4. Colorado here I come! (& bringing my face masks)…June & July 2020

Day 22 6.29
What a gorgeous sunrise!

I made my coffee & ate something for breakfast (so not a breakfast eater).  I was right up the road from the Molas trailhead so it only took a few minutes to get there, park & load up my pack.  I’ve done this trail at least three times before & love it!  It’s unique that the trail climbs down first…like 1,700’ down.  It’s also part of the Colorado trail…one long distance trail I’d like to tackle someday…but not enough to actually start planning it yet (I don’t want to do long distancing hiking alone; so I have to find a partner to hike it with.)  It was early in the morning & the trail starts in the open but soon goes into the forest.  

I’m not usually thinking too much about bears when I’m on trails, but this morning they were heavy on my mind.  It was early & I didn’t see anyone else on the trail.  The parking lot had about 8 cars in it, but there’s a lot of Colorado trail folks who jump on here or backpack from one trail to the next.  So, I was thinking about bears in the thick forest where you can’t always see down & around the trail.  A young woman I met in the Tetons last year that hikes alone a lot & is also a guide, told me the best way to not startle a bear is to sing.  I didn’t want to make it angry either though…I have a terrible voice.  I do love to sing…to my music, but no one else (including a bear) really needs to be put through that pain.  

But, back to bears.  I began to sing & sing & sing.  I realized, without music playing along I couldn’t remember words to a lot of songs.  I ended up, without much thought about it, belting out “There was a Teddy Bear named Freddy bear” & “Winnie the Pooh”…because I do know the words to those songs because of Claire & Emma.  Then I got to cracking myself up at the fact that I’m singing to keep any bears away, but I’m singing songs about bears.  Anyway, I never saw a bear.  And thankfully, I was never singing when I passed the two backpackers on the trail.

Yay!  I spotted one of my favorite flowers for the first time this year…Prairie Smoke!

Just a breathtaking view from the top!

The views get closer to the river as you hike down, down, down.

Everytime I cross this bridge (both ways) I say a big thank you to whomever budgeted for it, built it & made it happen.

I could never wade or swim the powerful Animas River…it’s big & wild & scary & beautiful!

Once at the bottom, you can see the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad tracks.  I have photos with the actual train in them from past hikes, but I’m not sure if the train is even running this year.  I never heard or saw it while I was hiking this time.

Then it was time to hike back up, up, up.  I’d done 7.6 miles & was a happy hiker back at my car.  I changed into Chacos & headed over the pass & down near Durango.  I was going to try & buy a campsite for tonight in a NF campground Jill & I had stayed in a few years ago.  

So sad to see there’d been a fire here since Jill & I were last here 5 years ago.  It happened the following year in April.

I chose & paid for my site at Little Hermosa campground, but left soon after.  I was happy to see they had saved the lovely little campground…it hadn’t changed at all.  But I wouldn’t be doing any hiking here on the trails that leave from the campground as before.  Not only is it pretty ugly, but it’s dangerous to hike around all those dead trees.  

When we were here last time, we found a really good place to eat called James Ranch.  They had remodeled since we were there.  It’s a lovely little place.  Yummy burger in a picnic like setting outside.

After I ate, I went to the liquor store to buy a certain kind of Bourbon they carried.  You weren’t allowed to go in the store, just tell them what you want & pay for it at the front door.  So, I wasn’t able to go shopping for beer either.

But the super exciting thing I was doing was going to take a shower!  I’d set a new record for not showering (I have been taking bottle baths however, I’m not totally gross…really, I’m not) because all the rec centers where I usually buy showers, have been closed.  Today was opening day for the rec center in Durango.  I got my own ‘cabana’, which was my own little room with a shower, sink & potty.  And, they gave me the senior discount (oh boy, I’d pay full price not to be reminded I’m getting old).  Wow…that felt great!

I went back to the campground to my sweet site…it’s actually the same one Jill & I had before.  I washed out a few clothing items & fixed myself a Bourbon & Coke & sipped on it for the rest of the night as I began the slow process of sorting photos for my website.

PS:  I am excited to use the 1/2 price discount I get this year at National Forest Campgrounds….this one was $9!  Woo Hoo!

Day 23 6.30
So, this morning in camp as I was making my coffee, the girls called.  Always love to start my day talking to them.  Claire was in a ‘read-to-me’ mood, so I pulled out all the books we’d chosen for me to bring & read for about 45 minutes to her.  Then, as we were still FaceTiming, my neighbor from across the road, came over & warned that there was a bear in their camp…a small one trying to get their food.  I walked back with her so the girls got to see the small bear.  My neighbor & I shooed it away & it ran off into the woods.  They packed their stuff away for the day & then left.

