Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back to Durango, CO


20170908_083412                                                                            Animas River

Since we had to cross 10,800’ Wolf Creek Pass on the way to Durango, I drove the car separately and  hooked it up when we got to Pagosa Springs at the bottom of the pass. It was the first time we’ve hooked up in months, since every move we’ve made this summer has taken us over high elevation passes, made much easier without the Subaru being pulled behind the Lazy Daze. It’s also easier on Jim not having to listen to me tell him how to drive on those steep winding roads.

While getting the tow bar in place Jim discovered a big tear in one of the rubber boots covering an arm. I used Gorilla Tape to temporarily fix it but he ordered a new one at a local RV place after we arrived. We’ll pick it up today and hopefully Jim can replace it himself.

We stayed at La Plata County Fairgrounds when we visited Durango in 2015 and it hasn’t changed. Still $16.50/night with water and electric but no dump. The  free city dump station at the sewage treatment plant is closed while a new plant is being built, but we hear there is one at a nearby gas station. There are only 6 sites, which have been filled most every night.


What this place lacks in ambiance it makes up for in location. Just next door is the wonderful Durango Recreation Center, which we’ve used several times. Just behind the Rec Center is the Animas River Trail, an 8 mile paved trail along the river that we’ve either walked or biked almost daily.




We’ve walked the couple miles to downtown twice so far, once to the Saturday farmer’s market, and another evening to Carver Brewing Company for dinner. We stopped by there for happy hour the day we arrived and were given coupons for a couple free beers since the bartender/manager didn’t charge us happy hour prices. She would have changed it but asked if we were going to be in town for awhile and would we like to come back for a free beer. Sounded good to us. Their IPA and stout on nitro were both very good, as was the very tasty 13% ABV Imperial Russian Stout. With such a high alcohol content we had to split that one.

Yesterday we drove 47 miles north to Silverton to meet up with our Ouray friends Box Canyon Mark and Bobbie. The weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms so we met them at 9:30 at the visitor center and let Mark drive us the 9 miles to the Highland Mary Lakes trailhead up a rough dirt road with a couple of stream crossings. We always marvel at the places Mark will drive their Subaru.

We were surprised by how much the aspen leaves are changing at the higher elevations.


Hwy 550 is down to one lane for construction about two miles from Silverton so we got delayed for about 10 minutes. At least it was a scenic spot to wait.


The Highland Mary Lakes trail starts in Cunningham Gulch at an elevation of 10,700’. You know it’s going to be a beautiful hike when the scenery at the trailhead looks like this.



The trail immediately starts climbing through the forest, but there were plenty of photo ops along the way for us to stop and catch our breath.




Bobbie could use some longer legs.


There were many steep climbs but usually after it would level out for a short time.


It was surprisingly warm for September at such a high elevation, but an absolutely gorgeous day.





Well, except for those dark clouds beginning to form.


Although we were almost to the first lake, Jim decided he wasn’t in the mood for tackling these rocks. Bobbie said it was less than 100 yards of it but to me it felt like a hundred miles across.


Jim played with pikas while we went on to the lakes.


Only about 1.75 miles to the first lakes, but it seemed longer due to almost 1,400’ of climbing.


It was worth every step and gasp for breath.




Happy hikers Mark and Bobbie. This was probably the easiest hike they’ve done all summer.


Had the weather cooperated it would have been nice to continue on another mile to Verde Lake. You can also make a loop of 7.5 miles. It thundered just as we were heading to the second lake so we thought it wise to turn back. Luckily we did, as the rain and hail started just a couple miles from the trailhead on our way back to Silverton, hail that accumulated on the road like snow.

We capped off the day with a pizza and beer at Avalanche Brewing Co. It was a great day and we hope to try and meet up for one more hike before we leave Durango next week.

This is why I don’t take many selfies!


On the way home we stopped at an overlook to take a few more photos. It is just so very picturesque around these parts.


Friday, September 8, 2017

A Few Nights in the Forest


We left Salida on Labor Day, not the wisest thing to do since many people are heading home on the holiday. Luckily we were able to easily stop at Ace Hardware for propane and dumped tanks at the Poncha Springs Visitor Center on the way out of town, only having to wait for two RVs ahead of us.

100 miles or so later we pulled into Big Meadows Campground at 9,200’ in the Rio Grande National Forest, about 11 miles west of South Fork, CO. We’ve never stayed here before and were surprised at how nice it is, with huge well-spaced sites, and we got one with a lake view since there was hardly anyone here when we arrived. They have water and vault toilets only, but the big surprise came when we found we had good 4G Verizon and AT&T. And due to spruce beetle damage many trees have died and been removed so there isn’t much shade to impede the solar panels. $10 with the senior pass.


After a week in Salida parked within earshot of Highway 50, it was so nice to not hear any traffic noise. And there is a 3 mile trail around the lake that we accessed just behind our site, and the 6 mile Archuleta trail that goes to a lake and connects with the Continental Divide trail.

We had a brief thunderstorm after we got set up, but it cleared up for an early evening walk around the lake.





The following day we took a 9 mile drive to the top of 10,800’ Wolf Creek Pass for a hike along the Continental Divide Trail towards Alberta Peak. Unfortunately the haze from all of the fires in the northwest has finally caught up with us so our views were obscured. We did this same hike in September 2012 on a much clearer day and made it all the way to the top of Alberta Peak. This time we turned back after 2 miles as dark clouds were heading our way and it just wasn’t very appealing with dead trees and hazy views. We did get rained on a couple times on the way back down.


There is a lot of climbing involved from the start of the trail but it levels out as you near the peak.



One of our party was not enjoying the uphill, so we stopped at the ski lift for a snack and decided to keep going on for awhile.


When we hiked this the first time we saw marmots and pikas on these rocks, but I guess they were all hiding this time.


That evening was the full moon so it gave Jim a little chance to play around with the new camera.


The next day we hiked the Archuleta trail from our campsite. Although in the woods most of the time, and very overgrown, we ended up going over 3 miles through the very remote-feeling Weminuche Wilderness.

Runoff below the dam.



Busy beaver work.



It was hard to see the trail much of the time.


There were still some colorful summer flowers remaining.



And some touches of fall.


We saw lots of butterflies. The wings are closed in the first photo so it isn’t very visible.




The trail follows the South Fork of the Rio Grande River.


Where we could see the water it was beautiful, and when hidden by the vegetation we could always hear it.





The farther we went, the more overgrown the trail became, and after passing the lake we didn’t see another person on the trail.


Our goal was to get to the creek crossing we could see on the map. The water wasn’t deep so we could have easily gotten across, but it was a good place to turn back. We gained 750’ in 3 miles, a fairly gradual climb, and an easy hike back as it was all downhill.


Big Meadows was a good choice and a place we would return to. Now we’re back in the big city of Durango for a couple weeks.