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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 10.9                                Cumulative miles:  39.2
         Approx. elevation gain: 1,480 feet           Bonus Miles:  0               
"Verdant alpine meadows near the pass [Blackhawk], filled with lush mid-summer growth, attract wildlife - elk and mule deer, marmots and pikas -
and hikers, drawn by the wildflowers and lovely vistas. Have your camera ready. Famous Lizard Head Peak is in view near the pass!"
- The Colorado Trail Official Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 220


Oh, boy, did I ever have my camera ready. Would you believe, I took 128 photos today in only eleven miles??!!!

That's how beautiful the San Juan Mountains are.

No, I can't show all those photos here. Someday I'll put more on our WebShots pages, but I'm having trouble enough keeping up with the journal (I'm four entries behind as I write this). Meanwhile, I'll pick out some pictures I think readers will enjoy that are representative of each segment.


We've decided that it's easier to run on the Colorado Trail than it is to drive to its trail heads. You should see some of these roads!! Our truck needs a front end alignment, new tires, and brake work. Our dilemma is whether to get the work done sooner or later. How much worse will it get if we don't fix it soon? If we do fix it now, will we have to do it again after driving on these crazy back roads?

To reach the beginning of today's segment, first we had to drive five miles to Silverton (good but slow roads) and twenty-one miles over Molas Divide and Coalbank Pass to the former Purgatory ski area (now called Durango Mountain Resort), also on good but winding, hilly, slow Hwy. 550. We also had to wait 15 minutes for road construction at 7 AM.

Then the real fun began.

We followed FSR 578 along and through Hermosa Creek and one of its branches for the next seventeen miles, ever upward to Bolas Pass at 11,090 feet. Across the creek (below) we saw a cyclist preparing to ride a popular loop here that includes Bolam Pass Road, the Colorado Trail, and Hotel Draw Road. We asked him about the next seven miles. He described how rough it was but assured us our truck could handle it.

Bolam Pass Road is one of many "4WD required" roads around here. Except for the creek fording, the surface isn't too bad up to Hotel Draw Road, which we drove out from the end of this segment. After that, it's seven narrow miles of big rocks, deep ruts, and about a dozen switchbacks that our truck couldn't turn without backing up and making a second pass at the turns.

Naturally, there were some huge drop-offs where Jim had to back up. More gray hairs. The hour-and-a-half trip to the trail head about wore Jim out from driving and me from worrying.

Near the top, we passed abandoned Graysill Mine:

That seemed a good place for Jim, Cody, and me to get out, take a leak, and relax for a few minutes before braving the final assault to the top of the pass.

The drive was worth it (easy for me to say since Jim drove up AND down that gnarly road today!). At the trail head between Segments 25 and 26 lies peaceful little Celebration Lake:

Cody enjoyed a little swim before the three of us started off to the south along the rolling trail.

There was minimal elevation gain today, only about 1,480 feet total. But the trail remained above 11,000 feet most of the time, more elevation than we're used to. Fortunately, the climb up to the high point, Blackhawk Pass, at 12,000 feet, was mostly gradual with lots of switchbacks. The four miles after Blackhawk were mostly down; I ended at 10,390 feet for a net elevation loss today.

I'm glad Jim ran the first four miles with me because the undulating terrain was so beautiful. I'm sorry he didn't keep going the seven miles to Blackhawk - the views from there were simply stunning. I was taking so many pictures that he'd get ahead and wait patiently for me to get closer before he'd take off again. Neither of us is acclimated to these elevations yet, so I think he was glad for the breaks! I know I needed them to catch my breath.

We started off uphill through some trees and open areas to the first saddle between two peaks.

We could see Hermosa Peak (12,679 feet) well before we flanked its lush north and west sides:

Going around mountains is a very nice feature of the Colorado Trail.  Appalachian Trail designers would have sent us up and over the summit! Thank goodness for the cyclists and equestrians that share this trail with runners and hikers. (Oh, yeah, the cyclist we talked with passed us about two miles into our run. He was the only person we saw on the trail today.)

There were some remaining patches of snow on the mountain, but most of it is gone below 12,500 feet in this area.

This lush green alpine meadow (below) west of Hermosa Peak is one of several in Segment 26 that are good elk habitat. Unfortunately, we didn't see any large game other than deer today. Jim is pointing to the Lizard Head Peak mentioned in the quote at the top of the page. You can barely see it sticking up in the background, center:

The flowers were just stunning through the first seven miles. Even Jim was delighted with the profusion of colors, a true rainbow. Some of the flowers in the photo below are blue Colorado Columbine, bright pink Indian Paintbrush, yellow Alpine Avens, pink Parry Clover, and white Dwarf American Bistort (looks like a soft little bottle brush).

We lucked out by being here when so many kinds of flowers are at their peak at the various elevations. I'm amazed how many plants bloom between 10,000 and 12,000 feet under the harsh conditions they endure the ten or eleven months they aren't in bloom!

We are both simply enchanted with all of the blue Colorado Columbines (above) that we've seen in the San Juans! The five sepals range from ice blue to dark blue and surround five white-lobed petals. Some of the flowers appear purple before they open up fully. Columbines grow just about anywhere in this area, in rocky or moist places, in subalpine meadows or alpine tundra. They're everywhere, and I simply adore them! Who could believe such a delicate-looking plant could survive and thrive at such high altitudes?

About four miles into the run we came to a small saddle at 11,810 feet. Cody had to get his nose into the snow in a little patch there:

Jim enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains from the saddle, then soon turned around so he could drive down to the trail head where Cody and I were to finish our run. He left the GPS with me to carry, my first time using it on the trail. The waypoints weren't programmed into it, but I could periodically check my distance and elevation and compare them with the written directions I was carrying.

On that note, I have to say the trail today was very well marked, especially at intersections. The guidebook directions are always good, too, although sometimes the driving mileages don't jive with our odometer. I know some places won't be marked as well as in this section, so the GPS should help me stay on the right paths.

The next three miles were stunning as Cody and I traipsed up and down through more woods and meadows and wetlands on our way up to Blackhawk Pass. I knew I had to move along faster to avoid the inevitable early afternoon storms - a treeless pass at 12,000 feet is not a good place to be if there is lightning - but I continued to take photos on the way up because the scenery was so fantastic:

I passed a huge "bowl" that was to my right and I could see the trail ahead of me most of the way to the pass.

I continued to see flowers all the way to the top.

Near the pass the trail switchbacked a bit more, but the climb was always gradual. The guidebook describes the descent on the other side as "steep," but it's all relative. I saw nothing today that I would consider "steep," but then my perception of "steep" was forever changed last summer on the Appalachian Trail!

I took the photo below near the pass, looking down into part of the valley through which I had just run:

Cody looks happy to be at the pass:

We spent a few minutes there admiring the 360-degree views before switch-backing down the other side. I could see some gray clouds forming in the distance, and wanted to get down to tree line before it began raining.

The next two photos are looking back up toward the pass from the south side:


It didn't take long to get back into a green, flowery alpine zone. In the photo below, Cody's getting a drink near the headwaters of Straight Creek while I'm photographing the yellow Alpine Avens and white Marsh Marigolds that proliferate along streams in the subalpine and alpine regions.

The last four miles to the trail head at Hotel Draw Road were less spectacular than the first seven miles of this segment, but they were still very pleasant. There are more trees and fewer meadows in this section, limiting the views and the flowers. I took many fewer pictures, although I just had to stop to take a few like this one of some beautiful blue Larkspur and white Cow Parsnip, which looks like Queen Anne's Lace in the eastern part of the country:

At times I felt like I was flying down the trail as I dropped 1,600 feet in the last four miles. There were a lot of very smooth sections like this to run:

I was also trying to keep ahead of an incoming storm that dropped some rain and sleet on me for about five minutes. It's hard to get started early enough to beat the storms because they sometimes start well before noon.

Jim came in to meet me about 3/4 of a mile from the end and we ran back out together.

Today's run was such a visual treat - deep blue sky, billowy white clouds (until the gray ones crept in), a few patches of white snow, rushing streams, a kaleidoscope of lush flowers, red iron oxides coloring the sides of mountains, every shade of green that exists. How could it possibly get any better than this??

Well, it can. Tune in for tomorrow's report on Segment 25.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil