29 October 2014

Stardate 2014.827

Ruby Canyon, Colorado River, Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Gimme Some Slickrock

It's a warm Thursday afternoon in October. Several miles to the east sits my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado. Snowcatcher and I are on Day One of a multiday mountain bike getaway. We've just completed a 4-hour drive through the mountains, and it's time to ride! The high desert is getting me all giddy.

I decide to ride a portion of Mary's Loop, Horsethief Bench and a segment of the Wrangler trail. Snowcatcher plans to tackle Rustler's Loop. These trails make up the east end of the 140-mile Kokopelli Trail that travels between Loma, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. I take most of the day's photos along Horsethief Bench. However, these shots are representative of the riding along Mary's Loop as well.

The difficult drop from Mary's Loop down onto Horsethief Bench

The gonzo drop onto Horsethief Bench is reached after a short ride along Mary's trail. The drop onto the bench was much easier in 1987 when the route was first built. In its current condition, there probably is a small percentage of riders who can ride down it; I'm not one of them. For scale, there is a 3-foot-high sign and its shadow in the upper left of the photo.

Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Once on the bench, I face delectable singletrack and sandstone riding.

Stone steps along Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Lots of sand, rock and stone steps keep me on my toes.

Smooth flagstone sailing on Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Riding along the bench can be smooth and quick in places.

Large stone step, Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Not everything is easy rolling. Some hike-a-biking exists as well.

Ruby Canyon, Colorado River, Colorado

I especially don't want to miss any turns because I may turn into a living scab.

Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Farther up from the river, riding is sandier and smoother.

Pinion/juniper ecosystem, Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

A pinion/juniper landscape dominates this corner of the world. Mary's Loop traverses the edge of the sandstone cliff directly above me.

Northern terminus of the Colorado Plateau

As the sun wanes, it highlights the tilted, northern terminus of the Colorado Plateau.

Old, narrow, two-track makes up some segments of the Wrangler Loop.

This very old, narrow, two-track, comprising a segment of Wranglers Loop, may have begun as a jeep road for uranium hunters. As usual, the ride was over too soon, and the Wrangler trail spits me back onto lower Mary's for the short pedal back to the car.

Up next...



21 October 2014

Stardate 2014.805

I 'm not sure what this plant is, yet.  It's pretty cool though.

Rusting Waterton

Indian Summer continues to bask us in unrelenting fall warmth. It can be tough at times. Yet, there is a remedy, a mountain bike ride up Waterton Canyon. Autumn has reached Colorado's lower realms, and it's been a good one. Snowcatcher and I are on it!

Sumac, sporting lots of red, intermix with the Gambel oak of Waterton Canyon, Colorado.

Upon entering the canyon, one of the first things to catch our eye is sumac. Vibrant red sumac and scrub oak tend to go hand-in-hand.

The rustic rusts of Gambel oak, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Gambel oak may be found throughout mountainous Colorado between 6,500 and 8,000 feet. Common aliases are oak brush and scrub oak. It's very difficult to bushwhack through, and in this part of the state, it hides plenty of rattlesnakes.

Tis the season, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

"The Boys are Back in town, the boys are back in town..." I think there's a song in there somewhere. Bighorn rams have arrived for their annual rendezvous with the ladies; it's a month-full of head-butting debauchery. I rode by them hoping to get a better shot. They all turned their backs on me.

Rams live 9 to 12 years, while ewes live 10 to 14 years. Snowcatcher and I have been observing the Waterton herd for more than 10 years now. Ten years ago, there would have been a sub-group of four very large rams whom we labeled Gigantor, Broken Horn, Mutt and Jeff. They didn't hang out much with the other rams and were quite dominant. The group of four is no more. However, we think we can identify offspring from Gigantor and Broken Horn. It's been fun to observe their life cycle.

The rustic rusts of Gambel oak, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

More shades of rust.

Singletrack blends in with the scrub oak (i.e., Gambel oak).

In places, it's hard to make out the singletrack.

More singletrack fun in the vicinity of  Waterton Canyon, Colorado.

In other places, it's not hard to make out the singletrack.

Oak brush, scrub oak, Gambel oak, it's all the same, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

As may be seen, no trail means a lot of scratchy work. Also note how easy a mountain lion, bear or rattlesnake could maintain stealth in this environment. I occasionally see bears and rattlers; I've seen only one lion. Apparently there's a good population of lions in the vicinity.

