Monday, January 30, 2012

2011 - June 28th - Rough Canyon Petroglyphs

On my two previous visits to Rough Canyon (here and here), I found it to be one of my favorite places on the Western Slope.  On the second visit, I was aware that there was a petroglyph panel since I had traveled to the area for work to report on vandalism, but darkness fell and I was unable, well, unwilling to head back down into the canyon to photograph them.

When an opportunity came to visit the area again, I jumped.  I was showing a new co-worker, Shannon,around the area and chose the canyon because of how interesting it was.  I hoped to be able to finally make the complete loop, heading down the Tabeguache Trail and then back up Rough Canyon to the Mica Mine trail junction.

So, I picked up Shannon and we hit the trail on a hot summer morning.  The temperature hit 101ºF at the airport that day, which may have been a little too warm for hiking weather.  But, we hit the trail pretty early, so while it was quite warm, it wasn't hot... yet.

The Tabeguache Trail is essentially all down hill for our purposes, so that went quick.  Much to my dismay, the once rushing creek was dry.  Only a few pools remained at the top of the waterfall and they were full of tadpoles.  Apparently the noisy frogs from my previous visit had been busy.   

From the top of the dry falls, we headed upstream in the canyon.  The temperature was definitely climbing, but we found enough shade from the tight canyon walls to provide relief.  I was going through a lot of water, however. 

It's funny how much a place can change with the existence or absence of water.  While the Cottonwoods still were full of green leaves, the underbrush, which was lush during my last visit seemed thin.  We passed by all of the waterfalls that I had seen in previous visits and found only the occasional muddy pool.  We did, however, find the petroglyphs, which I managed to take a few photos of. 

At only four miles, round-trip and about 650ft of elevation gain on the way back up, it isn't the most strenuous hike... but it was hot! Now to take on the lower section of the canyon all the way to the Gunnison River or up the deep slot that comes in above the falls.  Still plenty to experience in the area!

Detail Map


Sunday, January 29, 2012

2011 - June 25th - Ouray, Box Cañon Falls, Cascade Falls

After an afternoon hike in the San Juans (continued from a previous post), me and my friend Ashley returned to Ouray to see the sights and grab a bit to eat.  She had to pick something up that she had ordered when we were there that morning, but then it was on to Box Cañon Falls.  The waterfall is almost synonymous with Ouray itself.  It exists within a deep chasm, eroded into the rock and is known as a box canyon since it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to navigate all the way through without some sort of heavy equipment. 

The area is developed as a city park, which you have to pay to access, but it was only a couple of bucks per person.  A short trail leads from a gift shop to a walkway bolted into the canyon wall.  After successfully smuggling a small creature (see the previous post) in, we headed into the depths of the canyon.  The roar was absolutely amazing. 

Box Cañon Falls

The interesting thing about this waterfall, is that it is almost impossible to view in its entirety... let alone photograph.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a good, professional shot online.  I had a hard time with my tripod since the legs were too small for the grates on the metal walkway.  Occasionally, I would find balance and be able to pop off a shot or two.

I actually found the exit of the canyon to be a lot more photogenic and the shot below is one of my favorites of all my 2011 photos.

Canyon Creek

After getting our entrance fee's worth, we decided to head back into town and get some dinner.  The obvious choice was the Ouray Brewery.  We wanted to sit on the roof and had to wait a little while, but were entertained by the swinging bar seats. 

Once seated, I enjoyed a well-earned beer sampler and then eventually a half rack of unbelievably delicious ribs.  I was a little stiff from the Gray Copper hike (and the cold water!) but it was extremely relaxing to sit out on a nice summer evening, overlooking this incredible little town.  The beer sampler was also relaxing. 

(mobile phone image)

When dinner was over, we weren't quite done yet.  On Ouray's east side, the towering Cascade Falls is hard to miss.  This one didn't really require much of a hike... more like a quarter mile jaunt uphill from the parking lot, which felt ethereal with the beer sampler with me in spirit. 

You can see the waterfall well from the town, but not from the trail until you're almost on top of it.

Cascade Creek

... but eventually, it comes into view.

Cascade Falls

From the base of the falls, a trail heads west, switching back up the cliff.  We found that it afforded us a great view southwest across of Ouray.

Looking across Ouray into the Canyon Creek valley, United States Mountain distant.

It also heads back to just below the top of the falls, so I stopped there for a while to take a few more pictures. 

As we worked our way back down, the wind seemed to be swirling a lot, causing the plunge to tilt. 

And of course, it was probably too much to ask for a straight waterfall when we got our pictures taken with it.  

Darkness fell quickly at this point, so we packed up and headed back to Grand Junction; exhausted but definitely pleased with the day's adventures.


2012 - January 9th - Andy's Loop, Upper Echo Canyon & Tabeguache Trail, Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area

The winter is a different animal in the desert.  It allows you to explore places that you might avoid in the heat of the summer.  On the negative side, you won't find much if any running water and the vegetation is dormant and low in color.  However, there is still beauty to be had... especially if the light is right. 

I headed out on a Monday morning with the lovely Shannon for a new exploration at one of the closest trail heads to the city.  I can reach the parking lot after a five minute drive from my house.  The Tabeguache trail head serves a large area of trails just outside and to the southeast of the Colorado National Monument

From the trail head, the area doesn't look like much.  At least, that's how it has always appeared to me.  Its shale and desert landscape sits in stark contrast to the towering sandstone bluffs of the Monument.  I was looking for something close to home to explore, though and I figured I'd give the area a chance. 

It was a cool morning but the sun was out.  The sky only had a little bit of cirrus, so I knew that pending the angle, I'd at least have some good light to work with. 

The trail leads from the parking lot into a wash.  However, the wash transitions from the typical rock and sand flanked by sage to a sandy, shale-lined ravine, almost devoid of vegetation.  Almost immediately, you could easily imagine yourself on another planet. 

We stayed right and gained elevation over the first couple of miles, affording us great views of the Monument and also the Grand Valley.  The trail then begins to parallel the Monument's far eastern border. 

I knew that our planned route would take us to the upper portions of Echo Canyon.  I have visited the lower section of the canyon on several occasions, accounts which can be found below:

January 25th, 2011
- February 25th, 2011
- March 8th, 2011
- March 22nd, 2011

Obviously, it's a favorite of mine.  I've always wanted to see what was above the big drop and this trip would give me the opportunity to do so. 

We were a little winded at some of the ascents but made good time.  It was becoming late afternoon, light-wise... around 3 o'clock and we started to come across colorful formations in the shale.

We took a brief break and I had Shannon snap a photo of me.

There is a pass of some sorts as the trail curves around a bluff near Echo Canyon's drop.  We left the trail and found a decent overlook.  It is quite deep.

Lower Echo Canyon

From there, the trail descends into the upper reaches of Echo Canyon and follows the wash.  The colors of the canyon wall are absolutely fantastic. 

The hike was taking a little longer than anticipated. I looked briefly before going and thought it might be about four miles and we were close to four miles already and not even at the apex of the loop.  Light was beginning to fade, so we picked up the pace a bit. 

Finally, the trail leaves the canyon and heads up toward Little Park Road. But before we got there, we discovered a cave!  I had my head lamp, so of course we had to explore it.  Imagine our surprise when we found out that it was not a cave, but in fact a tunnel.  It was probably fifty feet long at the most and I could stand without having to crouch much to get all the way through.  It certainly was a pleasant surprise

The Tunnel!

From there, the trail ascends to Little Park Road which we followed for less than a half of a mile to where it intercepts the Tabeguache Trail.  We took the Tabeguache Trail all the way back down to the parking lot.  It is a lot more straight than the Andy's Loop trail which curves and switches back quite a bit. 

As we reached my vehicle, the sun had just ceased touching the cliffs on the east side of the valley, so it was still fairly bright out.  All in all, it was a great January hike that worked out to be just over seven miles. 

Detail Map (Click For Much Larger Image)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2011 - June 25th - Gray Copper Falls, Uncompahgre National Forest

Ashley, a friend of mine, was moving away from the Western Slope of Colorado.  I had asked her if there was any place she wanted to visit before she left and she said Ouray.  Frankly, Ouray was at the top of my list of places to see as well, so I was pretty excited to go explore.

We had a day to work with, so I looked for a reasonable afternoon hike.  On a map, I found mention of a waterfall in the San Juan Mountains, south of Ouray called Gray Copper.  Surprisingly, it was difficult to find any images of this waterfall online... which made reaching it more enticing.

It looked as if there was an actual forest service trail to the falls that was just over two miles long but had a little over one thousand feet of elevation gain.  With the base at 9,700ft, I knew oxygen was going to be at a premium, but it wasn't a deterrent. 

We hit the road out of Grand Junction on a sunny Tuesday morning with her small dog Ella in tow.  Once in Ouray, we wandered around and had a bit of delicious lunch.  The weather was absolutely spectacular.

(phone image)

The Gray Copper trail head is south of Ouray, just off of US 550 in Ironton Park.  It isn't well marked, but I had a pretty good idea where we were going.  The road turns from gravel to rock and then fords the creek, which meant the end of the line for her Honda. 

So, we packed up and she put her dog in a special-made backpack.  The first hurdle on the trail was the creek.  Swollen with meltwater, the creek was roaring down the gulch and didn't feel to be much more than freezing.

In my old tennis shoes, I had no qualms about walking through (jumping was out of the question).  The water was almost painfully cold, so it made sense that a few yelps and hollers helped to dissipate the shock.  Ashley followed me after some coaxing and when the numbness faded, it was almost refreshing.  Almost.

Gray Copper Gulch
The trail is doubletrack for a while, an old mining road I presume.  Eventually, we came across the first sign that we were actually on the correct trail...

Are you sure it doesn't say "Gary Cooper"?

The trail quickly climbs and my lungs felt like they were doing jump ropes, right away.  However, my fatigue was easily overcome by the incredible surroundings.  Though late spring, the aspen were just really filling in and the weather could not have been better.

Looking across Ironton Park to Hayden Mountain.

Looking up the gulch to Red Mountain No. 1.

Not too long after the Gray Copper sign, we found a register box that only had one other entry for 2011.  We were practically blazing a new trail!  Well, okay... but we sure felt special.

Though the trail was steep at times, I couldn't help but be absolutely captivated by the surroundings.  Not only was scenery unbelievable, but the smell of the warm pine trees and the roar of distant cascades which seemed to run down every crevice on nearby mountainsides really filled out the experience.

The trail paralleled the gulch but was high above it at times.  Ashley let her dog out occasionally and I kept my eyes and ears peeled for predators.

Eventually, we came to a place where we had to ford the creek once again.  It wasn't an easy crossing either as the approach was a steep, dirt slope.  The creek also was forced into a tight space, so it was deep and swift.

I crossed first in order to gauge the the depth.  It came half-way up my thigh and was about as cold as I could possibly imagine, but I was able to anchor myself enough to compensate for the force of the water and also avoid getting any of my gear wet. 

After helping Ashley across, we found our way into an open park with a view of most of the end of the gulch.  There was a large cascade pouring down the mountain, but I didn't believe it to be the actual falls... which at that point, I could definitely hear.

The trail leaves the park at that point and begins to switch back in heavy timber up the southwest slope of the gulch.  We could definitely hear the roar of the falls... and it sounded amazing.  On a couple of occasions, we even had to climb through hidden piles of snow that blocked the trail.  Eventually, the trail switches back higher but the view yields the falls... and they are absolutely stunning.

Gray Copper Falls

I would estimate the actual plunge to be about 150ft.  And of course, I began clicking away...

Of course, I had to get closer.  We couldn't really find a trail that led directly to the falls, so we had to make one.  I dropped off of the trail into the underbrush and walked diagonally down the slope toward the falls.  After navigating some deep growth, I came across a slide or scree area which I had to kick foot holds into. 

Ashley chose a path above mine and worked her way over to a rock outcrop that afforded a better, close view of the falls.  From there, the mist would rise and cool us, which was nice even though it wasn't necessarily hot out. 

I decided I wanted to get even closer, so I descended the outcrop onto another scree slope.  This one had a lot more moisture in it, so while it was easier to plant my feet, it also gave way much easier.  I did have a clear shot to the falls, however.  (you can see the rock outcrop and the scree behind it on the largest portrait photo above)

It was almost impossible to avoid the moisture, so I decided to stash my camera gear away from the falls and continue on.  I reached a rock right at the base of the falls (also seen in above images) and stood atop it for as long as I could.  Though I wasn't in the direct fall, the spray and and mist hitting me was so cold that I could not breathe.  It was like that moment in the shower when someone flushes the toilet.  I was literally gasping.  I paused only long enough for Ashley to take a photo (which hasn't been released just yet...) and then returned.

We were enjoying the day but realized that we wanted to accomplish other things that day, so it was time to turn around.  I paused to capture the views back down-gulch.

Hayden Mountain On The Far Side Of The Valley

Brown Mountain On The East Side Of The Gulch

Down The Gulch From The Rock Outcrop Near The Falls

We hit the trail with a quick pace, which oddly enough, was a lot easier than the way up. 

This Is How Ella Enjoyed Most Of The Hike

The First Big Cascade We Saw At The End Of The Gulch

Wildflowers Getting Ready To Emerge

As you can imagine, the fords were just as cold on the way back.  It didn't seem to take too long to get back down to the bottom of the trail either.  I will say that I was very impressed by how well Ella (the dog) handled the hike.  When she was out of the backpack, she stayed with us and when she was in it, she was quite content. 

We got back to her car in the late afternoon and returned to Ouray where we had a couple more adventures which will be chronicled in a later post. 


Detail Map (click for larger view)


Saturday, January 21, 2012

2011 Storm Chase 10 - June 16th - Another Lightning Bust In The Desert

I think the title of the post says it all.  I was trying real hard, I swear!  There was a bit of lightning early but as soon as I made it out, it stopped.  Typical.  This post is purely for record keeping purposes. 

Mileage: 16
2011YTD Mileage: 1421
States: Colorado
SPC Risk: Categorical
Max Hail: None
Tornadoes: None
Other Phenomena:  Bustocumulus
Storm Reports for June 16th

Detail Map: