Traveling Silver on the edge

Traveling Silver at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

From Gunnison, you have two choices.  You can follow the South Rim of the Black Canyon and visit the official visitors center, the drives and the overlooks and end up in Montrose CO.  There are campgrounds and ranger-led walks.  And LOTS of people.   Or you can wend and wind your way up the North Rim. Breath-taking, literally.  Edgy, again literally. Almost no people.  Those that are making this trek, are driving slowly, as much to avoid becoming part of the view as to enjoy the view.  It would be so easy, with a little too much speed in a large vehicle, to get first-hand experience at just how sheer and deep those canyon walls are.  This passenger was, fortunately, on the mountain side rather than the canyon side.  Still, full disclosure here, I was jelly and squish from vertigo.  Made it a little hard at times to enjoy the ride.

Still and all, I wouldn’t have missed it.  Those that knew the choices, encouraged us to take the North Rim and I’m glad we did.  Coming breathless down the other side, we landed in Crawford State Park, which not coincidentally is just a mile from Black Canyon Rd, the only road that goes up to the North Rim ranger station, campground and drive.  This road to the rim is deceptive; it’s one that sets you wondering what the first Europeans thought when driving a team and wagon across the mesa to suddenly and abruptly come to the edge of the world.

Once on the rim, there are a couple of terrific hikes.  We took the one that leads to Exclamation Point, and further to the top of Green Mountain.  Just beyond the trailhead, we passed the sign for the boundary of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness, a 15,000+ acre wilderness that protects the canyon rim-to-rim for 14 miles and is contiguous with the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness to the north.

Exclamation Point is a comfortable 3 mile round trip along edges (I’m much better on foot than in a vehicle when the land drops away) and through the trees.  At the point, beggars await a handout with alert ears and twitching noses. There is a rim drive as well that offers several overlooks with railing and information boards.  The walls of the canyon are so close in some spots that you can see and be seen from the overlooks on the South Rim.  If someone was looking north with binoculars, they would probably see you wave.

Black Canyon defies description, for all that I’ve tried to describe the experience of driving and hiking a bit of it.  It’s deep, yes.  Jagged and raw, indeed.  Definitely black — dark for lack of light and due to the geological makeup.  It roars with the voice of the Gunnison River in its depths.  These are inadequate things to say about a ditch that would have inspired Dante.  You kind of have to get on the edge yourself.

#publiclandsworthprotecting #publiclandsinpublichands

Want to ensure the future of public lands? Take the kids…

Blake, 7, makes a clean cast.  Hunter, 4, gets some help from Dad with his red fishin’ pole.  Deegan, 4, a family friend, alternately watches and pokes around among the rocks.  Clint, the dad, becomes animated when I mention that I’m writing stories about protecting public lands; he has stories of his own to share.  He lives nearby and takes regular opportunities to hunt and fish on Colorado’s public lands, both federal and state-owned; he’s a fierce proponent of public access.  We became so engaged in our like-minded dialogue, we didn’t notice right away that Deegan–the little guy without a fishing rod — had wandered off.  A quick end to the conversation while Clint went in search of the youngster, but not before agreeing with my sentiment that one important way to ensure the future of public lands is to introduce our kids to the magic of water, forest, hiking trails, and in this case, fishin’.

In this campground on this weekend, there was a plethora of kids enjoying themselves. Bikes, skateboards, walks along the shore during the daylight hours and campfires and s’mores at dark.  Kids having fun while memories sink into their subconscious, to resurrect during gloomy days and sad moments.  Their parents may never talk with them about the value of this land and these opportunities.  But it’s not necessary.  Memories will be enough, reawakened at some point in the future when it’s important to remember and speak out.

Big kids enjoy a weekend on the water too.  I wonder what they would say if I posed the same question to each that I posed to Clint.  I can only hope that they would feel as strongly that this state park and the nearby National Forest deserve their voice.

This ain’t New Mexico’s Rio Grande!


Soft water on the Rio GrandeTraveling Silver followed the Silver Thread Scenic Highway from South Fork CO, through the old mining town of Creede, ending at Gunnison.  Our goal was to explore the Rio Grande National Forest along the way.  About halfway up the Silver Thread, we made our way in to Thirty Mile Campground and set camp right on the rocky bank of the Rio Grande River.  This is a river that does not resemble the Rio Grande we know in southern New Mexico, where the river creeps between its banks, sneaks underground,  and slips along acequias to water patches of chiles and groves of pecan trees.  This Rio Grande jumps rocks, digs flash holes and flows wild; it talks in loud voices of rumbles and burbles.  We found ourselves about 18 miles from the headwaters of the Rio Grande, starting appropriately on the northern flank of Rio Grande Pyramid Mt at 13,000+ feet.  The river remains untamed by the series of reservoirs that capture some of its water, but none of its spirit.

The forest here is decimated by beetle kill and a few old fire scars.  You can tell the difference.  Fire scars turned aspens into sticks right along with the firs.  Beetle kill stripped the fir of their leaves, leaving the aspen relatively green.  Entire mountainsides of brown sticks.  Seems to be a common pestilence phenom across the Colorado forests.  And yet, while on one side of the valley in which we camped the trees looked like porcupine quills, the other side along with the riverside was verdant with exclamation marks of firs.  Upon closer note, other punctuafir marks: there was the comma at the top of a fir where the trunk must have grown around an errant cloud; there were the pair of parentheses trunks that enclosed a fair piece of blue sky.  Along the river course, firs leaned in to better hear the language of the rapids.

