, way way down around 2,000 feet. If you look carefully you can also see the road leading down to East Portal. I watched a few cars going down down down. Be sure your brakes have been recently serviced before attempting this drive. There aren’t many places to escape or turn around.

This is the view looking down at the Gunnison Diversion Dam which I’d seen earlier when I drove down to East Portal.

I believe if you follow the fence line, you could reach the ridge to summit that peak.

North Vista/Green Mountain Trail

This was my last hike and it was by far my favorite. Here’s a view of Green Mountain from the South Rim.

What a welcome!

This is the only trail where you can hike in the wilderness without a permit.

The first destination and for most hikers the turnaround point.

WOW, she exclaimed!!!!

More my kind of EXPLANATION POINT!!!

Wildflowers

YES it was spring and I found flowers on nearly every trail.

Claret Cup
Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, three-flowered avens, or old man’s whiskers
Lupine
Scarlet Gilia
Viola
Evening Primrose

I couldn’t resist visiting Sunset View on evening.

Tips:

  • Loop C is the First Come First Serve Non Reservation option for the South Rim Campground. There may be openings in the others loops but try this one first.
  • Water rationing!
  • Restroom etiquette LOL
  • There are some great dispersed camping options on the North Rim side. I enjoyed views of the West Elk Mountains.
  • Crawford is a great town to spend some time and regroup between visiting the North and South Rims. I was waiting out storms and found nearby dispersed camping. There are laundry and shower facilities and WiFi outside the library as well as public restrooms and a water refill station.
Fresh snow on the West Elk Mountains
I couldn’t resist a visit to Needle Rock after the storm.
I look forward to a future visit to explore the West Elk Mountains

Resources:

CO – Uncompahgre Plateau (05/22)

How in the heck to you say Uncompahgre? One source says “uhng·kuhm·guh·gray,” another “un-come-pah-gray.” I’ve been practicing but dang I just can’t get it.

The Uncompahgre Plateau adjoins BLM managed Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, where I’d just spent a couple days (blog link). This area as well as the forest is OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) and hunter focused, with lots of campgrounds, but there are also a few designated hiking, biking, equestrian trails.

I’m learning these Colorado mesas and plateaus host unexpected forests. When viewed from the desert floor they appear as rocky escarpments but as you gain elevation, my kind of gifts lay waiting in every fold.

The coolest thing happened early my first morning. I was sitting in my car drinking my first cup of coffee when I looked up and saw this bobcat wandering past, just a few feet from my car. Blurry photos but you get the point.

I found a few floral delights near my campsite also.

I was excited to find this plant below as I saw a less mature variety at the Colorado National Monument when I visited a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I found these later which should make it even easier to identify. Townsendia incana (Silvery Townsendia) most likely.

There are three main roads dividing the plateau. I started with the Divide Road in the northern section off Highway 141. Some sources reference the sections as North, South and Mountain.

Unaweep Loop

A friend recommended the Unaweep Trail. I quickly researched and put together the route which included a mix of trail types and conditions, and way more miles than I would have chosen to hike. The first section was basically open to all types of users except standard vehicles.

I didn’t think too much about this grouse until . . .

She got all pissy and started closely circling me, hissing, squawking and flapping wings. I had to defend myself with my poles. She would not get the message. It was a battle I ultimately won but it wasn’t fun and in the future I would use my pepper spray. I’m sure she had a nest or young ones nearby, but obviously she still felt threatened.

The next trail is open to a few less users and is mostly single track.

This is how they limited access, not a bad idea.

And finally I found the hiking trail. Well . . . little did I know it would be a lot of Type 2 fun. I don’t like how this forest requires long miles of multi-use trails to reach a hiking/equestrian trail.

Oh where oh where is the trail? Frequently THE trail was indistinguishable from animal trails. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the trail on the ground didn’t match the digital trail. So yes, I spent a lot of time wandering and wasting energy.

Thankfully there were blooms to put a smile back on my face.

Larkspur
Cool to see this color variation on the Larkspur
False Lupine
Wallflower

The trail crosses over this ridge, before dropping straight down and then wanders along before eventually crossing Bear Canyon Creek.

This trail is a lot steeper than it looks. You’ll see on the profile photo at the end of this section.

The views would have been dramatic on a blue sky day. This is looking down on Highway 141. Basically the trail wraps a bunch of rocky escarpments.

The trail tends to keep you walking just above the rocky outcroppings, providing plenty of viewpoint opportunities.

As you transition between the escarpments, it was nice to find creeks.

You also get views of Grand Mesa where I spent time a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I was super excited to find blooming hairy clematis.

Blue Bells
Columbine

The best views are to the west where you can see the highlights of Utah including Castle Valley and the La Sals. Sadly lighting was far less than ideal.

The prize for a slip and fall was this fritillaria lily I would never had seen if not for this incident.

The next part of the loop was beyond Type 2 fun given the number of hours I’d been on trail. I felt a bit like this guy. From the hiker/equestrian trail you connect to the Snowshoe Trail, which sounds wonderful but take my word it’s anything but fun. It’s a straight rocky chute favored by motorcycles. I had to dig deep to climb, climb and climb some more.

I was almost dancing with joy when I reached this OHV road. It was 7pm and I could walk/run the 4.5 miles to finish this loop. If I wasn’t so scared of trail conditions I could have taken the Corral Fork Trail.

The first steep descent shown in the profile below was off the ridge toward the beginning of the hike; that last steep ascent is that motorcycle trail. The good news was this hike followed two days of backpacking. I felt like I was finally getting my trail legs after being on the road for a few weeks, and focusing on daily jaunts.

Unaweep Canyon

There are three primary roads providing access to the Uncompahgre Plateau. The Divide Road (aka Forest Road 402) is the one I initially took south from Highway 141. I returned the same way after my Unaweep loop hike. “Unaweep Canyon is a geologically unique canyon that cuts across the Uncompahgre Plateau. It is unique because two creeks, East Creek and West Creek, flow out of opposite ends of the canyon, separated by the almost imperceptible Unaweep Divide.” Source: Wikipedia

There are several worthwhile place to stop along the canyon. I wish I’d known about the Unaweep Seep Natural Area, about 8 miles north of Gateway. It has some interesting botany and geology. The Hanging Flume Interpretative Area is thought provoking.

You can see the flume supports on the right side of the river in this photo.

The drive along the San Miguel River to access the recreation of the wooden flumes was worthwhile as well.

I wished I’d done more advance research. There wasn’t cell service in the canyon so I couldn’t get additional details.

I picked up the Paradox Valley Petroglyph Tour brochure and followed the directions to the Hunting Magic Panel. I wanted to find the Shaman Panel as well, but after fighting the rancher gate and feeling uncomfortably warm, I decided I’d save that one for the future.

On my way to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park (blog link) I also crossed the Plateau using the Delta-Nucla Road aka Forest Road 503 aka 25 Mesa Road.

After spending time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I returned to the west side using the Dave Wood Road aka Forest Road 510 before connecting to the Divide Road aka Forest Road 402. I hiked the Dave Wood Interpretative Trail (aka Simms Mesa). I downloaded the brochure and found it interesting, and the hike quite enjoyable.

The Divide Road provided some great viewpoints looking toward the San Juan Mountains, with Mt Sneffels dominating at 14,158 feet. I’m hoping to spend some time on the Colorado Trail and this was a great tease.

The road naming confusion! Old Highway 90 out of Montrose is known as Forest Road 540 or the 90 Road.

Tips:

  • Delta and Montrose are good resupply locations. Montrose has travel center truck stops and a KOA for showers. On the west side, Gateway has a general store as does Naturita; I don’t recall if either had fuel stations.
  • Montrose has a Public Lands Visitor Center with information on both USFS and BLM options.
  • There’s a nice variety of camping options with paid and unpaid campgrounds as well as dispersed campsites.

Resources:

CO – Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, Bridgeport Trailhead (05/22)

This area has been on my list for a few years, but for this Goldilocks the window of opportunity is short due to extreme temperatures. When a cold wet storm moved into a large portion of the state, it created a perfect spring opportunity to explore this wilderness. Dominguez Canyon Wilderness represents 66,280 acres of the 210,172 held by the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

As an added incentive, my favorite hiking companion, Joan, was available to join me.

We began our hike from the Bridgeport Trailhead, which is well signed on a decent road with two fairly large parking areas.

We were hiking the Dominguez Canyon Trail. The first section of the trail is day use only. Wag bags are required in the canyon. There were a couple of rangers as trailhead hosts the day we arrived, and they were providing extra education about LNT.

“Pack out all waste” to me means trash. I wouldn’t have known it meant human waste!

The trail initially follows, then crosses railroad tracks, while also paralleling the mighty Gunnison River.

Soon we found ourselves in the wilderness proper, paralleling Big Dominguez Creek.

We found plenty of reasons to stop and stare at the big and the little.

Sego Lily

When we arrived these Colorado Four O’Clocks (Mirabilis Multiflora) weren’t in bloom. When we left they were showcasing their beauty.

I was thrilled to have a few sightings of collared lizards.

This poor guy was cold and warming up, thus why it looks sickly.

What kind of butterfly will you become? Interesting there was one very lethargic, almost dead, at our campsite. It never moved the entire evening but it was gone in the morning.

