The following pics are from a recent 10 day camping trip to the beautiful backcountry of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. Our timing could not have been better, because not long after our trip, the whole forest was closed because of a wildfire just north of Durango!
Don had been telling me about this area for years, as it was always one of his favorite spots to go camping because it is so isolated, and still has that pristine wilderness feel to it. Don knew I would love the area because I absolutely live for exploring places that are no where near established hiking trails.
Took us nearly a day and a half of hiking off-trail to get to our campsite. I am such a slow hiker, and Don is so patient to put up with my frequent rest breaks! Don estimated it was a little over 4.5 miles as the crow flies from the trail head near Kennebec Pass. Once we started cutting cross country, we saw no one for the rest of our trip, as most thru hikers stick to the Junction Creek loop portion of the Colorado Trail.
At a little over 13,000 feet, I would rate the route we took as moderately difficult as we climbed over 2 fairly steep ridges to get to the secluded little mountain meadow. We let Rocket and Cricket off leash after about ½ mile in because there was a zero chance we would run across other hikers.
Last view of the La Plata mountain range and Kennebec Pass before heading over the first ridge into the back country.
The following is a picture of the area where we pitched our tent on the first night before hiking further into the back country.
Lots of wildflowers were in full bloom, including this delicate looking specimen of Love-in-a-Mist (nigella). Absolutely love the fennel-like foliage!
Although not as big as Scottish Thistle, there is just something majestic about Bull Thistle with its purple crown!
Little Breezy totally tuckered out after our first day of hiking!
On our 2nd day, it didn't take us long to pack up camp, before heading out on the final stretch to our destination, which we have given the nickname of Bear Meadow, for reasons explained below. We finally reached the meadow at just past 1:30, and Don’s description of the area did not disappoint.
It was one of those rare places that takes your breath away upon discovery. There was a perfect ledge to pitch camp just above a stream, with awesome views of the meadow below. It reminded me a little bit of our camping spot at Aspen Creek, except more bears and not so many chipmunks!
As we prepared to cross the first riverbed, I had sat down on the bank to put on my webbed deck slippers to keep my boots and socks from getting soaked. Suddenly Don grabs my shoulder and says, “Honey, you might want to wait before you take your boots off…..look! ”
I had to stand up before I saw what he was pointing at - a fairly large Black Bear grazing in the meadow. Suddenly Rocket’s big booming bark broke the silence as she finally spotted the bear, alerting the other dogs to it’s presence. Total chaos was averted as Don immediately grabbed Cricket and Rocket and put them on the leash splitter to keep them from running off after the bear. With both of them pulling it took all of Don's strength to hold onto the leash.
The bear looked in our direction, sniffed the air, and then slowly made his way up over the pass just left of the ledge where we set up camp. We watched and waited several minutes before crossing the meadow just to make sure the bear didn’t come back! Very exciting!
We had another bear sighting the 2nd week during a short day hike exploring the area to the east of camp. Just a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing into a thick grove of pines. I don't think it was the same one we had spotted in the meadow, because it looked smaller - probably a 2 year old cub. Also, at different times during our stay, Rocket would alert to something uphill from camp, and we figured that it may have been a bear scoping us out, as I did find some fresh bear scat near the top of the hill.
We set up our tent on the ledge just above the meadow, which was perfectly protected from the winds. During our stay, we had great weather, with just a couple of days of a very light drizzle.
Don bet me a steak dinner that he had spotted a yellow bellied sapsucker going up and down the trunk of a pine tree near camp, and I didn’t agree with him because the head coloration was wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, as I had never seen one before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a yellow bellied sapsucker, because they normally have more red on the top of their head.
So Don got out one of his bird guides, and before he told me what it was, he smiled and asked me if I would settle for a chicken dinner. Turned out it was a rare Williamson's sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) which is on the endangered species list.
One of the best things about hiking in the backcountry is that blissful feeling, knowing you are miles away from civilization. No other place I would rather be than exploring the wilderness! Life is good!