CO – Wildflowers (and cactus blooms) May/June 2022

From May through September I celebrated wildflower season in various parts of Colorado. For those who’ve been following my blog, you know how much I enjoy photographing flowers. Although I found some new favorites I’ll start with the Colorado State Flower, the stunning blue columbine. “Aquilegia coerulea, the Colorado blue columbine, is a species of flowering plant in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native to the Rocky Mountains. The Latin specific name coerulea means ‘sky blue’.” Source: Wikipedia

May 2022

Colorado National Monument welcomed me to the state with blooms aplenty (blog link).

I quickly switched from late spring conditions in Grand Junction to early spring conditions at Grand Mesa. These areas aren’t separated by many miles but those few thousand feet of elevation make a big difference (blog link).

I dropped elevation again where I found desert blooms at Dominguez Canyon (blog link).

I found myself back up at 9,500′ when I visited nearby Uncompahgre Plateau (blog link). Since it was still May I had low expectations for spring blooms.

I wrapped up the month of May at Black Canyon of the Gunnison (blog link).

June 2022

These blooms were found on Segments 1-5 of The Colorado Trail between 6,000′ and 11,000 (blog link). Fairy Slipper Orchids, Prickly Poppies, Widow Grass, Skullcaps and the pink Penstemon (Penstemon secundiflorus) were highlights.

Colorado Trail Segments 12-13 (blog link) held a few surprises like Jacob’s Ladder and Western Pasqueflowers. I began seeing more columbines and was excited to find a coralroot orchid.

My timing wasn’t ideal for Segment 10 (blog link) and Segment 11 (blog link) or maybe it’s just not an area rich in wildflowers.

This was a fun way to review my spring jaunt. These collage photos are best viewed on a computer. Most plant ID’s were included in my original posts. I can’t wait to see what beauties I found in July.

Links:

2022 – Colorado, Three Seasons of Joy and so much MORE!

From May to October,
three seasons of color delighted my eyes.
I said hello to the earliest spring blooms
while snow lay upon the ground.
I said goodbye to your fall foliage kaleidoscope
after the first snows arrived.
My dreams became reality!

It was my first summer without heat, fires and smoke.
Your daily thunderstorms kept the air clean,
the grasses green and my breathing superb.

I was scared and stressed about lightning;
and indeed it tested my courage,
but I didn’t run . . . nor die.

Ridges, passes and peaks were my challenges.
The rewards were always worth the effort.
Those views will never be forgotten.

High altitude living suited me just fine.
Daily wearing of my down jacket was a novelty
and one I quite enjoyed.

Your moody skies dazzled me,
with shades of white, gray, pink, purple and black,
and cloud shapes good for my imagination.

So many trails explored,
along with the numerous forests and wilderness areas.
My time in your small towns was perfect.
They are etched in my memories.

Oh Colorado
You invigorated and challenged me.
I smiled, laughed and cried.
At times you punished more than pleased.
Your namesake rocks had me tiptoeing through your minefields.
You made me stronger, leaner and healthier.
I have no doubt I’ll be back to add another chapter
to my grand book called life.

CO – San Juan Skyway, An Autumn Tapestry of Aspen Color (Sept/Oct 2022)

I was still undecided about my next destination until I saw some photos showcasing fall foliage in the Silverton area. That was all I needed to set my direction of travel. It was fun traveling through the same areas over a few weeks so I could enjoy the transition of the season. Most of these photos were taken on roadside jaunts following Highway 550 (including the Million Dollar section) between Durango and Ridgway, Highway 62 between Ridgeway and Placerville, Highway 145 between Placerville and Cortez, and finally Highway 160 between Cortez and Durango. It seemed only appropriate to begin my leaf peeping journey on the first day of autumn, 9/22/22.

Silverton dressed in yellow.

Anvil Mountain at Silverton.

Idarado Houses near Red Mountain Pass.

Million Dollar Highway Views.

Ironton (09/25/22)

Crystal Lake (09/25/22)

North of Durango (09/30/22)

Molas Pass (09/30/22).

Snowden Mountain (09/30/22). I planned to hike from Andrews Lake to Crater Lake or up into Snowden Mountain the next day.

On October 1st, I woke to a view of a snow covered Grand Turk and Sultan Mountain.

My intended hike near Snowden Mountain was no longer looking inviting.

The mountains above Molas Lake also wore white. I had no doubt this would be a day for photography and not hiking.