South Platte River, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Looking down the South Platte River as it winds its way through Waterton Canyon.

South Platte River, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

This shot is in the narrows of Waterton. During the summer, portions get several hours of sun. During the winter, segments get no sun at all.

Sumac, oak brush and rock, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Vibrant sumac shares rock with still-green scrub oak.

South Platte River, Waterton Canyon, Colorado

A reach of reflective slack water along the South Platte River teases for a picture.

Rusting Gambel oak, Waterton, Colorado

I never tire of the old and rusty hill slope.

Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Waterton Canyon has some nice rock formations scattered along its length. I thought the yellow kind of highlighted the cat ears.

Sumac peppering a hill slope in Waterton Canyon, Colorado.

As we headed out, we spied more sumac peppering a hill slope at the mouth of the canyon. Waterton can be busy at times. However, it can absorb a lot of people. Kudos to Denver Water for allowing us to enjoy the canyon's beauty, wildlife and fisheries.

As a final note, access up Waterton Canyon is along the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad. This is the same narrow gauge railroad I wrote about in my Alpine Tunnel and St. Elmo posts.

Until next time...


15 October 2014

Stardate 2014.789

Alpine Reservoir, Chalk Creek, Sawatch Range, Colorao

Season of Wither Ex Duobus

At the end of my last post I was taking a breather high on Alpine Pass, directly above the Denver, South Park and Pacific narrow gauge railroad's Alpine Tunnel. I was in the Krummholz, admiring the expanse of tundra above me. If you're wondering, the Krummholz is the alpine tundra/subalpine forest interface. In short, treeline. Here, tree growth is stunted and more shrub-like. Often, trees and shrubs are wind-trained, resulting in feathered branches parallel to the prevailing wind. Above this zone, natural shelter is quite limited.

Krummholz, Alpine Pass, Sawatch Range, Colorao

It was getting late and I needed to decide my fate. If I continued on with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and ended up hike–a-biking most of it, I probably would get back to the pickup after dark. Most of the CDT was on northerly and easterly aspects, and I knew much of the trail would be filled in with drift snow until I intercepted the Tin Cup Pass jeep road. If I did something stupid, and ended up spending the night up high, in a fairly remote basin, I was in for a long, cold night. I was about two hours late arriving at my current location. Drats... Very reluctantly, I chose to backtrack.

Turntable, west portal, Alpine Tunnel, Sawatch Range, Colorado

From my lofty perch I walked to the west side of the pass to look at the remnant buildings of Alpine Station and the west portal. What caught my eye first was the abandoned turntable that appeared to be weathering well.

Alpine Station, train depot, west portal, Alpine Tunnel, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Alpine Station and the west portal may be reached by 4x4. The northerly faces of 12,630-foot Paywell Mountain (left) and Point 12,314 (right) tower above upper Middle Quartz Creek.

14,197-foot Mount Princeton, Sawatch Range, Colorao

From Alpine Pass, I was able to zoom in on 14,197-foot Mount Princeton. In my opinion, Mount Princeton may be one of the more stately 14ers in Colorado. Snowcatcher and I summited Mount Princeton as one of our early dates.

The day wasn't getting any younger, nor the wind any warmer; I bid farewell to the tundra and started down. It didn't take long to pack the bike down to the east portal. It did take a while to hike all the way back up to the pass to retrieve my sunglasses.

Viewing across Chalk Creek from the Alpine Tunnel rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Actually, it was nice to backtrack and see the same topography basking under an afternoon sun angle. Another autumn has come and gone. It was a good year for color variety.

Alpine Tunnel rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Approaching St. Elmo, I wondered what sort of historians the aspen have been. Over time, did they take notice of how many indigenous people, pack animal trains, steam-powered trains, jeeps and high-clearance vehicles have worked their way up the grade? If only the trees could tell their tale.

St. Elmo, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Some patches of aspen were making their final stand.

St. Elmo, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Most of the original dwellings of St. Elmo appear to be owned by private residents. There is no ghost to it. Just about every window had a "keep out" or "no trespassing" sign in it. That killed the photographic vibe for me. On the other hand, the locals are inundated with tourists during the warm months. From that standpoint, I can understand all of the signage. Nonetheless, it's a quaint little retreat for a handful of people.

