Monday, December 18, 2017

Hikes in the Arkansas Hills with Cactus Mutt

Nearly a year has passed since we got our dog Choya.  If you read my blog, you  know Choya is a frequent hiking partner.  Since we go him he has hiked, run, and walked over 1000 miles in that year.

I don't write a blog on every hike that I do.  This post covers some of the hikes that I didn't write about over the last year.  Each of these hikes I was accompanied by Choya and each traveled in the Arkansas Hills.  The Arkansas Hills are by Colorado standards a lower mountain range with the highest peaks under 12,000 feet.  I have mentioned the Arkansas Hills in past posts.  They are basically an extension of the Mosquito Range running between South Park and the Arkansas River.  When traveling through Bighorn Sheep Canyon, they climb to the north of the canyon. Compared to higher mountain ranges in Colorado, they don't have a lot of trails or traffic.  Their lower elevations don't hold snow very long, and they are a good place to explore in the off season.  They are also very close to my house and I see them every day, so I'm drawn to them.  Some of these descriptions are brief, but there are plenty of photos.

Sand Gulch
Since we got Choya in winter, the Arkansas Hills seemed like a good place to start him hiking.  Most of the early hikes were on BLM roads in the Sand Gulch area.  This is just a few minutes from my house.  My first "hike" with him was up Sand Gulch Road to 9000' in elevation.  I had never been up this road and thought this was a good time to check it out.  Although the ground was bare lower in elevation, as I made my way up the shaded gulch and higher in elevation, the snow became more consistent.  A snowmobile packed the snow, making for easy travel.  Up until this point, Choya had only walked on the road, but was already walking about 20 miles a week.  Since I didn't have a set destination, I turned around at 9000'.  I didn't realize until I got home and looked at a map, we covered about 10 miles.

Views along the lower part of Sand Gulch Road

Snowmobile track made for easier walking

The Sangres

Near 9000' on the hike

Heading back down the road

Descending the road with the Sangres in the distance

Choya was overweight when we got him.  I started walking him daily and within a few weeks, he was covering about 20 miles a week.  This first hike was about five weeks after we got him and he was still quite overweight.  Despite the distance, he seemed fine.  Little did I know at the time I was creating a hiking/walking machine.

Choya is quite wide in this photo compared to now 

Choya enjoying his first hike

Choya in Sand Gulch

Sand Gulch Road is a jeep road.   It travels up the gulch gradually, sometimes getting quite narrow between cliffs.  When descending, the gulch looks directly at the Sangre de Cristos and makes for a nice view.  I would use Sand Gulch Road  many times in the future to start hikes.

Good views of the Sangres in Sand Gulch

Cliffs along the gulch

An elk head along the road

S Mountain Trails
Not long after our first hike in Sand Gulch, I took Choya to the S Mountain trail system in Salida.  I have written about these trail in the past.  The area is a great mountain bike destination that I often ride.  This time it was snowing and I wanted to explore a few trails that I had never traveled.  With the snow falling, it seemed like a good time to hike.  On nice days, the area sees a lot of mountain bike traffic.

The lower end of Sand Dunes Trail

Snow starting to fall

Poor visibility as the snow falls

Yucca in the Pinyon forest

Heavier snow fall 

It was above freezing so the snow didn't accumulate quickly

My route covered Sand Dunes, Pauli, Uncle Natzy, Cottonwood, and Sweet Dreams. (Click the link to see the map for my route-(S Mountain Trails)  We covered about 7 miles in a steady light snow and I got to check out new trails.  Although the visibility was poor, there is some interesting terrain along the trails.  Numerous cliffs and rock outcroppings rise in the area.  Sand Dunes actually consists of a small dune.  Much of the lower terrain features cactus and yucca in a sparse pinyon and juniper forest.

Choya on Sand Dunes

Trailside yucca

Rocky trail on Uncle Nazty 

Curious Choya

Choya is still pretty thick here

Jack Hall Mountain
When leaving my house, Jack Hall Mountain stands out in the background above Sand Gulch.  Because I look at it every day, I wanted to climb it. At 11,060', it is one of the higher peaks in the Arkansas Hills.  Unfortunately there is no easy access from the south, where I live.  Rather than a long, tedious bushwhack from the south, I decided to climb it from the northeast.  County Road 12 travels by the east side of Jack Hall, within a couple miles.  The road peaks at just over 10,000'.

Jack Hall Mountain is the snowier mountain in the distance

A closer look of Jack Hall in the distance from my road

I visited Jack Hall in late March.  Snow covered the ground from the start.  A short bushwhack brought me to a series of logging roads that headed up the northeast side of the mountain.  I departed the logging roads not too far from the summit.  An easy bushwhack brought me to the summit.  Generally the snow was solid and I didn't need snowshoes or sink much.  The summit is broad and flat and the route is never steep from this side of the mountain.

Snow covered logging road

Old tracks in the snow

The logging road in an area that wasn't logged

Choya seemed to enjoy himself

Nice forest on Jack Hall's upper slopes

The wooded summit of Jack Hall Mountain offers good views to the Sangre de Cristos and Wet Mountain Valley.  The views were not as good as I hoped as the trees block most directions.  Of interest was a controlled burn on the east side of the Sangres near Westcliffe that caught my eye.  There was actually a summit register that seemed to be signed by more hunters than hikers.

The Sangres

Close up of the Sangres- Fremont County high point Bushnell Peak
is in the center of the photo with the Twin Sisters to its right

Burned Timber Mountain with the Sangres in the distance

Controlled burn near Westcliffe

The summit cairn and register

The descent offered better views than the summit.  As I returned, I was rewarded with good views over South Park of the distant Front Range, parts of the Mosquito Range, and the Collegiate Peaks.  The view of Mt Princeton was most impressive from the northeast side of Jack Hall.

A stand of aspens

A meadow on the descent

I think this 14er Columbia, north of Mt Yale

14ers Mt Princeton on the left and Mt Yale on the right

Mt Princeton

The Buffalo Peaks in the southern end of the
Mosquito Range

Mt Yale

This route to the summit was only around 5 miles round trip.  The west side of Jack Hall looks interesting.  It appears to have large expanses of open slopes.  It features numerous jagged gulches that drop steeply to Badger Creek far below.  Access would be tough bushwhack however with a long approach from Badger Creek.

Choya in the logged area

The Front Range in the distance beyond the nearby peaks of the
Arkansas Hills

The view of Mt Princeton was impressive
from the northeast side of Jack Hall

Burned Timber Mountain, Copper Mountain, and UN 9273'
I wrote about 10,082' Burned Timber Mountain in a previous post. (See Bushwhacking to Burned Timber Mountain)  Burned Timber is the highest mountain in the Howard, CO area, north of the river.  It's another mountain that I see every day and wanted to climb.  Copper Mountain is a 9771' foot high point about two miles north of Burned Timber along the same ridge to the south of Sand Gulch.  UN 9273' is a high point along a ridge north of Sand Gulch.  Both Copper and UN 9273' are easy to see when walking up the Sand Gulch Road.  Since my earlier walk up the road, I was interested in climbing these two small peaks.

Burned Timber on the right with Copper Mountain in the center
as the end of the ridge.  Jack Hall is in the distant left.  UN 9273' is hidden
between Copper and Jack Hall.

I wanted to climb Burned Timber from Copper Mountain.  There is no trail, but the two mile ridge between the two seemed relatively flat.  Beginning with a climb up Sand Gulch Road, I reached the north side of Copper Mountain on a series of BLM roads.  From the BLM roads, there is a steep bushwhack, climbing nearly 1000 feet in .6 miles. My first time on Copper Mountain was early March when the steep slope was snow covered with lots of postholing.

Copper Mountain from the north

A memorial on Copper Mountain

View across Copper's summit

Choya enjoying the view

The southern Sawatch Range including 14ers
Shavano and Antero

The Sangres

Close up of the Sangres with the Twin Sisters in the center

Choya on Copper

He seems to enjoy the view

Descending Copper on the March hike

In mid October, I climbed all three mountains on a twelve mile trip.  I first reached Copper Mountain's summit.  Copper has incredible views for a relatively small , unranked peak.  There are great views to the south of the Sangre de Cristos.  There are nice unobstructed views to the west of the Sawatch Range, particularly of the Mt Shavano area.  A large section of the Arkansas Hills are visible.  You get a good look at the route to Burned Timber as well.

Meadow on Copper's southeast side

Jack Hall from Copper

Shavano and its neighbors

The Sangres in October

Burned Timber is the point at the end of the ridge

View towards Sawatch in October

South of Copper

There is a grassy meadow on the south side of Copper.  I was surprised to see a decent dirt road not too far below the summit with a cabin nearby.  There is a maze of roads, mostly to private property, just to the east.

After crossing the meadow, I reentered the forest.  To avoid the cabin, I crossed a small gulch to reach the ridge connecting to Burned Timber.  The route is a fairly straightforward bushwhack.  The forest is never too thick and travel is easy for the most part.  There is an occasional view, mostly toward the Sangres.  There is one false summit along the way.

Forest between Copper and Burned Timber

There are several good view points between the peaks

Approaching the wooded north side of Burned Timber

The Arkansas River below Burned Timber

Burned Timber has a wooded summit.  There are nice views over the Arkansas River in Howard and of the Sangres across the valley.  I have now climb Burned Timber from the north and south.  I think the few people that climb this peak do from the east.  There are a series of roads on private property to the east with one road passing within a half mile of the summit.  I returned back to Copper Mountain and descended to Sand Gulch.

I live near the top of the large clearing below the mountains

Choya on Bunred Timber

Choya and Tomcat

The Sangres near Cottonwood Peak above the Arkansas Valley

The summit cairn and post of Burned Timber

Copper is on the left with Jack Hall in he background.  Stoney Face
Mountain is to the right of Jack Hall

Choya posing for the camera 

Shavano and neighbors


Between Sand Gulch and Sand Gulch Road is a ridge.  400 vertical feet above the gulch is the high point of the ridge, UN 9273'.  UN 9273' can be reached by an easy climb up its east ridge.  Although just a random high point, the summit has nice views into the Arkansas Valley and toward the Sangres.  I'm guessing not too many people have visited the summit of this soft ranked 9er.

The Sangres from UN 9273'

The Sawatch Range from UN 9273'

Puma Peak below UN 9273'

While these three peaks aren't on too many people's radar, they are worthwhile climbs.  Although I must admit, if I didn't live so close and look at these mountains every day, they wouldn't be on my radar either.  All three offer good views.  They make good fringe season hikes since their modest elevations don't hold snow as long as the higher ranges.  Although there are BLM roads that travel below the mountains, all three summits require some bushwhacking to summit.

Choya licking his chops

The Sangres beyond Puma Peak

Mountain Ball Cactus

Since Choya has become part of our family, he has dropped from a chunky 55 lbs to a lean 36 lbs.  You can see his chunkiness in the earlier photos above.  He has become a good hiking buddy over the year. He has motivated me to explore some of these off the beaten path areas over the year.  In the near future I will feature another post of our hikes.  The next one will feature more obscure peaks over the past year.  It will features hikes south of the Arkansas River in the Sangre de Cristo foothills.

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