I have snowboarded and cross-country skied Eldora but never hiked it. Today was a spectacular day of fall colors, cool mist, springy, light hail, and solid friendship along the Lost Lake Trail near Nederland, Colorado.

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After moseying around the backroads of 133 and 92, we arrived at the North Rim of the Black Canyon. We were concerned about our late arrival (4:30PM) and the warnings from the National Park Service that sometimes the 13 campsites filled up on busy weekends. The South Rim, with its RV hookups, had 88 sites and almost never filled up. But we were going for solitude, and the whirring hummm of a generator does not provide as such.

The road in is visually unstimulating except to the connoiseurs of the earth palette: sage green, pine green, stormy white, and National Park Blue:

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The Black Canyon’s website promised us shaded from pinons and junipers, a vault toilet, water, and grills. The North Rim, which does not in any way shape or form connect to the South Rim, lies about 11 miles southwest of Crawford. The last six miles in are on a graded dirt road that was fairly well maintained.

When we arrived at the North Rim campground, there was one other couple there, playing catch. We set up camp and headed over to the Chasm View Trail, a lolling third of a miles jaunt replete with an interpretive brochure. The brochure has twelve markers, each describing a particular piece of the canyon’s tabletop: pinyon pine, juniper (sound familiar?).

Marker number five is special. The brochure says “Wow!” and the marker leads you to a concrete and chain-link fence overlook into the canyon, over 1700 feet below. You can hear the Gunnison River rushing down, at a rate of about 43 feet per second. I clenched the fence and in my amazing voice said, “Wow.” Kinda serene like.

The light wasn’t right for pictures, but it was perfect for marveling. We took some photos anyway.

Marker #4 - Juniper Tree

Marker #4 - Juniper Tree

The NPS’s interpretive brochure tells you that juniper trees cut off nutrition to their dead bits so the rest of the tree can survive. The human equivalent would be frostbite. We dallied around the juniper section for a bit, trying to catch the trees in action.

Like a snake, the juniper tree sheds its skin

Like a snake, the juniper tree sheds its skin

This tree marks #5.

Pre-wow.

Pre-wow.

Then, 1700 feet down, WOW!

The Gunnison River rushes along the canyon floor.

The Gunnison River rushes along the canyon floor.

Wow.

Marbled rock of the grandest scale

Marbled rock of the grandest scale

Lightplay in the canyon

Lightplay in the canyon

The next post will feature the hike out to Inspiration Point.


Readers-

I’m posting this in a fit of Vicodin and pique. In lieu of writing, I thought I’d share photos from my Christmas 2007 road trip–one of my best ever (I know, I always say that).  If you find yourself making the trip to Carlsbad Caverns to see the bats coming and going, may I suggest a side trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a mere 30 miles away in west Texas?  It’s much less crowded and much more scenic.

The photos below are from McKittrick Canyon, which starts off as desert flora and turns into alpine by hike’s end at the Blue Grottos.  What a Christmas that was.  Sigh…

 

Cacti Welcome Center

Cacti Welcome Center

 

Yuk Yuk Yucca

Yuk Yuk Yucca

Yucca-lined Trail

Yucca-lined Trail

 

Weather-worn Wood and Texas Blue Sky

Weather-worn Wood and Texas Blue Sky

 

Me Loves Me Some Weather-Beaten Trees

Me Loves Me Some Weather-Beaten Trees

 

Zee Trail, Twas Wet

Zee Trail, Twas Wet

SheSpoke at Trail's End--The Blue Grotto

SheSpoke at Trail's End--The Blue Grotto

The brochures tell me that the fall colors at McKittrick rival those of New England. I’ll have to return in the fall to be convinced.


I woke up early on Black Friday. Not to hit the malls but to carve out my camping spot in Canyonlands. Canyonlands and Arches have become increasingly popular with dirt bikers, climbers, hikers, ATVers, mountain bikers and day trippers. Hence lodging, even outdoor lodging, can be hard to come by.

Knowing this, I beelined for the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands. I had never been this far north in Canyonlands, and it was a pleasant surprise. Hithertofore I had spent my Canyonlands time in the Needles District. While the former is known for its canyons, the latter is known for its druid-like rock formations. It was time to get up close and personal with the canyons.

