Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stony Pass to Lake City, Cinnamon Pass to Silverton...

Stony Pass to Lake City, Cinnamon Pass to Silverton...  Today's trip was a reprise of our favorite trip of last year – up and over Stony Pass, and thence to Lake City. There are two ways back to Silverton from Lake City (one via Cinnamon Pass, the other via Engineer Pass), and today we chose Cinnamon Pass. We chose to take this trip today partly because we hoped to avoid the heavy holiday trail traffic, and for the Stony Pass segment of the trip that worked very well – we only met a few people until we got to the Rio Grande Reservoir around noon. The segment from Lake City over Cinnamon Pass and back to Silverton was another story altogether – all sorts of people and vehicles there! We left at the crack of dawn and returned just before dark – a long day, but awfully nice.

The flower situation was … glorious. We're definitely a little earlier in the flower season, by a week or two, compared with last year. One of my goals was to see the irises on the south side of Stony Pass, and we did – but a week earlier yet would have been even better. We saw orange columbine in the forests just north of the Rio Grande reservoir, which we'd never seen there before. On the trip up and over Cinnamon Pass, we saw more Parry's Primrose than we'd ever seen before – basically every wet place over 10,500' was chock full of it. We apparently hit the season for them absolutely perfectly. We were too early to see sheep and shepherds, though – we're hoping we'll see them toward the end of our visit here.

A few miles south of the Stony Pass summit, the trail crosses Pole Creek on a ford across some gravel. We've made this traverse quite a few times before, and once (several visits back) we were turned around here by high water – something we were afraid might happen today, as the streams are running high compared with most of our experience. The creek was indeed running high, about 18” or 20” deep in the fast center channel – but the FJ took it just fine, with no water leaking inside the cab and the engine never sputtering at all. We haven't modified our FJ to handle deep water, but the manual says anything up to about 40” should be fine – so long as you don't mind water flowing in the cab :) We didn't come anywhere near that depth, and had no problem at all.

The dogs had a wonderful time playing in the snow near Stony Pass. We took several minutes of video with the two of them madly chasing a ball across the snow fields. By the time we put them back in the truck, we had two very tired puppies :)

After we crossed Pole Creek, we headed through the beautiful scenery of the Rio Grande valley, past the Rio Grande Reservoir (and several others), through some fire-damaged areas (from last year's fires that we saw the immediate aftermath of), and thence up through Slugmullion Pass (on paved roads) up to Lake City. There's a favorite destination of ours there: the Sportsman's Club. We like the people there (the owner's are Texans who come up to run the place in season), and most of all we like the food – most especially the pull-pork sandwiches. If your memory is particularly good, you may remember the tragedy of last year, wherein we ordered pulled-pork sandwiches and they only had enough meat for one (I took it). The same damned thing happened again this year – but this time, Debbie got the pulled-pork sandwich, and I opted for a sliced brisket sandwich – also delicious. The owner/cook came out to apologize for both the horrible pulled-pork shortage and the long delay (the place was very busy) – and insisted on giving us the sliced brisket sandwich for free. We actually hadn't minded the delay at all, because there was free WiFi there, and we had the first real connectivity of our trip. We both spent some time catching up on email and what was happening in the world. Afterwards we stopped by at Debbie's favorite Lake City coffee joint (she has one in every city, trust me): Jean's Beans. We both had some coffee, to perk ourselves up for the trip up and over Cinnamon Pass to get back to our cabin in Silverton.

There was very little snow, even at altitudes over 12,000' – the least snow we've ever seen up here at this time of year. This jibes with our host's assertions of very light snowfall this past winter. That's bad for everything and everybody depending on the water from the snow melt making it into the streams...

The wildlife wasn't as abundant in the morning as in our past experiences here. Possibly we're too early in the season. We saw a dozen or so deer, but no fawns. Lots of pikas and (especially) marmots, along with innumerable chipmunks and squirrels. We saw quite a few flickers (especially north of the Rio Grande Reservoir), as well as a few woodpeckers.

We had a bit of rain, just enough to wet down the dust, as we passed the Rio Grande Reservoir. There was no sign of any rain around our cabin when we got home, dang it.

At the top of Cinnamon Pass, we met a couple in a Jeep with their dog. They said they'd seen us earlier in the day, going the opposite way from us at Stony Pass. They recognized the orange FJ with the “Slightly Loony” sign on the front. Turns out they were camping at the Rio Grande Reservoir, and were making the exact same trip we were, but in the opposite direction. By a strange coincidence, the two times we passed them were at the tops of the two passes on the trip. Weird!

Just below Cinnamon Pass, on the Silverton side, we stopped near a stream and marsh that was chock-a-block full of allysium and Parry's Primrose. We let the dogs out to play and chase the ball there, and they had a great time as usual – and I got some nice video of them. Race had a great time biting at the fast-flowing stream. We don't know why he does this, but he seems to think it's great fun. At one point Debbie threw the ball over the stream to the opposite bank, and that made for some unexpected fun. First Race (easily) traversed the stream and went looking for the ball – but failed. Then Miki (less easily) waded across the stream and went looking – and succeeded, after following Debbie's verbal command to turn right. Then Miki wanted to come back to our side of the stream, but for some reason he didn't want to wade over this time. Instead, he wiggled around on the other side and then suddenly made a heroic leap – which didn't quite make it to the other side. He made an awful-looking full-belly-flop landing, half in the water and half out. We were afraid that he'd hurt himself, but nope, he was just fine.

After coming down off Cinnamon Pass, we just headed for home, our little cabin on Blair Mountain. It was very attractive after such a long day :)

Tundra Hymenoxys
Rosy and sulfur paintbrushes
Parry's Primrose
Alpine Avens
Unidentified, uncommon
Parry's Primrose
Unidentified, common early season
Colorado Columbine (bud)
Parry's Primrose
Big patch of Parry's Primrose
Purple Fringe
Western Iris
Unknown flower bud
Seep Monkeyflower
Spearleaf stonecrop
Some sort of beardtongue?

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