Sunday, July 6, 2014

Picayune and Placer Gulches, and Waterfalls...

Picayune and Placer Gulches, and Waterfalls...  We got ourselves on the road by 6:30 am this morning, in the hope of seeing more wildlife and of avoiding the July 4th revelers. The former didn't work out so well (we didn't see any wildlife at all until later in the day), but the latter worked great!

Last night we had a steady light rain for about an hour and a half. This morning the ground outside was all wet – not muddy, really, but certainly not the dry-as-a-bone that it was before. This will be very nice for keeping the dust down on the trails...

We set off up the road to Animas Forks, stopping first at the waterfall just below the turnoff to the road up Picayune Gulch. The waterfall was still in shadow with the sun so low, and there was no traffic to raise dust – both perfect conditions for what I wanted to do: to take long exposure (20 or 30 seconds) shots of the falls. I set up my tripod and happily played photographer for a half hour or so. I also practically froze my hands and feet (the temperature was in the mid '30s). The photos came out very nicely, which greatly pleased me.

Then we turned up the road up Picayune Gulch. We're very familiar with this road, having been on it a half dozen or so times before. So far as either of us can remember, we've always come down Picayune Gulch before, so going up it was a first. The lower parts of this road are through a mature fir forest with streams, ponds, and the occasional meadow – all very pleasant. There were also some spectacular mountain views along the way; there was much oohing and ahhing as we drove.

About a mile into this road, we came across a junction with Ouray County 99, a road that headed south of the road we're familiar with. It doesn't appear on our topo map, so we really had no idea where it went – but after our great experiences yesterday with off-map roads, we decided to try it. We are so glad we did! This is now one of the top four or five roads in all the San Juan Mountains, in our book. It's got everything: scenery, forest, meadows, streams, ponds, interesting mine works, waterfalls, and wildlife. The altitude varies from 10,000' to over 13,000', so there are lots of different wildflowers along the route. We explored every side route, including one that we had to cut our drive short because of snow on the road – that one looks like it might go most of the way to the peak of Eureka Mountain. There were two parts of this road that we particularly liked: a meadow we called “Five Corners” (because five roads join there) and a basin on the northeast flank of Eureka Mountain. The former is full of lush grass, lots of wildflowers, a meandering brook, marshy areas full of marigolds and Parry's Primrose, and views to beat the band. The two dogs had a wonderful time there chasing the ball up and down the knolls in the meadow. The latter is home to two substantial streams, both of which tumble down rocky waterfalls that are about as picturesque as a waterfall can be.

We spent about three hours on the short couple of miles long that Ouray County 99 is. The entire time, we had the road and all the surrounding scenery all to ourselves. We saw deer at well over 13,000 feet in two places, we saw quite a few birds (including a ptarmigan just ahead of us on the road, and a flicker flying right by our window). One of the deer (all spotted by Debbie, of course) was an awesome buck with a gigantic rack, browsing away in the willow. It was just wonderful. Much to our regret, Ouray County 99 ended all too quickly, rejoining the road up Picayune Gulch that we're familiar with from previous trips. There's nothing wrong with that road, either – we were going up it because we liked it – but it just wasn't up to the same standard as Ouray County 99.

And not more than 5 minutes after we got back on the familiar road, we started meeting ATVs, motorcycles, and jeeps – dozens and dozens of them over the next couple of hours. We continued up to the pass between Picayune and Placer Gulch, where we stopped for an hour or so to let the dogs play in a small pond up there (video), and to eat our lunch. The meadows around that area were particularly full of some of our favorite wildflowers, and I did some walking around to see them.

Then we headed down Placer Gulch, pausing briefly in several places to collect rocks for our neighbor Gracie, and to poke around old mine ruins. By the time we got to the bottom of Placer Gulch, it was 2 pm and both Debbie and I were ready to call it a day – so we turned right, whooshed through Animas Forks, and headed for our little cabin on Blair Mountain...

The start of County 99
Falls on the Animas River
A mine partway up 99
Spotting deer at the top
The basin of waterfalls
Purple fringe on mine tailings
Colorado columbine in bud
Marsh marigold
Not identified
Not identified
Not identified
Seedum and not identified
Not identified
Not identified
At the pass between Placer and Picayune Gulches
The "Sound Democrat" mine
The "Sound Democrat" mine
The "Sound Democrat" mine
A field spaniel and his human

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