Friday, August 25, 2017

2017 Travels, August 21 Great American Eclipse at MacKay, Idaho.

How do we choose a place to view a once in a lifetime experience as a total eclipse moves across the entire U.S.? We wanted a place away from busy population centers were we could also watch the shadow move across the landscape. With some research Jim selected MacKay, Idaho, a place that was in the middle of the path of totality. It's on the Big Lost River, a broad valley with the Lost River Range to the east and the White Knob Mountains to the west.

Our Eclipse boon dock at MacKay Reservoir.
We hoped to find a campsite at Mt. Borah, a Forest Service campground north of MacKay and arrive on Wednesday 16, five days before the eclipse. The campground was full but there was a second option that turned out to be even better.

The upper end of our Eclipse boon dock. Our rig is on the right.
We drove back toward MacKay and took a fisherman's access road to MacKay Reservoir where we found a primitive boon dock site with lake access and one vault toilet. Only a few people were camped there and we found a prime spot on the lake with our own pebble beach. The advantage this had over Mt. Borah campground was that it was in the middle of the valley and we could see the mountains all around. It was also free. Twenty rigs and tents ended up camping here for the eclipse but it wasn't over crowded.
The lower end of our Eclipse boon dock.
Our lake front site gave us the great opportunity to go kayaking every day so we easily filled our time as we waited for August 21. The lake isn't always this high but a late snow melt filled it. The upper end of the lake reached into the willows creating channels to kayak through.

Kayaking into the willows at the upper end of MacKay Reservoir with the Lost River Range on the horizon.

We see a flock of 30+ Barrow's Goldeneye.
Bird watching at the reservoir. The lake has a large population of Osprey that we often saw diving and catching fish. We also saw a flock of 30 or more Barrow's Goldeneye and a tiny Semipalmated Sandpiper at our little beach. Common Nighthawks filled the evening air with their buzzy calls and dives.
 A tiny Semipalmated Sandpiper forges along our cobble beach.

A lot of people like fishing in these willow channels and were catching Rainbow and Brown Trout, and Kokenee Salmon.

Sometimes the lake would glass off to a smooth surface.
The morning of August 21 a group of us carried our chairs to the top of the hill above our campground for a 360 degree view of the mountains so we could also see the moon shadow.

Our group watches as the eclipse begins.

We watch as the partial eclipse moves toward totality.

Zuko, one of the campers dogs, has his eclipse glasses.
The eclipse began about 10:40 and would take about 50 minutes to reach totality. During that time we put on our certified eclipse glasses and looked at the sun from time to time. The moon began to take bigger and bigger bites until the sun began to look like a paper crescent moon in a high school play.The light didn't dim very much even when there was only a sliver of sun left. When the last flare of light formed the diamond ring the sun suddenly disappeared. At the moment of totality everything changed.
Looking at that black hole in the sky. A photo taken with my little Fuji.
At totality the moon shadow moved over us and the mountains. The corona blazed around a black hole hung in the middle of the sky. The temperature dropped. We could take off our glasses and look directly into the sky. It is the most incredible thing. Looking at photos can never convey the experience of looking across the depths of space. We were in the totality for two and a half minutes.

A blaze of white light around a black hole in the sky. Jim's eclipse photos with the Cannon.
A few stars began to shine. We saw Mercury to the lower left of the eclipse and Mars to the right.

Jim's eclipse photo at totality. We think we could see Bailey's Beads.
We had enough time to look at the scene around us. It was as dark as an overcast new moon night but the horizon all around us had an eerie faint predawn glow.

Looking at the Lost River Range during the totality.
Suddenly the flair of the eclipse diamond ring appeared as the sun moved past the moon. The shadow flashed on past us and over the Lost River Range. The world suddenly brightened and we put our glasses on again to look at the partial eclipse as it began to wain. What an experience this was and we had met some great people to share it with. It was well worth the planning and time to be here.

Until next time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2017 Travels: Camping and hiking near Pagosa Springs and the Rio Grande Reservoir.

In the following posts we’ll tell you about some great hikes, great road bicycling and inexpensive primitive camping in Southwest Colorado.

Our summer travels begin near Pagosa Springs. There are two good primitive National Forest campgrounds in the area that suit our style of camping. They’re great places to camp if you want to visit Pagosa Springs but not be in the middle of this congested and tightly packed community at its summer peak. You can visit the town, catch the excitement and go back to a quiet forest camp.

East Fork San Juan River, San Juan National Forest. We stayed two nights at the East Fork Campground. This is a primitive Forest Service campground north of Pagosa Springs in a dense stand of fir and aspen about a mile off Highway 60 on a good gravel road. There are picnic tables, fire pits, vault toilets and limited cellular data coverage. It’s $20/night, $10 with Senior Pass.

