The Twin Eagles are perched high on a rocky ridge near Hankins Pass. You can see them from Tarryall Road near the Twin Eagles Trailhead. This view is from Lizard Rock Trail. The “eaglets” stand to the left and lower
Hike with Karen and Sunday T. Dog on July 9, 2009
Trailhead: 39º9’14”N, 105º28’40”W, 8,556 feet
Lizard Rock Trail: 39º9’51”N, 105º27’13”W, 9,240 feet
Lunch above Lizard Rock: 39º9’47”N, 105º27’39”W, 9,534
Hiking distance: 5.2 miles **********************************************************************
The Brookside/McCurdy Trail is one of the longer of the Forest Service Trails in Park County. Its north end is on Park County Road 64 near Bailey. From there it goes over the Platte River Mountains, through Craig Park, over the Kenosha Mountains,through Lost Park, and winds between the highest peaks in the Tarryall Mountains, finally ending at the Twin Eagles Trailhead on Tarryall Creek. I haven’t walked its length, but have been on the north end and on a couple of miles in the Lost Park area. Karen, Sunday the teacup Newfoundland, and I tackled the south end on a warm day in July.
I had hiked in the area before, going up Lizard Rock Trail from Spruce Creek Campground two miles south of the Twin Eagles Trailhead. Pete and I hiked most of that trail before being stopped by spring snow. We never did find Lizard Rock.
Twin Eagles Trailhead is about a quarter mile east of Tarryall Road (PCR77). There’s a sign for the trailhead and picnic area just south of mile marker 26, which is 26 miles south of Jefferson on U.S. 285, or 16 miles north of U.S. 24 just east of mile marker 264, north of Lake George. The trailhead and picnic parking is in a fee area. If you’re cheap (oops! I mean thrifty) you can park on the wide shoulder on Tarryall Road and extend your hike a bit.
Once at the trailhead, cross the footbridge over Tarryall Creek, and turn left. There’s a sign on the far end of the bridge, and all the arrows, to Spruce Grove Campground, Hankins Pass, McCurdy Park, and Lost Park Campground, point left. To the right, you’ll find the picnic area. We went left.
The central and southern Tarryall Mountains are full of rocks, and the Brookside/McCurdy Trail heads for the heart of them. There are a few smaller cliffs that the trail dodges as it goes up Tarryall Creek for a bit before turning east and climbing up a side valley.
At about 4-tenths of a mile, there is a T in the trail, and a sign that says Forest Service Trail 607 goes to the left. 607 is the Brookside/McCurdy Trail, so left we went, down slope and again paralleling Tarryall Creek. We got a view of cone-shaped Bradley Peak to the north.
We had begun our trip with high, thin clouds but warm temperatures. By this time, the clouds had burned off, and we were looking at a sunny, maybe even hot, day. The warm breezes brought out the wonderful smell of the ponderosa pines along the trail, and lit up the bright, yellow buttercups and innumerable other wildflowers. The trail turned east again, and went up steeper than before. At the end of the steep bit, we found a sign, “Please respect private property, stay on trail,” and a view up the valley of Hay Creek, with the ranch there. The valley was lush and green and inviting,
but we stayed on the trail.
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At the next break in the trees that gave us a view to the peaks to the east, we found the Twin Eagles. High on a ridge north of Hankins Pass two large stone monoliths stand, and look for all the world like a pair or eagles, perched up high. To the north of them and lower, more rocks stand; perhaps the pair have a nest of eaglets. I took a number of photographs of them as we went up the trail, hoping to catch the optimum view.
The unusually wet weather this summer has made for an unusual mix of plant and animal life. The trail followed the Hay Creek valley, but did so outside the private property boundary, and in the trees. With the views of the eagles and other rock formations in the Tarryall Mountains blocked from view, I looked closer at the plants. Wildflowers this year are unusually abundant, in number and variety. Butterflies are not; I imagine that their numbers were significantly reduced by the late spring snowfall.
Lizard Rock raises his head and neck as if to warm himself in the sun. We found him from the Lizard Rock Trail as it went south from the intersection with the Brookside/McCurdy Trail
I did see something flitting around the flowers, and was surprised to find iridescent green dragonflies. I expected to find them near ponds, but the nearest standing water was probably on Hay Creek, perhaps half a mile away. Joining them were bright, blue damselflies, their smaller but similar cousins, and gray-green damselflies, too.
The trail continued up the valley until the meadows below us ended, then turned south, up the hill and deeper into the conifers. We came to an intersection of trails: Brookside/McCurdy trail continued up the valley, while we turned and went up the Lizard Rock Trail. This trail wound past a few boulders and small meadows as it turned south and went up the hill. In one of the clear areas, I saw it: Lizard Rock. Pete and I hadn’t seen it on our hike a couple of years before, because we just weren’t on the right side of the ridge. It looks like a head and neck of an iguana, raised to catch the sun’s rays.
At the top of the ridge, we had options: Continue south on the Lizard Rock Trail, turn east on an unmarked trail, or go
the trail followed the property boundary of the ranch in Hay Creek valley, and we got views through to trees to the ranch and beyond. Here are two old log buildings on the southern part of the ranch, with the cone of Bradley Peak, and Farnum Peak in the Puma Hills on the left
west to Lizard Rock. It was nearing lunch time, and we needed a destination and a view, so we chose Lizard Rock. It was only about a quarter mile to the end of the trail, but it was the steepest section of trail on the trip. The path went straight up in places, opening the trail up to erosion from running water, making the trip up harder yet.
The path didn’t lead to Lizard Rock, but to the high point on the ridge above the rock. This was good because we were higher and had better views, but wasn’t quite the same as “being there.” The rest, the views, and the lunch assuaged my pain.
We were on a relatively low ridge between the highest of the Puma Hills and the highest of the Tarryall Mountains, so the best long view was up Tarryall Creek.
Wildflowers were everywhere, all along the trail, and in the rocks high on the ridge. Lichens are growing well on this cliff above Lizard Rock, offering a bold contrast to the bright pink flower below them
In the distance were Mount Silverheels and Bald Mountain; Observatory Rock peeked around the ridge in the middle distance, and Bradley Peak was close by. To the left of the valley were the forested Puma Hills, in contrast to the rocky Tarryall Mountains on the right.