This was the first yummy scene I encountered as I drove north on 550 from Molas Pass.

I was excited to see the orange hidden among the fog and snow. I’d always wanted to see this combination.

The magic continued and often I forgot to take notes of my location or the peak.

I found snowline at Red Mountain Pass.

I was giddy about the amount of snow accumulation.

I joined the masses stopping at every pullover for more snaps.

The season hadn’t advanced quite enough for the reds and oranges to join the tapestry.

Crystal Lake was my turnaround this day.

By the time I was back at Molas Pass the snow had melted on Snowden Mountain and I thought maybe I’d be able to hike the area the next day.

Or not! I found myself at snowline the next morning (10/02/22).

My curiosity had me back up at Molas Pass early.

I was hopeful the clouds would lift and I’d be gifted another magical day.

By the time I got to Silverton it was looking and feeling a bit chilly.

Good thing I was prepared with both 4WD and chains. The roads were slushy and the snow plows had been through a couple of times.

What a wonderful autumn scene. Snow, fog and a tapestry of colors.

I had to be extra careful using the pullouts since some were slushy, or mucky, or had clumpy icy snow. Walking along the shoulder was a bit more treacherous as well as many drivers weren’t as attentive as maybe they should be.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

I was happy to finally get a decent shot of this old building.

The flat light made it difficult to capture good photos.

These mountains continue to steal my heart.

Talk about a canvas transformed.

This is happy Jan!

On October 3rd I continued my travels south along Highway 145 enjoying the fresh snow accented by moody skies with hopeful signs of blue.

I found amazing reflection at Trout Lake.

It’s all about the leaves.

Links to hikes I took while driving the San Juan Skyway:

CO – Mesa Verde National Park and the La Platas (10/22)

I’d dropped down to the community of Rico after hiking in the Lizard Head Wilderness (blog link). My phone pinged with a message from my Banff friends saying they were in Colorado within an hour of my location. So we made a plan to meet at Mesa Verde the next day. I’ve visited a few times but never when the Wetherill Mesa Road was open. I was even more excited to find out our mutual friend, a park ranger, would be leading a tour at Long House.

Scary stuff! “This 60-minute, ranger-assisted tour involves hiking 2.25 miles (3.6 km) roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 130 feet (40 m) and climbing two 15-foot (4.5 m) ladders within the site.” Source: NPS

This is my friend Leslie playing Vana White. Reservations are required to be on the tour and self-guided entrance isn’t an option.

It’s a special privilege to gain entry into the rooms not visible from the trail.

No one panicked on our tour. Soon it was our turn and we too survived.

According the NPS website, “Long House was excavated and stabilized between 1959 and 1961 as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project. Long House is nearly equal in size to Cliff Palace with about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to 150 to 175 people. Some of the architectural features in Long House suggest it was also a public place where people from all over Wetherill Mesa gathered to trade or hold community events. The formal plaza in the center of the site is larger than most villages and has some features not often found in other Mesa Verde archeological sites. For instance, the benches, vaults, and a raised firebox may indicate that this large open space was a dance plaza or great kiva, similar to Fire Temple on Chapin Mesa. The high number of rooms and kivas in Long House, plus the presence of the formal plaza suggest the community was a particularly significant place for Ancestral Pueblo people, perhaps serving both civic and ceremonial functions.” 

Ranger Jackie did an excellent job sharing stories and creating an experience where we could what life might have been like in this community.

My buddies Leslie and Jackie making this day memorable.

Petroglyph Point Trail

This is one of the more fun trails in the park. I hiked it back in 2018 and when Ranger Jackie recommended to Leslie we said YES!

There are around 600 sites in Mesa Verde with only a view easily available to the public. Ranger Jackie recommended binocular use. Neither Leslie nor I are very proficient with them.

Spruce Tree House

You gain a view into Spruce House from the beginning and end of the Petroglyph Point Trail. I was fortunate to tour it back in 2015.

Cliff Palace

This is still my favorite and the one I want to tour. We viewed from the road as there isn’t a trail without a ticket for a closer view.

La Plata Mountains

This range has been on my list for a while and while visiting Jackie I was gifted the opportunity. “The La Plata Mountains are a small subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of Colorado, United States. They are located on the border between Montezuma and La Plata counties, about 12 miles northwest of Durango. Their name is Spanish for silver. The peaks of the range are easily visible from U.S. Route 160, which skirts the range on the south. The La Plata River and the Mancos River have their headwaters in the range. The Colorado Trail accesses even towards the northern peaks. The best-known and highest peak in the La Plata Mountains is Hesperus Mountain, which is the Navajo sacred mountain of the north.” Source: Wikipedia

How could I resist a trail with aspen in the name?

I indeed found color!

Sadly the Aspen Loop was filled with cows leaving the a mucky muddy and poo-filled trail so I decided to try Big Al Trail. It was fantastic! It was a great reminder that sometimes short trails are worthy. I switched colorful aspen to oaks.

Thankfully the cows behaved and stayed off this trail.

Nearby was the Rim Trail I couldn’t resist for the views.

I found more gorgeous oaks.

I had fantastic views of the La Plata peaks.

With all the time I spent this summer on The Colorado Trail it was exciting to see this access trail.

Links:

Resources:

CO – Lizard Head Wilderness (Sept/Oct 2022)

I hiked a loop through this wilderness in the fall of 2017 (blog link). A couple of incidents remain strong in my memories. First was a connector section that was more rock climbing than hiking, way outside my comfort zone especially solo. The second was the snow storm providing a stunning scene the next morning.

There are two trails near Lizard Head Pass. I hiked the Lizard Head Trail one day and the Cross Mountain Trail the next. Many will hike both as a loop. Since I wasn’t interested in the 2.5 mile road walk on the highway I decided independent hikes were more to my liking.

I camped near the trailhead where I was treated to these views. Notice the recent snow on the peaks.

The colors are striking.

When I saw the sun sweep across the forest, it felt like magic.

The light changed again keeping me saying WOW!

Lizard Head Trail

As I’m putting on my shoes I notice this dog. I looked around for the owners.

Instead I hear baa baa and see hundreds of sheep flooding the parking area and thankfully moving below the trailhead. Little did I know that trail traversed the hillside and they indeed were on my path. Another group of hikers arrived and we began together. The dog and sheep didn’t seem to mind our presence.

There were a few trees displaying their fall colors.

The trail climbed gently via nicely graded switchbacks until finally the ridge was reached and the first of several false summits.

The reward! This is why I huff n’ puff my way of climbs. I love dramatic landscape views. First view of THE Lizard Head rocky outcropping.

My turnaround was at Black Face Peak where I had amazing 360 views.

I didn’t scamper up Black Face to see if there was a Benchmark survey marker. The faint trail on the ridge continues on to eventually connect to the Cross Mountain Trail I planned to hike the following day.

I’m guessing this area will be quite colorful in a couple weeks.

Looking down at Trout Lake. Further in that canyon is Hope Lake where I’d planned to hike, but instead found a road closure.

There were pikas in these rocks.

I was shocked to find these surviving bluebells.

I enjoy studying the details. Nature is amazing!

These were the first leaves on the trail I’d seen.

The hills are alive with color.

This was an 8-mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.

I would love to find a way to get nearer these peaks.

I found another view campsite where I could watch the storm activity and light changes. Lizard Head Peak is to the left and a developing rainbow on the right.

The most bizarre sunset lighting.

The next morning I stopped at the restroom near the Lizard Head Trailhead. Across the highway I could hear sheep with the smell easily making it my way. I was easily amused the next morning watching the sheep being loaded up for market. I’m sure all those campers weren’t thrilled to find themselves in the middle of sheep central. The large mountain in the background is Sheep Mountain. Ah how appropriate.

Interpretative signs confirm this long-standing tradition.

Cross Mountain Trail

The first section of trail is open to bikes, the the trail splits and the main trail heads into the wilderness where bikes are prohibited.

The objective is obvious from near the start of the trail.

I believe this mountain in the foreground is part of Black Face where I’d been the previous day.

I think this Jacob’s Ladder was quite confused.

This was a day for quickly changing weather. It rained and hailed, the wind blew and the sun made occasional appearances.

Geology LOVE!

I heard the now familiar sound of fighter jets and knowing they typically come in at least pairs I quickly grabbed my camera and started shooting.

The drama continued as I debated whether I should continue toward the high point or turnaround.

I was so happy Mother Nature gave me the go ahead.

Once again, geology WOW!

This is the pass I came down on my 2017 loop hike. If you look closely toward the right of the photo you can see the switchback trail.

This is what the “trail” looked like when I came down from the pass in 2017. Notice Lizard Head to the middle right.

This was the nightmare pass I crossed back in 2017. Super sketch super scary for me.

With rain in the distance there was no time to dilly dally. I remembered the beauty of this area from my 2017 hike when I arrived here the morning after it snowed.

The 2017 comparison.

There were four horses on the trail in front of me. They started from the Lizard Head Trailhead while I was using the restroom and watching the sheepherders. They rode the loop minus the road connector. I found out they are a guide service and had a couple of clients that day and shuttle a car to retrieve the horse trailer so they can avoid the dangerous no-shoulder road walk.

Unlike the Lizard Head Trail, there aren’t any switchbacks on the Cross Mountain Trail. It’s a continuous uphill slog. This was a 7.4 mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss and-and-back hike.

Six Days Later

Black Face from the Cross Mountain Trailhead

Lizard Head from the Cross Mountain Trailhead

Looking toward Sheep Mountain and San Miguel Peak.

Woods Lake Campground

There are several trails accessing the wilderness from the campground. After the storm I knew my options would be somewhat limited but a friend told me the colors were outstanding and indeed they were. Not a bad campsite! I had views of Fowler and Boskoff Peaks in one direction, and Delores and Middle Peaks in the other.

Overnight temperatures are getting a bit chilly. This was ice on my car after freezing rain.

Delores and Middle Peaks, evening colors after fresh snow.

Morning view of middle peak.

I wandered a bit on the lake and canal trails capturing a few early morning images.

Little Cone Peak

Fowler and Boskoff Peaks

Middle Peak

Sheepherder arborglyph or fraud?

A few days later I returned with my friend Jackie to see how the colors were changing.

I still wanted to see more oranges and reds. I’d call this success!

There were still plenty of green and yellow leaves, promising to extend leaf peeping season.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 25, San Juan Mountains (09/22)

When I found myself back in Colorado, specifically in the Silverton area doing a little leaf peeping, I couldn’t resist a visit to Molas Pass.

The plan was to complete the full segment from Molas Pass to Bolam Pass or at least to the segment high point.

I arrived at Little Molas Lake Trailhead in the latter afternoon so hiked the mile to Molas Pass.

From Molas Pass looking down at Molas Lake in the distance. This is Segment 26 which I still need to hike as well.

The overnight temperature of 33F INSIDE my car had me reconsidering overnighting 2,000 feet higher. So I nixed that plan and repacked for a day trip. It was Saturday so given how packed the parking area was on Friday I was prepared for it to be busy and wanted an early start. It was still frosty at 8am.

I was excited to find myself quickly above treeline.

It was wonderful to find a spot of color among the brown grasses.

There were patches of aspen turning yellow in the distance.

I can see why this is a favorite section especially when the tundra is filled with blooms and everything is green. I have it on my list for a repeat during the summer.

This would make for a great turnaround spot.

I couldn’t resist continuing onward, hoping for better views of these peaks.

I followed the trail downhill to this point and decided it would make a good turnaround spot as the trail then descended further into the forest. Furthermore about this time I started being passed by groups of cyclists. Since it was a Saturday I felt fortunate I’d completed my hike to this point without seeing or hearing anyone. Once I turned around I probably saw 100 cyclists and 25+ hikers.

The lighting was much improved on my return hike, allowing me to see the details of these darker colored mountains.

I was surprised to see so much snow on Engineer Mountain. I read it’s part of a rock glacier.

These peaks (Grand Turk and Sultan Mountain) remind me of those surrounding nearby Ice Lakes Basin, an area I visited in 2017 (blog link).

This was a 10.5 mile less than 1,000′ elevation gain/loss out and back hike.

Six days later the fall foliage at Molas Pass were progressing nicely.

Seven days later, on October 1st, snow arrived.

Expecting plenty of photo ops, I was soon on the road to see what I could capture. Those will be included in a future post.

Molas Lake Campground is hiker friendly and offers awesome showers.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post, I’ve hiked about 263 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 192 bonus miles (repeats/side trails) with over 74,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – Grand Mesa National Forest (09/22)

I’ve learned plans are guidelines with options. I initially planned to return to this location for fall follow-up hikes but then when the opportunity presented to meet Joan in the Uintas (blog link) I changed my itinerary to head north through Wyoming and Montana. With smoky skies that was not a reasonable option, so with thoughts of easy hiking and aspen leaves I made a U-turn. Hello Colorado, I’m back!

