Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 - May 4th - Spring Creek Canyon, Little Book Cliffs Wilderness Study Area / Wild Horse Range

I spend a lot of my free time pouring over maps.  There's just something calming about letting my eyes roam through the terrain.  I've always felt this way.  In fact, it's what got me into weather so long ago.  For a kid that really liked maps, a 24-hour cable channel with tons of weather maps was hard to pass up.  But that's not the point of this entry.

I've noticed a couple of instances where maps out here in the Western Slope have changed over time.  I'm not talking about expanding urban areas, but features that once were there and then vanished.  This was the case of the "waterfall" in Lipan Wash (as described here).  Another curious feature on older maps was a waterfall, or in fact two such waterfalls in Spring Creek Canyon.  I doubted the existence given the fact that the waterfall was not described on newer maps, the drainage was relatively short and the creek itself is always noted as "intermittent".  Still, I was curious and there was a trail nearby, so I figured I would check it out.  For all I knew, the waterfall(s) could have been spring-fed.

I ventured out early in the afternoon on this beautiful day in May, equipped with plenty of water and daylight.  I access the trailhead, I took I-70 east from Grand Junction into the De Beque Canyon to the Cameo exit (46).  I continued west past the old coal-fired power plant on Coal Creek Canyon Road to the Coal Canyon Trailhead.  When I arrived, there were several vehicles and horse trailers there.

The trail climbs immediately north to a divide between Coal Canyon and Main Canyon, then drops down into the latter.  From the divide, I was afforded with beautiful view to the east of an unnamed prominence between the canyons, the palisades of the De Beque Canyon and of course, Grand Mesa.  (seen below)

Not a bad view!

When I reached the bottom of Main Canyon, I was pleasantly surprised to find the creek, Jerry Creek, flowing.  When one is hunting waterfalls, the water part can be important.  The trail then heads northwest up Main Canyon for about a mile.  I ran into a hiker or two on the trails, but it wasn't too busy.  I also saw four mustangs on the other side of the creek.  They were deep in the Piñon-Juniper scrub, so I couldn't see them well, but one gave me a good opportunity for a picture.

Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

After a mile, I reached the junction of Main Canyon and Spring Creek Canyon, which branches to the southwest.  Here, I was a little disappointed to find Spring Creek bone-dry.  Still, I carried on, hoping.  After about a half-mile, the canyon elbows to the west-northwest.  Here, I could see a bit of water seeping out of the cliffs to the south, but it wasn't reaching the wash.  Also, this bend was guarded by a very impressive hoodoo, which I'll talk about more below.

I continued upstream (if you will), though I will admit progress was a bit slow.  Most of the trail was in the wash was actually deep gravel.  It was like walking through a half-foot of snow.  It wasn't impossible but certainly not easy.

At the next junction, the actual Spring Creek Trail follows the canyon joining from the southwest, but my target was the canyon to the north-northwest.  At this junction, I stopped and rested for a while, admiring the amazing hoodoos.

Imposing Hoodoos

I continued along the trail which dipped in and out of the wash along the still-dry Spring Creek.  At one point, the trail climbs along the north side of the canyon to avoid an impassable boulder pile / drop.  I was startled by a relatively large creature on the ground and was happy to find I was looking at my very first collared lizard.  I tried to get a shot of it which turned out okay.  I've never been much of a wildlife photographer. 

Collared Lizard

The trail continued between gravelly wash, dusty side trails and occasional obstacles.  As the canyon tightened, however, the obstacles seemed to be more prevalent.  I passed another drainage coming in from the southwest a half mile past the previous and a third junction a half mile later.  At this junction, the official Spring Creek is the branch to the southwest.  However, the falls are noted on the canyon that branches to the northwest, so I continued up that canyon.

The trail became more and more demanding as boulders and drops frequently blocked my path.  It was fairly tiring have to climb or navigate around them.  Still, I carried on, determined.

Eventually, the canyon really seemed to tigthen and the mid afternoon light was casting a golden glow down into its recesses. I kept thinking about how beautiful this would be were there an active stream moving through its bottom.  Instead, there were occasional brackish puddles lined with salt.  And they were few and far between.