East Fork San Juan River.
From this campground we could hike two trails, Quartz Ridge and Coal Creek, that begin at a trailhead about three miles upriver from the campground at the confluence of the East Fork and Sand Creek. The gravel road continued to be good and we could easily drive to the trailhead from the campground.
Jim on the Quartz Ridge Trail.
Quartz Ridge Trail, South San Juan Wilderness. The trail climbs steeply but once on the ridge became gradual.  Lots of dead fall from the previous winter slowed our progress. The trail meandered across sunny, sloping meadows and through gorgeous green aspen stands before dropping back down to Sand Creek. We stopped for lunch at the 3 mile point then decided to turn back.

Jim hiking through a sunny meadow on the Quartz Ridge Trail.

A view from the Quartz Ridge Trail.

Aspen and California Corn Lily.

Sand Creek from the Quartz Ridge Trail.

Jackie hiking through the Aspens on the Quartz Ridge Trail.

Aspen and Bracken Fern along the Quartz Ridge Trail. 

Jim and a little Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. The little guy didn't twitch a tail the
entire time we stood there. He thought he was hiding.

A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel plays hide & seek with Jim.
By one o’clock clouds unfurled over the mountains and the grumblings of a thunderstorm began. Rain misted the peaks but we only got a few drops before we got back to the van.

The overcast gloomed and cooled the afternoon much to the approval of the Hermit Thrush. As we walked down the mountain the forest chimed with their silver fluting tremolo. The six mile hike took us about 4.5 hours but we were leisurely and stopped often for pictures.
East Fork San Juan River, opportunities for fly fishing for native Browns.
On our drive to the trailhead we saw lots of boon dock sites along the East Fork and decided to move our camp closer to the trailhead to hike the Coal Creek Trail the next day. We found a great boon dock site along the river just above the confluence with Sand Creek and stayed two nights. The East Fork and Sand Creek offer great fly fishing for native Brown Trout.
Coal Creek Trail.
The Coal Creek Trail was very steep with an altitude gain of 1500 ft. in three miles. We hiked three miles up the ridge and turned around when we saw afternoon storms percolating on the peaks.

Looking at the Continental Divide from Coal Creek Trail.

Serene Aspen stands on the Coal Creek Trail.

Looking up the East Fork to Elwood Pass, a popular destination for 4-wheel drive vehicles. 
The road is heavily used by 4-wheel drive vehicles and OHV’s to access the high country and drive to Elwood Pass on the Continental Divide. A few miles above the confluence of the East Fork and Sand Creek the road is labeled as 4-wheele drive.

The road to West Fork Campground.

West Fork San Juan River near the West Fork Campground.
West Fork Campground, San Juan National Forest. We moved to West Fork Campground only a few miles away. It’s another primitive Forest Service campground but has a water tap. It’s about 3 miles of good gravel road to get to the campground. The cost is $20/night, $10 with Senior Pass. The campground is a peaceful among tall pines and aspen. There's a good hike to a hot spring on the Rainbow Trail but we didn't take time to do it. We only stayed overnight so we could fill our water tank and head over Wolf Creek Pass for Creede in the upper Rio Grande River basin.

Our camp at Lost Trail Creek. One of our favorites.
Lost Trail Creek Campground, Rio Grande National Forest.  We camped two nights at the Lost Trail Creek Campground, a primitive Forest Service campground that has picnic tables, fire pits, vault toilet, outstanding scenery and no fee. It’s near the Rio Grande River a couple miles above the Rio Grande Reservoir at over 9,000 feet in elevation.

A view from our camp at Lost Trail Creek.

Lost Trail Creek.

Hiking on Lost Trail Creek trail. The first two miles were an OHV trail.
The Rio Grande Reservoir in the distance.
Thirty years ago when we were somewhat younger we staged an 8-day backpack trip beginning at the Lost Trail Creek trailhead. We hiked up to the Continental Divide Trail and followed it around the headwaters of the Rio Grande. We wanted to do a day hike on this same trail again and revisit this beautiful country. The big surprise was that the first two miles of Lost Trail Creek trail had been converted to an OHV trail. Several groups of off-roaders passed us as we hiked.

Volcanic formations along the Lost Trail Creek.

Lookin up West Fork Lost Trail Creek. No OHV's allowed.

West Fork Lost Trail Creek.

Beaver ponds on the West Fork Lost Trail Creek.
In two miles we intersected the trail for West Fork Lost Trail Creek. This trail is designated for hiking, mountain bikes and trail bikes only. We saw no one else and had a wonderful hike up the canyon. Clouds accumulate during the day leading to afternoon showers so always take rain gear. We got a light shower and small hail at noon but it only lasted about 15 minutes. You never can tell.

Wildflowers along West Fork Lost Trail Creek.

Wildflower season in the Rockies.

Perfect tiny mushrooms growing on a stump.

