Friday, April 24, 2009

Utah Fix

So, my blog has started to be a perfect example of what Team Dicky refers to in this post. Some pretty funny examples of lame blog posts. Like the "Sorry it's been so long since I've posted" post. That sounds like me! Except for the part about the iMac.

OK, enought lament for how lame my blog has become. On to a bit of actual content. Utah!

My sweetie and I took off Saturday, made it into the Mineral Bottom/Mineral Canyon junction by evening. The next morning we rode out toward Candlestick camp.

So nice to be back in the tall, vertical country. Soothing. Puny, small humans among big land.

We did some riding and some hiking. Lots of long views out over the maze of canyons and mesas with the Henry Mountains in the background.

Grandview Point on Monday.

Green River Overlook just after sunrise Tuesday.

Me happily riding the Sovereign Trail later on Tuesday.

Looking up from a canyon bottom on a hike Wednesday morning before driving back to Salida.

Nice trip. Perfect weather. Wish we'd had longer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On and Beyond

I rode into the Rourke Ranch Site, expecting to find a closed and locked gate, even though the topo showed a road continuing upriver. There was a gate, but it was open wide. So I rode on through. I expected to find in short order a fence, probably announcing that the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site did not welcome my exploration.

But this did not happen. After winding along in the canyon bottom, the road I was riding curved right and headed up into a little side canyon:

Hmm, purty. Might as well keep going--you never know until you know.

I climbed a windey little ranch road until I reached the top, where the road sloped back down toward the river again:

My heart began to pound, just slightly. Oh my goodness. Look at this. And no locked gates, no private property signs. Goody goody goody! So obviously I continued.

It just got prettier and prettier. And no locked gates, no trespassing or private property signs, no evidence that I was on the maneuver site.

Oh dear, the time. It started getting close to 3 PM. I left the tPOD at around 8:30. Sure, I had stopped to take many pictures and check out many features. But still, I was out there. And the cold wind was still blowing good and hard. And I had been traveling mostly with that damned wind all day. I know the pictures make it look like it was a nice day, but I doubt it ever got much warmer than low 40s, and the warmest part of the day was over. I had a good light with me, and lots of clothes and food. But it just did not seem to be a great idea to get farther on out there. So I reluctantly turned around.

This is how far I got according to my gps (the little yellow diamond is the ranch site, I continued south and west from there):

Check out that little place just across the river from where I stopped; Parmeña Gap. That could be the way to get across the river, then up into the Chacuaco Canyon, a major side canyon that goes and goes south. And the OV Mesa, which is a beautiful red thing. Topo maps show a dotted jeep road skirting all the way around, just above the sheer red rock. And you can see that road with Google Earth. 

But the day was cooked. It was time to get going if I was going to get back to the tPOD by dark.

On the way back, just as I approached the Rourke Ranch, there in the middle of the road appeared a very large, brown bull. His neck was twice the thickness of his head. When I saw him he was probably a little over 100 feet from me. His head was low. He was making a very odd low kind of moaning moo. Total and complete eye contact. I stopped. We stared at each other for several tense beats.

Perhaps this guy was just feeling a little lonely, and wondered if he and I might make some beautiful music together. But I'm thinking his motives were a bit darker. I think he wanted to stomp on me like I might stomp on a grape. Squish.

Finally I moved about two steps to my right. This prompted him to begin walking toward me.

There was a long shed, what would around here be known as a "loafing shed", open on one side. An old dilapidated corral was on the side of it not visible in the picture. The bull was in the road to the right of the shed (as pictured). I needed to get past him, but did not want to get squished. So I did the bravest thing I could think of: I picked up my bike and ran away, stepping through a gap in the corral fence, jumping on my bike and riding quickly through the corral where I was hidden from his view, then I rode around the far end and headed for the road as fast as I could. I looked back and saw that he had followed me around the other end of the shed. When I appeared at the other end, he looked back at me. Thank goodness for adrenaline. I used it to come up with some power and I headed for safety as quickly as I could pedal to it.

Yes, I lived. I did not get stomped. My large brain triumphed. Sweet.

I emerged from the Withers Canyon Trailhead at about 5 PM. I was greeted by wind. Oh my God cold friggin' wind. I put more clothing on and prepared myself for a slog upwind and uphill to where I had left the tPOD.

To summarize the next two hours: it sucked. I was tired, the cold wind roared in my ears, and I had nothing to do but deal.

It was a big day, big adventure, great exploring. My first 9+ hour day of the season, first long day on the Voodoo. Gotta go back and figure out the rest of that thing...

Up the Canyon

The Picketwire Canyon has three levels of history. Some of the most distinct dinosaur tracks in Colorado (paleohistory), the history of indigenous Americans in the form of pictographs, and 19th Century western history in the form of homestead ruins, stagecoach stations, telegraph wires, a cemetery, and an historic ranch site. Wouldn't it be a shame to let the Army bomb it to rubble?

The current Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site is north of the Picketwire Canyon Rec Area, and stays north of the river, stretching west for some 20-30 miles. It's currently 235,000 acres. One map of the proposed expansion would make the site 415,000 acres.

The Commanche National Grasslands publish this map showing their managed rec area and the maneuver site to the north:

As I explored for epic loops, I assumed that anywhere north of the river, I might encounter fences marked no trespassing by order of the government. So I was watching for places where I could get across the river and head south. Down there it looks like this:

So as I headed on upstream to check out some of the other cool things, I kept my eyes peeled for a way to ford the river and go south into some of the side canyons up there.

Bury me not on the lone Prairee...

Plant me in this nifty canyon instead.