Though the terrain was perhaps the most aesthetic, the canyon became very difficult to navigate with several drops that were just too high or too treacherous to climb.  At times, I almost turned around, but figured I'd try and navigate around to the best of my ability.  The tightness of the canyon made this difficult, but I was eventually able to make a pass along the southern slope of the canyon.  It was not easy and took a considerable amount of time.  However, when I was able to return to the wash, I finally found myself at one of the "waterfalls".  I was disappointed that it was dry, but happy to have made it.

The "Falls"

It is possible that there is another "waterfall" less than a quarter mile farther up-canyon, but I was not able to navigate anymore upstream.  So, I sat and had a little water and then explored the area for a while.  There was moisture at the base of the falls and a bit dripping out of the walls, but nothing was really flowing.  The area was relatively lush due to the moisture but there was also a high amount of minerals or salts that were present as well.  Some of the deposits looked like feta cheese.

A salty cliff-side seep.

Mineral deposits.


Vicinity shot of the falls area.

I rested for twenty minutes or so before heading back down-canyon.  I explored the option of following the wash but realized it would be just as difficult to descent as ascent, so I found my "short" cut and worked my way downstream that way.

Small puddles in the creek bed.

This canyon was a little different than other places I had explored.  I will give it a few uniqueness points.  Of course, the fact that I kept flicking ticks off of me was a bit annoying, but I also saw cool geological formations like those below:

Strange formations.  Perhaps river rocks trapped in mud stone?

Hand for scale.  (That's no lady-hand)

And then, of course, there were the hoodoos.  The highest concentration of hoodoos was at the canyon junction I spoke of earlier in this entry. I called it the "Hoodoo Chorus" since they seem to be huddled together. 

"Hoodoo Chorus"

But further down-canyon was my favorite hoodoo of all.  I spoke of this one earlier as well:  the lone hoodoo at the elbow.  It stands tall, like a sentinel guarding over the canyon bottom.  I also could not help but notice that the rock on top had an uncanny resemblance to the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  For that reason, I refer to it as the T-Rex Hoodoo.  Let me know what you think.  If you have a good sense of humor, you may also want to refer to it as the "T-Rex Pez Dispenser Hoodoo". 

"T-Rex" skull

"T-Rex Hoodoo"

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky, so I made haste for the trail head.

Looking out of Spring Creek Canyon to Main Canyon.

Back into Main Canyon now, it was almost Golden Hour!

Looking east down Main Canyon.

Jerry Creek

Jerry Creek and Main Canyon.

As I left the canyon bottom and worked my way back up to the divide into Coal Canyon, I saw the horses again.  I think they were the same four, but I'm not completely sure.

Atop the divide, the surrounding area absolutely glowed with the evening light.  It was fantastic!

Unnamed Prominence (left), Grand Mesa (right)

I refer to this as "Cameo Point"

Finally back at the trail head, I noticed that quite a few vehicles... BLM and Sheriff's Office were just leaving.  I spoke with a couple of women who were loading their horses back into a trailer and apparently, they were riding and one lost a cell phone signal with her husband who mistakenly thought she was lost.  He called for a search party which included a helicopter (that I recalled flying over the area at some point).  But, no harm done.

In talking with members of the search & rescue squad at a later date (for a story at work), they told me you shouldn't hesitate to call for help if someone you know is lost or if you get injured and need help.  Most of the squad is comprised of volunteers and they are happy to go out and help.  Of course, they would remind you be prepared for going outdoors and always letting someone know where you are going.  In my case, I feel like I achieved both.

The hike was just a little over 8 miles round-trip and I was a bit tired, especially with all of the climbing, jumping, crawling, butt-scooting, gravel-plowing and tick-flicking, so when I got back into town, I treated myself to a chocolate malt at the Sonic in Clifton.  I deserved it.

Here's a map of the adventure if you'd like to follow along (you can click for a larger version):

Though there were no active waterfalls, the terrain was beautiful (if not a bit harsh) and I was happy to see the collared lizard and the wild horses.  The sunset was just a bonus.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011 - April 27th - Hanging Lake, Spouting Rock & Dead Horse Creek, White River National Forest

"You have to go to Hanging Lake!"  That's what people would often say when I told them I was moving to the Western Slope.  I'd seen pictures and was honestly fascinated with the geology of the area:  a stream which built itself a lake perched in the side of a mountain.  How did that happen?  The high mineral content (calcium carbonate) of the water basically deposited itself in a large bowl-shaped form.  It's known as "travertine".  Plus, there are waterfalls.  I love waterfalls.