Our campground was shared with an overabundance of chipmunks, ground and tree squirrels.  Fat. Direct. Jump-on-your-table bold. Deer so acclimated to people, they walked through campsites trailing their spotted fawns or waving their growing spikes.  Thirty Mile was cared for by a marvelous couple, camp hosts extraordinaire.  The only drawback for us flatlanders who live at a measly 6,000 feet elevation was that we became over-elevated.  Thirty Mile is at 9,300, rather like going from sea level to Denver and trying to hike a few miles. We weren’t there long enough to get acclimated and, sadly, left with the same niggling headache and mild nausea we arrived with.

Up and over the pass, we stopped at an overlook that took in the valley leading up along the Rio Grande to and beyond the campgrounds and reservoirs, all the way up to the headwaters.

Headwaters Rio Grande River, Rio Grande Natl Forest

Leche Creek Trail, San Juan National Forest

If I were doing a wilderness inventory in this little section of the San Juan National Forest, here are the characteristics I would include:  no other humans encountered or signs of human activity; wildflowers abundant; sense of solitude and opportunity to experience nature “untrammeled by man”; human imprint substantially unnoticeable, consisting only of the narrow trail.  This is what wilderness is supposed to be like.  My feet follow the trail across little Leche Creek, stepping on stones, slipping a little, plunging my walking stick into the mud for balance.  Up the side of the hill — do we still call them hills in CO at 8,000 and 10,000 feet? — switchbacking to an aspen park.  Dense and primitive, the forest is a mix of pine, fir, and hardwoods, with an understory of Robins and warblers.  One scat, fresh on the way down; did I miss it on the way up?  Probably cat.

My self opens wide in this place, as it does in the wild lands of the Gila.  This is my sangha.  These places are the balm that allow me to function in the busier world outside.

And meanwhile back in the RV park on the San Juan River, others pursue what makes them happy.

State Parks deserve love — and protection –too

stormy sunset from Island View.Heron Lake St Pk

From our campsite lakeside at Heron Lake State Park, near Chama NM.

So much of our attention today rides with the 27 National Monuments under review by the Dept of Interior.  And budgetary woes threaten to yank the supports from under our National Parks; indeed that is already happening.  Some Parks have considered selling branding to monied corporations in order to keep bathrooms operating.

We’re at Heron Lake State Park on our way up to Colorado.  The park encompasses the Heron Lake Reservoir, with 200+ campsites, boat ramps and kayaks for rent.  It’s well kept and quiet.  These last days we have been one of 4 occupied campsites on our entire loop.  I’m sure it’s not always this empty.  The park  has erected a number of osprey platforms around the lake, one within sight of our loop, others along the trail that wanders between campgrounds.  “Our” nest has a successful pair with one chick; another nest has parents with two.  It’s said there are Bald Eagles here; my birdwalks scored Western Grebes, Green Tail Towees, Canada Geese, Killdeer, a flock of Black Headed Grosbeaks and a family of Flycatchers.  Those were just the ones I got close enough to identify.  There are elk and deer in abundance and where there’s prey, there’s predators: the camp host told me that a mountain lion completes the wild picture around the lake.

Our state parks, like Heron Lake State Park here in northern NM are just as vulnerable to misappropriation by a greedy-few politicians who see an opportunity to enrich their patrons and curry favor. And vulnerable as well to a failing or slowing economy when opening a state park to oil, gas and other extractive industry is the obvious way to raise the money to keep the schools open.  Yet, the fate of state parks may fall under our collective radar at a time when we are worried about our national public lands. Come and visit.  Fill some of these campsites and put in on this wake-free lake.  Bring binoculars and cameras–the longer the lens the better–to check out the Ospreys.  Or go and visit your nearest state park to see what it has to offer!

Taos Pueblo PowWow 2017

grand entrance welcome

Ribbons. Feathers. Beadwork.  Color and movement.  Intensity and focus; transport.  Many nations come together for one of the largest and best powwows, hosted by the Taos Pueblo.  Above is the grand entry on Sunday. So many dancers in such regalia. So many pictures!  More on Flickr .

Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

The Santa Fe Canyon Preserve is 190 acres of restored wetlands owned jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Santa Fe. At one time it was comprised of overgrazed hillsides surrounding a silted-in reservoir.  TNC worked with the county and the water authority to restore the land and the wetland.  Now it is a songfest of warblers and red-winged blackbirds and a construction zone for beavers.  A gentle trail loops the wetland with options for mucking along a muddy trail or avoiding the mud on higher ground.  We chose the would-have-been-muddy-if only-there-had-been-rain trail and were rewarded with a press through vibrant desert willow, fenced-trunk cottonwoods and wildflowers.   From the higher points along the trail, we looked down on cattails, peering among the reeds for illusive beaver.  And in the distance, the mountains rose to the 1.6 million acre Santa Fe National Forest.  And all within 1/2 hour of town.

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