Ute Creek Trailhead, Rio Grande National Forest. We moved our camp a mile down river to the Ute Creek Trailhead. There isn't a campground but at-large camping is allowed. There's a vault toilet, no camping fee and great fishing access. We found a nice spot with a view of the Rio Grande River and the mountains all around. Lincoln's Sparrows are singing in the willows along the river. We only see them at home in the winter. This is the first time we've heard their beautiful summer song. We really liked this boon dock site.

Our boon dock camp at the Ute Creek Trailhead next to the Rio Grande.
We hiked 10.5 miles on the Ute Creek Trail in the Wiminuche Wilderness. This was our exit trail on the 8-day backpack we began at Lost Trail Creek 30 years ago. It was mid-September then and it started to snow as we hiked down the mountain.

We have to wade the Rio Grande to get to the Ute Creek Trailhead.
To get to the trail we have to wade the Rio Grande River. This is the last wild stretch of the Rio before it flows into the reservoir. It's only knee deep but the water's fast and trekking poles help. We wore our kayak shoes to cross the river and hide them after putting our boots on.
Ute Creek Trailhead in the Weminuche Wilderness, Rio Grand National Forest.

The trail passes through fir and aspens.

Ute Creek.

Jim on the Ute Creek Trail.
The trail contours for several miles around the upper end of the reservoir then ascends gradually up the canyon. It’s an easy and beautiful hike through aspen and spruce. In about 3.5 miles we descends to Ute Creek. The canyon broadens and beaver dams and lodges fill the valley floor.

A handsome bull Moose at the beaver ponds.
We were thrilled to see two Moose at the beaver ponds. Moose were introduced into the area in the early 1990's.

"Who goes there?" We get the attention of a young Moose.

The young Moose turns shy and disappears into the willow.
This is a wonderful hike and not too strenuous. At about 4.5 miles the trail begins to climb to a Granite Lake. We turned around at the 5-mile point as thunder rumbled and rain began to fall on the peaks.

The Rio Grand River at 30-Mile Campground below the Rio Grand Reservoir dam.
30-mile Campground at Rio Grande Reservoir in the Rio Grande National Forest. We spent three nights here. The campground is just below the Rio Grande Reservoir dam. It has water at taps and the cleanest, homiest vault toilets we’ve ever seen. The cost is $18/night, $9 with Senior Pass. The Rio Grande flows past the campground and has fishing access. I forgot to take a photo of our camp but there are many nice campsite in trees or in clearings.

Two trails, the Weminuche Pass Trail and the Squaw Creek Trail, begin from here. We hiked both these trails in the 1980’s on another backpacking trip on the CDT. Weninuche Pass was our entry and Squaw Creek was our exit.
The Weminuche Wilderness boundary is about a half mile from the campground on the Weminuche Pass trail.
Weminuche Pass Trail. On the first day at 30-Mile Campground we hiked to Weminuche Pass, about a 10.5 mile round trip.

A foot bridge crosses Weminuche Creek on the Weminuche Pass trail.

Looking up Weminuche Creek from the bridge.
The trail contours along the reservoir for about two miles to a picturesque foot bridge crossing Weminuche Creek where it tumbles down the gorge. After the bridge the trail climbs steeply to get above the gorge to a broad valley. 
Looking up the valley to Weminuche Pass. 
The hiking is easy on the gradual ascent to the pass. It meanders through spruce and aspen stands above the slopping valley floor so there is plenty of shade interspersed with grassy slopes. It’s about six miles to the pass which is a great day hike destination but we turned around about a half mile short of our goal due to a late start.
Jackie on the Squaw Creek Trail.
Squaw Creek Trail. On our 2nd day we hiked up Squaw Creek. The trail begins with a climb to the top of a gorge. After crossing the creek on a foot bridge it climbs above the creek and follows high on the slope through spruce and aspen. In about two miles the canyon opens into a high valley where the trail becomes more gradual. Fly fishermen hike up to this valley hoping for native brown and brook trout.
A falls on Squaw Creek.

Looking up Squaw Creek to the Continental Divide.
The trail through the valley is open and sun exposure at an elevation of over 9,000 ft. can be dehydrating and exhausting. Be sure to have sun screen and plenty of extra water or bring a water filter or treatment to get water from the creek or numerous springs along the trail.

It’s seven miles from the campground to the foot bridge at the upper end of the valley where the trail ascends to Squaw Lake and the CDT. It’s a nice day hike destination for hikers with an early start. If you’re not used to the altitude it can be a bridge too far.

The upper portion of Squaw Creek is in open country with little shade. The sun can be very intense without cloud cover.
We turned around at 5.5 miles when we got to a point that we could see the peaks along the Continental Divide. The country brought back memories of our backpack trip when we hiked those same peaks in deep snow in early June.

We moved our camp to Marshall Campground near Creede, spent some time in town, visited the Underground Mining Museum and hiked to Inspiration Point. We also visited South and North Clear Creek Falls and rode our bikes to Spring Creek Pass. More about those places in our next blog.

Until then,