Claire was excited to see the bear.  Back in my camp I read another story then told her I needed to clean up my coffee stuff in case the bear came back.  And just then it did.  Not directly into my site, but close enough the girls to see it on the phone.  I didn’t get any photos, because I was FaceTiming with them.  But it made the morning exciting.  After I hung up from talking to them & cleaned up my coffee stuff, I had another visitor come through camp.  Uh-oh I thought, does the little kitty know there’s a bear around here? And little bears climb trees really well & fast too!  I think the kitty belonged to one of the campers in the area, because it had a little collar on, so I didn’t worry about it…too much.

The one bad thing…really icky thing about my campsite is I got bit…by a whole lot of little gnats or no-seeums or whatever you call them yesterday evening.  When I first got back to camp…all sweet smelling & clean, it wasn’t long before my head began to itch.  And itch & itch!  I kept thinking "I know I rinsed my hair good" (I’d been taking only bottle baths using a Nalgene bottle of water each time to wash my hair & clean my body & I never itched after that & I was in that shower a fairly long time!)

It didnt dawn on my right away what was happening.  But this is the third time Ive had my head attacked by these vicious little critters so I knew what I was in for.  Oh YUCK!  By this morning, I had bites all over my head, some on my neck & a big one (think that was from something else) on my foot.  What an itchy mess.  I wasn’t going to stay here another night anyway, but having the bear & the bugs was sealing the deal to leave.

I drove into Durango, which is about 10 miles.  I drove up to Junction Creek campground, another NFS camp spot to see if they had a spot for tonight.  The host was great & said they had one for tonight only.  I paid my 1/2 price & set out my chair.  Then, a little too late, I asked him if they had the tiny little invisible gnats.  He said yes they did…his wife was bit up.  Oh great!

I needed to do a whole load of laundry so I took off to find a laundry mat, go to the grocery store & a gear store to buy fuel.  I’d hoped to charge up all my devices in the laundromat, but there was only one outlet available & a super creepy guy was using it.  He was loud & vulgarly bitching about the whole mask thing.  I wanted to tie one around his whole head & stuff him in the dryer.  But, instead I just spent the time outside in the back of Camper, cleaning or organizing & not getting anything charged.  And on top of being an overpriced washing machine, when I took my clothes out, they weren’t any cleaner than when I put them in.  They did smell a little bit like fresh detergent, but they weren’t clean.  Bummer.

I was out of control at the gear store, when I spotted the two Buffs that have been on my Amazon wish list for awhile, but out of stock.  I walked around the store with them, (telling myself I don’t need them), while I picked up fuel & looked for another pair of camp boots.  But, in the end, I bought both….stop! stop! stop!

By that time, Ska Brewery was open & I think I was the first or second one there.  I got a great spot outside, ordered a pizza & hard seltzer & enjoyed my meal & the space I was in.

After that big no hike day, I drove back to camp, hung up my clothes & covered my head with one of my new Buffs!

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I really do look bad in this, but no bugs tonight are adding to the bites I already have.

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Day 24 7.1
I was going to hike a new trail Id read about today called the Burnt Timber trail.  It begins behind Lemon Lake (which Id never been to before) which was really pretty.

I’d read a little bit about this trail, but I guess it didn’t all quite sink in.  I’m not sure what I expected, but a good hard workout was what I got.  The trail is 7.5 miles long (but you can go farther if you want—I went 8 total) & goes up 2,500’ in elevation through the forest mostly.  What I didn’t know, is most of the trail is really rocky with a few moments of soft dirt…the kind that seeps in through your hiking shoes.

The shooting began in the distance just as I got on the trail.  It lasted for almost an hour…bang bang bang. Just a lovely sound in nature.

This was one rocky trail for sure.

The best (& only) view of the day.

My turn around spot at 4 miles.

Twice pack trains went by stocking sheep camps that were high up on the mountain.  The cowboys said things like “hello mam”   & ‘good day mam”  & “have a good hike mam”.  Boy did I feel old or maybe I’d been transported back to an old western movie.  But they were really nice.

Boy was this a dirty hike…this pretty little stream cleaned me right up.

I only saw one other hiker the whole time…a local woman about my age stopped on her way down to visit.  She was concerned about the shooting we could hear.  She reminded me that while it’s legal to shoot during the day in the NFS (a crazy rule when people are hiking, biking & horseback riding in the woods & can’t always be seen), it’s not during a fire ban.  And theres a ban here right now. Again, I didn’t think anyone was fearful for their life & it’s not hunting season, so I don’t know what the thrill of bang bang bang is.  

