Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shakedown Drive – Corkscrew Gulch, Copper Gulch, Cement Creek...

Shakedown Drive – Corkscrew Gulch, Copper Gulch, Cement Creek...  We got up at daybreak this morning, and I spent the first part of the day rigging the FJ for off-roading. This mainly consisted of loading all the tools, winch accessories, rope, etc. into the storage boxes under the dog platform, and mounting the hi-lift jack, spare gas cans, Pull Pal, and shovel up on the roof rack. There were a few other details, too (like dismounting the trailer hitch), but those were very little work in total. It took me a couple hours to do all this, partly because I was so full of Debbie's wonderful bacon and eggs breakfast that I could hardly move!

On the way down from our cabin, we spotted some orange columbine (a favorite of mine). This was good news for me, as it proved that we had succeeded in arriving here earlier in the flower season than we did last year. As we discovered later in the day, the next time we make this trip we're going to want to be even earlier, by another week or so, as many flowers are now past prime – or even in seed – below about 9,000 feet. This varies a bit by exposure, water, etc., so we can still find many of our favorites in bloom – but a little earlier would be mo' bettah.

The first thing we noticed when we got out on the trail up Corkscrew Gulch, is that everything looks dry and dusty compared with our experiences in past years. Our host at the cabin tells us that the “monsoons” haven't arrived yet this year, and they're overdue. On the other hand, we immediately noticed that the rate of flow in most streams is considerably more than what we saw last year. I suspect this has more to do with snow melt than anything else, and it's very obvious that the snow levels at altitude are lower than they were last year (when we arrived a week later in the season).

Because we got a late start, the trail was full of jeeps, ATVs, motorcycles, and tour trucks – just the sort of thing we try very hard to avoid. We also didn't see much in the way of wildlife, for the same reason. The traffic problem is likely exacerbated by this being a holiday weekend, and there are people here on vacation as well. On the 7th, after the July 4th holiday is over, we expect trail traffic levels to go way down. We'll also start doing our usual early morning starts, and that means we'll rarely seen anyone on the trail, and we will see wildlife.

One of the tasks for me on today's trip was to re-learn how to use my camera (a FujiFilm X100). I haven't used it at all in the past year, mainly because the camera on my iPhone isn't bad at all – and is always at hand. The X100 is remarkably easy to use, given its SLR-like capabilities – but there's still enough complexity to it that I needed to work up a little familiarity.

When we got to the top of Corkscrew Gulch, the two ponds at the pass were nice and full of water – so we launched the dogs into them for some fun. They immediately got into the spirit of things, madly chasing the ball on land and at sea. Race, as usual, played so hard that he bloodied his paws on the rocks. It will take some time for him to build up his paw-calluses.

After collecting some rocks for Gracie (our Paradise neighbor's daughter who loves rocks), we headed down off the pass and back up into Copper Gulch. This is an area we know well from past years. Even though it's a dead-end road, it passes through such beautiful scenery that we can never pass it up. This year we were a bit early for flowers (it's nearly 12,000 feet high), but the snow was mostly melted, and the ponds were full and the streams flowing. In a set of terraced ponds set in some lush meadows, we let the dogs run and play and swim. A grand time was had by all, in a setting that is heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Despite being early in the flower season at high altitude, we still saw plenty of flowers. One we noted especially: Parry's Primrose, in more abundance than we've seen before. We're not sure if it was our earlier arrival that accounted for this, or perhaps it's because there's more water in this area (update: experience on later days makes us think it's the timing, not the water).

After we finished playing around with the dogs, we headed further down Copper Gulch – but not very far, as we went down a steep slope and slid for 20 feet or so, right down a mud-covered embankment. At that point, worried about whether we could get out again, I turned the FJ (which we've nicknamed “Fajita”) around and headed back up. I needn't have worried. The “A-Track” feature took the muddy slope with no work on my part – whenever a wheel started slipping, the “A-Track” system instantly applied the brakes to that wheel so that the other, non-slipping wheels still got power. We went straight up that slippery slope and back onto the dry road. Whew!

After that, we headed down Cement Creek (the high-speed route back to Silverton) and then back to the cabin. The shake-down was a success – no rattles, no gear falling off, nothing malfunctioning. We are ready for some serious off-roading!

An orange columbine blossom
Pond in Copper Gulch
Rosy paintbrush
Red Mountain #2 from the
top of Copper Gulch
Closer to Red Mountain #2
Happy dogs playing around the ponds
Debbie and Fajita