Return trips can show you what you’d missed on the way up. We got different angles of the Twin Eagles and Lizard Rock, as well as the views through the trees to the lush valley along Hay Creek.
The Twin Eagles are visible in the far left gap in the trees in this view from Tarryall Road. South Tarryall Peak is on the right, and the road to the trailhead is below it.
What a great day and a wonderful hike it was. Whenever the clouds began to gather, the sun sent them packing again. We found Lizard Rock, and discovered the eagles that the trailhead is named for. A longer hike on the Brookside/McCurdy Trail is in order; surely more wonders await there.
Joe stands at the edge of the Iron Fen and looks up at Sullivan Mountain. Above right: Josephine Lake from the east ridge of Sullivan Mountain.
Hike with Joe on August 16, 2007
Hiking distance: 6.0 miles
Trailhead: 39°34’2”N, 105°46’53”W, 10,422 feet
Josephine Lake: 39°33’47”N, 105°49’6”W, 11,776 feet
Sullivan Mountain: 39°33’48”N, 105°49’42”W, 13,134 feet
From Grant, go north on Guanella Pass Road, Park County Road 62. At 7.0 miles, turn left on Forest Service Road 119 and go past Duck Creek Picnic Ground and Geneva Park Campground. The road gets rougher as you go; high clearance is necessary, but you might be able to travel it with two-wheel drive. We stopped at a gate in the road, 11.2 miles from US285. This is an unmarked, unlocked gate; you can pass through and go to the next gate, about a tenth of a mile farther.
Josephine Lake from the east ridge of Sullivan Mountain.
This second gate should be locked, to prevent motor vehicles from driving on the Geneva Creek Iron Fens. “A fen is an area of peat-forming wetlands that receives nutrients usually from up-slope mineral soils and groundwater movement,” per the
Clear Creek County web site. After the gate, take two left forks, and you will find the fen after the second, as well as a clear view of Sullivan Mountain.
Skirt the fen on the right, and go through the trees toward Sullivan Mountain. You’ll come across another road; follow it
south, but continue south when it turns east. At the top of a low ridge, you’ll find Josephine Lake.
From Josephine Lake, go east up the ridge to the summit of Sullivan Mountain. There are great views north across Geneva Creek Valley, and over that ridge to Gray’s and Torrey’s Peaks. It began to rain when we reached the summit, so we didn’t sight see, but there should be good views west into Summit County towards the Ten Mile Range.
Trailhead: 38º55’10”N, 105º22’0”W, 8677 feet
Top of the rocky hill: 38º56’7”N, 105º22’5”W, 9122 feet
Camp Alexander southeast fence corner: 38º56’17”N
105º22’31”W, 8476 feet
Walking distance 4.6 miles
In Lake George, turn southwest from US 24 onto Park County
Road 96, at Starkey’s Liquor and Groceries. This road follows
the South Platte around the south end of the lake, and then up
Elevenmile Canyon. Go about 1 mile, and turn left onto Park
County Road 61. This road leads you south, past Blue Mountain
Campground, along the east side of Blue Mountain, and then turns west. Go past the junction of a road to Florissant, and continue
west up the hill, and park beside the road at the start of Forest
Service Road 244, 5.7 miles from US 24. The road is also marked
by a sign that says “Circle C Ranch” and “Horse Motel.” Don’t
cross the cattle guard, which is just past FSR244 on PCR61.
It’s hard to resist going to check out a mountain or valley that bears your surname, and it’s hard to stay at home on a crystal clear morning. I fell to the temptations and headed south through Lake George to the same trailhead I used to go up Blue Mountain almost two months before.
Rankin Gulch begins in the Circle C Ranch, and flows north to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. On the way it passes through Camp Alexander, a camp for Boy Scouts. A hike is nicer if you can make a loop, rather than following the same path out and back, so I plotted a course north over the top a low hill between Blue Mountain and Rankin Gulch, then down to the gulch and upstream back to the start. I figured I would have no trouble staying off the private properties of the Ranch and the Camp.
From County Road 61, I went north on Forest Service Road 244. The sun was shining warmly through clear skies. The only snow I found was miles to the east on Pike’s Peak. There were but a few puffy clouds on the western horizon, and a hawk circled lazily overhead. After three tenths of a mile, I came to a fork in the road, and followed FSR 244A to the left. A black squirrel with tufted ears ran across the road ahead of me, and soon thereafter a pickup truck full of freshly cut fi redwood drove by, his permit clearly visible through the windshield. At another fork in the road, I passed FSR 244D, staying on 244A.
This is the southern-most tent camp along Rankin Gulch in Boy Scout Camp Alexander,
There were a few muddy spots to avoid, but otherwise the walk on the road was quick and easy. There are many aspen in the area, some ready to start showing some green, others already sporting dime-sized leaves. I continued on 244A at a fork with 244B, and at an unmarked junction, and then came to a bit of a bog in the road. Many vehicles driving through had made the area one big, brown, muddy mess. That and the chainsaw of a woodcutter nearby convinced me to skirt the mud to the left, leave the road, and head straight up the hill.
The fluffy clouds had risen off the horizon by the time I left the road, and were quickly joined by others. The climb was alternately steep, then easy, then steep again. A fairly clear forest floor gave me many paths to choose from. The hill became rockier as I ascended, and was capped with rocks, allowing views in many directions. The vistas north, west, and southwest are better than those on the higher but wooded summits of Blue Mountain. There
is a wonderful view of Lake George, and of the lake near the north end of Camp Alexander.
From the hilltop, my proposed path was down to the north, then west. On the way down, my path was crossed by another squirrel, this one brown, with rounded ears. There are many rocky outcroppings on the northwest side of the hill, which kept me going north farther than I had hoped for. After finally turning west, I soon came to a north-south fence, the eastern boundary for Camp Alexander. I turned south and went along the fence back uphill, dodging more and larger rocks the higher I went. Although the fence soon ended, I knew I wasn’t south of the camp,
as I could see roads, trails and tent camps in Rankin Gulch below me. I kept high on the ridge, moving south and west, and found a second north-south fence. It soon turned west at the south end of the camp property, and I headed down to the creek.
The walk up Rankin Gulch was quiet and pleasant.
the stream in Rankin Gulch winds lazily through pools among the aspen and bushes.
The gulch is narrow, but its sides are low and gentle, and the forest thin, leaving plenty of room to dodge the bushes, aspen and narrow leaf cottonwoods along the water. The fl ow is slow, with many pools, and the walk along the banks easy and pleasant, especially after skirting rocks on the ridge above. Higher up I crossed a well-used trail at right angles to the creek. The valley steepened, and I came
upon an abandoned beaver dam, and then the valley widened. I crossed a fence, and walked along a freshly maintained forest service road. An ATV and several dirt bikes went by me, so I was happy to leave the road and continue up the creek.
The valley continued to widen as I walked, and the creek spread into a shallow bog, where a spring was piped into a stock tank. I moved to the east into the trees and onto dry ground, followed the gulch to the newer fence of the Circle C Ranch, then turned east and went back to my starting point.
I’m pleased that I enjoyed the gulch that shares my name. The stroll up Rankin Gulch was restful and serene; the walk up to the rocky hill was invigorating, and rewarded me with nice views of Lake George. Going up and down the steep ridge east of Camp Alexander was wearying. For anyone headed this way, I’d suggest going out and back, either to the hill for an invigorating but not too difficult hike, or down and back up Rankin Gulch for a restful stroll.
Lake George and the town that shares its name rests beautifully in the valley northeast of the hill east of Rankin Gulch
From Jefferson, go south on Park County Road 77 (Tarryall Road), 17.6 miles to PCR 23 (Turner Gulch Road). A sign pointing to Turner Gulch Road, Packer Gulch, and Highway 24 shows the right-hand turn just past the Tarryall Dam spillway. Stay to the right at a fork in the road (don’t go to Packer Gulch). Turn left onto Forest Service Road 281, 28.75 miles from Jefferson. From US 24, just west of mile marker 248, turn north on San Miguel Street. Go 3.2 miles, and turn right (follow sign to Turner Gulch Road). At 3.7 miles from US 24, turn left (follow sign to Turner Gulch Road) (you are now on PCR 23, but no sign tells you that). At 6.2 miles from US 24, turn right on FSR 281.
Park County Road 23, or Turner Gulch Road, is my new favorite scenic road in Park County. From Tarryall Reservoir it heads north, then west over a ridge, and then swings south, just east of South Park and west of the Puma Hills. It’s a long, lonely road with big mountains in the distance, ranch land up close, and hills, meadows, trees and views all the way. At the south end, it starts down a valley through the hills. A number of Forest Service Roads leave the main road. We picked 281 pretty much at random, and it worked out well. It’s a four-wheel-drive road that goes up Sawdust Gulch. Our two-wheel-drive got us about a quarter mile before some rocks discouraged us from driving on.
The weatherman had predicted warm weather during the day, with storms likely in the evening. We found sunny skies, a breeze from the southwest, and good hiking temperature. The road up went through a mixed forest of aspen, fir, ponderosa and limber pine, and soon led us to a spring. An enterprising rancher had placed a stock tank there, and piped the spring water into and out of the tank. Algae had grown in the tank, but the water coming in was clean and pure.
I had a topographic map of the area, but had left it on the table at home. Our first goal was Rishaberger Mountain, but looking up from Sawdust Gulch, we weren’t sure which one it was. We had Pike National Forest map, which implied that she is a prominent peak, so we assumed the most prominent peak we saw to be her. From the top, we’d decide if we could continue on to Schoolmarm Mountain, a bit more than a mile northeast from Rishaberger.
The spring in Sawdust Gulch. The water from the spring is fed into the stock tank through a pipe, then another pipe drains the tank. Algae grows in the clear water in the tank.
Sawdust Gulch led up and up, steeper as she went to the northeast. The tracks in the road began as four-wheel-drive, but soon narrowed to ATV tracks. At nine-tenths of a mile from the car, we reached the end of the road and the gulch. Down the hill in front of us, there was snow in the trees. We turned right, and up toward the top of Rishaberger. From that vantage, we could see a ridge rising gracefully towards the southeast, tree-covered the whole way.
The hard part was getting to the top of the ridge. We turned east and went up a steep hill that got steeper. Luckily there was little downed timber to block our path, and few rocky outcroppings to dodge. The ponderosa pine and aspen didn’t come up the hill with us; they were replaced by mostly small and scraggly bristlecone pines, our companions for the rest of the day. A prospector long before us had dug a wide, foot-deep hole, but we saw no other human signs on the steep hill up.
Once up to the top of the ridge, we expected easy going. The forest was not thick on the ridge, but there were snow
piles, which at first were easy to dodge. Because of the trees, we had not seen the rocky backbone on the ridge. We took a circuitous path dodging piles of rocks and small cliffs. As we gained elevation, the snow grew thicker, pushing us to the southern side of the rocks, and often cutting off the easier routes. Eventually we reached a high rock from which we could see no higher rock farther on. We declared victory over Rishaberger Mountain. To the northeast we saw a nearby mountain we took to be Schoolmarm. It looked too far through too much snow to get to, so we took a few pictures
through the trees, and sat down for lunch and a rest.
After our break, we continued along the ridge in the same direction, looking for a good path down to the lower ridge that
we knew headed southwest. As we walked, the ridge started going back up. And up, eventually to another higher point, where we found a Geodetic Survey marker which said: Schoolmarm Mountain. Oops! I remember reading about a statement made by early 19th century trapper Jim Bridger. Someone asked hiif he’d ever gotten lost out in the Rockies with no maps and no one to guide him. He said he’d gotten turned around for a few weeks one time, but, no, he’d never been lost.
An isolated snowstorm slides over the top of Mount Princeton far to the west. The storms moved from north to south, so we weren’t worried about this one.
Now knowing where we were, it was obvious that the mountain northeast was Farnum Peak. We had a better view southwest, and could see the ridge going down, then back up to the top of the real Rishaberger Peak.
