We spent the day exploring the area near our cabin, which we've never explored before even on previous trips. Our bad, as it was quite interesting.
First we headed up toward the Mayflower Mine. We got to within a half mile or so of the mine remains before we ran into a part of the road that was washed out and unstable looking. We turned around there :)
Then we headed up past the Big Giant Mine to the Little Giant Basin (which also had extensive mining done in it, too). We spent a couple of delightful hours in this general area, mostly because of pikas. First, up at the Little Giant Basin (which is quite pretty), we spotted a colony of the biggest pikas we've ever seen or heard of. Our reference calls the American Pikas that we have in the Rockies “potato-sized” – but if the pikas we saw at Little Giant Basin were potato-sized, (as Debbie said) then those were the biggest f___ing potatoes we've ever seen! These giant pikas looked like they were 3 or 4 times the size (by weight) of the “normal” pikas, something like 10" long, nose-to-tail. It wasn't just one isolated specimen, either – we sat and watched the colony for a while, and saw quite a few of these big boys running around.
We're not exactly sure what to think of our giant pikas. There are several possibilities. Perhaps we were hallucinating. Maybe they're mutants, with genetic issues caused somehow by the mining operations. Or maybe someone established a colony of non-native pikas that are bigger. Or maybe there's another native relative of pika that we've never heard of. We don't know. But we loved watching our giant pikas :)
I also saw another couple of baby marmots there. Once again, the only cute marmots I've ever seen...
Down lower, at the Big Giant Basin, we spotted normal-sized pikas scurrying about collecting greens to dry for their winter food. We picked a strategic parking spot and watched an estimated half-dozen industrious little pikas hard at work. The place where they were harvesting greens was about 50' from where they were drying them. If you watched one pika, it would scurry down to a little meadow, cut a bunch of greens to build a bundle it held in its mouth, then scurry back up to the rocks where it would carefully (but quickly!) scatter those greens around on a sunny rock. Then back down to the meadow it would go, over and over again.
Pikas are interesting little animals, with some fairly complex behaviors you might not expect them to have. After their greens are dried, they'll take them underground to dry, protected storage areas (generally down under talus slopes). The “hay” gets packed away carefully, pushed into nooks and crannies. All winter long, when the talus slope is completely covered with deep snow, the pikas will live on this stored food. And winters are very long here :)
Many years ago, I was backpacking in the southern Rockies. I chose a campsite one afternoon on a grassy knoll under some aspen. I wanted to build a fire ring, so I collected some rocks from a talus slope right next to the knoll. As I lifted one nice flat rock, about 12" in diameter, I found one of those hay storage places. It was fascinating to see how the pikas had stuffed that hay everywhere very tightly, leaving only a small passage for themselves to access it. I put that rock back, of course!
Next we went up Cunningham Gulch. As we did this, it started to rain gently, which made photography a bit challenging. I was surprised by how many flowers were in bloom down at low altitudes, including some we hadn't seen before on this trip. Debbie was swivel-heading all over, looking up high, because two years ago she had spotted some Rocky Mountain Goats up there, directly across the gulch from the Old Hundred Mine. No such luck today; not a single goat was to be seen. Lots of white rocks, though :)
After we turned around at the end of the road up Cunningham Gulch, Debbie pulled off another animal-spotting coup. From a mile-and-a-half away (measured on the topo map), she spotted a deer curled up beneath a ledge, sheltering from the rain. I couldn't see this deer naked eye at all, but that's how she spotted it. In the binoculars, I could just barely tell it was a deer – and that mainly because I could see its ears and head moving. I don't know how she can see these things! If we ever have to live off the land by hunting, she's going to be my spotter, that's for sure!
As the rain got more intense, we decided it was time to call it a day. Debbie had the brilliant idea of going into town (Silverton) to have a pizza at Stellar. This would be the first dinner we've eaten away from the cabin – Debbie's been whipping up one delightful dinner after another, and we haven't had the slightest urge to eat out. But a pizza on this rainy day really sounded good, and the Yelp reviews of Stellar made it sound like a winner.
When we got to town, the rain was pouring down in a fashion reminiscent of rains we've experienced in Hawai'i – it feels like someone upstairs has a hose trained on you. The town doesn't have any storm drains, so the water just runs down the gutters alongside the road. These gutters were overwhelmed by this storm – what looked like small streams were rushing along them, as the roads are sloped. Cars parked nose-in to the sides of the street had their front tires squarely in the middle of these streams – and when the rushing waters hit those tires, it would shoot 2 and 3 feet into the air!
