|Hiking in Colorado
I didnít have time for a local hike last month so I made do with
walking a few trails in Southwestern Colorado. The weather was a
little cooler and the mountains were a little bigger, but I still
prefer our Northern California trails. The Colorado trails were
steeper, rockier, and most were filled with tourists. Our road
traffic may be worse, but our trails are remarkably free of crowds.
Day hikes near Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs is a small but growing resort town east of Durango.
Itís high country with elevations ranging from 7,500 to 13,000 feet.
Acclimation to the altitude is a problem for some. You can have
trouble breathing, experience headaches, or get nose bleeds.
Fortunately, our family adjusted quickly, but some in-laws and
friends didnít. Smokers and less fit people appeared to have the
worst time. Lots of rest and water seem to help.
To reach our first trail, we drove north from Pagosa Springs 14.5
miles on Piedra Road. We parked in a lot just past the river bridge.
The trail took us south along the west side of the river through a
nice little, high-walled canyon. Although the elevation changes were
small, the trail was narrow and rocky. It couldnít have been that
difficult, however, because I saw at least one woman pushing a
stroller. The canyon widened into a large meadow. We walked about
3.5 easy miles before retracing our steps to the car. We could have
walked another 8.5 miles through more box canyons and ended at
another Piedra River Road bridge, but we decided to have lunch at
Pagosaís famous Malt Shop instead.
If you want an even easier trail, drive east from Pagosa about 15
miles on Highway 160. As you begin your ascent up to Wolf Creek Pass
(10,850 feet), watch for signs marking the parking lot for Treasure
Falls. Itís less than a quarter-mile up a paved and shady trail to
the falls. The trail seems a bit steep at times but the elevation
gain is only 150 feet. Benches along the way provide rest stops for
the short of breath. The falls are well worth the walk.
Another relatively short trail we enjoyed took us to Opal Lake.
We drove eight miles south of Pagosa on Highway 84, turned left on
the rough gravel of Bianco Basin Road for about ten miles, then
right on Castle Creek Road (666) for one mile, then right at the
sign for Opal Lake. The trail heads uphill rather steeply through
shade for about 15 minutes worth of walking, then moderates as you
pass through large meadows and ford several small stream crossings.
The hike is highlighted by large groves of aspen, pleasant meadows,
and the finaleóa mountain lake reflecting large mountains. The climb
takes you from 8,400 feet at the trailhead to 8,600 feet at the
lake. Although the map says the hike is only 1.5 miles long, it
seemed longer going up and shorter going down.
We took several other unnamed hikes along mountain roads and up
to nearby meadows for picnics. For maps and trail information, stop
by the ranger office on the main street of Pagosa Springs.
Hiking through Mesa Verde
Most visitors to Mesa Verde National Park never walk the trails
beyond the cliff houses. Itís enough for them to climb ladders up to
32 feet, crawl through low tunnels, and perch on vertical cliffs
hundreds of feet high. Even the tours are not for the fainthearted
or the unfit.
On a busy summer day, itís impossible to escape the crowds, but
the park offers six trails that give you more breathing room.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail is probably the shortest and easiest
trail. Beginning one mile north of the Balcony House parking area,
it provides an easy walk to the canyon edge, offering views of the
Balcony House and other archeological sites along Soda Canyon. Round
trip is only 1.5 miles.
Another short hike along Knife Edge Trail takes you from the
northwest corner of Morefield Campground to the Montezuma Valley
Overlook offering views of Montezuma Valley. It is reputed to be an
excellent place to see sunsets.Two trails begin from the Spruce Tree
House Trail. The 2.1-mile Spruce Canyon Trail follows the bottom of
Spruce Tree Canyon, turns up Spruce Canyon, and ends at the picnic
area. The 2.8-mile Petroglyph Trail continues below the edge of the
plateau to a petroglyph panel, climbs to the top of the mesa, and
returns via the rim to the museum.
The Point Lookout Trail switchbacks up the back side of Point
Lookout to the top of the mesa for views of Montezuma and Mancos
valleys. The longest trail in the park, the Prater Ridge Trail,
ascends from the east side of Prater Ridge from the Morefield
Campground parking lot to the top of the ridge and back for a
round-trip of 7.5 miles. (Taking a shortcut cuts the walk to three
After all that hiking, you deserve a rest. The nearby town of
Cortez offers excellent motels, including a new Holiday Inn Express
with an excellent indoor pool and spa. For food, I recommend a visit
to the Main Street Brewery and Restaurant for their half-pound Angus
beef hamburger raised in a natural environment without artificial
growth stimulants, dry-aged, and finished with spent brewery barley.
While you are in the area, I also recommend a trip to Creede, an
old mining town northeast of Wolf Creek Pass. The town looks as if
it came from a Western movie. The local theater offers excellent
live plays. And the mining museum takes you back in time.
To paraphrase an old saying, I wouldnít want to live in Colorado,
but I sure like to visit.