I had bought a regional Canyonlands/Arches pass for $25 on Thanksgiving. These passes are good for a year and can be used not only in the Moab area but also at Hovenweep National Monument (a dark horse favorite) and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Up close and personal I did get.

Island in the Sky is a mere 32 miles from Moab. The road in is flanked by buttes, giving you a sense you are driving somewhere protected. I lost radio and cell reception as I approached the Visitor Center. The sign going in tells you–no water, food, gas, or wood is available. That’s not exactly true. I bought four gallons of water at the Visitor Center for six bucks.

The Willow Flat campground is the only car camping in the park. The rest of the sites are backcountry, which my weak back will not allow me to do (well, not yet anyway), and require a permit. I set up camp (about a quarter full) and strolled down to the Green River Overlook, a mere .2 miles down the way:

A hazy Green River Overlook

A hazy Green River Overlook

The rain had dissipated but moisture was omnipresent, and well, ominous. The druids were indeed closing in on me. After setting up camp I had a few hours of daylight left. Although a ride was still out of the question, I wanted to hike and explore. I drove back to the Visitor Center and asked for some advice.

On the way to the Visitor Center I passed the Shafer Trail, which is the start of the White Rim Trail when ridden clockwise. The Shafer Trail, I later found out, had been closed because a car had slid into the side of the canyon. Good thing that car slid into the canyon side. Take a look:

Shafer Trail

Shafer Trail

Yup. But wait, there’s more:

A road, Canyonlands-style

A road, Canyonlands-style

The road snakes down and eventually skirts the White Rim, seen toward the top of this picture:

Road to White Rim

Road to White Rim

Besides the Shafer Trail, I also visited a few points along the road back to my new home at Willow Flat. I pulled off at one area and even though I’ve got severe anxiety about heights, I hugged the butte wall and made my way out to the edge:

Vertigo View

Vertigo View

Here’s the view from Vertigo Point, as I aptly named it. Notice the heavy clouds over to the east, hovering over Arches and the Manti La Sal mountains:

Looking east from Island in the Sky

Looking east from Island in the Sky

A safer alternative was Mesa Arch, filled with daytrippers. Here’s the arch up close:

Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch

Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch

Canyon shadows and the Back of Beyond section of Canyonlands can be seen through the arch’s frame. Pretty impressive.

Looking through Mesa Arch

Looking through Mesa Arch

One more look through Mesa Arch. Check out the needles to the left.

Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch

Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch

My last stop of the day was Upheaval Dome. Meteorite possibility. Or maybe aliens?

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

The jaded SheSpoke thinks it looks like strip mining. The hike to the first overlook is short, well-marked (notice the cairns toward the upper-left corner), and family-friendly:

Stairway to Heaven?

Stairway to Heaven?

Stairway to Heaven?  Definitely.

Stairway to Heaven? Definitely.

I made it back to the Green River Overlook (and my home for the next two days) in time for sunset.

Sunset at Green River Overlook

Sunset at Green River Overlook

The overlook was a like a Nikon convention: tripods, bundled-up photographers, and oohs and ahhs. It was pretty special. One more look:

The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District

The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District


 

Thanksgiving evening found me back at the Motel 6 after my third turkey sandwich of the day.  I bade farewell to Arches, inquired about the guided hikes through the Fiery Furnace section:  Friday and Saturday were sold out but Sunday’s hike–the last one of the season–still had spots available.  I passed.

 

Foggy Fiery Furnace section of Arches

Foggy Fiery Furnace section of Arches

One the way out I hiked into Sand Dune Arch.  The hike in was sandy surrounded by slick:

 

Hike into Sand Dune Arch

Hike into Sand Dune Arch

Also on the way out–the famous Balanced Rock, which perhaps inspired episodes of Wile E. Coyote and his archnemesis, the RoadRunner.

 

An unusually dimly lit Balanced Rock

An unusually dimly lit Balanced Rock

And I kept driving out of the park, drawn to the promise of a hot tub, warm bed, and more episodes of The Closer (oh, yeah, and another turkey sandwich).  Arches National Park is so spectacular, so massive, that it can be enjoyed from the road.

 

Monoliths from the Road

Monoliths from the Road

 

 Is that Nefertiti in the upper left-hand corner?

 

Nefertiti in a different desert?

Nefertiti in a different desert?

The plan for Friday: wake up early, hightail it to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, and hike around.  The trails would be too wet to mountain bike, I surmised.  I was right.

SheSpoke