Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blue Lakes Trail at Dallas Creek Road

The Blue Lakes Trail leads 3.3 miles to Lower Blue Lake in the Sneffels Wilderness of the Uncompahgre National Forest in southwest Colorado. Dallas Creek Road (or East Dallas Road) is a south turn from Colorado Route 62 a few miles west of Ridgway. It is about 9 miles on gravel County and Forest Roads to the west trailhead.

The trailhead elevation is 9400 feet and Lower Blue Lake is at 10,950 feet. This is also a trailhead for the Blaine Basin Trail and there is also a segment of Dallas Trail that arrives here from the west. The Blue Lakes Trail continues past the Lower Lake to Blue Lakes Pass and across to an east side trailhead. In the trailhead register box there is this good sketch of the area trails.

The initial segment of trail climbs steadily for about 2 miles through thick spruce, fir, and aspen forest. In a few places there are glimpses of the mountains that lie to the east. It took me about 1:00 hour to reach the marked boundary of the Sneffels Wilderness. About 0:15 minutes past the wilderness boundary there is a small creek crossing that will get the bottom of your shoes wet.

After the creek crossing the views open up as the trail continues to climb. This view is to the west as the trail switchbacks.

I think the views to the east include Mt. Sneffels at 14,150 feet. The whole route heads into a basin that is surrounded by towering peaks. There are also distant views of mountains far to the north and the drainage of Dallas Creek.

As the trail gets closer to the Lower Blue Lake there are two waterfalls as Dallas Creek drains from the lakes. The Dallas Creek appears to carry water draining from all three of the Blue Lakes.

It took me 2:00 hours to arrive at Lower Blue Lake. A trail sign at the lake says it is 2.5 more miles to Blue Lakes Pass at 13,000 feet. There is a Middle Lake and Upper Lake along the way. Most day hikers probably turn around at the Lower Blue Lake.

My return downhill hike took 1:30 hours for a total hike of 4:00 hours for 6.6 miles. By 3:00 PM clouds were starting to build but I didn’t get caught in any rain.

I saw 16 other hikers during my hike. It was about 65 F degrees on a late August day and I carried and drank 3 liters of water. The lake area was slightly cooler than the trailhead but I didn't need to add a layer. The drive along Highway 62 to the west passes over an area called the Dallas Divide and has some spectacular views of these mountains, but there isn't an organized view point or interpretive sign that I noticed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Galloping Goose Trail in South Fork Valley

The Galloping Goose Trail is a 21 mile route traveling from Lizard Head Pass to Telluride. It mostly follows the old rail bed of the historic train that served the southwest Colorado mountain area until the early 1950s.

The middle segments of the trail can be accessed near where the trail passes under Highway 145 through a tunnel There are several pull over places in the vicinity of the Ophir Road junction with Highway 145 a few miles south of Telluride.

An unmarked forest road a few hundred yards south of the Ophir Road connects to the trail and it is also possible to start at the east side of the tunnel. From this starting area it is 3.5 miles to Sunshine Road, where the route then continues on County Roads. In this area the jagged Ophir Needles towers overhead.

A short distance from this starting point there is an interpretive sign for the Silver Bell Tailings Impoundment, a cleanup project to protect the water resources. There are also views of the large pipes carrying high pressure water flow from Trout Lake and Hope Lake to energize the Ames power plant.

One of the streams that contribute to the South Fork of the San Miguel River and eventually the San Miguel River has a waterfall that is easily viewed.

There is a good foot bridge to get across this stream. In the vicinity of the bridge there are piles of very large old timbers, perhaps the materials of one of the many trestles that were needed by the Galloping Goose.

The old rail bed is hung along the side of this canyon and the views along this section are probably the most spectacular of the whole 21 mile route. To the west is a sheer vertical wall of stone towering over a large scree slope.

To the east is the intense green of the river valley with the dozen or so homes of the village of Ames lying below the Ophir Needles. The forest in this area is mostly Aspens and Spruce Fir Forest. In the valley below there is a Nature Conservancy Preserve with short trails and beaver dams visible.