Mother Nature had a few other ideas. Rain, rain, rain! It forced me to slow down and take a much needed break. After 130 plus days of traveling this season, I wasn’t complaining. I’d been motivated to keep hiking through the weeks of amazing weather and smoke-free skies. Slowing down felt in line with the season. Shorter daylight hours, cooler temperatures and less than ideal conditions for hiking made reading and relaxing my vice.

It was fun comparing views with those from my first visit in May when the ground was still white with snow, the lakes frozen and melting (blog link). I hiked trails inaccessible during that early spring visit and spent time in town seeking sunshine below the fog.

This stand of aspen are considered the bell weather of fall foliage. I watched it progress over the week I spent in the area. The visitor center staff said it would be another 10 days before the mesa was at peak color.

A few days makes a lot of difference.

Crag Crest Trail

I not so patiently waited for ideal conditions to hike the premier trail at Grand Mesa, Crag Crest Trail. I checked the weather forecast and watched the skies. Meanwhile it rained and hailed, keeping the warmth of the sun away.

Finally on the 6th day I was rewarded with a bluebird day. There were many who hiked this on no views days but with plenty of other options I wasn’t willing to make this sacrifice.

You can see why they call Grand Mesa the land of lakes. There are about 300 natural lakes and 100+ reservoirs on the mesa.

This interpretative sign provides good perspective of the location of the Crag Crest. Most signs and maps spell it Crag but this sign shows Craig. I forgot to ask at the Visitor Center about discrepancy.

This photo of the Crag Crest was taken from the Scales Lake Loop.

This is a good description of the trail.

This trail is designated as a National Recreation Trail, although this sign is about worn off.

The trail meandered through meadows and forests, gently climbing to the crest.

Occasional lake views were offered.

I enjoyed walking through the changing seasons.

The first viewpoint on the ridge included Cottonwood Lakes and mesas above Grand Junction.

The “crest” part of the trail wasn’t flat. Some with height and exposure anxieties might not like this section.

Some of the trail was rocky but other times it was smooth dirt.

It was very windy this day, with the gusts trying to push me off occasionally.

I loved all the views.

After this high point the trail drops down to the area on the right with all the down trees. In retrospect I wish I would have turned around here.

One of the last views looking back from where I’d come.

And then it was down, down, down . . .

Views of hidden lakes are a reward.

This flat section was nice especially with fall colors lining the trail.

On a hot day Upper Eggleston Lake would be a good place to cool off.

This is why I wished I hadn’t hiked the loop, although it was nice to see Crags Crest.

This area smelled of cows and sure enough soon they were on my trail and I was herding them off.

You can imagine how hot this area would be on a summer day. There was also a lot more ascending over the final miles by doing the loop.

This was a 10.9 miles 1,100′ elevation gain/loss loop hike.

Land of Lakes Trail

This is a short paved lollipop loop trail where you’re provided great views on a clear day.

Lost and Mesa Lakes Trail

It was a lovely walk through the woods with interspersed views of Mesa Lakes. The rangers at the Visitor Center said this is a good fall foliage hike.

Oh my Lost Lake was a gorgeous green. Had it been a little warmer, I would have been tempted to swim.

This was a short 3.5 mile 500′ elevation gain/loss loop hike.

Mesa Top Trail

Visitor Center staff recommended this trail for a potential rain day.

It was a nice combination of forest with soft duff trail and open meadows with plentiful views.

I was surprised to find a lupine still in bloom.

There were a few harebells still around as well.

I loved all the details of this mushroom.

The clouds threatened but the rain stayed away until I finished this hike.

I turned around at this aspen grove.

This was a 4.7 mile 200′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike. The trail continued but I was motivated to avoid a major rain storm. This trail seems to be popular with equestrians; I met a a group of 5-6 gals riding this day.

Baron Lake Trail

Many of the lakes are more inviting to folks who fish rather than swim or prefer lakes surrounded by granite amphitheaters.

This area has a lot of private in-holdings on federal land. You can see all the cabins surrounding one of the lakes I hiked around.

I hiked from Ward Lake to Eggleston Lake on the trail and returned via the road making it a little less than 4-mile 200′ elevation gain/loss loop hike.

Scales Lakes Loop Trail

This is a winter trail system that didn’t show up on my Gaia or National Geographic Trails Maps. The Visitor Center handed me a map detailing trails from the County Line Trailhead, which is across the road from the Mesa Top Trailhead. I hiked clockwise starting with Dog Loop.

This part of the trail is well signed and is mostly on double track marked with either blue poles or blue diamonds.

I loved this single track section.

