CO – McInnis Canyon Natural Conservation Area, Dinosaur Quarries

Last May I stopped at Dinosaur National Monument and was beyond WOW’d by the Carnegie Quarry and Exhibit Hall (link).  On the way to and from Colorado National Monument I saw a small sign for Dinosaur Hill. On my final day at the park, it was overcast and I still had a bit of energy so decided to check it out.

It was cool to see that about 50% of the interpretive signs were done in braille.

I was underwhelmed for the most part. Kids would be extremely disappointed with the lack of fossils to see. This was the best display in my opinion.

Finding this large display of blooming Claret Cup Cactus was my reward. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many blooming simultaneously on one plant.

I also found a few blooming Mariposa Lilies and this one was extra large. It was probably 3″ at the opening. It was extra special with the bonus of a visitor enjoying the nectar.

I’d seen an exit sign for The Trail Through Time on Interstate 70 shortly after crossing into Colorado. This area was referenced on the signage at Dinosaur Hill so when I found myself in the area, I decided to take a peek.

Time to step back 150 million years.

The interpretive signs and displays were much improved as compared to Dinosaur Hill even though both are provided by the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.

This was my favorite.

It’s hard to believe the fossils in this site were not discovered until 1981. Makes you wonder what else is in the area. It’s also interesting to think of previous land ownership and the other nearby parcels.

The highlight for me was finding the hillsides filled with mariposa lily. Here are a few of my favorites.

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 28-29, 2019

Tips:

  • BLM offers dispersed camping at Rabbit Valley. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to camp under a rainbow!
  • There is also a Dinosaur Museum in Fruita, worthy of a stop especially if you have kids. It has interactive displays plus actual research.

Resources:

Links:

CO – Colorado National Monument, Let’s Go Hiking!

I’d attempted a visit to Colorado National Monument in early September 2017 (link), but it was too smoky and too hot for hiking. I was excited to give this place a second chance.

Almost immediately upon entering the park I saw this sign.

Lucky me, a couple of turns later and I had my first and only sighting over the week I spent visiting the park.

I entered the monument from the Fruita entrance (west) and after stopping at the visitor center and most of the wayside displays to reorient myself, I started hiking near the east entrance.

Hike #1 – Devils Kitchen Trail

There are a lot of unmaintained, well-used and defined trails in the area so it’s pretty easy to find yourself heading up the canyon rather than exiting at this monolithic formation (yes that’s what I did).

Looking down on Devils Kitchen, due to my navigation error.

Hike #2 – No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail 

A view of the first pool. Midday light is not the best for capturing this pool and cascading waterfall, nor the next waterfall. This is a seasonal pool and stream. It was such a delight to hike along a stream after recent hiking in more arid environments and suffering from the heat.

You can see here the size of the stream in places.

Kudos to the trail builders. It looks like the tread could use a little maintenance.

I met a couple groups who said the first waterfall was not flowing but after finding it myself, it seems they didn’t hike far enough. The location matched my Gaia map. Tip: if you don’t see this sign, keep hiking.

It was challenging to capture the waterfall with the sun shining at a less than optimal angle.

Bonus: First collared lizard sighting. He ran to the shade and said this is the best you’re getting.

Hike #3 – Upper Monument Canyon to Independence Monument 

The trail descended but thankfully not all the way to the canyon bottom. There are a few named formations along the way including this one called Kissing Couple. I guess a lot of imagination is required.

Independence Monument is probably the most famous in the park.

From each angle it looks a bit different.

I’d stopped at some of the viewpoints along Rim Drive to view Independence Monument from different angles.

There was a tiny bit of water in a few places but as per LNT expectations it’s to be left for the critters.

On my return hike, I was a little frustrated waiting for a group of about 60 kids, on a field trip, plus another group of about 10 adults to pass going in the opposite direction. It probably only took 10 minutes but I could hear them for a long ways. It was near noon and the kids were expressing their feelings of being hungry, tired and hot. But my reward was finding my second collared lizard, this time it was resting in the sun making for a much better photo. I can now check this experience off my bucket list!

A good view of the some of the switchbacks to help with the transition between the canyon rim and bottom.

Hike #4 – Coke Ovens Trail

As I climbed back toward the trailhead and canyon edge, it was tempting to skip the short hike to view the coke oven formations, but I knew I’d regret it so onward I went.

An interesting perspective of the coke oven formations.

Hike #5 – Upper Liberty Cap Trail to Otto’s Bathtub

There were several of these bench-like structures along the trail. They were all quite tall but this one was the tallest nearly reaching my chest. I forgot to ask about them at the visitors center.

The “route” to Otto’s Bathtub is not a maintained trail nor marked on maps. This junction was evidence it’s a very well used path.

Otto must have been a big guy! I’d call this a bathtub suitable for sasquatch.

There was even a little water in the bathtub’s drain.

The views were WOW WOW WOW! I enjoyed looking back into Upper Monument Canyon were I’d begun my hike to Independence Monument.

There had been a little rain the previous night which nicely filled the pot holes, much appreciated by the wildlife I’m sure. I loved walking this slickrock ramp. This view looks toward Black Ridge which I’d hike the next day.

