The girls and I made another trip to Jefferson Lake. The lake formed in the caldera of an ancient (hopefully dormant) volcano about 70 miles from my house. July and August are about the only time one can visit and hike up there as the elevation is high enough that there is typically snow the rest of the year.
We hiked around the lake’s four-mile shoreline. On the side closest to the parking area and boat launch there is a trail of sorts worn into the side of the hill by anglers. Once you reach the far end of the lake the trail is less used and it disappears into the vegetation. The far side of the lake shore is a mix of gravel and boulders and is fairly difficult to navigate on two legs. The dogs’ low center-of-granity and four legs definitely had the advantage in this realm.
Since we were in the area I drove up to the top of Georgia pass and hiked around with the dogs there, too. They even met a couple other dogs up there before it started raining and we headed back to Denver.
My friends Joanie and Dave recently purchased a campground in southern Colorado between Ca ñon City and Salida, the Sweetwater River Ranch. I had not been down for a visit yet so the Independence Day weekend seemed like a great time. Luckily, Dave was able to find a tent spot for me and the dogs across the river (the Arkansas river).
I wouldn’t normally stay at a campground when I can camp in a spot away from other people so this was a bit of a change for me: no climbing out of the tent at 3 am to have a pee, at least not close to the tent. I also couldn’t just open the tent flaps and let the dogs roam at 4:30 am — but that was not an issue as they were so tired from swimming in the river.
The tent spots across the river are accessed by a 100-yard suspension bridge. Once you have crossed a few times you’ve learned how to walk to prevent the bridge swaying from side-to-side. Lucy had no issues with the bridge but Fabi was hesitant to come back across the bridge to the office buildings so she swam instead. Multiple times, in a swift current of high melt-off water.
We visited some other friends that live in the area and hiked a bit but the majority of the weekend was spent next to the river, or in the river diving for rocks in Fabi’s case.
I decided to take the girls hiking up around Mt. Princeton. There’s a waterfall there and the Arkansas River, both of which would make the dogs happy.
We departed Denver fairly early around 7:30 AM and arrived in the Mt. Princeton area around 9. The first stop of the day was the Agnes Vaille Falls. You reach the trailhead for the falls by turning west on Chaffee County road 162 from US 285 at Nathrop, CO. The parking area is about eight miles from US 285 on the north side of the road. Keep a sharp eye out for it as I missed it initially. The parking area is large enough for ten vehicles or so.
Once the girls unloaded and ran around a bit we headed up the trail.
Although the trail begins fairly flat it does get a bit steeper as you approach the trees. There’s also water to be found in the trees, too, as the creek which forms the falls shares the trailbed from time-to-time to a depth of 1-2 inches. Water-proof boots are recommended. The girls found the water quickly and were playing in it long before I caught up with them.
There are several historical markers along the trail describing the namesake of the falls (Agnes Vaille) and some of the area geography, including the old rail line that was carved into the side of the mountain on the opposite side of the valley.
Upon entering the slot canyon where the falls are located one is presented with several photo opportunities. While these are not the largest falls in Colorado they are easy to access.
I walked up closer to the base of the falls and found a spot to sit and watch the water cascading off of the cliff above. The spray was cool and chased me away after about fifteen minutes. The dogs were not too sure about the waterfall at first. Fearless Fabi was in the water first but preferred to explore the entire area. Lucy eventually checked out the falls, too, but wasn’t excited by them. They were more interested in the rocks and odors.
The canyon where there the falls are located gives a pretty nice view of the valley below. The dogs and I hung out there for a while before heading back down. Our timing was great as a small group of hikers was coming up the trail as we were leaving the immediate falls area, and another large group was about five minutes behind them.
After hiking back down to the truck we drove up road 162 a bit further west to the “ghost town” of St. Elmo. There are a few year-round residents in St. Elmo so it’s a bit hasty to call it a ghost town.