St. Elmo, Sawatch Range, Colorado

The above building was rather rustic. I think it may have been the old livery.

St. Elmo, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Some stands of aspen were unique. Their long skinny boles, sporting smallish tufts of leaves on top, bending with the wind are a good example of wind training.

Chalk Creek, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Small pockets of aspen hidden amongst the coniferous were still colorful.

Chalk Creek, Sawatch Range, Colorado

The drive down Chalk Creek Canyon had a yellow glow to it.

Another adventure has come and gone. See ya on the next one.


10 October 2014

Stardate 2014.775

Alpine rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Season of Wither Unam Partem

I desired a final, high elevation mountain bike ride before the icy grip of winter takes hold in the high country. Although the higher realms have received snow this year, webcams filming high peaks, along with a week of decent temperatures, indicated a bit of a melt-off. I decided on a loop consisting of the occupied ghost town St. Elmo, the Alpine Tunnel, the Continental Divide Trail and back down North Chalk Creek to St. Elmo. The loop is above 10,000 feet in its entirety. It also is highlighted by four-miles of seldom-traveled Continental Divide Trail that undulates across the tundra between 11,650 and 12,400 feet elevation. It was a date. Hair on fire, I was off to the Sawatch Range, Colorado, for a day of high adventure.

St. Elmo, 10,012 ft., Sawatch Range, Colorado

After an easy cruise through Colorado's Front Range and across South Park, I made my way up Chalk Creek to St. Elmo. The town is an official, historic ghost town inhabited by people with private holdings. As can be seen in the photo, 120/240-volt single-phase power has been brought in. Modern ghosts, I guess.

Chalk Creek, Alpine Tunnel Railroad Grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

The ride to Alpine Tunnel is up the old Denver, South Park and Pacific narrow-gauge rail bed. At one time, the railroad provided transportation between Denver and Gunnison. It's an easy pedal. As the views expanded, I noticed most of the Aspens have dropped their leaves. A little snow could be seen on northerly aspects of Point 12,870, as well. In regard to the previous sentence, if a high peak is unnamed, its elevation is used as its name.

Mine ruins between St. Elmo and Hancock, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Old mine relics dot the forest between St. Elmo and the ghost site of Hancock.

Old town site of Hancock, Sawatch Range, Colorado

At one point, a town resided here. This is all of Hancock that remains. Hancock sat at 11,050 feet and primarily served the Alpine Tunnel workers; mining came second.

Alpine Tunnel rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

At Hancock the route heads west toward the Continental Divide over unmodified history. Motorized vehicles are not allowed up the final three miles of rail grade. In places, old rotting railroad ties are still visible, as shown above.

Alpine Tunnel rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

Riding along a north aspect, the ground began icing up around 11,300 feet.

There was more snow and ice than I had anticipated, even on north aspects.

In places, the rail grade was cut into the cliff face.

Looking down Chalk Creek from the Alpine Tunnel rail grade, Sawatch Range, Colorado

The views continue to broaden. Despite the snow and wet areas, I was able to stay in shorts as the day warmed up nicely. Yet, there was a swirling frozen nip in the air.

Just below the east portal of the Alpine Tunnel

After an easy nine miles up consistent grade, the final 100 yards to the east portal came into view. The grade swings to the left into the hillside.

Sealed east portal of the Alpine Tunnel

Above is what remains of the east portal. The west portal has been sealed, too. Four-wheel-drive access to the west portal is from Pitkin, or possibly from the east via Hancock Pass or Williams Pass. The Alpine Tunnel took more than two years to build and was in service by Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad between only 1882 and 1910. The tunnel sits at an elevation of 11,523 feet and is 1,772 feet long.

Connector trail to the Continental Divide Trail

Access to the Continental Divide Trail is in the vicinity of the east portal. It's a short hike-a-bike up to 12,000-foot Alpine Pass.

Alpine Pass , Continental Divide, Sawatch Range, Colorado

After a good grunt gaining the Pass, the vistas open up to...

Alpine Pass, Continental Divide, Sawatch Range, Colorado

...miles and miles of one of my favorite landscapes – alpine tundra! If you look close in the right center of the pic, you can pick out the Continental Divide Trail. Hint, look for snow. It was time for an executive decision. After a short lunch so I can savor my surroundings, of course.

Stay Tuned

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