Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bristol Head Peak, Squaw Creek, & Last Thoughts on Creede

Back in the late 1800s, a homesick Brit named a prominent mountain peak near here Bristol Head—apparently it reminded him of some geologic feature in Blighty.  In the 1900s, the US Forest Service placed a radio tower and some small buildings containing electronic equipment at the 12,730’ summit.  Hence, a fifteen-mile four wheel drive road is there for those who are up to a couple of hours’ ride on a body-jarring rocky donkey path.  Well, that’s what Jeepers do, and we did, too.  Amazingly, this road passes through an area known as Ouray Park.  It is a large, beautiful, open meadow-like feature that runs for many miles at a very high altitude.  There are many of these features in this region.  They are a striking anomaly to the rugged peaks that are more typical.
Bristol Head Peak - 12,730 ft
Lovely Road to Bristol Head
Ouray Park
One is rewarded with stunning views in every direction after reaching the summit of Bristol Head, even though the road is long and arduous.  It is a fairly popular drive; we had as many as two other vehicles up on top with us, plus we met several others coming and going.  We didn’t remain on top for our lunch as we had planned because the ubiquitous afternoon thunderstorms began in late morning, and we were concerned with lightning.  Anytime one is above timberline, the risk of lightning strikes in a storm is quite high.
View from the top looking west
View from the top looking southwest
Our Jeep and the Forest Service Radio Tower
Art is where you find it
Storm threat in the west
Therefore, we decided to seek lower ground for our noontime respite.  On our way to Bristol Head, we saw a turnoff to Crystal Lake, and so we decided to travel the couple of miles to have our lunch there.  It was worth the side trip and was a perfect place for lunch.  We even dodged the rain.  However, even though it is only late July, we saw a snow covered ridge not too far above our luncheon spot.  In truth, it could have been hail, but we’ll never know for sure.  Snow in July at these altitudes is not uncommon—we saw it often when we lived near Leadville.
New snow in July or is it hail?
This visit has been replete with wildlife.  There was the bear we mentioned in our Alpine Loop Blog, the bull moose near Slumgullion Pass, and we have had numerous sightings of mule deer—usually does and their fawns.  On the Bristol Head trip we were fortunate to spot a couple of bucks—one just a spike, but the other had several points.  The elusive elk have remained so.
Buck Mule Deer

Our last hike of the month turned out to be a surprise. Actually two surprises.  Our first choice was a hike up Ute Creek.  We knew it required a river crossing, but we’ve rock-hopped many times before and thought nothing of it.  As it turned out, the river crossing required quite a long wade through a swift waist-deep Rio Grande River.  We decided to pass.
 As we have mentioned previously, most of the hikes in this region are fairly vertical—the other common feature is that they require quite a long road trip to get to them.  Squaw Creek Trail, which we took as second choice for our finale, required a thirty mile drive from our RV to the trailhead.  The second surprise came when the ascent proved to be much more gradual than those to which we have become accustomed--even though the trail in almost entirely in the Weminuche Wilderness.  We followed Big Squaw Creek up from its convergence with the Rio Grande River to near its source.  The creek was running full and clear for late July and offered the weary hiker a pleasant respite from the dusty trail.  The drainage was largely gentle and ran for several miles, slowly gaining altitude; it didn’t have the extreme vertical climbs as many of our other hikes.  We bailed out before the last mile up to the summit of Squaw Pass (we got a late start, so time as well as energy took precedence) or we might be writing a different story.  At the end of this hike, we spotted three mule deer along and in a broad, calm section of the Rio Grande River near our trailhead (in the last photo below try to spot the third deer—we promise that she is there).
Big Squaw Creek
Looking south up Squaw Creek drainage
Deeper into the Squaw Creek drainage
View north--heading back to the trailhead
Three Mule Deer

Creede is the only town in Mineral County, and its population swells from 450 or so full-timers to about 10,000 in the summer.  Obviously, it is crowded and the few restaurants and the only gas station present the visitor with perpetual lines.  We’ve had little luck in finding a good meal in town.  We did have a couple of great meals at Antlers Lodge north of town on the river.  Our neighbors told us about a small place in town that offers gourmet meals at only a few tables, so last night we ventured out to Far Dog to see what they had to offer.  We were baffled by the name of the place and still are.  Initially, we thought it might be a play on words, in that in Texan speak “far” can mean distance or it can mean fire.  Hence, Far Dog could be Fire Dog (a Dalmatian) or, perhaps that dog over there…well, maybe not.  Anyway, we still don’t understand the significance of the name, but the meals we had were scrumptious.  The place probably seats 15 or so and the demand for a table was high; we stood out in the rain for a bit to make sure we got a table—it’s amazing what people will put up with to catch a good meal.
Creede has been interesting.  We love the scenery in this region of the Rocky Mountains.  Every outing, whether in the Jeep or afoot, has been a delight--this in spite of the fact that most of the spruce forest here has been devastated by a serious infestation of a spruce beetle.  The saving grace is that there has already begun a renewal of new growth; although it is unlikely that we shall live long enough to fully enjoy it.
Notice the new tree growth among the dead ones
While Creede is a wonderland of glorious scenery, it is a technological wasteland.  As the rest of the country is zooming along on the information highway, Creede is bumping down a washboard gravel cart path.  Like most Americans, we have become addicted to electronic gadgets, particularly computers and the Internet.  It has been a frustrating month for us.  We can take or leave TV, but take the Internet away from us and we feel lost.  It always hasn’t been so.  There was a time in the 1990s when were content to live at 10,000’ with no electronic communications of any kind—of course, much of that time was before the World Wide Web.  Soon we will be relocating to Montrose and perhaps our Internet access will improve and we will be once again content.  We’ll revisit you from there—Olathe corn should be in the farmers’ markets by then.

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