The age old story of graffiti. The rule of thumb I believe is older than 50 years becomes historic.

We found a nice campsite near the creek.

Thank you Joan for another delightful J&J trip!

Tips:

  • There are a few dispersed camping options along Bridgeport Road.
  • Don’t forget your wag bags! You might even consider one for car camping.

Resources:

CO – Grand Mesa National Forest, Early Spring Jaunting (05/22)

Known as the world’s largest flat-top mountain, it exceeded my expectations when I found real forests, lots of lakes and hiking trails, and nothing resembling flat. Altitude was around 10,000 feet, giving my lungs reason to complain.

It was a great escape from the heat but not so good for hiking. I wasn’t surprised, after all it was mid May and still early spring at 10,000 feet.

Some plants are early spring bloomers. You won’t hear me complaining!

I found plenty of lakes in early thaw status.

The Crag Crest Trail was calling my name. If only I could get through the parking lot without postholing to my knees. But with infrequent overnight freezing, that wasn’t going to happen.

From this vantage point, I found marmots, a pika and some fat robins singing the sounds of spring. They were camera shy and didn’t want their portraits. During this trip I saw five marmots, a pika and a weasel, several elk and lots of deer.

I also enjoyed some colorful sunsets and sunrise views.

It was fun to witness the “here today, gone tomorrow” when the ice suddenly disappears.

The Scotland Trail is possibly at the lowest elevation. I met some rangers who recommended giving it a try. Well I did and found snow within 1/4 mile and soon it was 75% snow with deep postholing. I have up after a mile and took a short-cut back down to the road.

Road walking proved more enjoyable.

Even then I found sections of snow to wade or waddle through.

I wonder who you will be?

I enjoyed finding surprises.

From the mesa you could see many of the big mountain ranges.

With the recent snow melt, I found these buggers. I was thankful for my mesh window coverings on my car. I hear this area is known as mosquito hell in the early season.

Tips:

  • The Ranger Station Visitor Center is only open seasonally, usually opening Memorial Day weekend. However they had WiFi available outside the building and open heated restrooms with a potable water refill station.
  • There were a few large snow parking areas which I’m guessing offer dispersed camping in the summer.
  • Based on the infrastructure at Grand Mesa Village, a private holding within the forest, my guess is this is a busy place in the summer.

Resources:

CO – Colorado National Monument, Wildflower Extravaganza (05/22)

Traveling east from Price Utah had me watching the temperatures rise to 90+ degrees. I plotted a way to higher elevation (cooler temperatures) by taking this detour.

As I began driving up I couldn’t help but notice the colorful blooms lining the road.

Instead of focusing on the rock formations, which I’d done on a previous trip when I backpacked into the canyon (blog link), I spent a morning roadside botanizing.

Penstemon
Scarlet Gilia
Broadleaf or Pallid Milkweed
Yellow-Eye Cryptanth
Evening Primrose
Evening Primrose
Lambert’s Locoweed
Hopi Blanketflower
Globemallow
Globemallow
Prince’s Plume
Sego Lily
Sego Lily
Paintbrush
Claret Cup
Cushion Buckwheat

I went to the Visitor’s Center specifically to identify this plant but they weren’t able to help.

Tips:

  • You can find dispersed camping on Black Ridge Road.
  • Showers and laundray are available in Fruita and Grand Junction at Truck Stop Travel Centers.

Resources:

UT – Wasatch Plateau, Huntington Canyon (05/22)

Famous for the Huntington Mammoth and popular with locals, this canyon was recommended by staff at the Manti-La Sal USFS office in Price. It’s NOT an area that pops up on “where to hike” apps, and wouldn’t make my WOW per mile list, but no regrets! I was glad to have a new area to explore that challenged my fitness, provided high altitude training and was just the right temperature. Every hike doesn’t need to be #epic to be worthwhile.

I launched from the town of Huntington and began the drive up Highway 31 which is known as the energy highway due to coal mining. It’s early season with roads and trails just beginning to open. I’m guessing it would be much too busy for my liking during the summer. Much of the forest was burned in 2012 and then flooded during monsoon season. Seeing the damage, recovery and intervention a decade later is a reminder of the slow process.

Tie Fork Canyon

This is one of the first trailheads off the main road. While you can drive the first 1.7 miles it’s not suitable for all vehicles. I wanted to hike so I walked the road. At the Y junction, I first went left on Wild Cattle Hollow Trail but was soon turned around by down trees. Gentry Hollow Trail is to the right. The trail was in good condition and I made it almost to Jack’s Hole junction. I was feeling the altitude and found myself huffing and puffing plenty.