Then she said this trail had been written about in the newspaper as being a ‘leg burner’ to get ready for climbing mountains this summer.  I thought it was a leg & lung burner.  I’m not sorry I did it, I’m up for trying new things.  But, you get so spoiled hiking in Colorado & get used to big spectacular views, that hiking all day on rocks with not many views is kind of a let down.  But, I love to hike.  And, I’d guess I’d rather do a hike like this, than not hike at all.  I’m still grateful my body can do this. 

After I cleaned up I drove to downtown Durango to Carvers…the oldest brewery in southwest Colorado.  I also went in 8 stores looking for a postcard for my project for Claire.  One young girl told me, “I don’t think they make those anymore.  They’’re outdated”.   I finally found generic Colorado ones at the little indie bookstore…but none of Durango.  

I had a beer & a sandwich at Carvers..  I was the only one sitting inside.

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I said good bye to Durango & headed east.  I found a nice little camping spot off Beaver Creek Road near Bayfield.

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Day 25 7.2
Another new trail today..the Lower Piedra River trail between Bayfield & Pagosa Springs.  It’s an 11 mile trail that goes all the way to the Upper Piedra River trail, but since I didn’t have a shuttle & can’t hike 22 miles, I was just going as far as I felt like it & turning around.  I have very sore feet & a bruised toe from the rock trail yesterday. But this trail is supposed to be gentle ups & downs next to the river.  It doesn’t follow close down by the river, but the trail is way up high with glimpses of the river below in the first two miles.

The only others on the trail was a family of four loading up right as I was parking.  I asked them if they’d ever hiked this trail before; they had not.   But, they had info anyway.  The teen age boy was a boy scout & getting some kind of points or credit for hiking this trail.  I knew the trail was supposed to go into a box canyon around mile 5 or so.  I asked him if he knew what a box canyon was?  (I know what canyons are, what slot canyons are, but didn’t know how a box canyon was different.)  He told me it was a canyon where the water dried up in the center, with canyon walls on the side, but how I could die easily if it started raining.  I knew this river went from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead with the box canyon in between.  Nothing looked dried up to me.  But, I was glad it wasn’t going to rain today anyway….although maybe he could get his “save an old lady” badge if he rescued me!  The Dad seemed like one of those grumpy guys….glad I wasn’t hiking with him!

Looks more like fall flowers than summer ones.

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I hiked until I could see the canyon walls, but there was still a lot of forest to go through before I could see what that looked like. And Id lost sight & sound of the river after mile 2. So, I turned around at mile 3 & hiked back. My view heading back to the trailhead. I had passed the family early on, but on my way back passed them again.  The Dad was friendly & asked me how my hike wasguess I mis-judged the guy back at the trailhead.  Or maybe hiking made him happierI get that.

After my hike, I drove into Pagosa Springs.  Everyone is getting ready for the 4th of July & traffic was crazy with every other vehicle being a giant RV.  I made it to the east end of town, to my fave place to eat.  Yummy street tacos, an Imperial stout & a taster of their Chile beer from Rift Raft brewing in Pagosa springs & sitting outside along the river.

Now it was time to find a good hiding place for the 4th.  While everyone is out & about, Im going to hide away, alone & quiet.  Big-time Social Distancing!  I drove down highway 84 south of Pagosa Springs looking for the perfect siteone with service, a open spot so I can get sun in the mornings, & no one around me.  And I found it about 20 miles south off Buckles Lake road.

The view close to my campsitea short walk & wow!

My home for the next three nights.

Full moon night!

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Day 26 7.3
So, when I dont hike, or go anywhere & all I do is read, it makes for boring writing.  I also FT with the girls, FT with Jill, finished one book, started another book, & watched it rain for awhile.

But, heres my one shot of the day.  My only visitor in camp.

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PS:  All my devicesall chargerseverything is out of battery.  When you dont drive anywhere, you dont get stuff charged.

Day 27 7.4
Happy 4th of July!  What’s a person to do, when you want to be out of the crowd on the holiday & have perfectly hidden yourself to make that happen, BUT, you’ve run out of ice & could possibly stand to buy more water?

You leave your campsite at 5:45am & drive the 25 miles to town to the grocery store.  It worked!  Nothing was busy…hardly a car or RV on the road.  I was in & out of that store pretty fast & back in camp hiding once again.  It looked like they were still having their craft festival in the park…I’m kind of surprised given the Covid stuff they’d continue that.  But, I’m back “home” for another night, with ice & water.  

The sun was too much, so I moved my site down to the aspen trees & set up my hammock & read.

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Day 28 7.5
I broke camp early & headed back towards Pagosa Springs then east over Wolf Creek Pass.  So sad to see all the beetle killed trees in this area.  I was headed to a new-to-me area just north of Del Norte called Penitente Canyon.  There was a NF campground there & it was supposed to be a great place for climbers & also had some hiking & biking trails.  It was about 80 miles to get there.

I love big rocks!  So was excited to hike among them.  I got to the parking lot, made breakfast & finished my coffee.  There were several climbers getting out of their cars, trucks & vans among them 2 young women & a young guy parked next to me.  As I sat in the back of camper, eating then putting on my hikers, one of the young girls asked me where I was from, how long I was here & where I was going next.  We chatted for about 25 minutes.  She was brand new to van life & was as excited as a kid on Christmas day….who can blame her?  We parted ways, but as I was hiking the Canyon loop trail, I heard a “hey there!  enjoy your hike” from up on the one of the rocks…it was Laura (she’d told me her name in the parking lot) waving a cheery hello.  I happily waved back!

The only map I had was the picture I’d taken at the trailhead on the signboard.  Each trail was marked with a name & color; but there were no distances marked at all.  I asked a couple of people in the parking lot, but they were all climbers.  I figured if the trail went too far, I’d just turn around & come back.  No cell service at the trailhead to look anything up either.  So, I happily started on the dirt trail.  It was surrounded by scrub brush with a gazillion tinier trails leading off into the rocks for the climbers.

It was a fun trail…marked by cairns, with some climbing over rocks, some maneuvering your way down them & some squeezing in between them.  

I did eventually reach this marker….I’d never encountered a “trail confidence’ marker before.  The problem, however, was that the map shown at the trail head had no numbers.  So, while I was now confident I was at 8, I had no clue what that meant.  I kept walking.  

At TC marker #9, they had two trail names added…one was the canyon loop I was hiking & another was the Blue Sky trail which all I knew about that was it was longer.  Three bikers road up as I was staring at the sign.  They were headed out on the Blue Sky trail & told me when I got to the next intersection I should take a left & that would take me back to the parking lot.  A left? umm…but he was looking at a genuine map…not the trailhead photo I had.  So, that’s what I did.  Everytime the trail turned a little more left, I felt like I was going the wrong way.  I’d noted my mileage at each intersection in case I turned around.  I did run into more confidence markers, but they gave me no confidence at all.  I had decided I’d crest one more hill & re think this trail.  As I was hiking under some big evergreen trees, a bunch of birds started squawking out me loudly from high above.  They kept it up for several steps.  I crested the hill, the birds were still yelling at me, the trail turned left again, & I turned around to go back the way I’d been hiking. As I passed back by the birds, they cheered me & my decision to go back.  

The trail was just as nice going back but I made myself pay extra attention.  Sometimes when you think you know the way, is when you find out you don’t.  Once I got back to the TC marker with the names, I thought I’d just continue the Canyon loop I’d been on.  But, there wasn’t a sign for that.  I just keep going straight on the trail right?  So I did for awhile, but there was nothing saying it was the other part of the loop.  I gave up & back tracked once again.  When I made it back to the intersection where I turned left, I saw my mistake & should have turned right.  It wasn’t the bikers fault…when I hike alone I’m the one responsible.  But it’s a lesson in not doing what someone just tells you do instead figuring it out for yourself.  No harm done…the hike was good.

It was a pretty cool place & I enjoyed my hike…but next time I should have more information & real map with me.  I changed into my sandals, got some ice water & noticed a note on my 4Runner under the wiper blades.  It was written on a 1/2 piece of paper.  So really sweet…but no contact info!  The thought made me smile anyway.  I hope she has years of fabulous experiences on the road!

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After my canyon hike I went to the Del Norte Brewing company for lunch & a beer.  It was packed & they were only offering outdoor seating which was an hour wait.  So, I moved west to South Fork & had a super yummy BBQ dinner at Two Rivers BBQ.  It wasn’t crowded & indoor seating-but far apart-which was good because it started raining as soon as I got there.

Then I headed north for a beautiful scenic drive up highway 149.  Both Del Norte & South Fork had seemed busy in town & on the road, but it wasn’t out here.  I drove until I found a camping spot off the highway between Spring Creek pass & Slumgullion Pass.  I set up camp (that means I parked the 4Runner the way I wanted it for the night) & finished my leftovers I’d brought back from the restaurant.  

Tonight’s Alpenglow.

Then I spent the rest of the evening catching up my website, until it was dark outside & my computer was out of battery…my laptop charger is also out of battery.  I thought from the way the sky was sounding & looking, I’d have a storm tonight.  But nothing more than a little rain.

I closed everything up, called & said goodnight to Danny (super sketchy phone service) & fell asleep being grateful once again for a really good day.

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