The main attraction in St. Elmo is the main street with partially-restored buildings, although the ATV rental at the general store seemed pretty popular, too.
On the edge of town is an unmarked trail that turns out to simply climb the hill to another forest service road — I was hoping for a good view of the town from above but was disappointed. There is decent access to a creek where the girls swam for a while.
St. Elmo also has an area where local chipmunks gather to be fed by tourists. These rodents are fearless and will climb right into your hand for some feed (happily sold at the general store). The girls were very interested in this chipmunk feeding area, as you might imagine, but I held them back. I did not want to be responsible for frightening several small children who were feeding the chipmunks. Think of the horror of Lucy gobbling up a chipmunk in front of the small kids!
After walking all over St. Elmo I loaded up the girls in the truck and headed back east on road 162. Just before the trailhead for the falls was a small parking area for Chalk Lake so I pulled in there for a while. Guess what the dogs did here?
I chatted with a fisherman on the shore while the dogs played in the lake. He had caught his daily limit of brook trout and was heading home to clean them.
We jumped back in the truck and headed back to US 285, stopping at the Fisherman’s Bridge area on the Arkansas river. This is a popular spot for rafters to put in during the summer but the rafting season was already over — we had the place to ourselves. Lucy was happy to lay in the water and supervise while Fabi dove for rocks and swam against the current.
An hour later I convinced the girls to get back in the truck so we could grab a late lunch in Buena Vista. Of course I headed for Eddyline Brewing. They have great beers and decent pizzas, as well as a patio where the dogs could join me.
By the time we made it back to the house late in the afternoon we were all tired but happy. I had not hiked in this area previously but I will definitely return: it’s close to Denver and had a lot to offer.
UPDATE: Yesterday, 30 September, this area was in the local news as a family of hikers from Buena Vista were killed at the falls by a rockslide. This hit me pretty hard as I had just been up there with the dogs a few weeks ago.
For Labor Day this year the dogs and I travelled to the southwest part of Colorado and stayed in a small cabin in South Fork. On the way down I let the girls play in the Arkansas River near Salida. It was not too hot at that point and the Arkansas was not flowing too fast, although Fabi did have to swim vigorously a few times to avoid being swept downstream.
On the way to South Fork we passed a sign for Bonanza, Colorado. I thought this was a ghost town and turned down the road. About 20 miles in I realized it was an actual town and there did not appear to be much hiking available so I turned back toward the highway. I did stop along the way back on a road to a pass but it was not designed for my truck, possibly small ATVs only. The dogs ran around here for a while.
The next stop was Del Norte and the Rio Grande. Recently some donors have built a small but very nice river walk and deck on the river. There’s a nice paved sidewalk back through the trees with lots of access points to the water. After about an hour in the river I loaded up the girls and headed over to South Fork about 17 miles west.
After driving through an impressive rain storm we found the lodge where our cabin was located but it was only about 2 PM. To kill some time before check-in I drove up US 160 to Wolf Creek Pass and we hiked around at the summit of the pass. There was a nice open field that led to a stand of trees. There was a creek, too, in which the girls played before running through the woods. Lucy managed to find some sort of black stickers to embed in her fur.
We hiked around for another hour or so then headed back to the cabin.
We hung out in the cabin for another hour or so before heading to dinner over in Del Norte. I headed to Three Barrel Brewing for dinner and a couple beers. Their beers are very tasty! They also have a wood-fired pizza oven in which they produce some damn fine grub. Since it was a holiday weekend and a Saturday night the joint was busy with locals and tourists enjoying dinner and some brews. I was lucky I arrived when I did and found a spot at the bar. A few minutes later and I would have needed to stand! The girls had to stay in the back of the truck while I ate and drank as the patio at Three Barrel is accessed by walking through the taproom and brewery. I suspect they did not mind too much, though, as the temperature was in the low 70s and it was dark.
Later that night I was sitting on the sofa in the cabin and heard what sounded like fireworks outside. Apparently the town of South Fork had postponed their July 4th fireworks until Labor Day weekend due to the big wildfire that caused the evacuation of the town for a couple weeks. I walked outside and watched the show about a half-mile behind the cabin. The dogs ran around in the adjacent field in the dark. Soon after we all crashed hard.
The next morning we were up fairly early and headed towards Creede. There was a hot-air balloon festival there and we arrived about the time the balloons were lifting off… unfortunately I did not have a chance to get a good photo of liftoff. I drove around Creede a bit but Main Street was blocked off for a soap box derby race later in the day and parking in town was already hard to find. Since it was only 8 AM I decided to drive on up the road towards Lake City to look for a spot to hike.
A few miles north of Creede I found a good spot to stop: North Clear Creek Falls. I had never heard of these falls but there was a clearly-marked sign on the highway and a wonderful parking area provided by the National Forest Service. There were no other visitors and I let the dogs run wild. I took a few photos of the falls from the observation area… the falls drop about 100 feet and were gorgeous. At first I thought there was no access to the upper creek from the observation area but the dogs found a route around the fences and were very near the water and the sheer drop-off before I noticed. I called them back and they obliged.
We hiked up the hill towards the other end of the canyon carved by North Clear Creek and took in the views.
After the falls I drove up the highway a little further and turned on a forest service road to Continental and Rito Hondo Reservoirs. The drive to Continental was not too bad but when we arrived I discovered it was inside of a fence with dozens of cattle and there was not easy access to the water — it was a very steep hill down to the shore about 300 feet below. I really did not want Lucy to drive the cattle down the hill or into the fence so we did not stop here.
I turned back and stopped at Rito Hondo reservoir which is a State Wildlife area. Technically, the dogs were not supposed to be running and swimming here but they managed not to damage any wildlife other than scaring up a few ducks.
I finally convinced the dogs to load up again after playing in the water and we drove back south through Creede again and noticed there was even less parking available than earlier. I decided to head back to South Fork and through Wolf Creek Pass again on to Pagosa Springs. On the west side of Pagosa we turned north about 20 miles and then east for almost ten miles to the Piedra River. Yes, this trip became a “tour of rivers.” We parked at the end of a road where we picked up a trail to Piedra Falls. It’s a nice hike along the river and finally a small area at the base of the falls. Being a holiday weekend there were a lot of people there, mostly ignorant Texans, so the base area was pretty crowded. We did not stay too long to avoid the dogs getting trampled by people who were not used to the altitude and hiking.
And Lucy found some crap to roll in! I convinced her to lay in the river before we took off but she still smelled.
I drove back through Pagosa Springs and had planned to stop at Pagosa Brewing Company but the temps were still in the high 80s and I did not want to leave the girls in the back of the truck so I headed on down to South Fork and the cabin. I changed into a clean shirt and the dogs passed out on the floor.
I drove back to Del Norte again for dinner and had a few more beers at Three Barrel. They were not as crowded this night and I had a lovely evening drinking a few Colorado Belgian style ales.
On Monday morning we checked out of the cabin and headed back towards Denver. The girls were both tuckered out and had to be coerced back into the truck… so there was little chance of hiking at this point. I did drive back up to Wolf Creek Pass and stopped at an observation area on the top of the pass where the girls ran a bit but were not much into it.
After a few photos we hit the road. We ran into inbound traffic just south of Fairplay and slogged along at less than 10 MPH for the next three hours before making it home.
In summary it was a great weekend. I would love tho go back in September or October to see what the area is like without the hordes of Texans everywhere.
Mike and I took the dogs out to Eleven Mile National Forest Recreation Area today. The dogs had a great time swimming. Lucy got into the act as well, even jumping into the swift-moving current. She did great.
After climbing up a hill from the river I lost my footing and fell back down the rocks about fifty feet. A few cuts and scratches but otherwise I was okay.