Road Tripping with a Dog: SW Colorado CoHPs

At the very beginning of the year, I declared that I was going to make it to 50% on the Colorado County Highpoint list this year. Because I’m moving to De Beque, the high points in Southwestern Colorado are about to be really far from me so I decided it was time to go on a bit of a mission to knock out a few, especially a group of three east of Pagosa Springs.

Sprocket on Ice Lakes trail

Sprocket, was more than happy to join me on this seemingly random adventure; the fact that he doesn’t judge my plans is one of the things that makes him the best road trip companion ever. Vermilion Peak was the point I was most worried about getting him to (but as it turned out, the weather intervened before we could find out) and the rest of the peaks I was sure he would love.

Sprocket in Jeep

We loaded up in the FSJ and set out for a few days of wandering around gravel roads, sleeping at trailheads, summiting mountains, swimming in lakes, and exploring high alpine meadows—all Sprocket approved activities.

Sprocket in FSJ

Throughout the week, I’ll be posting more about our specific adventures (an attempt on Vermilion Peak with an overnight backpack in Ice Lakes Basin, Summit Peak, Conejos Peak, and Bennett Peak) but the common denominator of each segment of our trip was being absolutely delighted to have my pup with me.

Sprocket on Ice Lakes trail

I was really worried last summer that Sprocket was reaching the end of his hiking days. He is only five but when we would go hiking, he seemed to just be in pain all the time. Happily, as fall approached, I realized that he was actually suffering in the heat and luckily, hiking at elevation in Colorado mostly avoids that issue. Not only has he bounced back from too many low elevation hikes last summer, he was game for two seven mile hikes on Saturday. I’m so glad that this is the case because there is nothing that can add to an already amazing alpine adventure like the sashaying of a happy laborador. (If you think I’m kidding, you have to come hike with us…sashaying happens.)

Happy dog

People always seem surprised that I travel so much with “such a big dog” but really, he couldn’t be easier. I pack him some food (Merrick Backcountry, lately), give him some water, and beyond that, I’m the lucky one. With Sprocket, I have a constant, patient, loving, cuddly companion. He’s game for hikes (and scrambles), relaxing in parks, sampling beer at breweries, and just driving backroads for hours.

FSJ Sleepign

 

Merrick Backcountry provided product and payment for this post. Merrick Backcountry meets my requirements for high quality dog food for my pup Sprocket and I adventure together always, with or without compensation, and all of my sentiments about him being the best dog ever are absolutely heartfelt. 

merrick

San Francisco Mountains, Part 1

As we pulled out of Alpine, it was time to start looking for a place to camp. We turned down a small Forest Service road looking for a flat place to pull over before continuing down US 180 the next morning. We weren’t having too much luck finding a place to camp.

It was an awesome stroke of luck.

The little road we were driving met up with Blue River Road. Blue River Road reaches deep into the San Francisco Mountains towards Blue, Arizona right at the edge of the Blue Range Primitive Area. The gravel road travels south through the canyon carved by the Blue River. Although the road continues south beyond Blue, since we were headed to New Mexico we took the winding Pueblo Park road to the east.

Entering New Mexico

Entering New Mexico

Since we lack a detailed New Mexico map we weren’t really sure how to plan out the rest of our route but once we made camp, we discovered we had a 3G signal! After playing with CalTopo for awhile we were finally able to make some plans for the Land of Enchantment!

The next morning we headed north along Saddle Mountain Road (FS 209) until we found a side road to explore. We unloaded the quad and set off exploring. Although we didn’t find any antlers, it was a lovely brisk morning to be out hiking! We got some great views of the Blue Range and back towards Arizona’s Mount Baldy.

San Francisco Mountains

El Camino Del Diablo

Last week we had a really nice rain in the desert so Forrest and I decided that it was a perfect time to go out and drive El Camino Del Diablo since the dust wouldn’t be an issue. I’m so so glad we did: it definitely wasn’t dusty and we even saw a ton of wildflowers out on a hike.

El Camino Del Diablo traverses the desert between Ajo and Wellton (Yuma) passing through Organ Pipe National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range. To drive the Camino, you need to obtain a free permit (available at several locations) but fortunately the agencies work together so you only need one.

Mountains

We left before the sun was up and were treated to some beautiful silhouette skylines and awesome views of the Bates Mountains as the sun rose.

Sunrise

Kino Peak, Bates Mountains

Windmill

As we were driving along through the Pinal Sands, Forrest asked me how close we were to Mexico. I took a guess based on the map and said “Four.” As it turned out, he was able to see the border fence. After the morning in the car we were all ready for a hike so off we went. The hike was awesome! The border was only about a mile away and the flowers were beautiful.

Pinal Sands

Desert Plants

Forrest and Sprocket

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Forrest and Sprocket, US-Mexico border

Beth, US-Mexico Border

Desert Flowers

As we left the Refuge and entered the Goldwater Range, we stopped to do some exploring at the Tinjas Altas. There’s some beautiful rock with pools in it there. Definitely worth the detour off the main Camino.

Tinjas Altas

Tinjas Altas pools

Wedding, Part 21: Impromptu Honeymoon

Headed out of Challis, we turned onto Morgan Creek Road headed for Shoup. We took our time on the gravel leading to taking pictures, looking at cabins, looking at animals, and enjoying the beautiful fall color.

F remembered “a little hole in the wall bar” downriver so we set out to see if it was still there. Eventually, we found it: the M-T Saddle Saloon. A couple of beers sounded like a really good plan so we walked inside and ordered ourselves a round. We sat down on some lawn chairs just off the porch and, as it usually goes, it took a bit for the patrons already on the porch to warm up to us. As they slowly did, we were bought a round of drinks (or two) as congratulations for our wedding.

It cooled off and I started to get sorta hungry. See, we’d been planning on going back up river to a restaurant to get dinner but instead we were having too much fun. We asked the bartender if they had a microwave we might use and provided our own burritos…he provided us with some chips and salsa to go with it.

As we ate, they encouraged us to stick around for the next night. Saturday night at the M-T Saddle is apparently potluck night. The proprietor whips up a big pot of chili and everyone contributes something. We weren’t really sure what our plans were so we tried not to commit one way or the other. Mike let us sleep in the van right outside the bar.

In the morning, we drove down river to the end of the road and dreamed about rafting “The River of No Return” someday. We stopped along the river so Sprocket could demonstrate his amazing jumping skills—we were duly impressed.

After the swimming, we checked out a new bridge over the Salmon. It lead to a hiking trail and we unexpectedly found ourselves on a 7 mile hike with over 2,600′ elevation gain. I was whiny and hungry pretty much the whole way but the view at the top was pretty awesome.

After our hike, we ate mostly unfrozen burritos and washed our feet in the river before heading back to the M-T Saddle for their potluck dinner. Everything was delicious and we were happy to relax for a couple of hours. Just before dark, we decided to press on upriver a bit to get a jump on our drive home the next day. F was also hoping for a milkshake dessert at the Shoup General Store but they were closed when we drove by. We made camp just a couple miles east of Shoup.

In the morning, we crossed over Lost Horse Pass and headed for home.

And thus ends, my internet friends, the wonderful 3Up Adventure wedding trip. We had a wedding completely filled with love, lots of playing in the desert, and even managed to get some adventure in on the way back home. Perfect trip.

4th Of July: Circumnavigating the Cabinets, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our 4th of July adventure in Montana. (Part 1)

I woke up snuggled between Forrest and Sprocket and not too horribly cold at all. The sun was shining and we had the whole day for adventuring. We let Sprocket out of the tent as we emerged from the tent. It took him about thirty seconds to hop into the river. We pulled the tent into the sun for the dew to dry and ate our breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. Our plans to hike off of Vermillion Pass sort of got trashed when we had to head lower to find a camp so we decided to make up the day as we went along—especially since we didn’t have a map for the Kootenai National Forest and were functioning only with the bleed from our Lolo and Idaho Panhandle National Forest maps.

Sprocket in Happy Gulch

Forrest picked out Silver Butte Pass (4,272′, Pass #3) as a likely destination. Down the Vermillion River we went to the junction with the Vermillion River road. We took a quick look at Vermillion Falls and then branched off the main road to the Pass. As we wound our way up the mountain, I realized, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” And then, “Oh dear, I think this road only exits the mountains to the east.” (I totally had been there in Fall 2010 on my first Cabinets adventure). The east side of the mountains was a little further than we were planning on going but by the time I was sure I knew where we were headed we decided to go for it anyway.

Camping
Rainbow over Vermillion Falls

Sure enough, we popped out of the woods on Highway 2 about thirty miles south of Libby. Although we didn’t have a map, we knew that most of the Cabinets were either official wilderness or a designated roadless area so we either had to go back the way we came or head up to Libby. We figured that Libby would have some sort of 4th of July festival so we headed that way. Turns out, Libby doesn’t have much of anything.

Kootenai Falls

We bought some fruit and chips and decided to head back into the mountains to BBQ the rest of our hot dogs. We stopped to hike down to Kootenai Falls—pictures just can’t do justice to the amount of water moving through that canyon! Leaving the falls, we looped back south on Montana Highway 56 back towards Thompson Falls. We stopped to let Sprocket swim in Bull Lake but there were a lot of people around so we decided to continue on. Just south of the lake we started to get some amazing views of the Cabinets and then we spotted a Forest Service road heading up towards them. Based on the edges of the area we could see on our maps I guessed that it was a loop that would bring us back to the highway in about 10 miles so away we went.

Dock jumping at Bull Lake

We detoured up a spur road that seemed like it would give us some views. The maps even showed a lookout on top. The road ended in a buggy area with some decent views but we were hungry and decided to cook the last of our hot dogs before deciding what to do. Although we weren’t sure how far the lookout was (it was either a mile or 3 miles…) we decided to go for it. When we spotted the lookout, it was over on the next ridge, about two miles away, and since the bugs were really bad, Team 3Up made the call to settle for our views from the parking area.

Chipmunk in the Jeep

After we made it back to the main road, going over Snake Creek Pass (3,604′, Pass #4) and then back to the highway, it was time to get ourselves home. The drive home over Thompson Pass (4,862′, Pass #5) and Dobson Pass (4,235′, Pass #6) was all pavement and uneventful aside from getting an ice cream cone in Prichard.

Cabinet Mountains from the west

Idaho Centennial Trail

Saturday morning we were busy with a flurry of selling firewood, putting together a load of stuff to take to the cabin, and general being adult things. Seeing as it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I pulled out some maps and insisted that we pick somewhere to go.

Testing out the platform.

We eventually decided to head over to Taft and hit the Idaho Centennial Trail. The ICT runs from Idaho’s southern border up through the state. In this area, it mainly runs on the Idaho-Montana border and is open to motorized use (here it’s mainly gravel/dirt roads). We took the ICT south-east to Dominion Peak (6,032′). Dominion Peak was a really fun viewpoint for us. We were able to see a bunch of the mountains that we see from the cabin from a whole different view point. We could also see the peaks of the Cabinet Mountains to the north.

Jeeping up Dominion Peak

After coming down off the mountain, we tried to continue further but were stopped by snow. We turned around and took a different cutoff back towards the valley. We passed under a recently renovated railroad trestle and found a road that took us up to it. The trestle is only open to foot and bicycle traffic so we walked over it and then through Tunnel 19. Instead of returning to the road we were on, we drove the railroad grade down to Saltese.

Restored trestle near Saltese

In Saltese, we picked up some snacks and headed up Silver Creek Road. The road climbed steeply back towards the state line (and the ICT) but we took the turn off to Silver Lake. Sprocket was sooo pleased! We let him swim. And swim. Roll in the snow on the edge of the lake. Then swim some more. Eventually we loaded him back into the Jeep and set off for home.

Sprocket in Silver Lake
Such a retriever

Yellowstone, Day 2

Our second day in Yellowstone started in the parking lot of Canyon Village. We ate a quick breakfast in the cafeteria and headed for Mt. Washburn. It was a short and sweet 3.1 mile climb to the summit. It was one of those hikes with a perfect grade–we didn’t feel like we were working but still managed to gain 1,400 feet!

Summit of Mt. Washburn (10,241 ft.)

After the hike we headed up the Lamar River Valley towards the Northeast entrance of the park. That was by far the most beautiful part of the park in my opinion–there were just some gorgeous mountain cliffs and the valley got nice and small as we approached the park entrance.

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