Meanwhile, the weather was slowly getting worse. Far to the west, we could see isolated storms, one in the Sawatch Range, and another in the Mosquitoes. The wind had picked up a bit, and the clouds were building. Still, the temperature hadn’t dropped, and the sun was warm when it peeked through the clouds. We headed down the ridge.
It was steep coming down off Schoolmarm Mountain, and there were lots of rocks to clamber over or walk around. Once off the steep slopes, the amount of fallen timber increased, and we came upon some pretty big snow drifts. Despite the mostly downhill path, our walk to Rishaberger Mountain was slow. Once there, we could see the county road and Sawdust Gulch below us. The remaining half mile, down the steep slope, was slower still, there being more fallen trees to evade. We found many stumps from cut trees, giving a hint at why the gulch was named Sawdust. It was a relief to find the car; snow began to fall before we got to it.
My GPS said our walk had been short of four miles, but it felt closer to six. There was a lot of steep ground to cover, and lots of rocks, trees and snow to dodge. Had we remembered to bring our topo homework, we probably would have followed the same path, but at least we would have known what mountain we were on. I suppose the Schoolmarm wasn’t pleased with us.
There it is! There’s Rishaberger Mountain, the high point on the end of the ridge southwest of Schoolmarm Mountain
This is a beautiful video and it shows what hiking in Colorado is all about. the only thing you cannot get out of this video is the smells, and the wind and weather. There are wonderful scents in the high mountain peaks and beautiful color. Its an adventure and you never know what you will find around the next bend in the trail. Hiking the trail makes me feel small. God and mother nature are here and in my opinion its the most beautiful place on earth.
From left, Tim, Mark, Dave & Ginni discuss our future course. Sheep Park holds the beaver ponds below, & Twelvemile Creek Valley is beyond the ridge, leading toward Buffalo Peaks. Shavano & Antero Peaks are in the center background.
Hike on August 9, 2007 with Tim, Tanya, Scott, Mark, Ginni
GPS: Datum WGS84
Brown’s Pass: 39°10’28” N, 106°5’49” W, 11,361 feet
Sheep Mountain: 39°11’37” N, 106°6’43” W, 12,818 feet
From U.S. 285 south of Fairplay, turn west on Park County Road 20, just north of mile marker 179. PCR 20 turns into Forest Service Road 176. The paved road soon turns to gravel, then turns nasty. You’ll need a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Stay on FSR 176 and follow the signs to Brown’s Pass. Park 5.5 miles from U.S. 285 at the junction of 176 and 176A, at the top of Brown’s Pass.
Our pre-arranged meeting place was on Front Street in Fairplay. From there, Sheep Mountain is easy to spot: She obscures the southern half of the Horseshoe Mountain amphitheater.Her long, southern ridge slides down from her peak through the trees to the low point that is Brown’s Pass, our starting point.After a spot of java and story swapping, we loaded into the SUVs and were off.
We rattled up the pass and parked at the top, piled out and surveyed our surroundings. The air was crystal clear, and only a few puffy clouds hovered above the eastern horizon. Warm temperatures and the light upslope winds we’ve enjoyed all season encouraged us to be on our way.
My newer map shows a trail heading north, up the slope from Brown’s Pass, but not the side road 176A. Assuming they were the same, we headed up the road, but left it when it turned west.The slope was not too steep, so we followed the top of the ridge up. From Fairplay, the slope looks to be a steady climb, but a close look reveals undulations in the ridge. For us the undulations made for false summits and occasional steep sections, but for the most part it was an easy climb.
The trees by Brown’s Pass were a mix of bristlecone and foxtail pine, aspen, fir and spruce. As we climbed, all but the spruce and bristlecone pine disappeared, and those shrank and became twisted by the harsh high-altitude conditions. We reached timberline just before a false summit; mounting that summit we found more trees. Egad! a false summit and a false timberline.
Broken rock covers most of Sheep Mountain above the trees. The rock on the ridge was fist-size, and not very loose, so the hiking was not hard. Still, one had to watch one’s step to avoid tripping. It struck me that prospecting above timberline would be a natural occupation: You have to be looking at the rocks as you walk anyway, so you may as well look for interesting minerals as you go.
Above timberline, Sheep Mountain offers wonderful views that spread out as you climb. She’s east of most of the Mosquito Range, so you have views of her sisters north, south and west. She’s on the edge of South Park, so there are dramatic views down and east over the plains, stretching to Mount Evans and Pike’s Peak. Fairplay appears as a sprinkling of confetti on the lower slopes of Mount Silverheels. To the south there is a wonderful view where the land slides away down into Sheep Park and Twelvemile Creek
valley, then rises up to the rounded tops of Buffalo Peaks. Beaver ponds dot Sheep Park, Forest Service roads crisscross the terrain, and aspen groves, meadows, and rock fields cover the mountain slope in colors.
The Leavick Mill is a reminder of the area’s mining activity.
Approaching the summit the trail becomes less steep, and the western and northern Mosquitoes come into view. Horseshoe Mountain is dramatic, and the shack on its summit is easy to see. Far below, the Leavick Mill sits on Four mile Creek road, which leads to the mines that dot Horseshoe and Peerless Mountains, and Mounts Sherman and Sheridan.
The summit break gave us time to survey our return trip. We had planned to go down to a saddle on the west, then up to the lower Lamb Mountain. On the map, it looked like a short detour, although a little steeper than the ridge behind us. From Sheep Mountain’s summit, it looked like a dang cliff down and a tough climb up. We decided to travel back towards Brown’s Pass but stay west of the top of the ridge in order to get a better view of the approach to Lamb Mountain.
Another of our goals was to do some scouting for the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative. MRHI is trying to reduce tensions between land owners and recreationists in the Mosquito Range. There are mines and privately owned lands on both Sheep and Lamb Mountains. We found signs of mining activity on Sheep Mountain, but all was long abandoned. We made close inspection of one mine where the entrance was still supported by bristlecone pine timbers, but the tunnel behind had collapsed.
Ginni and a giant bristlecone pine, one of the few originals to escape a long-ago fi re.
Going farther down the slope, we got a good view of the saddle between Sheep and Lamb Mountains. It looked like a long traverse to the saddle across loose and broken rock, then a steep ascent to Lamb Mountain. We decided that a stroll through the bristlecone forest between us and Brown’s Pass was in our better interest.The forest once had large trees, but apparently had burned, years ago. Big, dead bristlecone stand among the smaller live trees, making for dramatic frames for pictures of Buffalo Peaks and the valleys before them.
We wandered back to the top of the ridge through the trees,toward Brown’s Pass and the vehicles. Soon we found road 176A, and along it the start of the trail we were going to take on our way up. The trail has been marked by rocks placed on a 2-and-a-halffoot- high stump. How we missed it, I’ll never know.
This is a moderate climb with extreme views. The hardest part is getting to Brown’s Pass: If your vehicle can’t make it but you’ve got the time, drive as far as you can, then walk the road and continue up the ridge. An alternative route is Forest Service Trail 691, which goes up the east side of Sheep Mountain from Horseshoe Campground on Fourmile Road, Park County Road 18.
Mount Evans looks down at the top of Ben Tyler Gulch. We crossed the snowfields, and walked the ridge rather than follow the trail. The apparently snow-free patches between us and the ridge are mostly bushes sticking up through the snow
Ben Tyler Trail, Forest Service Number 606
South Trailhead: 39°22’28”N, 105°41’4”W, 9,708 feet
North Trailhead: 39°26’9”N, 105°35’27”W, 8,226 feet
Hiking distance: 8.5 miles
We started at the south trailhead: From US 285, turn east on the Lost Park Road (Park County Road 56) at the base of Kenosha Pass, just east of mile marker 200. Turn left at a sign pointing to Ben Tyler and Colorado Trails, 7.7 miles from US 285. Go to the end of the road, and park at the Ben Tyler Trailhead, 9.9 miles from US 285. This is a fairly rough road. You will need four-wheel–drive and high clearance to get to the end; otherwise you might have to walk a quarter mile or more.
The north trailhead is across US 285 from Long Meadow, just east of mile marker 215.
Pete parked within sight of the Ben Tyler Trailhead, not wanting to dare the deep ruts near the end of the road. We got out of the car to find cool temperatures, mostly clear skies, and a light breeze at our backs as we headed north to the trail.
For the past several Memorial Day weekends, I have gone up Ben Tyler Gulch from the north end, to see if the snowpack was so high that I could not reach the top of the ridge. Last year the snowpack was light and I had no problems getting above timberline. This year Pete wanted to go, and we both wanted a change, so we started from the south end. We left a car at each end of the trail.
Rock Creek was flowing fast and deep, and we had to dodge mud and flowing water on the trail in a number of places. Just past
the trailhead are beaver ponds, with more than a few recently cut aspen trees waiting to be dragged down to shore up the dam. Thin ice crystals sat on the shallow water near the bank of the ponds.
Rock Creek follows a narrow, steep-walled gulch, a marked contrast to Ben Tyler’s wide valley. The thick spruce forest, dotted with aspen, blocks views out, but also blocked out the cool breeze and made a nice background for the flowing creek. The trail was in turns steep, then gentle, but always up. We crossed the creek to the east side on a long, solid, 12 by 8 inch timber, hauled up by several Forest Service workers.
We found a marked difference in snow levels as we climbed.
At about half a mile from the trailhead we came across the remains of two log cabins, roofs gone and trees growing through the dirt floors. Soon after we found the reason for the cabins: A large scrap pile from a sawmill operation. The day before, Pete had asked me if we should bring our snowshoes. No, I didn’t think we’d need them; if we did find snow we couldn’t get around, we could always turn back. We took our gaiters, though, just in case there was a bit of snow we had to tromp through. A bit above the cabins, at 10,140 feet, we found our first patch of snow. At 1.4 miles from the trailhead and 10,600 feet, the snow was thick enough we put on our gaiters. Soon after, the trail crossed to the west side of the creek, where there were small clearings and no snow.
Rock Creek left us to run through bushes and bog, and we headed up the steeper hillside, following muddy switchbacks through the trees. The snow patches grew, but there were paths around, or beaten trails through. At about 11,000 feet the trees ended, replaced by low bushes and clearings, and what appeared to be the top of the ridge. The trappings of civilization returned to us briefly when Pete’s cell phone rang, and he set up a ping pong game for the next day.
I’ve never liked going through bushes, as they tend to hide things I’d rather avoid. These bushes hid snow, and the snow in turn hid rocks and uneven ground, as well as the trail. Any signs of previous hikers also disappeared. Still, there were ways around most of the snow, and the bits we did go through wre not deep . When we got above the treetops behind us, we turned ‘round to fi nd a grand view of the South Park and Mosquito Ranges, Mount Silverheels prominent in the center. Near the top of the
ridge we found some rocks to block the cold but gentle breeze, and had a bite of lunch while we contemplated the remainder of the hike. After our rest, we went to the top of the ridge, looked down on Ben Tyler Gulch, and contemplated some more.
Pete crosses the snowfi eld at the top of Ben Tyler
Behind us were the snow fields we had crossed, and the windin our face. Ahead were snow fields for a mile, then the snow-free ridge on the west side of Ben Tyler Gulch. I had considered walking the ridge in the past, Pete said he had, too, and today looked like the day. We forged ahead.
The snow was deeper here than behind us, and got deeper still as we went. It also got colder and harder, and by the time we were half way to the ridge, we could walk on top without the occasional post-hole. The last quarter mile on the snow was the easiest of the hike.
The ridge turned out to be slow going. There was snow fields in the trees to the west, lots of rock to clamber over and around on top, and steep slopeson the east, often with thick, almost bushy, hard to-pass-through aspen groves. Still, it gave us three potential paths, and slowly the snow subsided, and slowly the aspen groves thinned. When the ridge dipped down and then way back up, we decided to head down the hillside to the trail, which we caught shortly before it turned west around the end of the ridge. In another mile, we were resting in the car seats.
The snowpack check results are in: There is more snow at the head of Ben Tyler Gulch than there has been in several years. Looking across to the trail from the ridge showed snow lower than at any other time I’ve made the Memorial Day trek.
