On The Page: The Western San Juan Mountains

Not having internet at home has been excellent for diving into some deeper reading material. I recently dived into The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History. Edited by a professor of geology at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, The Western San Juan Mountains has three sections exploring each of the topics mentioned in its subitites. Each section is divided into chapters written by experts in their fields (most authors hold doctorates).

The Western San Juans

While the book isn’t necessarily written for an academic audience, it is detailed and uses a significant amount of technical language (particularly noticeable in the geological section). The chapters all conclude with a reference section. These reference sections pose an immense threat to my book buying ban but that’s a personal issue of mine. I found it more than readable but for some readers it might be a sort of dense slog.

The geological section was probably the most condensed broad sweeping geological overview of the San Juans (or at least their western portion) that I’ve read so far. I definitely want to do more to make this all fit into an organized schema in my mind but knowing more about the deep history of my home mountains makes me really happy.

The biological section was detailed (and contains one chapter that will probably make an appearance as a reading in my biology class next fall) and as someone inimately aquainted—ahem, scratched to bits—with the “mid” elevation horrors of Gambel oak (more commonly known as “scrub oak”), I found it interesting if not particularly groundbreaking. The human history section was more adequately covered by Exploring The San Juan Triangle, recently reviewed on this blog.

The Western San Juan Mountains, published by University Press of Colorado, is probably only of interest to big old nerds like me. Since this is my blog, I’m assuming that at least some of you fall in my camp and, in that case, you might really enjoy this book before a visit to the region. Each of the sections could be read separately which means that it can be fit into a busy life before a trip. Theoretically, each chapter stands alone but I think they made a lot more sense when grouped with the other chapters in their section.

Small REAL Houses

Guys, I’ve done it.

I’m at the point where I need to pick a plan or hire someone to design a plan for my house. Once I do this, I can get bids and look for someone who can break ground in the spring. Basically, until I start making some at least basic decisions, there’s not much more that I can do (except keep saving money).


The first thing about this is that it’s terrifying. I’ve done so much thinking about what I need in a house and I know that I don’t need a big house. I don’t need a bathroom for each of my bedrooms. I don’t want it to be ugly. I don’t want it to be sterile. In some ways, buying an already built house suddenly seems appealing because fewer decisions. The reality in this area is that I can’t afford to do that. Somehow it’s still cheaper to build plus get something that doesn’t need to be remodeled, efficient, and small.

The other frustration is that I want both small and a real house.

If you get on Pinterest or browse any Tumblr of adorable small houses, at some point you realize that they’re not really lived in. The words “guest house” and “studio” and “sleeping quarters” or “cottage” start appearing.

When they do, you realize there is either a a giant 4,000sq ft monstrosity to support it just outside the frame. Or, they often have bedrooms so small they don’t have closets because they’re vacation homes where their owners store all their clothing. If you do manage to find a “full” house, in 2016 apparently “small” means less than 2,000 sq ft. TWO THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. I grew up in about 1,600 sq. ft. with a family of 4 and we had a whole giant formal living room and a big entry way we never used (and the dining room was barely touched). 

I’ve lived in 930 sq. ft. with another person and a dog and I know that we had so much wasted space. I don’t want to go too much smaller and I’m willing to consider plans up to that size but I really really don’t want to go bigger.

Last Week In #joyrunning

I had a slow start to the week with some yoga on Monday and then took Tuesday off because it was cold pouring rain sideways. I didn’t have my winter running fortitude or anything going I guess.

Norwood, Colorado

Wednesday I got out for a lovely little road run. I got to say hi to the cows. I forgot my sunglasses and got tired of squinting into the wind. But I did it and the weather couldn’t have been lovelier.


Thursday, I headed out to complete the last of the four Thunder Trail loops. I guess I must have taken all my photos on Snapchat and they’re lost to the ether now… But it was pretty! This week’s run, Naturita Rim Loop, seemed to be less on the rim than Portis Loop but was less rocky than Portis and less steep than Thunder Loop.

I think I need to find a race to train for. My aerobic capacity in the mountains has increased back to a point where I don’t feel quite as embarrassed and I need something to kick my butt into higher gear. Any 4-Corners region runs to recommend? Trail runs in central New Mexico or Arizona would be awesome sauce (aka potentially semi-warm escapes?)

Lone Cone

Lone Cone is, as its name might imply, a loner. It stands at 12,613′ off to the west of the San Juans. The mountain groups containing 13er Dolores Peak and the Wilson Group definitely appear to be part of the mass of mountains to the east while “The Cone” stands gracefully to the west. It’s easily ignored from the higher peaks around Telluride but as you start to travel around canyon country to the west, you realize how much it stands out. On my rambles around Utah recently I was really struck by how much it stands out over a huge area. That visibility plus the fact that I stare at it walking around Norwood and from the bedroom window of my rental meant that I really wanted to tag its summit before the snow flies (which this time of year could be any day…).

Golden fern

Taking advantage of fall’s low propensity for thunderstorms and the gorgeous day forcast, I didn’t leave Norwood until about 9am to start the drive to the trailhead. The route was kinda bumpy and the going was slow. For as close as that peak looks from town, it’s actually quite far south! Hitting the trail around 10am, I climbed up towards the northeastern ridge promised by Summitpost to be “3-4 class” (I found it to be no more than 3rd class but it was really rotten in areas.)

Lone Cone from low on NE Ridge

Emerging from treeline, the views were simply amazing. While the peak itself was blocking the view to the south and southwest, pretty much everywhere else I ever play anymore came into view. Off to the west were the Abajos and La Sal Mountains standing over the canyons, to the north were the Book/Roan Cliffs, Grand Mesa, the Uncompahgre, and the southern Elk mountains. To the east were all of the mountains of the San Juans.

Views from the cone

Starting up the ridge proper, I found the Summitpost route suggestion to stay just to the north of the ridge crest for the first section to avoid rotten rock helpful. While it was still a huge pile of scree, there was a faint climbers trail to follow and it wasn’t too difficult.

Rotten Ridge chunk

The section above the rotten but relatively flat section had looked really intimidating from below. As it turned out, however, it was a ton of fun. Just fractured enough to have lots of awesome hand and footholds but solid enough to feel safe, it was a pretty easy skip up to the summit from there.

Final Ridge Approach

Lone Cone

Summit view

Rather than downclimbing the NE ridge scramble, I descended the north ridge, crossed “The Devils Chair” and then retraced my route back to the car. Lone Cone was an unexpectedly fun climb (scrambles, yay!) with a view of pretty much the best adventuring anywhere.

Colorado 13er: Brown Mountain

Saturday morning, after lesurely enjoying some coffee, I headed up Brown Mountain jeep road once again. (I kinda love that road: it’s not too difficult to drive and gets you up to the high country pretty quickly!) This time, I had my sights set on the highpoint of the long Brown Mountain Ridge. Located at the southern end of the ridge (Mt. Abrams is at the north end), it tops out at 13,339′. Since I was going up the western side of the ridge, I spent most of my drive and then the climb up to the ridge in shadow watching the sun make its way ever so slowly down the eastern slopes across the valley from me.

Looking west from Brown Mountain

The steep climb up the gully from the end of the jeep road always kicks my butt. It’s only a half mile but it is steep. I also knew that once I hit the ridge the sun would help warm my chilly bones (I was greeted with ice coating puddles and ponds along the way up… fall is in full swing in the mountains!)

Selfie on Brown Mountain

Once I got to the ridge, I started ambling along not worrying much about making good time. Looking north, I could see the route I took back in July to the summit of Mt. Abrams:

North towards Mt. Abrams

Looking south, I realized that the ridge was a lot longer than I was picturing it being. The highpoint is visible on the far right of this photo. I decided to traverse below some of the subpeaks in between to minimize elevation gain and loss–that turned out to be a mistake, going over the summits on the return was a lot easier than traversing the steep and slippery scree on the eastern slopes!



I further realized that ascending this peak from the Alaska Basin spur road off of Hurricane Pass would be way shorter. I didn’t particularly mind the extra length but the Brown Mountain road is not the shortest or least elevation gain route by far!

Alaska Basin

At the highpoint I found the summit log next to the Duco benchmark and just soaked in the sights for a bit. Somehow, I’d forgotten how absolutely magical fall is in the mountains. #Summtsummer is a beautiful thing but honestly, fall summits are even better. They’re lonelier, the weather is better (until that moment the snow falls and it’s terrible), the colors are beautiful, and the air has a crisp fresh smell that is totally indescribable.

Benchmark and register


I am so glad that I had a chance to ramble in the high mountain air alone and drink it all in.

Summit Selfie

Brown Mountain views

Running Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural BridgesYes, I know, running is not the first thing you think of when you think of Natural Bridges. When I passed by the entrance sign on my way home after exploring the Henry Mountains a bit and checking out Bluebell Knoll I figured with Sprocket nursing his broken nail it was as good a time as any to check it out. I didn’t want to leave him in the car alone too long so instead of doing what I really wanted to, hike under all the bridges through the canyon, I ran down from the road below each bridge and then back up.

Visitor Center Natural Bridges

Sipapu from above

Well, ran up is a gross exaggeration but I did mostly run down! The first bridge, Sipapu, was my favorite hike but I think Katchina was the coolest looking bridge. I even tossed in the short run to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook.


Sprocket stayed nice and cool thanks to a stiff breeze on the rim above the canyon that was blowing through the open Jeep windows. I, on the other hand, spent the entire afternoon a sweaty mess: sports bra running forever.

Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..
Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..

The hikes are all pretty short (the longest is 3/4 mile, I think) so it didn’t amount to much but it was a fun challenge. I briefly felt guilty for “rushing through” the highlights of the park but it sure beats just looking from the overlooks and driving on!

All three complete!
All three complete!

Last Week(s) in #Joyrunning

Oh man! I never got around to a Week in #joyrunning post last week so here’s two in one!

Week of September 4:

I started out with a bunch of running around Natural Bridges National Monument on Sunday (more on that this week!) that was AWESOME. Tuesday I toughed it out through an under-fueled 3 miles around town, and Wednesday I headed up to the Thunder Trails for my weekly loop (Thunder Loop). Thunder Loop has a pretty killer uphill on the southern end and Sprocket and I definitely engaged in some power hiking between small running bursts there!

Thunder Loop

Week of September 11:

The week started out … poorly. I worked a bit on Sunday and then just relaxed when I got home. Monday, I was in a terrible mood and convinced myself that I didn’t “need” to run. By Tuesday the “I don’t wanna” had magnified itself to a point where I was in a terrible mood and I rationally knew that getting out and doing something was the fix. I convinced myself to get dressed and tackle two miles and that I could quit then if I wanted to. At just over a mile, I realized I felt human again and threw down five…

Goshorn Loop

Back in the groove, I reeled off 6 road miles Wednesday and about 4 miles on Thunder Trails’s Goshorn Loop Thursday. I kept things rolling with a fun ridge hike on Saturday!

Lone Cone from Goshorn Trail