This segment of the trail has several sections where the old rail ties seem to be still in place. There are also stacks of old ties along the trail.

Besides the many rail road ties and several poles that look like telegraph lines, there is a site that appears to be a water tank site. There are several lengths of old metal pipe and some masonry work.

The last mile of this 3.5 mile segment has several creeks to cross. In spring, these creeks may be running full and more, overflowing their banks and using the trail as a channel for a short section. The largest of these creeks appears to be located at a ruined trestle site as there are many collapsed timbers piled up along the steep slopes of the wide drainage area.

It is possible to detour down into Ames to see the somewhat famous power plant. This is the site of the world’s first alternating current power plant, the type of power that we all use now. The power from this plant was originally used at the nearby mining sites.

There are two water sources, Trout Lake and Hope Lake, both good hiking areas. The information I found about the plant output is 115,000 volts, and 3.75 megawatts, enough power for a town of 4000. From the power plant I hiked up the county roads back to my starting point.

My total hike time for about 7.0 miles was 3:15 hours. I hiked on a 70 F degree late August day and carried 3 liters of water. I saw 2 other hikers and 11 mountain bike riders during my hike.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Groundhog Stock Trail-West Trailhead

The western segment of the Groundhog Stock Trail travels west from the Navajo Lake Trailhead for about 4.3 miles in the Lizard Head Wilderness in southwest Colorado. The west end trailhead is 2.3 miles west of the junction of the West Dolores Forest Road 535 and Forest Road 611. The trailhead elevation is about 9640 feet.

The west trailhead area is marked but there isn’t a developed parking area. There is an eastern segment of the Groundhog Stock Trail that has an eastern trailhead at the Cross Mountain Trailhead south of Lizard Head Pass. That 5 mile segment connects with Forest Road 535 at the scenic Meadows. 

The first segment of trail passes through meadows with view of 12,340 ft. Elliot Mountain to the left and 12, 308 ft Sockrider Peak to the right. With binoculars the Calico Trail is visible along the flank of Elliot Mountain. This western end of the Groundhog Trail is dominated by wide meadows with the trail being somewhat vague. After about 0.75 miles, there are signs marking the Lizard Head Wilderness boundary.

After crossing  more meadow there is a crossing of Cold Creek. In early August, this was an easy crossing. I saw many birds along this trail including a Red Tailed Hawk and a Golden Eagle. There were also many swallows and woodpeckers.

Climbing out of the Cold Creek valley, there are good views of 13,290 ft. Dolores Peak to the right, the creatively named Middle Peak at 13,261 ft. and Dunn Peak to the left at 12,595 feet.

The trail is very vague crossing this large meadow. The maps show that the trail runs north parallel to Cold Creek, so it is helpful to carry a map and compass. The route is directly toward Dolores Peak. At the end of the meadow, the trail becomes more distinct at it enters a forest segment. 

The forest segment climbs steeply and turns east, eventually arriving at more meadows with more spectacular views. Looking to the northeast, El Diente, the big tooth stands out at 14,159 feet. The route of the Navajo Lake Trail is visible along with a glance into the Navajo Lake Basin. The peaks behind El Diente don’t seem to have names but are about 12,800 feet.

I stopped after 2:00 hours and 2.7 miles at a hilltop that has a wooden marker with a cow skull attached.. The trail is vague through this meadow but continues on the north side of this hilltop and starts to descend down toward the junction with the Navajo Lake Trail. Before reaching the Navajo Lake Trail there is a junction with the Burro Bridge Trail that begins at the Burro Bridge Campground.

The Burro Bridge Trail is relatively new and doesn’t appear on all the maps. This hilltop is at about 10,500 feet and is one of the best view points in the Lizard Head area that is along a trail.