There was almost no snow on Memorial Day weekend
This was a tough hike. We went about 8 and a half miles, and were on the trail for almost eight hours, including lunch break, strategy meetings, and telephone conversations. Still, as we decided over pizza and beer later on, we’d do it again. If you want to go, wait a few weeks so you can enjoy drier trails and the tiny alpine wildfl owers that will appear when the snow recedes. Or brave the elements, and go now. Take the snowshoes.
In 2007, Shawnee Peak had a respectable fringe of snow.
The north slope of Blue Mountain rises above Lake George Dam
Hike on March 20, 2007
Trailhead: 38º55’10”N, 105º22’0”W, 8677 feet
Top of northern summit: 38º56’29”N, 105º21’28”W, 9126 feet
Walking distance 4.3 miles
In Lake George, turn southwest from US 24 onto Park County Road 96, at Starkey’s Liquor and Groceries. This road follows
the South Platte around the south end of the lake, and then up Elevenmile Canyon. Go about 1 mile, and turn left onto Park County Road 61. This road leads you south, past Blue Mountain Campground, along the east side of Blue Mountain, and then turns west. Go past the junction of a road to Florissant, and continue west up the hill, and park beside the road at the start of Forest Service Road 244, 5.7 miles from US 24. The road is also marked by a sign that says “Circle C Ranch” and “Horse Motel.” Don’t cross the cattle guard, which is just past FSR244 on PCR61.
Even a quick glance at a recreational or topographic map will help you fi nd somewhere to hike in Park County. I was looking at a topo map in the Lake George area, and noticed low, rolling country in western Teller County, then – boom – a vertical
north-south wall in Park County. Blue Mountain is a long ridge that rises abruptly 600 feet from the gentle slopes to its east. A hike on a notable mountain is just the thing for the spring equinox, a notable day.
The heavy snows earlier in the year followed by unseasonably warm weather has made for circumstances that require some extra planning for a hiking trip. The south-facing slopes are clear in open fields and muddy in the trees; north-facing slopes can hold deep snow drifts, especially in the forest. West-facing slopes tend to be clearer than those to the east, but both will hold snow if forested.
With these things in mind, I started on one of the many forest service roads southwest of Blue Mountain. I could have driven a long way from County Road 61, as there were only small scattered snow piles and mud holes, but the sky was clear, the weather warm, and only a light southwest breeze was blowing. It was no time to be in a car.
Forest Service Road 244 led north, up an easy slope, and into the trees, a mix of ponderosa pine, Douglas fi r, and aspen, typical of Park County’s lower elevations. The road would be no trouble.
At a fork in the road with road 244A, 244 turned more east, and went up a little more steeply, heading straight towards Blue Mountain. Here was the first view of Pike’s Peak, dominating the landscape to the east. All the low, rolling hills of Teller County just make Pike’s all the more impressive.
Soon the forest became denser and the road turned back north. Other Forest Service Roads connect to 244: 244C leading west,
and 244E north down a slope and into the snow from the top of a small ridge. From here 244 turned southeast, got steeper,switched back north, and then ended as a road, although a trail continued on.
At the end of the road sprawl the ruins of a small shack and its outhouse. Both were covered with steel sheeting, but rot in the wooden framework, and probably winter winds, brought them down.
From this point, the top of the ridge of Blue Mountain was only a little more than a hundred feet up, the forest was fairly thin, and there were few rocks and little snow. It was an easy decision to leave the trail and strike straight up.
The ruins of the shack and its outhouse, from the end of Forest Service Road 244, looking south
There is a trail along the top of Blue Mountain, but a number of snow drifts blocked it. Still, the travel was easy, there being a thin forest, easy grades, and not too many rocks to dodge. At the bottom of the first saddle was an unused road, probably built to service a mining claim along the top and west side of the ridge. Several small digs and an old pile of lumber mark someone’s efforts.
The best views were from the northern-most peak. To the east,Pike’s Peak was impressive, and Crystal Peak, north of Florissant, made a good showing of her own.
Thirtynine Mile Mountain showed prominently to the southwest. Of the high peaks in western Park County and Chaffee County, only Mount Princeton and Buffalo Peaks are visible over the local mountains. Closer, Badger Mountain, just north of Wilkerson Pass, blocks any view one could have of South Park. There are four high points on Blue Mountain, the highest being the most southern. I had come up on the third high point from the north. Not knowing what snow fields waited, I decided to forego the southern summit, and just go north. Shortly after starting out, a grouse cock sprang from a nearby log, and flew north along the ridge. I followed him down the to the saddle between high points. He flew again, this time heading west, off the ridge top.
Crystal Peak, the pointed mountain, rises above the low, rolling hills around Florissant
A loop is a more enjoyable trip than going out and back, so from Blue Mountain’s northernmost summit, I headed down to the west. The sides of Blue Mountain are steep in any direction, but, true to my predictions, the north and east sides were covered with trees and snow, while the west side was mostly grassy and dry. There were many yucca scattered in the grass; this was unusual only in that almost all of the plants were small and young, only a few years old. A new trend here, perhaps. Another surprise, it being only March: butterflies! Several fl uttered by, of a variety common in Park County, brown with a yellow stripe on the trailing edges of their wings.
At the bottom of the valley was a road that lead south and up to a ridge leading west from Blue Mountain. I suspected that the road was 244E, and that I would fi nd plenty of snow once I got up into the trees. I was right, on both counts. There were lots of deer signs, both droppings and tracks in the mud and snow. I found the deer and I had similar strategies for getting up the hill: Follow the road, but skirt around the snow when it blocked the road. Near the top, though, a big drift would have made for a long detour, and I followed the deer tracks straight through.
The return trip was a stroll down the road. Sun and wind had melted the few snow drifts on the road, and turned isolated spots of mud, but the spots were easy to avoid.
I love finding new places to hike, and Blue Mountain made for a great half-day trek: Not too long a climb where steep, nice diversity of terrain, wildlife, and, always the icing on the cake, are the views from the top; or in Blue Mountain’s case, from the tops!
The north slopes of Saddle Mountain on the left, and Thirtynine Mile Mountain still carry a signifi cant amount of snow.
Low clouds crown South Tarryall Peak, right; the trail to Lizard Rock goes up the valley towards the pointed peak on the left
Lizard Rock Trail ~ Hike with Pete on Mar. 27, 2007
Trail Head: 39°8’10”N, 150°27’48”W, 8546 feet
Trail to Goose Creek and Lake Park Trails:
39°9’48”N, 150°27’20”W, 9500 feet
End of the trail for us: 39°9’48”N, 150°26’40”W, 9622 feet
Hiking distance – 5.9 miles
Take Park County Road 77, the Tarryall Road, south from Jefferson 28 miles, or north from US 24 near Lake George about
14 miles. Turn east to the Spruce Grove Campground just south of mile marker 28. There is no sign for the campground on PCR 77. The Lizard Rock Trail head is in the campground, but parking for hikers is at the gate to the campground. The gate is closed during the off season.
The weatherman promised a calm, mostly sunny, fairly warm day all over Park County, so Pete and I headed down the Tarryall Road for some time in the woods. It was overcast during the car trip, with temperatures in the thirties. As we traveled down the Tarryall Road, the weather became more ominous: Low clouds rested on the tops of Bison Peak, McCurdy Mountain, and South Tarryall Peak. The fog lifted now and again to show frost on the trees at the mountain tops.
The lower Tarryall valley is a wonderful area to hike in. There lots of trails with easy access from the Tarryall Road, and spectacular mountains with rocks, cliffs and forests. Our only concern was the weather, and the clouds looked like they wouldn’t mind dumping some snow on us.
We parked at the gate to the Spruce Grove Campground, where we found a newly posted sign: MOUNTAIN LION SEEN IN
AREA. Oh, well, we thought, that’s his problem. We went through the campground, and found the trail head at the lower end, next to Tarryall Creek. A well-made footbridge led us over the creek (it has a 5000 pound load limit! It’s OK to bring your two-ton buddy!) and a sign pointed us north on the Lizard Rock Trail. The path immediately went under a boulder and up the creek. The campground was probably named for the towering spruce near the creek; it was a long walk to
The trail was wide and well-traveled. It left the creek, moving to the east to avoid the private land in the valley bottom. Soon there was a fork in the trail, and we, we took the one more traveled by (apologies to Robert Frost). The path led us up steadily, but not too steeply, allowing us to make good time. After seven tenths of a mile from our start, the houses and roads had disappeared behind the trees, and we came to a trail that led to the left and right. There were signposts but no signs; seeing no mountain to the left, we went that way, continuing our north-bound trek. At a mile from our start was another fork in the trail, this time with a sign identifying the Lizard Rock Trail going up the hill. Up we went.
Spring has come early to Park County. The snow on the south facing slopes is all but gone, making our upward journey quick and easy. The trail led us up a small gully, fi lled with eight-inch diameter and smaller aspen, dotted with Douglas fi r and a few big ponderosa pine. The path was strewn with leaves fallen last autumn, filling the air with the smell of the aspen, and the trees, already beginning to bud, told us that we might be seeing green leaves in April.
The trail switched back and we climbed out of the gully, past a pair of large, old Ponderosa. The taller of the two was dead; it carries the scars of lightning strikes. The shorter didn’t have these marks. Apparently his older brother sheltered him from the storms; he’ll be vulnerable when the dead tree falls in the next year or so.
There, on the top of a low ridge, we turned back to see a fine view of Badger Mountain, which sits just north of Wilkerson Pass. Badger sits on the edge of South Park, and so has been crowned with many antennae. Pete checked, and found his cell phone coverage to be excellent there.
Soon we found ourselves in a wider valley as we continued up the trail. The long, south ridge leading up South Tarryall Peak was our constant companion to the east, and we soon moved north of her summit. The forest was fairly thin. Aspen made up maybe half the trees, Ponderosa pine a third, and Douglas fir the rest. As we moved higher, the aspen became smaller and scarcer, and the fir more numerous. Boulders and tall, rocky outcroppings dot the landscape, and we decided it was time to begin looking for Lizard Rock.
Pete heads up the valley on Lizard Rock Trail, through the aspen and conifers and around the boulders.
The National Forest Service web site (www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/recreation/trails) claims that the trail has been named for a lizard shaped rock. There were plenty of rocks along the trail, from rocky spires along the ridge tops, to massive cliffs on the mountainsides, to boulders, both supine and upright, scattered on the valley floor and hillsides. Most of the cliff faces are a brownish gray, but a cliff on South Tarryall Peak showed a spot of dull orange, the color of broken rock. A new boulder had joined the others in the valley not many years ago.
Near the top of the valley, the path grew steeper and the view spread out to include mountain tops to our north. We hadn’t found
Lizard Rock, but we did fi nd Luncheon Rock! We stopped to take a break, compare our progress to the map, and recharge. During our walk up the valley, the clouds to the south had thinned, and as we ate and rested, the fog lifted from McCurdy Mountain, revealing the massive cliffs there, and left South Tarryall Peak for good. Dim sunshine followed us up the last of the valley when we went on.
Our search for Lizard Rock almost ended at the top of the ridge, where we found a sign pointing up a hill to the west of the trail. There we saw an outcropping of rock we took to be Lizard Rock, although it didn’t look like a lizard to us. From another viewpoint we could see a tall vertical column of rock at the top of the hill, but it didn’t look like a lizard, either.
The Forest Service trail description had promised us a loop,and we were game to go on, so we ventured over the ridge, to the north-facing slope, A sign told us we would find Goose Creek and Lake Park Trails if we continued on.
There were dramatic changes as we went over the ridge. In the valley, we had seen snow in rare, isolated patches; here bare
ground was the exception, although the trail was still clear. The terrain changed: It was steep up, and steep down, all the way to the valley along Hay Creek between South Tarryall Peak and McCurdy Mountain. The forest presented the most striking difference, changing from bright and pleasant, mostly aspen, to dark and thick, mostly Douglas fir and limber pine, with an occasional spruce.
We traveled on, and soon encountered snow; we put on our gaiters to keep the snow out of our boots and to keep our lower pant legs dry. Luckily for us, a pair of snow shoers had passed a week or so before us, and had packed down the snow on the trail. Pete had brought a pair of walking sticks and loaned me one; they proved a good balancing brace when the snow proved too soft for our footsteps and we sank in to our knees or deeper.
the cliffs high on McCurdy Mountain peer at us through the low clouds as we take in a little lunch near the top of the trail
On we went for about half a mile, looking ahead and wondering on which ridge we’d find Hankins Pass, when the unthinkable happened: The snow shoers had turned around, and gone back. This left us with an unpacked trail. A trial step told us that we would be up to our waists in snow if we ventured on. We had no choice but to go back ourselves.
We had broken up the snow a bit on the outbound trip, and found ourselves sinking more often into the snow on the return. It was a relief to finally step into the mud on the last bit of the trail before the ridge, and onto terra firma on the south slope. The remainder of the trip was quick and easy, being mostly downhill on the well-maintained trails.
The trail through the valley leading up to Lizard Rock ranks near, if not at, the top of my favorite trails in Park County. The good trail and not-too-steep slopes make for an invigorating walk,
the nice mix of aspen, conifers and boulders along the trail is a welcome change from the dark forest and open meadow walks I so often find. I’m looking forward to a late spring hike there, with the sun shining through the aspen leaves, kinnikinick and buffalo grass carpeting the ground, butterflies dancing on the wild flowers.
Sorry, mountain lion, but we’ll be coming back.
Which is Lizard Rock? A sign at the top of the Lizard Rock Trail points in the general direction of both rocks. The lower rock might look like a profi le of a lizard’s head
Snowshoe with Steve and Tanya on December 17, 2007 Traveling distance: 3.4 miles Trailhead: 39º16’46”N, 106º4’1”W, 10,542 feet Turn off FSR 4171A: 39º16’40”N, 106º4’13”W, 10,515 feet Farthest point: 39º17’12”N, 106º5’48”W, 11,065 feet
In Alma, turn west from Main Street (Colorado 9) onto Park Hill Avenue (Park County Road 10). Go about three-tenths of a mile and stop at the top of the hill. Park off the road at the intersection
with Forest Service Roads 4171A and 4171B. Alma is surrounded by private property. The nearest piece of Pike National Forest can be accessed by these Forest Service Roads, and by a trail that runs the length of the narrow strip of National Forest. Tanya calls this the Ridge View Trail; the Forest Service has named a Ridge View trail near Weston Pass Campground.
Steve and I met up with Tanya at the Alma Coffee House where we sucked down a cup of joe and caught up with the latest in town, including the cute little sidewalk plow that was buzzing up and down Main Street, clearing the walks. “All the town officials take turns running it,” said Tanya. “At first they’d fight over it, but now it’s just a job.” In the car on our way to the trail, Steve said he thought he recognized Hizzoner the Mayor at the wheel of the little plow.
It was a short ride to the trail head, but the hill is steep and the road is snow packed. You’ll need good tires if you’ve got two-wheel-drive. From the start of FSR 4171A, we had a nice view of Sheep Mountain peeking over the ridge across Mosquito Creek valley
.This is a popular area for locals, as made evident by many cross country ski tracks on both Forest Service roads. We were breaking with tradition, though, by traveling on snowshoe. Tanya was test driving a new, state-of-the art pair, and I had a last-generation pair. Both of these models have metal frames with heavy fabric stretched across, and built-in crampons, metal teeth that bite the snow to give traction on packed snow, ice, and steeper hills. Steve was outfitted with an old style pair, with bent-wood frames and sinewy strips of rawhide stretched across for support on the snow. They’re much bigger than the newer models.
The sky was clear to the south, but we could see clouds and blowing snow on the peak tops to the north and west. The wind was blowing, but we were sheltered by the trees. We headed out, taking advantage of the trail that was well-marked and well packed by the skiers. After about a quarter-mile, a power line crossed our path. Many winter travelers had gone one way or the other along the poles and the swath cut in the trees. We stayed on the road, shortly thereafter came to our trail, and turned left into the woods.
The forest was a mix of spruce, aspen, and pines, mostly limber and bristle cone, but there were a few others. It’s been pretty cold there, and few animal tracks did we see, beyond those of occasional squirrels and a lone rabbit. The trail paralleled Mosquito Creek, and, in the infrequent openings in the trees, we overlooked the valley and the ridge beyond. We saw where PCR 10 meets 12, which continues up the creek past London Mountain on its way to Mosquito Pass, and into the blowing snow.
Gaps in the trees to the northeast revealed Mount Silverheels’ windward side. Snow has fallen there, then been blown away, or into gaps in the rocks and dormant plant life on her hillsides. She was left with a mottled blanket of yellow and gray and white. Ahead we got glimpses of a pointed peak, sometimes covered with the fog of approaching snow, sometimes with a clear blue backdrop. Later investigation of the map showed this to be Mount Bross, one of Park County’s 14ers.
The trail rose gently as we went along, and the snow stayed a consistent six-to-eight inches deep, and was well-packed by the cross-country skiers. This made for a fine snowshoe trail, as we had few hills and no snowdrifts to deal with. The few up slopes gave us no problems: The teeth on the newer snowshoes bit the snow, and the strips of rawhide on the older models gripped well, too.
At the far end of the trail, we found a No Trespassing sign nailed to a tree on the north side of the trail, and then a road, well-traveled by skiers and snowmobiles. To the north, Mount Bross was still in front of us, and between was the valley along Buckskin Creek. It was about time to head back, and just as well, as this road is on private property.
A return trip is always the same yet different from the trek out. The views are from fresh angles, and there’s always a few you just didn’t see, like one we found that looks across South Park. There are other bits closer to the trail to discover, too. We found someone had poached a spruce tree. It was cut before the last snowfall, apparently using a reciprocating power saw. The lower six feet of trunk were left behind, and the upper half of the tree taken away.
The blowing snow never made it down to us, excepting a few flakes that came our way when we looked over Buckskin Gulch. I can see why the trail is so well-traveled, being close to Alma, yet in the National Forest; it has gentle slopes, yet is long enough for a good workout. Throw in a few views, and you’ve got a great winter trail.