The lakes weren’t anything special but I bet you’d find lots of wildlife hanging around at dusk and dawn.

In fact I found quite a variety of scat but didn’t seen signs of moose, which I expected.

I wished the map provided by the Visitor Center included trail names. The transition from Traverse to Tower wasn’t very intuitive.

The view from the overlook was indeed WOW!

I especially liked seeing the Crag Crest.

You can see a bit of the aspen color starting to brighten the sides of the crest.

At least this reassurance sign was present as I neared the end.

Weeds or blooms without color?

The trails were lined with red foliage.

This was a 6.5 mile 200′ elevation gain/loss loop hike.

Fall Foliage

Blooms

There were a few gentian hanging on.

Tips:

  • The Ranger Station Visitor Center is only open seasonally, usually opening Memorial Day weekend and closing late September. However they had WiFi available outside the building and open heated restrooms with a potable water refill station.
  • Dispersed camping is fairly liberal with only a few exceptions.
  • There are a couple of areas such as Island Lake and Mesa Lakes which are managed by concessionaires. I learned they don’t accept the federal passes in day use or campgrounds. I’ve taken it for granted that the US Fee and Recreation Use Pass requirement on federal land are covered by the interagency federal passes.
  • Cows oh cows, there is open grazing. They visited me in the parking lots, at my dispersed campsites and on the roads and trails.

Resources:

UT – High Uintas Wilderness, Center Park Trailhead (09/22)

After my first trip was tainted by too many miles spent hiking through burned forest, it was hard not to give this area a second chance (blog link). I had time and was near several trailheads which lead to the Highline Trail and more importantly high elevation goodness. A local recommended this option which was outside the big 2020 burn. I soon found out rocks were once again the common theme.

The path through the rocks was less rocky than much of the rest of the trail. At the top I could see my future, but first I had to loose all the elevation I’d just gained. Why oh why? I do love these stunted hardy trees.

There was plant life among all those rocks.

The rocky terrain was tedious and slow severely impacting my ability to make miles. Finding a rock-free campsite was quite a challenge. I was happy to find this spot and even happier with the unexpected nearby water.

Although it was a chilly night.

The next day I was off to explore Garfield Basin.

My goal was to swim in as many lakes as possible. There were some near the trail like this one and others requiring some navigation and off-trail skills.

Five Point Lake is a destination for many but it was deserted on this day just like every other lake I visited.

It wasn’t my kind of ambiance for camping. It didn’t rate high for swimming either.

Superior Lake was superior in every way.

Although finding camping was still not an option as the ground was quite rocky, especially given the rule of camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water.

So many choices, how will I ever swim in them all?

It was amazing to me to still see outflow creeks from lakes in September. They must be spring-fed lakes.

Hiking through the tundra was much preferable to the rocky trail, although my shoes were filled with grass seeds. Look at all those mountains!

Did I save the best for last? The clouds and wind tested my meddle.

The burgundy in these mountains was striking.

The rock colors ranged from mauve to burgundy in addition to the grays, silvers, tans and more.

The moody skies lit up the mountains providing my kind of drama.

Whether ponds, pools, lakes or creeks, there was plenty to go around.

Wandering around I found this historic structure from 1920.

The marker says “Salt House L.E. & J.L. Ollivier 1920.” Nothing turned up with a quick internet search.

This campsite didn’t quite meet the 200′ from trail guidelines but it was all I could find that was flat without rocks and offered some wind protection. And oh my the views I found! Since I only saw a handful of people during my four days and none in the Garfield Lakes basin, I didn’t this this site would impact their wilderness experience.

I watched the nearly full moon rise.

And the mountains and sky turn pink.

My objective for the next day was Porcupine Pass (the the right of the pointed peak).

From Tungsten Pass I had views of Porcupine Pass as well as Tungsten and North Star Lakes.

As I climbed toward the pass I found more lakes with more swimming opportunities during my descent.

From a distance I didn’t think I’d be make the pass as I really dislike loose rock but I was pleased to find a nicely groomed path. I also saw my first Uinta pika!

It’s always exciting nearing the pass.

The view was indeed WOW as I looked down into the Red Castle Lake basin.

The Porcupine Mountain side looked much different.

Looking down from where I’d come. Wilson Peak is visible in the distance.

So many lakes to evaluate for swimming opportunities.

I really wanted to make my way over to that distant lake but my time and energy said no.

Looking back at Porcupine Pass made me happy for my early start.

