Saturday, October 17, 2015

September in Colorado: Part IV (Cimarron River and Silver Jack)

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text.  Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions.  I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.) 

Wednesday, September 30:  Per our last-minute change of plans, we drove from Ridgway to the Silver Jack area, over the difficult and dusty Owl Creek Pass Road.  (Let's admit it -- the drive was fun -- we were taking the trailer into a remote national forest, making full use of the trailer's off-road modifications.)  The drive took us about two hours to go 20 miles, very slowly.  The road led us into the jagged Cimarron peaks – this is Chimney Rock.  (Felice climbed a steep hill to get this shot!)

After a little scouting, we found a great boondocking site, right on the bank of the East Fork of the Cimarron River.  The site was steep and uneven, but we chose it because of the views and the privacy.  It was great to be boondocking again, rather than in an ordinary campground, even if it was only for a few days, enjoying the silence and the isolation.  This is a view of our cocktail area toward the west:

And this is the view from behind our lounge chairs:

Later that afternoon, as we drove north near Silver Jack Reservoir, those dark clouds treated us to a brief but heavy rainstorm.  During the rain, we got some great views of the ridges dividing the Middle and East forks of the river:

When the rain stopped, we took a long walk on the Middle Fork road – the geology was more like Bryce Canyon, with “hoodoos” carved into the soft rock, than some of the other Colorado ranges we had seen:

Thursday, October 1:  We drove to the south end of the Middle Fork road and had the trail completely to ourselves, the entire day. (I love when that happens – it gives me a spurious sense that we are “rugged explorers,” rather than just ordinary day hikers.)  Most of the day, we were in sight of Precipice Peak, at over 13,000 – notice the greenish copper deposits on the cliffs across the river:

The trail was in pretty good condition, so we made it up to the general area of the Middle Fork Pass:

This is the sharp ridge separating the Middle Fork from the West Fork:

On our drive back down from the trailhead, we got another view of the brilliantly lit “sandcastle” formation near the campsite:

Later that afternoon, we were compelled to get a shot of the trailer set against the aspens on the hillside.  Our solar panel (at the center of the shot) provided us with a surprising amount of “juice,” even though it was in the shade for half the day:

The sunset that evening was the best one that we had seen during the whole month:

Friday, October 2:  In the very early morning, I stepped outside the trailer to get a few shots in the moonlight:

In the morning, we hiked the East Fork trail.  The trailhead was very near our campsite – and again we were completely alone.  We hiked only about 5 miles, since we had to leave for home around noon.  It was a pleasant trail, although there was quite a bit of trail damage from horses’ hooves.  We really didn't want to leave Colorado while there was still so much fall color:

That afternoon and evening, we drove to Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, Utah.  
Even with the slow trip back to Ridgway over Owl Creek Pass (more than an hour and a half to go 20 miles), it still took us only about six hours to get to Goosenecks.  We got there at dusk and found a campsite way out on the "peninsula," overlooking Monument Valley in the distance.  Using headlamps, we set up camp in the dark, something we had never done before – it was a successful experiment!

As one might expect in a remote desert campsite, the stars were terrific -- we got this shot before the moon rose:

This was an attempt to shoot Felice’s silhouette in front of the Milky Way – her head is visible at the bottom of the shot, but next time I try this, I will put the camera closer to ground level:

(I am not sure whether the “light dome” at the left bottom of the shot is from Flagstaff or Tuba City – either way, it is very far away.)  After the moon rose, the stars were a little washed out, but the whole landscape emerged from the darkness:

Saturday October 3:  We drove to Kingman and stayed at Hualapai Mountain Park, a county campground.  It was shady and cool, about 6500 feet,  but the internal roads were steep, rutted, and very tight, and most of the sites were unsuitable for any trailer, no matter how small.

Sunday, October 4:  We drove home.

         Some concluding thoughts about Colorado:  we have never seen so many different mountain ranges, with so many high mountains.  If Colorado were flattened out, it would be one of the biggest states in the country.  There is so much boondocking and hiking available that it would take years to explore it all.  We found the Colorado towns to be surprisingly crowded (even though it was after Labor Day!), but then we realized that it is practically in the middle of the country and is reachable from many cities, with just a few days of hard driving.  Even though the towns were busy, we had no problem finding solitude on the trails.

         Better yet, there is really good access to a lot of the high country (unlike the Sierra), probably because of Colorado’s history of mining activity – the old mining roads have paved the way, so to speak, for “tourist mining.”  The scenery was jaw-dropping, especially with the fall color display.  We could only imagine what these mountains would look like with a little snow and a few well-placed wildflowers.  We have never seen such broad swatches of aspens – the trees were not confined to the canyons but were spread across entire hillsides and valleys.  And somehow, no matter what the weather, the aspen leaves were intensely luminous – maybe because they were shimmering in the breeze and reflecting the light.


Travels with Yoly said...

Well, since you taught me how to pronounce Ouray properly, I'll share with you a tidbit I learned recently about Aspens. It's no coincidence that they seemed to be so prominently featured in your experience. They are truly beautiful and unique in one special way. All the roots of Aspen trees are interconnected and they exist almost as a common entity. They do it for secure anchorage but also to share nutrients. They can detect a weakened or sickly member in the grove and instinctively flow nutirents as a community to those trees to help heal them. It was suggested that James Cameron tapped into this concept in creating the world for Avatar.

Gary Haupt said...

Is that correct? The info about the Aspens? That is about as cool as it gets.

Gary Haupt

Travels with Yoly said...

A whole grove of Aspens often times grows from a single adult tree. The roots pan out and shoot saplings up everywhere the root goes so the entire grove has a single root system which often lives thousands of years.

Ski3pin said...

Very nice trip! We enjoyed your photos and narrative throughout your Colorado trip. We've wanted to return to Oak Creek Pass and the Cimmaron drainages in the fall after our last summer visit a couple of years ago. Now we really want to do it!

MTWaggin said...

As always, you guys have the BEST adventures. I am so glad you share them with us mere mortals.