Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blue Moon

Lichens on Snowstorm Summit
Last night's blue moon was brilliant over the Four Corners.  I can't believe it's already September, although cooler temperatures at work would be a nice treat.  Our crew is down to three, since one team member has left to study the ecology of non-vascular plants on the Colorado Plateau.  At work, we've been gathering seeds from different wetland plants, such as willows, sedges, and rushes, in order to mitigate an acre of wetland lost to road construction.  It will be interesting to see what will work and what won't, since there is not a lot of information on how this can be successfully done in the arid canyons.

Heterotheca fulcrata near Kennebec Pass
Another huge project at work that is taking place even as I type is ridding the Mancos River Canyon of the noxious invasive weed Acroptilon repens (Russian Knapweed). We had a dirty dozen come help us out from the Lake Mead Exotic Pest Management Team.  The access route is a washed-up two-track that crosses some gullies that are just too steep to get trailers through.  We were able to borrow a fire truck and stage it on a neighbor's property to be a water tender, and then used a UTV with a spray tank to shuffle water back and forth for herbicide spraying.  It was tough and dusty work, but the professional team managed to cover 70% of the entire canyon; quite an accomplishment given the ruggedness of the terrain and hazards such as timber rattlesnakes, hidden fences, thorny plants, and poison ivy... not to mention the heat.  Some of the areas we treated were once old prairie dog towns.  I'd love to restore those colonies once again after the native plants return.

Lewis Mountain
For weekend adventure, I explored some of La Plata canyon.  There aren't many hiking trails in the area, since it is mostly a mining region and so more of a 4-wheeling/mountain biking destination.  I walked my non-mountain bike past Fly-By-Night Gulch (how appropriate is that name for a mine) and up Kennebec Pass.  My goal was to report on the condition of a 100 year old benchmark on the summit of Snowstorm Peak.  I didn't have map or GPS, but recalled Snowstorm was just south of the pass, so I stashed my bike and began huffing my way up some steep slopes.  I climbed two peaks, joined by a narrow saddle, but didn't find the mark on either summit.  I did get great views of Centennial and Hesperus peaks to the west, and a thunderstorm north of Durango.  The stormy weather was building, so I scampered down and hid from sleet in the entrance of an old mine.  The ride down was a hoot; I don't think the brakes or my brains will be the same.

Yellow-bellied Marmot - Mayor of Animas Forks
Another trip was a tour up to Animas Forks, a charming ghost town now inhabited completely by marmots.  Several buildings still stand, and the BLM is trying to stabilize them with new roofs.  My brother and I had always wanted to see the Duncan house since we first saw a photo of it in the Ouray visitor center years ago.  Sadly, he is very scared of ghosts, so now I'll have to kidnap him one day and tell him we're going to a pancake house.  Lisa liked the Gustav House, since it had some of the original wall paper and a few other scraps left behind (greedy souvenir hunters have long since taken every scrap not nailed down).  The walls were insulated with newspaper, including an edition of the Animas Forks Pioneer -- the highest newspaper office in the history of the USA.
Eureka Falls

To the west was the massive ruins of the old Frisco Mill that just turned 100 years old.  The roof is essentially gone, but it would be a shame to see all those huge timbers just rot away.  An entire old-growth forest must've been logged just for that one building; most of the beams are easily 24 x 24" and 20' long... and there's thousands of them.  There doesn't seem to be much left of Eureka, but there is a little canyon there with 3 awesome waterfalls.  A few more waterfalls were along the way.  We camped near a cascade by Animas Forks and awoke to frost on the windshield in mid August -- I can't imagine what a winter would be like there.

Hope everyone has a great holiday weekend!
Rainbow over the Gold Prince ruins

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