Nuck Woodward Road

I met a couple of rangers upon arrival at the Stuart Guard Station. They informed me they just opened the gate to the trailhead. The “trail” starts as the road, which will be open later in the season. The 2012 burn and subsequent flooding is evident in this canyon. I decided to stick with the road this day as most likely the trails needed spring maintenance. I hiked to the Sawmill Canyon junction. I saw a bald eagle and hawk but wasn’t able to photograph either.

An example of one of the hiking trails. I could see blowdown as well as a creek crossing. Easy to choose roads walking when trail conditions are in the Type 2 category.

This is the first trail junction. I considered trying this trail but with the wildfire warning sign I suspected a lot of deadfall.

Love bear scratch trees!

I saw a fair amount of bones and skeletons. Obviously this was fairly fresh kill. The most interesting and scariest was seeing a cougar cache of an elk near the trailhead. I notified a ranger since the cache was still being actively eaten. You can smell it, the flies were happy, and about half was buried.

I camped at the trailhead and woke to snow on my face, as it blew in through my cracked windows.

It was time for a town day!

Left Fork of Huntington Creek, a National Recreation Trail

I was pleasantly surprised to find single track trail limited to hiker and equestrian traffic. It was a nice change from the previous hikes given it’s proximity to a creek. As expected there were some challenges with down trees, washed out trail, overgrowth and a tread with some slippery mud and snow sections. I hiked about 5 miles to the Scad Valley Trail junction. It would be a great backpack trail if it was in better condition.

Horsetail Fern

This was an interesting sulfur-smelling, cold-water creek.

Electric Lake, Cleveland and Huntington Reservoirs

As I traveled north I found half frozen lakes and lots of snow. It was going to be a while before those trails opened so I enjoyed exploring the lakes.

Yogi was awake!

This was the trail I planned to hike.

Nope, won’t be driving or hiking that road for a few weeks.

I found a small patch of glacier lilies while wandering around.

Huntington Mammoth

The deeper snow to the right is where the mammoth was found.

Mill Canyon Trail

I wanted to assume since the trail began with a newish bridge it might be in good shape and was worth a try. This turned out to be my most challenging hike with 2000′ elevation gain in 2.25 miles ending at 10,000′. There were a few down trees and snow blocking the trail toward the top but the elevation gain and altitude tested my fitness. This canyon has lots of aspen trees which will provide nice shade when they leaf out. I saw my one and only hiker of this trip on this trail.

And then the trail was blocked by snow, with deep postholing. Time to turn back or go for Plan B.

I found a way to the ridge where four elk greeted me.

I had a view down into the lakes basin where I’d explored the previous day. This trail provides an optional way to Candland Peak.

The ridge to the right was my Plan B when the trail was blocked by snow on the left.

Spring Beauties (?)

Tips:

  • Ask at the Price USFS office for the hiking trail map and list aka Popular Non-Motorized Trails in Huntington Canyon.
  • The town park at Huntington has clean restrooms, public WiFi, a water spigot and power outlets. Everything a traveler could ask for. The market met most of my other needs.
  • There are plenty of camping options in the canyon from paid to dispersed, some reserved and some first come. I didn’t see any garage bins nor water spigots.

Resources:

UT – The Great Salt Lake (05/22)

As I continued my eastward travels, I said goodbye to Nevada and hello to Utah. I’d deliberately chosen a more northward crossing as I’d not been through this part of Utah and had never visited THE Great Salt Lake. Traveling through miles of alkaline soil was not the most attractive but interesting none the less. The reward was this view of THE Great Salt Lake!

As per my style, I looked for access areas more remote than the popular options. I found Stansbury Island. The drive was interesting as the road was bordered by what appeared to be holding ponds and magnesium and brine shrimp plants. This is an interesting article (http://tooeleonline.com/captain-stansbury-visitors-overlook/).

I hiked the interpretative trail where I learned more about the lake and the expedition.

I found a few blooms along the trail.

Claret Cup
Wallflower
Larkspur
Evening Primrose

This is part of the shoreline of what was Bonneville Lake and is now I presume overflow for the Great Salt Lake.

I should have taken a photo when I first arrived but I got distracted visiting and then walking the interpretative trail. By the time I got to the shoreline the wind had grown strong and the water turned brown. Initially the foam was white but soon it turned chocolate milk brown.

Although I’d hoped to camp nearby so I could witness sunset and sunrise on the lake, Mother Nature had other plans. The gusty winds made the area very unpleasant. There was also an incoming storms predicted to drop snow nearby so I selected my campsite carefully and found myself on the Pony Express Route. This seemed perfect after spending the previous night on the Wagon Trail.

As forecast I awoke to fresh snow coverings on the mountains 360-degrees around my campsite. It was a good day to wait out the storm, do a little research and figure out where I’d be going next.

Resources: