Wildflower of the Week: Eastern Pasqueflower

Pasqueflower (or Cutleaf Anemone) 
Pulsatilla patens ssp. multifida

While Sprocket and I were out hiking Ouray’s Perimeter Trail last weekend, I noticed a wildflower. It was only the first weekend of April so I was totally surprised that there were already flowers popping up through the snow! As it turns out, when I did, muddy snowmelt areas are precisely where you’d expect to find the pasqueflower.

These flowers are such pale purple they’re almost white. Their little petals are really delicate and the stems are almost fuzzy. They’re scattered all over the hillside where I found them!

Just a few days later, I also found them on the Thunder Trails near Norwood! They were everywhere!

I have been meaning to learn more about native plants in the San Juans and the Colorado Plateau for YEARS. In order to help me learn, I’m shooting for a weekly plant of sorts like I used to do with the Cactus of The Week feature. Writing the Cactus of the Week really helped to me learn those cacti and I’m hoping for the same to happen here!

On The Page: Otto Mears and the San Juans

After reading Ouray my interest in learning more about local history was piqued and I dove right into Otto Mears and the San Juans by E. F. Tucker. I knew that Otto Mears was involved in the Rio Grande Southern and in the building of a lot of toll roads including one up and over Red Mountain Pass. Outside of that I’d heard that he was a little bit eccentric and that was all.

Otto Mears was into everything. Mears was born in Latvia (then part of Russia) before he was sent to live with family members in England and then to another family member in New York. When they sent him to San Francisco to live with yet another family member at age 11, he arrived to find that the relative had departed for Australia. From then on, Mears was on his own.

Mears eventually became an American citizen and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He was discharged in Northern New Mexico and used his money to enter business as a merchant. Mears slowly migrated north towards the Saguache area where he continued to operate businesses and became more and more involved with local politics.

As I’d learned in Ouray, Mears also got involved in Native American policy by both by accepting government contracts for supplies but later in helping negotiate treaties with the Ute Nation. As with most actions of whites towards Native Americans Mears actions when seen through a modern lens are really problematic. E. F. Tucker makes a good argument that while Mears was involved in the final expulsion of the Uncompaghre and Weeminuche bands from Colorado that he pushed for them to move directly to the reservation in Utah rather than settling near what is now Grand Junction because he believed that they’d be asked to move yet again. 

Mears briefly served in the Colorado legislature but didn’t stay long, opting to operate behind the scenes and start building his famous toll roads first over Poncha Pass and most famously over Red Mountain Pass, now the route of the “Million Dollar Highway” US 550. Later, he progressed to railroads including the Rio Grande Southern and a handful of smaller railroads servicing mines in the Silverton area.

Mears worked most of his life and only slowed down a little bit towards the end of his life. In his later years, as his wife Mary suffered from ill health, he traveled back and forth from Silverton to California. Aside from a couple of short stints in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. Mears spent most of his adult life in Colorado.

I loved reading about Otto Mears. I drive Red Mountain Pass regularly to access recreation and have come to love and appreciate the ridiculousness of its precarious position above the Uncompahgre Gorge. While Mears never stopped looking out for his own business ambitions, he was instrumental in the development of the San Juans.

 

 

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Any money I make via Amazon goes to buy more books about the West so I can read them and tell you all. All opinions are my own.

On The Page: Ouray: Chief of the Utes

I have always loved learning about the area where I live. Growing up, I looked forward to the fourth grade study of Washington history very intently and continued to build my knowledge of the area into high school. I was initially drawn to Idaho’s Silver Valley by its history (mostly through reading Tim Egan’s The Big Burn) and then purchasing the cabin drove my research into the specifics of mine development in the upper valley. I have been pretty slow to develop my understanding of the history of the San Juan Mountain region. Lately, I’ve been doing better at delving into books, some of which I’ve talked about here recently.

One of the more enlightening things that I’ve read lately is Ouray: Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith. Inspired partly by the ongoing renovation of the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, I picked this up at the library. I wanted to have some background knowledge before visiting the museum when it reopens this spring. (Recent political events have also inspired me to read more about not white men… I violated this by reading about Otto Mears so I guess I’m going to have to put Isabella Bird next…or perhaps Chipeta?)

Photo: Matthew Brady. Source: Library of Congress

The San Juans were settled relatively late, with the initial gold placer gold finds happening in the Eureka area (near Silverton) in 1860. Ouray spends some time discussing Chief Ouray’s early life but Smith wisely spends most the book discussing Ouray’s time as one of the leaders of the various Ute bands during the multiple treaty negotiations for the San Juan Mountain region and the Uncompaghre Valley.

As might be expected, the discovery of riches on lands granted to the Ute tribe (a loose confederation of approximately seven bands) lead to the US government continually renegotiating treaties with the tribe and shrinking their holdings. I am curious to see how the Ute Indian Museum presents the story of the tribe (the redesign of the museum features input from the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Tribe, and the Northern Ute Tribe) because Smith’s interpretation of Ouray is extremely favorable.

The portrait painted by Smith is of a man that fought hard for his people while grasping the futility of the situation. While the story clearly shows a man that was able to coordinate diverse interests within the larger Ute Nation the picture seems entirely too cut and dried to me. Ouray himself was promised a salary for the remainder of his life while the reservation became smaller and smaller and predicated some negotations with the government on their willingness to search for his son who had been abducted by the Sioux. His actions (and the actions of his wife Chipeta) during and after the Meeker Massacre were certainly admirable―they welcomed the surviving women from the Indian Agency into their home while the recovered from the ordeal. Certainly, Ouray was a man of his time that did the best that he could with what he knew.

This book served as a great introduction to Ouray’s life. I was fascinated to learn that the hot springs that are now Orvis Hot Springs were considered holy to the Utes which lead to them attempting to hold onto the land that is now Ridgway for a long time. I’m sure that forming a complete picture of the man is difficult given the circumstances but I’m looking forward to reading more about his life.

1873 Treaty Negotiations

 

P.S. Can someone buy me the complete catalogs of Wayfinder Press and Western Reflections? My local history knowledge requires it…

This post contains affiliate links with Amazon. All opinions offered here are my own.

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.

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!

 

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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

Panorama

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

Last Dollar Mountain

I had Tuesday off and I had grand plans of climbing a 13er and enjoying the day with Sprocket. I slept though two alarms.

Rather than be frustrated at getting too late of a start to do what I’d planned, I quickly made a new plan, one that perhaps better acknowledged my deep weariness but also nodded to my need for some mountains. We drove to the top of Last Dollar Road and then made our way to the top of Last Dollar Mountain, 11,120′.

Last Dollar Road

The hike was short, just about a half mile to the top, and although steep by non-San Juan standards, we fairly easily attained the ridge. My pup and I spent about twenty minutes marveling at the Wilson group, smiling at the sound of an airplane leaving Telluride beneath us, and just having a little cuddle.

Sprocket on Last Dollar Mountain

Wilson Group

Hi Telluride

Our summit wasn’t anything overly grand and RuthXJ did most of the work but it was exactly what I needed to remind me of just why I live in Ridgway.

Beth and Sprocket

Cuddles

 

Last Dollar Mountain

On The Page: Exploring The Historic San Juan Triangle

I finally go smart this summer and made a box specifically of “books I haven’t read” since I’m on a strict “you can’t buy any more books until you finish the ones you already have” budget. One of those books was Exploring The Historic San Juan Triangle by P. David Smith. I bought this book back in 2013 when I first moved to Ridgway and it just never seemed to be accessible when I needed a book. I definitely missed out due to my procrastination!

Exploring the Historic San Juan Triangle

Smith’s history of the San Juan Triangle, the area roughly bounded by Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, is an excellent crash course in the history of settlement and mining in the region. The first chapters of the book describe the histories of the main towns in the region: Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, and Telluride. (My beloved Ridgway sits just outside the triangle and has some definite ranching vs mining roots.) Just a few pages into the history, as Smith described how miners started to drift into the San Juans while they were still officially Ute lands, I realized I know nothing really about this area. Since the book is written partially as history and partially as a travel guide there was some emphasis on the locations (past and present) of key buildings but I really enjoyed that since I could picture each of the towns.

After the histories of individual towns, there is a series of chapters that give a fairly exhaustive explanation of mines and ghost towns that existed along Jeep routes in the area. I can picture many of the places he mentions but I’m just itching to get back out and check out the rest of them! In addition to covering the “classic” routes (Imogene, Black Bear, Cinnamon, Engineer, etc.) Smith talks about spur roads and lesser known routes as well.

Beaumont Hotel Ouray,CO

As I mentioned, the book is written as a guide to travel so sometimes the narration is a bit clunky. Dividing the history up into specific locations is helpful when you’re driving or visiting one of the towns but sometimes that also makes for a bit of repetitiveness to the history. That being said, however, if you like history and context for your exploring and you plan on visiting the San Juans (or if you need some inspiration to come check out my gorgeous mountains), Exploring The San Juan Triangle is an excellent place to start diving in!

Green Mountain Trail Run (Hike?)

I’ve been working my tail off but last week, I didn’t work until early evening so Sprocket and I headed out to savor summer a little bit. It was warm but not near as warm as it’s been this past week so we headed to the Stealey Mountain Trail to do some exploring. The start of the trail was pretty flat so I made a bit of an impulsive decision to start running.

Chimney Rock

Less than a mile from the car, the elastic fell off my braid so I was rocking the long hair down which was hot. Sprocket seemed to be enjoying the run so we kept on going.

Happy Selfie

We took a little bit of the long way around which opened up views to the Sneffels Range and Uncompahgre as the trail trended downhill.

San Juans

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As we doubled back to the east, Courthouse mountain dominated the skyline. Our pace slowed a bit as we started to move up hill but we were totally just out enjoying the day.

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The highlight of Sprocket’s day was crossing a couple of streams that were low enough to allow him to just splash around and cool off a bit.

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We tried to find a pack trail that was supposed to take a very direct route up to the saddle but it just seemed to be gone. It was pretty steep and starting to get hot so we just took it slow and savored the views back towards Castle Rock:

Views

We finally rejoined the quad trail route and made the final push to the summit of Green, or Stealey Mountain. The summit was heavily treed so there weren’t a whole lot of views but the green and the sun was heavenly.

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Handsome baby

Not too shabby, SP, not too shabby:

Hike + Trail run

Ridgway Reservoir Run

My friend Heather is training for her first marathon and I’m always seeing her posts on Facebook about wanting running buddies and it totally kills me; I want to but I’m just too far away for it to be practical most of the time. Last weekend, though, I was in Ridgway so I joined her for a 10 mile run. She left planning the route up to me so I made the most of the fact we’d have two cars and mapped out a route from Ridgway to the north end of Ridgway State Park at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk.

We’re really spoiled with a pathway that runs from Town Park along the river to the State Park that only climbs above the river and near the highway for a short distance. Otherwise, it’s quiet and relaxing down along the Uncompaghre. I’d never run in Ridgway State Park but there are really nice gravel and paved paths that run the whole length of the park!

 

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We ran northbound because the general trend would be downhill but I’m not so sure that’s the best way! The elevation gain would be pretty minimal to go back to town except for the steep climb right at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk which I’d be fine with and then you’d look at these mountains the whole way. Talk about amazing.

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Heather’s been running a lot with her marathon training and I really started to struggle a bit for my ninth mile. I alternated running and walking but was able to push through all of the final mile though. Besides, those aforementioned views didn’t hurt anything.

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After we wrapped up the run, we loaded up the pups in the Jeep (Heather was dog sitting for Meadow) and took them down to the river.

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Sprocket always loves the river:

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After our swim time, we headed back north to get ready for the school week!

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