I found another decent campsite for my last night.

I was near this lake where I could witness the first morning kiss of sun.

The majority of hikers I met this trip were elk hunters so I felt lucky to spy this female exiting a lake.

The deep blues of these lake sure make them inviting, although at this time of year some of much too shallow for a swim.

The only water fowl I saw on this trip.

Once below treeline I was back in rocky, rocky, rocky terrain. I needed to replace my shoes and slipped a few times thankfully with nothing but a major scrape.

It was hot this day and I was thankful for the many water sources where I could drench myself and my sun hoody (Ridge Merino).

There’s no doubt fall has arrived with all the dry grasses.

Looking back from where I’d been as I climbed this rock pile.

Before returning to the small burned area.

I enjoyed the few remaining blooms on my descent.

I considered camping near this pond but decided I’d prefer to push on to the trailhead.

This was a 40-mile, 4,000′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back trek.

There isn’t a consistent wilderness guideline about distance but this is the first wilderness mentioning space between occupied campsites. This is awesome because some people have no concept of privacy.

I found several items left which didn’t belong including this balloon.

This abandoned horse pack was more than I could carry so I took photos and GPS coordinates and reported to USFS.

It’s definitely time to replace some gear.

Great message as I continue to work on being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This comment cracked me up and made me thing they should try the Rock Creek Trailhead which was by far worse. Both were bad in the rocky trail department but this trail was far superior in the conditions, views and lakes department.

I was somehow still smiling at the end.

Ugh so glad I set these traps but I hate that mice make their way into my car. This was #2 for this year, not too bad, and way better than eating my car’s electrical system.

Resources:

UT – High Uintas Wilderness, Rock Creek Trailhead (09/22)

It was time for another J&J adventure but it was Labor Day weekend. We both had the Uintas on our list and it was about an equal distance drive for us so with quick research we found a less popular trailhead.

In our haste we neglected to use our Gaia fire overlay. Thankfully Joan thought to call the ranger station as well as stop by where she learned that our intended trail was burned in 2020 and part of our route included trail which hadn’t been cleared of down trees. We quickly revised our plans from a loop to an out-and-back option.

The red splotches represent the fire boundaries whereas the red line was our route.

The trail initially parallels the shore of Upper Stillwater Reservoir.

We were quickly reminded what burn means, as in missing signs at trail junctions.

Burned bridges with exposed nails making us glad we were current with out tetanus vaccine.

The flowers cheered us onward and brightened the black hillsides.

Fireweed was doing its job as a fire follower.

We could see features normally hidden by the trees.

Without shade, we were thrilled to find plentiful water where we implement cooling strategies.

Given that we were fording streams in September, we could only imagine the depth in early summer.

We met the one and only remaining trail crew who was able to confirm which trails were clear of down trees. The Squaw Basin trail was still officially closed, although the ones we were using were also on the closure order posted at the trailhead. Due to insufficient staffing, postings aren’t being updated and closures aren’t posted at junctions such as this.

This trail was filled with rocks of every size and type. It was slow tedious work. Try as we might, we couldn’t make it out of the burn zone for our first night. Joan put her umbrella to good use in the beating sun.

We were on a bit of a bluff with four waterfalls below us. It was a treat to remove all the ash from our bodies before bed. This was a filthy hike!

It was nearly impossible to abide by these rules in this burn area. This is the first time I’ve seen mention of not camping within 200′ of another campsite. This is a new favorite rule especially after hearing about a friend who had a stranger set up a tent within a few feet of hers when there was plenty of room elsewhere.

We were thrilled to have a couple of living trees nearby and hopeful the winds would stay calm and the standing trees would stay standing.

Early the next morning we reached found above treeline goodness.

Goal #1 was Dead Horse Pass. Why? Because we really wanted to see what was on the other side.

The trail started out reasonably. We were now on the Uintas Highline Trail, although possibly the most popular trail in this wilderness it’s still nothing like the PCT freeway. The only 3 hikers we saw during our four days were on the Highline.

Little did I know Joan was scheming a way to cross-country our descent.

The higher we climbed the worst the trail conditions. It was that slippery loose soil and rocks much easier to ascend than descend.

Type 2 fun – sketchy sketchy, not for those with height exposure issues.

The views at the top were everything we’d hoped to find including Dead Horse Lake.

The Uintas Highline Trail continues down the other side of the pass and alongside the lake. We saw one tiny yellow tent.

The Highline Trail then continues through the valley and up to Red Knob Pass (the obvious feature). The dead trees are from beetles not burn. As an aside, the Highline Trail is not noted on any signs as it’s really a route following several existing trails and in fact the one below is the West Fork Blacks Fork Trail. On my National Geographic map, the Highline is labeled as the 025 trail but it’s not to be found on any signage we saw.

We couldn’t resist exploring the ridge at the pass, while Joan was mapping out of descent.

The textures and colors of the rocks were interesting and had us wondering about the geologic history of these mountains. We need to add that layer to our Gaia maps.

We loved our time at Dead Horse Pass but after a long break it was time to head down and find our next destination.

Joan says lets go down this. Come on Jan it’ll be fun. I say Type 2 fun! But okay I’ll test it and see if it’s better or worse than the trail.

The rocks held firm and we found a safe path down. It indeed turned out to be FUN of the FUN kind, and way more safe than the slippery trail.

Looking back to where we’d come down from the pass.

Once we made it to this bench, we were super excited to go find a swimming lake.

Success! What a wonderful treat at over 11,000′ and all ours.

We wandered a bit more of the Highline Trail finding more bodies of water, and yes more burn.

And ultimately our turnaround spot where we could consider another swim.

When we weren’t swimming we might have been foraging for the few remaining berries.

We were glad to find a place to camp free of rocks, with some live green trees and a nearby lake where we could enjoy sunset.

Joan noticed these orchids near the shoreline and though they were Lady Tresses. Another friend agreed with the name.

The grasses were blooming and happy to share their seeds.

The next day we headed back down the burned trail and noticed more fall colors. Our lowest overnight temperature was 38F.

This butterfly was taking a rest break on this rock.

We found a little stream near out last campsite where there was tons of plant and aquatic life.

This was another nice campsite where we could pretend like the burned forest didn’t exist.

I had a view of this creek from my tent. Notice the yellow leaves in the distance.

A few aspen where beginning the change. A goal for this fall is to wander through colorful aspen forests.

I was super happy to find sections of trails that were made of slab rocks or kind duff dirt, but instead it’s 70-80% rocks, much of it like walking up a creek bed. It was challenging for me to exert constant control while being careful.

As if the ground rocks weren’t enough . . .

From Upper Stillwater Reservoir, we could look back to where we’d been.

This was a 37-mile, 3,600′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.

Every adventure with Joan is time spent well. We walked away with even more appreciation of healthy forests, left with lots of unanswered questions, and made more memories to keep us sane until our next reunion. We saw a total of 6 people over our 4-day holiday weekend, and enjoyed our introduction to the High Uintas.

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CO – CDT Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Wyoming Trail to North Lake (08/22)

This hike is another in Liz Thomas’s book, Best Hikes on the CDT in Colorado. This makes 9 out of 20 I’ve hiked, and one I attempted and decided against. This and the one nearby aren’t ones I’d necessarily recommend as they wouldn’t make my WOW list.

The book outlines three options from the Upper Three Island Lake Trailhead. After reviewing the map I decided to drive to the North Lake Trailhead in order to hike more trail miles rather than road or motorized travel trail miles. The road was a bit much for my CRV 4WD but I made it without incident.

This is an area of beetle kill and fire, not exactly my idea of WOW experiences.

Thankfully trail crews had been through somewhat recently and this 4-mile section was clear of deadfall.

At least I had views of the distant mountains through the standing dead trees.

The late bloomers added color to this area.

I’m going to guess the burned area was about 1/2 mile out of the 4 miles. The rest was through fairly nice forest that wasn’t dominated by beetle kill trees. There were a few decent water sources as well.

Gentian were plentiful is areas.

Most blooms are saying goodbye to summer.

These alpine sunflowers have kept me smiling this summer.

I finally was rewarded with berries!

As August comes to a close, there is more evidence of all. It was 30F degrees at my campsite the next morning.

North Lake much like the hike was a bit meh, definitely not swim worthy.

I carry out a lot of trash, but this was a bit beyond my capacity. I’m guessing it was dropped by a horse or mule.

I planned to hike from Hare Trailhead the next day. I should have done better research as upon arrival it was apparent it was a motorized trail with ATV’s staged at the trailhead. It looks like the Forest Service is recruiting kids to help spread the message.

This was a 8.25 mile 1,800′ elevation gain/loss out and back hike.

The night before this hike, I watched this storm from my dispersed campsite.

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