The dinosaur tracks are pretty cool. You can see where individual animals walked across some fudgy gumbo clay which then got dried and covered, and turned into stone:

Apatosaurus Tracks

Allosaurus Track

The rock formation in which these tracks are laid just crumbles away at the downstream end:

The Army could help that process along with just a couple bunker busters. Kewl.

As I head upriver, I find no promising places to ford the river and head south into the maze of canyons. I check out a few faint doubletracks, but there isn't anything I'd follow into the unknown.

So I keep going on the road toward the historic Rourke Ranche site.

Sweeping view of the upper canyon, the ranch site visible in the distance.

Rourke Ranch Site.

From here, by the Commanche National Grassland map (above) it looks like I'm at the end of the line.

Exploration Begins

I had elected to set up at the Vogel Canyon picnic area. It's OK to stay overnight there, and it has a dry toilet. Vogel is a small side canyon of the Picketwire Canyon. I've visited it before, so I knew that there were some short trail loops and ancient pictographs. This trip, I was hoping to find a way to get directly down into the Picketwire Canyon so that I could ride up into the part of the canyon that has other attractions such as dinosaur tracks, stage line stations, and a historic ranchsite. The normal way to access that part of the canyon, upstream about 10 miles, is through the Withers Canyon Trailhead. See the map below:

The red arrows show the way I was hoping to find. The green shows the normal way.

Vogel Canyon was pretty in the morning light. I dropped in there and checked out the pictographs.

Bunny rabbit?

Clearly rattlesnake. Note the dumbass graffiti in chalk below.

After I stopped to check out the cool evidence of early residents, I headed down canyon to see if there was a way through. I quickly encountered a barbed wire fence. I decided that I wasn't going to start crawling over fences this early in the day. I decided to ride the normal way down to the Withers Canyon Trailhead. This involved taking to a wide open prairie dirt road. The cold crosswind worked me over for 7 or 8 miles, then became a tailwind as I headed south on Otero County Road 25.

I reached the trailhead a little over 2 hours after I left the tPOD. I dropped down into Withers Canyon then rode into the Picketwire Canyon:

The old stage road in the Picketwire Canyon. Note the telegraph pole to the right of the roadbed.

Breaking the Wind

I left Saturday after working with the trail crew, mostly busting up rocks that the machine couldn't pry out of the ground.

It was my fourth day in a row of doing trail work. My back was tired, and I was ready to get my legs a little tired for some balance.

There was supposed to be a spring blizzard moving into Colorado Saturday. But as is often the case, the blizzard that the NWS predicted turned out to be wind. I drove east from Salida, hit some intermittent snow squalls as I emerged from the canyon of the Arkansas into Canon City. Then as I headed out onto the prairie toward Pueblo the snow cleared off and I drove into the wind. It was roaring out of the north, rocking my truck and camper as I drove east on highway 50.

Out east between Pueblo and La Junta I saw a pair of Kestrels, one sitting on barbed wire the other on a rigid weed stem. They were leaning their bullet-shaped bodies straight into the wind--horizontal. They looked like something out of a cartoon.

At La Junta I turned south onto Colorado Highway 109. In about 10 miles of bleak short grass prairie I came into sight of "The Cedars", the canons of the Purgatoire.

I parked the tPOD at the picnic area at Vogel Canyon. I popped it up, made some dinner, then read a book for a short while before I got sleepy. During the night, the cold and the rocking wind woke me up. I did not sleep well, and woke up thinking I had just picked a bad weekend for this adventure. Maybe I should just call it, eat some breakfast and head back to Salida. The relentless wind made that seem smart.

But then I came to my senses and decided to Harden the Fahk Up and get on with it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Adventure Weekend

There's a place east and south of Pueblo, CO that's dear to my heart. My dad grew up in Rocky Ford, CO, and his boy scout troop used to go camping "out south in The Cedars". This area is the Purgatoire River Canyon. The Purgatoire flows out of the Sangre de Cristo Range, through Trinidad near the New Mexico border, then diagonals to the southeast to join the Arkansas in Las Animas, CO. As my dad's uncle told me once "The old cowboys around here couldn't say Purgatoire so they called it the Picketwire."

The river is locally known as the Picketwire, and there's a Commanche National Grassland rec area with a really cool set of dinosaur tracks in there. There is also a vast network of red rock canyons, very similar to what you see in Utah's Canyonlands NP, between Trinidad and CO Highway 109. And almost nobody but residents of Otero and Las Animas counties know about it.

The Army, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs specifically, has had a maneuver site where they practice war-making north of the river (the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, aka PCMS). The Army has plans to radically expand the site to suck in some absolutely beautiful and remote canyon country. The plan would also displace many, many multi-generation ranch families, acquiring their ranches by eminent domain. See this site:

I don't have enough time this morning to fully tell my story, but I made a scouting trip down there to possibly find a huge loop that would allow for many memories to be made and pictures to be taken. And maybe raise some awareness about what we may quietly lose. 

More will be coming, but here's a teaser:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Foolin' - diesel-powered trail building!

My group, Salida Mountain Trails has been working with the City of Salida and the BLM to build a trail network for several years. The City has been very cooperative over the years. But this year they've been more than helpful--they've been buying stuff that we can use and hiring crews to help us build trail.

Here's Andrew running a brand-new Bobcat 418 mini-excavator in a driving snowstorm:

And here's a Southwest Conservation Corps crew starting a month-and-half stint of full time work on behalf of the City of Salida:

It's an exciting time here in Salida. We are going to make the most possible out of the contribution that the City is making. And it starts today, April 1. No foolin'.