Saturday, October 29, 2016

Uncompahgre Plateau & San Miguel Valley (10/5/2016)

For a second day, I did some exploring up on the Uncompahgre Plateau with the San Miguel Canyon in mind as a destination once again.  I was confident there was plenty more to see in that area.  For this trip, I took a different route across the plateau, getting much higher than the previous day so the scenery was a little different.
The plateau ranges in elevation from 6000 feet at the Colorado River to a high point well above 10,000 feet.  As I finally approached the San Miguel Canyon, I was high above it with a great view.
Driving down the steep, twisting road into the canyon, the views got a little closer.
Eventually I was down by the river and took numerous photos as I drove alongside it.  There were several fishermen along the banks as I traveled south.

I left the river and turned west onto Silver Pick Road, an unpaved road leading into the mountains.  This area was totally new to me, but I've since learned that the road is named for the Silver Pick Mine which was active from 1882 until 1898 mining gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.  Several attempts to operate the mine since then have been unsuccessful.  The area became Forest Service land in 1968, and is now popular with mountain climbers for its access to Wilson Peak.  Elk Creek runs beside the road, but I didn't see any elk,  only a few turkeys and mule deer along the way.

Views of Wilson Peak, just over 14,000 feet high, and other nearby mountains were spectacular, as were the stands of golden aspens.

 Several cabins and a few very large ranches are located along the road.

It was fun to see that one ranch had some "Oreo cows" in its herd.  These cows, properly known as Belted Galloways, originated in Scotland and are adapted to living in harsh conditions.  They have two layers of hair: an outer layer to shed rain and snow, an inner layer that provides warmth.  They are primarily beef cattle, producing very little milk, and are naturally polled (born with no horns).

I read an interesting story about the "Rock of Ages Trail", which is the easiest route to the summit of Wilson Peak.  For some years, the trail was closed because it crossed the private property of an old man who didn't want people intruding.  If he caught someone crossing his land, he would charge them $100.  One man who refused to pay was forced to put an ad in the local newspaper saying "I'm no smarter than a third grader".  The alternative was to be arrested for trespassing.  In 2007, the Trust For Public Land bought 230 acres from the old man, paying $3 million to re-open the trail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Uncompahgre Plateau & San Miguel Valley (10/4/2016)

The Uncompahgre Plateau is a large uplift that lies to the west of Montrose.  Some 90 miles long, the plateau is bounded by the Colorado River to the north, the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers to the west, the San Juan Mountains to the south, and the Uncompahgre Valley to the east.  The name "Uncompahgre" is a Ute Indian word meaning "dirty water", used to describe the water coming out of the Red Mountains carrying iron oxide that turns the rocks to a reddish color.  There are a great many roads on the plateau, but none of them can run straight due to the large number of canyons, and all of them are unpaved.  Some are smooth, some are suitable only for 4WD vehicles with high clearance.  Much of the plateau is on Forest Service or BLM lands, so road maintenance is infrequent and road names or numbers inconsistent.  Further, maps arean't always accurate and many of the "roads" aren't even on maps.  Needless to say, it is an adventure to drive up there and anybody's guess when you might find your way back home.

I had noticed a week earlier that trees along the San Miguel River were staying green later than other areas.  Therefore, I still had time to find fall colors there after many areas had passed their peak.  I decided to visit that area, but to get there by driving over the Uncompahgre Plateau rather than the perfectly good paved highways.  Leaving Montrose, I drove the Dave Wood Road to the southwest, passing several canyons and the opportunities to explore on their very rough roads.  There were also patches of aspen trees, most at their peak color.

Numerous ranches along the way illustrate how isolated ranch life can be.  Still, the size of some of the houses emphasized how profitable such a business can be.

The views of the mountains are a bonus for the landowners.

Eventually, I found my way off the plateau near the San Miguel Valley.  The trees along the red cliffs and the river were also near their peak, my timing was excellent. I stopped for a while at a lovely county park with a swimming and fishing pond.


After exploring the tiny villages of Placerville and Sawpit, I turned onto a Forest Service road with no idea where it might lead.  The road sign said "Fall Creek Road" so I expected waterfalls.  Unfortunately, the small cascades in the creek just didn't meet my waterfall expectations.  On the other hand, about eight miles up the rocky road I came to Woods Lake, a pleasant surprise.  A hike around the lake gave me some great views of mountains to go with the fall color.

Later, as I returned down Fall Creek Road, I noticed a spur road and decided to take a chance on it.  In addition to good fall color, the road led me into a very nice area of homes on very large lots and spectacular mountain views.  All in all, I felt like it had been a very successful day.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

West Elk Scenic Byway (10/2/2016)

 It was a beautiful Sunday when a Jeeping friend and I decided to take a ride on the West Elk Scenic Byway.  It had been some years since I had driven that road and I really had no idea what fall color might be like in that area.  On the way, we had several stops to view the cottonwoods and aspens growing along the Cimarron River, tumbling its way to the convergence with the Gunnison River in the Black Canyon, not so deep at this point.

There are three dams in the Gunnison, one of them creating Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water entirely within Colorado.  The lake is 20 miles long and has a shoreline of nearly 100 miles.  A large fish hatchery stocks the lake with trout and salmon, attracting large numbers of fishermen.  The surrounding mesas funnel winds across the lake, making it a prime spot for wind surfing.
Crossing over the dam, we found the byway to have lots of color, including red and rust to complement the yellow/gold aspens. Rugged mesas characterize the area created by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

Every turn of the road presented more views of incredible color.


At times, the highway passed close to the north rim of Black Canyon, providing views of the narrow lakes formed behind other dams.

Approaching the town of Crawford, the nature of the scenery changed just a little.  There were large swaths of mixed colors, much like an artist's palette.  I'm not that familiar with this area, but I believe the formation in the last photo is called Needle Rock.  I need to do a little more exploring in that area.

At this point, the byway leads farther from Montrose and it was past time for a late lunch, so we broke from the scenic loop and headed home.

Incidentally, I finally got around to editing a video from Cimarron Road.  It can be viewed at Cimarron Road.  Also, you may find it interesting that Stan's Travels have been viewed well beyond the U.S. and Canada.  Google keeps track and reports viewers in the following countries:

United States







United Kingdom