We had to wait a little while for Stellar to open (at 4 pm), but it was worth it. It was
a winner! We started with a soup (tomato bisque) that was simply outstanding. We both wished we had ordered a big bowl of it, instead of a cup. Then we had our pizza (the San Juan Mountain) that was also outstanding. A little sausage, a little pepperoni, and lots of good veggies and fungi, on a thin crust cooked to perfection. We got the big one (16") and ate just over half of it. Now our refrigerator has some yummy leftovers that I suspect will not survive the day :)
While we were in Stellar, we saw something out their front window that seemed odd – a utility pole with water spurting up all around its base. We figured out, eventually, that this was a bit of an illusion. From where we sat, directly behind that utility pole was a stream of water pouring out of an open-ended gutter about 10' high, draining off the entire roof of a small building. The water pouring out was hidden from us by the utility pole, but when it hit the ground and splashed out, we could see it. I'm guessing that the water stream was about what would come out of a 3" diameter pipe under 20 PSI or so – a lot of water. It never stopped while we enjoyed our meal; the rain was practically continuous...
We left Stellar about 5 pm, filled up the truck with gas (and I got soaked in the process), and headed back to the cabin. We expected this now familiar drive to take us 20 or 25 minutes, at which point we'd be back in our snug cabin, soon with a crackling fire. That was not to be on this evening.
The first sign that things were not normal was a sheriff in his SUV, coming up fast behind us as I drove on the paved road out of town. I pulled over to let him by, as even though his lights weren't on, he looked like he was in a hurry. Then we got to the end of the paved road, and headed to the right down County 21, which leads down to a bridge over the Animas River. Our cabin is on the other side of that bridge. About 200' down County 21, I came to a screeching halt (well, fast halt – there's no screeching on a wet dirt road :). There was a whole bunch of rock, mud, and old mining iron parts covering the road, and a fast-running stream shooting out from above and running across and down the road. It's possible the FJ could have made it across that mess, but I wasn't going to take a chance on that – if we didn't
make it, we'd be in a right royal pickle (or over the side, even worse). So I backed up to the top of the hill, where we found the sheriff who had passed us earlier, setting up to stop traffic going up the main road toward Animas Forks.
This sheriff, a very friendly fellow despite being tasked with standing in the rain to stop cars, had no idea that there was a slide on County 21. He was setting up to stop cars from running up into a much larger slide on the main road, about a quarter mile up toward Animas Forks. All traffic was stopped on that road. At that time of night, most of the traffic was coming down toward Silverton from Animas Forks (the opposite direction we were going). The sheriff was there for two hours, and in that time there were only two cars trying to go toward
Animas Forks – us and one other.
The highway department had both slides cleared within about two hours, which we thought was pretty fast work. When they clear them, they pushed all the rocks, mud, and iron over the downhill side of the road. Both slides had another road below them, so all that stuff got pushed down onto the road below, thoroughly blocking them. The big slide over the main road produced enough debris that a substantial amount went into the Animas River, creating a pinch point that caused the waters to speed up a lot right there. It was eroding fast as we drove by it. The Animas River itself was full of mud and silt, turning from its usual clear waters into what looked like liquid dirt. Quite a dramatic scene, altogether!
After the road was cleared and the highway workers told us we could go, we drove down to the bridge and across the Animas River. We were a little worried that the low spots on the road up to our cabin would be flooded or washed out (the steep parts are so stony that we weren't worried about washouts there). It turned out there was no problem at all; you'd have to look hard to see that there actually was a lot of rain. We started up a fire and had a very nice evening.
All during our rain and slide adventure, the dogs just snored on their platform. Rain, lightning, thunder, highway equipment – none of that fazed them in the slightest. Miki was snoring part of the time, and even the hyper Race slept through most of it :)
|At Little Giant Basin, land of the giant pikas...|
|The melt pond in Little Giant Basin...|
|Looking from the mouth of Little Giant Basin down toward Big Giant Mine...|
|A giant pika (yellow arrow), as good as it's gonna get with a wide angle lens...|
|Along the road between Big Giant and Little Giant Basins...|
|Near Big Giant Mine, pika-cut greens (and a flower!) drying in the sun...|
|A bold pika, normal-sized, near Big Giant Mine...|
|Lushness around the drain from Big Giant Basin, with a tramway tower slowly decomposing...|
|Old mining building, part of the Big Giant mine...|
|Large retaining wall in Big Giant Mine, made of stone fitted without mortar...|
|Along the road to Big Giant Basin...|
|Spotted in Cunningham Gulch, just as it started to rain...|
|These are blooming in profusion along the lower part of Cunningham Gulch right now...|
|Don't know what this is, but the bugs sure like it!|
|Spotted higher up in Cunningham Gulch, streamside...|
|We saw these all along the road through Cunningham Gulch - Debbie thought they looked like a pair of evil eyeballs...|
|Right at the highest part of Cunningham Gulch, in one stand - photo taken in the pouring rain...|
|A marmot, just before he dove into his hole as I approached him...|