Sunday, July 26, 2009

Colorado Trail 6 - Highway 50 to Highway 114

As we crossed Poncha Pass into the San Luis Valley, I thought about our history with this area. We first came to Alamosa over the pass in 2000, and bought a 100-year-old house in Monte Vista - our modern homestead. It even came with an unregistered water well - it doesn't get much more Colorado than that. Later, I worked in Crested Butte, and sped over North Pass/Hwy 114 to get home every weekend. As we drove up the road, I realized I hadn't driven that way since 2003, but still remembered the road quite well: "Here is the spot where you don't have to slow down in the curve; here is where the black ice is in winter, etc."

It's simply huge country. The land of "The Last Ranch," by Sam Bingham. There are no lights in the hills - rolling high hills of alternating mixed conifer, rocky outcrops, open parks that stretch off seemingly forever. I did some long runs up there, and always wanted to spend some more time in the broad low stretch of the Continental Divide. This weekend I drifted through at three mph.

The Colorado Trail changes dramatically after Highway 50. Since Denver, it travels up long drainages, then across a high ridge, and then back down. Saturday morning on Fooses Creek was no exception:

Then, suddenly, the trail spits you out here:

(View of Chipeta and Ouray Mountains). Welcome to the Divide - you'll be here for the next 130 miles or so.

The stretch to Marshall Pass is an example of loving the west to death. It's a beautiful open stretch, and I was passed by at least a few dozen mountain bikes. Marshall Pass itself was a zoo of activity - mountain bikes, dirt bikes, ATV's, campers, hikers, etc. Interestingly, immediately after Marshall Pass, it was quiet. It's as if all those people had the same guidebook that said, "Marshall Pass is awesome!" but the book didn't mention anything to the southwest.

The next thirty-odd mile of trail is essentially a trail/ATV-route right on top of the divide. Most of the time it looks like this:

But sometimes it looks like this:

The trail passed through long stretches of forest and would then emerge into a park with eye-popping views of the Sangre de Christo, the Gunnison basin, and the Cochetopa Hills. These immense landscapes are the opposite of the Sawatch. In the Sawatch, you see a big mountain, and it's rolling shape hides the fact it's only a few miles away. Here, you look off at the Crestone peaks and Blanca Peak and realize they're oh maybe forty miles away. But through the clear air, you can see the sunlight playing off the Great Sand Dunes and maybe a few rainbows.

These sort of views don't translate well into snapshots, so I ended up taking pictures of an angry llama:


And interesting cairns:

Of course, it rained most of the afternoon and Sunday morning, so much of the time it looked like this:

In the last thirty miles, I only saw one couple. They were hiking the whole CT, and like the other end-to-enders didn't really seem to know what to make of the weekend-warrior approach. I wanted to remind them that there's no rule that you have to go straight through, but not sure what good that would have done.

Then back to the car and into Sagauche. Stopped at the "1st Stop" and got coffee - where I used to get coffee in 2000 before going climbing and in 2003 before going back to CB over North Pass. Now it's 2009 and I'm going back home to Denver - lots has changed, but the coffee tastes the same.

1 comment:

Will Stenzel said...

No rules? You mean I can hike naked?