I had been wanting to go for quite a while, but the distance precluded me from actually visiting.  I have been trying to save money and gas for the ol'Schploder is expensive.  I had been talking a lot of "photography" with my coworker Megan, however, and she also wanted to check out the area.  She usually anchors our evening newscasts but was filling in on mornings that week and thus had the afternoon off. One of the tough things about having Tuesdays and Wednesdays off every week is that no one else does!  So, it was nice to have someone to go out and explore with.

We were on the road and headed eastbound on I-70 by late morning.  We stopped in Glenwood Springs to pick up lunch and I also bought the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of the area.  Finally, in the early afternoon, we entered Glenwood Canyon and found ourselves at the improved trail head and rest area.

The highway is a viaduct through the canyon and is often stacked almost on top of itself.  In the "Hanging Lake" area, it leaves the riverside and passes through the rock of the canyon wall via tunnel.  An exit before the entrance to the tunnel (eastbound) leads to the rest area, which sits along a sleepy stretch of the Colorado River.  A dam a distance down stream backs the water up so that it moves slow, which is a stark contrast to other areas in the canyon.

During the summer months, this hike is extremely popular and sometimes causes backups on the highway.  The lot is often filled and the trail crowded.  On this particular April afternoon, however, there were only a few cars in the lot.  Temperatures were in the 40s and convective snow showers were about. As I finished off half of my Subway sandwich, light snow would occasionally fall.

The trail itself requires a relatively steep ascent up the canyon carved by Dead Horse Creek.  It is not a long hike, coming in at just over one mile (one-way), but the elevation gain is about one thousand feet over that mile.  We found that the best way to combat the slope was to go slow and take a lot of pictures!

At the very bottom of the trail, the area is maintained quite well and is almost park-like with manicured lawns and wooden bridges.  We milled around this area for a while before finding the rocky and steep path that begins the ascent up-canyon.

The bottom of Dead Horse Creek.
Not far from the trail head, Dead Horse Creek seems to emerge from a mossy hillside.  Above this area (at least for a while), the stream bed was dry.

Rivulets emerge from the mossy earth.
We also found a natural arch made of limestone near the area where the creek flows out of the ground.

Dead Horse Arch
Above this area, we became fascinated with a mossy rock wall that was dripping with moisture.  There were icicles hanging from it as well.  Where the water splashed at the bottom, intricate ice patterns had formed.

Icy close-up.

Weeping cliffside.

Light snow continued to fall occasionally and it was misty at times, deep in the tall pine forest.  While the stream bed was mostly dry, areas of ice could often be found.

Higher up in the canyon, we noticed that there was a tiny bit of water flowing in the creek.  Just a few paces later and that amount increased.  Soon, it seemed to be running full-steam once again.  At this point, the trail crosses over to the east side of the creek and switches back up the canyonside. 

As we continued, I spotted an area where water was falling off to my right and a small trail leading back to the creek.  Upon a closer look, the area was quite beautiful.  We stopped for about ten minutes, taking pictures of various angles.  I even got out my SLR film camera and tried a couple of shots (not shown).  It was just dark enough to take some longer exposures.

Unnamed "falls".

Higher up in the canyon, the snow really got going again.  The wind, in combination with moist clothing thanks to perspiration from the hike, make things a bit chilly.  None the less, the area was quite aesthetic and certainly kept my camera warm.

Eventually, the creek leaves the actual canyon bottom... and quite spectacularly...

The trail continues up-canyon, however, leaving the stream.  This area actually had a lot of winter's snow left in it as it is quite shaded with a steep canyon wall directly to the west.  The trail then switches back up the east side of the canyon back toward the creek.  It climbs along the canyon wall, the path hewn into the stone.  This area has seen extensive improvement from perhaps the forest service with railings that have been installed along the path. 

Looking down the canyon of Dead Horse Creek toward Glenwood Canyon.

The final stretch of the trail is comprised basically of stone stairs which are exposed (were it not for the railing) along the canyon wall.  Eventually, you come to a junction with a sign pointing farther uphill to Spouting Rock or directly forward to Hanging Lake.  We went to the lake first...

Hanging Lake

... where we found a pair of mallards hanging out. 


Over-exposed, but one of my favorite compositions.  I'll try it again sometime with different light.

We took some time to take photos before walking the boardwalk to the back of the southeast-most falls.  I climbed up a debris pile to get a few shots as well.

Behind the falls.

From atop the debris-pile.

Then, we walked back around the boardwalk and hiked up to Spouting Rock, which is basically a waterfall that comes out of a rock wall.  I found the area to be particularly photogenic, thanks to the fact that it was a bit darker, allowing me to do some longer exposures.

Spouting Rock (Falls), Megan for scale.

Hand-held longer exposure.

After walking behind the fall, we crossed back in front of it and went downstream somewhat.  I immersed my feet in the cold water for a good position to capture several more images, all of which I was pleased with.  Megan joined me after some prompting.  I find that it's best to get one's feet wet early in the hike... then you have no problems doing it again as needed.

Falls spout from the rock.

Another of my favorites.

Eventually, we returned to Hanging Lake and I finished the second half of my sandwich.  It clouded up, making the area much darker and allowed for some longer exposures, so I busied myself with doing just that.

Then, I decided to go back behind the falls again and see what I could accomplish.  Again, I was quite satisfied with the results.

Falls through the falls!  Definitely one of my favorite images. 

We were preparing to head back down with it started to snow once again.  At first, the sun came out allowing for a deep look into the fantastic colors inside of the lake.  This also revealed that there were fish in the lake; trout of some type.

But then the sun then went away, leaving us in a blustery snowfall once again.

The ducks didn't seem to mind...

It was getting late, so we got going back down the trail. We were about half-way down the rock stairs before I realized I had left my tripod on the boardwalk, so I retraced my steps and retrieved it.  On the way down the stairs the second time, I rolled the ever-loving-mother-brother-hot-dog out of my ankle.  Megan thought it was funny... but I would have my revenge. 

Somehow, though it seemed extremely dramatic, it didn't really hurt after a few minutes and I found myself descending the stairs unimpeded, once again. 

Back down at the canyon bottom and in the snow, Megan totally ate it on an icy slope.  I did a fair amount of laughing. 

With less light in the canyon, I was able to take some nice, long-exposures of the creek and I took advantage of every opportunity I could.

The high mineral content of the water seems to build formations that the water tumbles over.

Another of my favorites.  It almost seems as though it is painted.

An example of portions of the trail that are well-maintained.

Little tree, little fall.

The hike down was easy and though we did stop a lot for pictures, it went rather quickly.  The sun was getting low in the sky, which added extra color to the canyon bottom, though it was darker.  This all added up to the capturing of desirable frames all the way back down to the bottom of the trail.

Reflection from the canyon wall.

Stopped at my favorite little glade.

Light, just about to leave the tall canyon rim.

 A little waterfall and a little snow.

Spring easing into the higher canyon.

Finally, back at the bottom, I again took advantage of the lower light.

Dead Horse Creek before its confluence with the Colorado River.  Megan for scale.

It was about dinner-time when we arrived back at her jeep and we made our way back to Grand Junction with haste.  There were still a few convective showers in the area which made for a nice sunset.

A showery sunset over the Roan Plateau near Rifle.  

I can understand why so many people visit this place every year.  I'm glad we decided to do it out of season. We probably ran into less than a dozen people on the trail, which is unheard of.  Water levels are much higher in the late spring and early summer with runoff.  I understand that water actually falls over the cliff edge at Spouting Rock and also flows freely through the area in the canyon where we found the stream bed to be dry.  As far as my amateur photography is concerned,  I was extremely pleased with the results.  Though some of the longer exposures are over-exposed, I found that I was able to accomplish what I was aiming for most of, if not all of the time.  That can be difficult at times with a camera that has a limited aperture and sensor.  

I would like to go back some time, perhaps at a different time of year.  Maybe even by moonlight...