From the same hilltop, there are higher angle views back toward Dolores Peak and Dunn Peak. My return hike took 1:30 hours for a total hike of 3:30 hours for about 5.4 miles. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a 65 F early August day. I didn’t see any other hikers or horse riders during my hike.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Galloping Goose Trail at Lizard Head Pass

The Galloping Goose Trail follows an old railroad grade from Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains for 21 miles north toward Telluride in southwest Colorado. The segment from Lizard Head Pass to Trout Lake is very smooth and easy walking. It is about an 8 mile round trip from the pass to the west end of Trout Lake and back.

The trail head is on the east side of Highway 145 across from the view point area at the pass. This might be a more popular mountain bike route than a hiking trail. During my hike a group of 50 bikers passed by.

Near the trail head are historic sheep pens. Before 1951 the Galloping Goose was used to move livestock out of the mountain area before the onset of winter. The Lizard Head Pass at 10,225 ft. is a spectacular spot. Sheep Mountain, Vermilion Peak, and Yellow Mountain dominate the scene. The elevation at Trout Lake is 9710 feet.

In the 1890's a mining boom inspired the building of a rail system connecting Durango, Dolores, Telluride, and Ridgeway in southwest Colorado. The mining boom ended and the in the 1920s the transportation needs of the area were served by the Galloping Goose, an odd looking narrow gauge train.

The Goose ran until the early 1950s when the highways finally put it out of business. Three of the seven Geese were saved and are on display around the area. 

The route winds downhill through Spruce-Fir and Aspen forest and meadows. Only one of the old trestles from the Goose era still stands. This one is along the route from the pass down to Trout Lake.

Past the trestle is a forest road going up to the trail head for the Hope Lake Trail. Also past the trestle there will be a few more vehicles on the route.

There is an old water tank still standing, mixed in among the cabins on the hillside above Trout Lake. The cabins and homes in the area are an odd mix, some very luxurious and some very rustic. There aren't any stores or shops here. 

The Trout Lake is scenic and there were a number of canoes and row boats strung along the shore. In mid July, there were several fishing from the bank.

Trout Lake water is used to power the historic hydro-electric plant in nearby Ames. The Ames power plant was the first in the country to generate alternating current and provided power to the mining activity near Alta Lakes and the now Alta Ghost Town.

 It took me about 1:30 hours to walk downhill here from Lizard Head Pass. My return hike uphill took 1:35 hours for a total hike of 3:25 hours for about 8 miles. On a 70 F degree day I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Above Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is a popular hiking destination located at the east end of the Telluride Canyon and east of Telluride town. At 365 feet it is the longest free falling waterfall in Colorado. There is trailhead parking at the base of the switchback road just past the Pandora Mill.

From the parking area it is 1.2 miles to the base of the falls and 1.8 miles to the historic power plant at the top. The starting elevation is about 9200 feet at it is about 10,400 feet at the top.

It took me 0:55 minutes to arrive at the base of the falls and 1:30 hours to reach the top. 

The old road continues into the Bridal Veil Basin behind the historic power plant. Vehicles driving to the top are blocked from continuing. The other hiking option at the top of the falls is to continue on the Black Bear Road toward Ingram Falls. 

The trail continues to climb as steeply as on the switchback road that leads to the waterfall, with several high peaks and forested hillsides visible.

Looking back down the trail the high peaks on the northeast side of the Telluride Canyon are visible.

The Bridal Veil Creek has many small waterfalls along this segment and there is a waterfall joining the stream from the west.

I turned around after an additional 1.5 miles and 1:10 hours at a point where a sparkling creek crosses the trail. The additional elevation gain was another 700 feet to about 11,100 feet. 

I think this tumbling creek comes down from the Mud Lake basin. In late June there were several good patches of wildflowers along this segment of trail.

My return hike took 1:40 hours for a total hike of 4:10 hours for about 6.6 miles with 1900 feet of climbing. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on an 80 F degree late June day. It was a busy day in Telluride and there were many hikers and a few vehicles climbing to Bridal Veil Falls. 

(There is another post on Bridal Veil Falls that shows more of the hike leading up the switchback road. Use the labels to find.)

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