The ridge below the snow-covered mountain is the one that houses Otto’s Bathtub and the slickrock I so enjoyed traversing.

This little guy said don’t forget about me. You like those colorful collared lizards but hey I’m the much more common variety.

Hike #6 – Otto’s Trail

It only made sense to hike Otto’s Trail after hiking to his bathtub. Who is Otto?

He pioneered many routes in the canyon including a climber’s route to the top of Independence Monument.

I was fortunate to see climbers on top one day.

Hike #7 – Black Ridge Trail

This trail provided more distant views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.

I found one of the original signs from this historic trail. I enjoyed walking along thinking about how this was a cattle drive route, something still done in my home town.

For those with ambition and interested in both a good workout and some technical hiking, you can start in the valley and hike up the old route which runs along the second level in this photo. I plan to explore on a subsequent visit.

This is a fertile valley with the Colorado River running through it. I was impressed with the miles and miles of agriculture country.

I really liked the variety of this park. The landscape was beautiful offering so much more than a canyon. I liked the options of hiking along a creek, past waterfalls, scrambling on rocks, walking ridges, etc. I left many hikes for future visits. I’ll return for certain. I’m always happy when expectations are exceeded!

Yes there were blooms!

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23-28, 2019

Tips:

  • First warning about Tularemia I’ve ever seen.
  • The 19-mile road is a slow drive as it has speed limits from 15-35 mph.
  • LNT is a problem with this being in the middle of two urban areas. Bring along a trash bag and help clean up the park. The biggest offenses I saw though was graffiti on the sandstone, plus bikes and dogs in areas prohibited.
  • There always has to be one that say’s “rules don’t apply to me!”
  • Beware of the biological soil. It takes a long time to form and easily crushes. It’s the foundation for plants and restoring desert health. DON’T BUST THE CRUST! It makes finding a backcountry campsite a bit challenging.
  • The port-a-potty requirement is becoming a bit of a standard for dispersed camping in popular desert areas.
  • Love’s and Pilot Travel Centers are good options for showers while in the area.

Resources:

Links:

CO/UT – Dinosaur National Monument

I landed in Fairplay after my Lost Creek Wilderness backpack trip. I was on my way to a wedding in Boise. With a week and 800 miles before my deadline, it was time to update my loose itinerary. Options, options, options . . . 

Weather as usual would play a role.

I decided to put in a few driving miles on this weather day, pushing my way north to Steamboat Springs. I enjoyed seeing the fresh snow dusting the mountains, but most of all these glacier lilies. 

I took a stroll through the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs. It was impressive.

I found more signs of spring as I headed west. 

You know it’s gonna be a bad day when . . . my morning started by accidentally activating my pepper spray in my car, then this deer decided he should take a run at me from behind (surprisingly he/she survived).

Remember those new tires I got a few weeks ago? Well that front tire got smacked hard but no damage thank goodness, although the deer hair was embedded around the rim. I was lucky. My car was driveable and I wasn’t injured. 

Not only does Dinosaur National Monument straddle Colorado and Utah, but it also has several access roads and offers so much more than dinosaur fossils.  Canyon Visitor Center is on the Colorado side near Dinosaur, CO. I was on my way out Harpers Corner Road when the deer decided to smack me. Rather than continuing on into a more remote area I decided it was best to have my car check out. First though I stopped at Quarry Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall on the Utah side. 

I was beyond impressed with what I saw at the quarry. I could have never imagined such a display. My photos couldn’t begin to capture the x size with 1,500 embedded fossils. 

The area marked in red is what’s available for viewing and known as “the wall of bones.” 

The interpretive materials were outstanding. 

A shuttle bus takes you from the visitor center to the Quarry in the summer, or you are guided there on foot in other seasons. You have the option of returning to your vehicle via the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.2 mile jaunt. 

I found these beauties along the way. 

I drove Cub Creek Road, and using their interpretive guidebook found more photographic worthy subjects. 

Lots of geology to learn about. 

Petroglyphs can often be found on rocks with varnish (the dark areas) such as these. 

McKee Spring Petroglyphs

Rainbow Park deserves further exploration. 

Car maintenance was the first priority before further travels. 

It worked surprisingly well and held my car together for several months before returning home to have it properly repaired. Yes, it was a great conversation starter!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 19-21, 2018

Tips:

  • Fill your gas tank. My #3 near miss on this leg of the trip was almost running out of gas.
  • Avoid wet weather trips if you want to go off the paved roads.
  • This area can get quite hot in the summer. It was in the low 80’s during my visit in late May.
  • One day wasn’t near enough to experience this park. I’ll give myself much more time on my return visit.

Resources:

Links:

CO – Lost Creek Wilderness, Goose Creek Trailhead

Finding early season backpacking opportunities can be challenging, especially when you desire mountains and you are in Colorado. I’d heard Lost Creek Wilderness offers spring trekking potential. 

I watched a storm broil around me the night before I was planning to start my hike. 

Lucky me, I awoke to blue skies. 

With a loop hike in mind, I had a big decision to make. Shall I go clockwise or counterclockwise? Ultimately I decided to go counterclockwise for a couple reasons. First it’s a more gradual climb and the WOW views would be saved for the finale. Second, it eliminated a long water carry up a steep ascent. Thus, off I went hiking north on Goose Creek Trail #612.

My smile couldn’t have been bigger when I found this view and trail as my starting point. What a beautiful forest. 

And then I found some of my favorite flowers. 

I was intrigued with these outcroppings composed of round boulders versus the more common linear rocks. 

I took the very short detour to see the historic buildings. 

Seeing the snow on the ridge had me feeling a bit anxious about being able to complete my loop. 

I hiked westward on Wigwam Trail #609. 

The trail had some fun stretches like this. 

I found a nice spot for first night camp. 

Nearby, easily-accessible water was a plus for these initial sections. 

Temperature dropped to 24F at my 9,600′ campsite. 

The flowers didn’t seem to care about the temperature, they were just happy to have the snow gone. 

At Lost Park, I turned south on Brookside-McCurdy Trail #607.

Reaching snowline increased my anxiety about what I’d find at higher elevations and whether I’d be able to complete the loop. 

Yes it was cold! 

This trail is making me so happy with my decision to explore this wilderness area. 

One big regret was that I hadn’t hauled up more water so I could have spent the day scrambling among these boulders and maybe even spent the night watching an incredible sunset and sunrise. This is Bison Pass and the WOW factor of the loop. I’m so glad I decided to save it for dessert.

As they say all good things must come to an end . . . well at least for now. I have no doubt I’ll be back. 

I was so grateful to find this patch of snow melting into a nice pool of water. I was tired. It had been a long day with lots of climbing and I really didn’t want to push on to the next creek. As long as I had water, I could camp!

The next morning I jumped over to Lake Park Trail #639 to continue my basically southeastern direction. 

I connected to Hankins Pass Trail #630 to complete the loop. 

It took me four hours to reach this creek from my campsite. I would have struggled to make it last night. Once again so thankful for that snowmelt.

I wasn’t happy finding this tick. 

The trail however continued to make me smile. 

The aspen were celebrating spring. 

How about that? Exiting just as another storm is about ready to dump. 

Sprinkles began just as I got into my car. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 16-18, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:

 

Tips:

  • Obtain trail conditions and water report at the South Park Ranger Station in Fairplay
  • Leave a mouse trap set with peanut butter in your car; I caught one bugger.
  • Don’t expect solitude on this hike. Even on this weekday, early season jaunt, I saw a few others. A bigger indicator however was the number of established campsites per mile on the last stretch of trail. I’ve never seen such density.

Resources:

Links:

CO – Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

I suck at driving in traffic. It creates the worse type of anxiety. After spending the morning at Paint Mines Interpretive Park northeast of Colorado Springs, I had to reverse direction with Lost Creek Wilderness as my next destination. I was happy to shake off the stress of the drive by visiting Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. 

The Petrified Forest loop trail showcases large stumps of what once was a redwood forest. This one is the largest at 38 feet in circumference.

While there are 15 miles of hiking trails, don’t expect to see any fossils. Many are housed in the Visitor Center. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018

Resources:

Links:

CO – Paint Mines Interpretative Park

While in Colorado Springs getting new tires, I noted my map was marked with a nearby POI flagged for geologic and photographic opportunities.

Flowers were nice accents among the sandstone formations. 

I bet these fields come alive with color a little later in the spring.

The bunnies seemed quite happy to claim ownership of the preserve. 

Well the bunnies do have to share with butterflies and ladybugs. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:

 

Tips:

  • Park hours are dawn to dusk
  • Photographers will want to plan for best light on the formations; most are east facing.
  • Signage is excellent. 

Resources:

Links:

CO – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

It was May 13, 2018 and time to say so long to Joan once again. She’d used up her lollygagging quota and had no choice but to spend the next three days driving as to arrive in Georgia in time to start her new job. Meanwhile I had choices to make. 

Those fields of iris about to bloom were calling me back to the Pecos Wilderness, from which Joan and I had just spent the past four days. 

However, responsibility was pulling me north to Colorado. A couple of weeks earlier I’d stopped for an oil change and tire rotation and learned my tires were in dire shape. They were still under warranty but guess what, no Les Schwab in New Mexico. This was my story from May 1st. Life on the road isn’t always fun. 

The adulting side of me won and north I went. So here I was on May 14th, day 77 and 5,700 car miles into this grand adventure, finally entering Colorado where I planned to spend a significant portion of my summer including hiking the Colorado Trail. 

Since I hadn’t been to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and it was on my way to Colorado Springs, the nearest Les Schwab store, how could I not at least take a peek?

Most visitors were either playing in the sand near the parking area or climbing to the ridge. 

I instead took the path less traveled and found wide expanses completely devoid of other humans. 

While the suede of the dunes was impressive, it was the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that called to me. 

There’s no doubt I’ll be back to hike those great mountains. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 14, 2018

Tips:

  • Be aware of weather and wind conditions
  • If you are interested in dispersed camping, don’t head toward Colorado Springs
  • Stop at the Visitor Center are you way into the park to

Resources:

Links: