Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Fourth of July at Upper Payette Lake, Idaho

           Mist rises from the lake as pancakes and bacon cook over the fire.  Nearby, a merganser and her chicks keep warm in a hollowed-out tree stump.  Tim and I keep ourselves warm by sipping hot drinks on this bitterly cold 4th of July morning in Idaho's Upper Payette Lake National Forest Service campground. 

Morning mist on Upper Payette Lake.

Ready to cook breakfast on a chilly morning.

            Morning sun burns off the mist and the sparkling lake beckons.  Tim inflates his float tube to try angling the icy water.  Three osprey soar above the lake, searching for a fish breakfast.  It’s a good sign, but Tim has only a few nibbles this morning.  I have better luck bird-watching and spot brilliant blue/orange lazuli buntings and red/orange western tanagers.

Lazuli Bunting (left)—photo courtesy of planetofbirds.com
and Western Tanager (right)—photo courtesy of allaboutbirds.com

Tim fishes Upper Payette Lake.  (He's in his float tube—the bright red speck
in the center of the water.)

In the afternoon we leave the campground and drive along the North Fork of the Payette River, searching for an ideal fishing spot.  Tim descends a steep bank and fishes a couple deep pools by downed logs.  The fishing isn’t great; Tim catches only one small trout.

Fly-fishing the North Fork of the Payette River.

We return to the campsite and string the hammock between two lodgepole pines.  Tim enjoys an afternoon siesta while I start the campfire.  Dinner tonight is traditional camp fare—hot dogs with macaroni and cheese—but it’s a four-star meal in a setting like this.  We inhale the pine-scented air and enjoy the quiet and the lake view.

This is the life!  Tim relaxes at the campsite.

After dinner the float tube is ready for another go on the lake; we notice plenty of fish hitting the surface.  As Tim floats and casts in the lake I scan the area with my binoculars.  Another merganser is swimming across the water, followed by seven baby chicks; mom is teaching these babies how to navigate the still waters. 
I hear screeching overhead and look up to see an osprey gliding low, chased by a screaming bald eagle.  The osprey drops the fish it's carrying and races away from the eagle.  Another bald eagle swoops from the trees to join its mate, and together they cross the lake and disappear into the mountains.
It’s 10:30 p.m. and the sun is setting beyond Upper Payette Lake.  Tim and I open a few packs of multi-colored sparklers and place them in the ground around our campsite. 
  As darkness falls we light the sparklers, creating our own mini-fireworks show deep in the north woods of Idaho.  Happy Birthday, America!

Sparklers around the campfire at Upper Payette Lake, Idaho.

USA readers, do you have memories from a special July 4th celebration?
Interested in traveling to Idaho and visiting this area of forests and lakes?  Take a look at these two websites:  http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Upper_Payette_Lake_Campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=74034&topTabIndex=Search

                 If you would like to read about another of my Idaho adventures, click here.

             No blog post next week.  In two weeks travel along with me to the Aloha State!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Silver Jack Campground in Colorado's Uncompahgre National Forest

            Are you planning to travel US highway 50 through Colorado this summer?  Will you need a place to camp?
            If so, I nominate Silver Jack Campground in Colorado's Uncompahgre National Forest near Montrose as the perfect place to park your travel trailer or stake your tent.  The campground offers spacious, shaded sites in an alpine setting.  I guarantee you'll be humming John Denver tunes around the campfire.  (As always, click on a photo to enlarge it.)

"Colorado Rocky Mountain High"
Camping among the aspens in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

A little R & R at Silver Jack Campground.
Note:  Fire restrictions may apply this summer.

           Do you have a favorite campground for a memorable overnight stay?  You can learn more about Silver Jack Campground here:  http://www.gorp.com/camping-guide/travel-ta-camping-colorado-sidwcmdev_056009.html

A short walk from the campground leads to this overview of
Silver Jack Reservoir.

Tim takes in the view of Chimney Rock (right), Turret Ridge (center),
and Pinnacle Ridge (left).

View along the road to Silver Jack Campground and Reservoir.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ely Creek Campground in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

            “We camp at the mouth of a small creek, which affords us a good supper of trout.”
                                                                — John Wesley Powell    1869
           “You look like explorers!”
            The remark is tossed our way by a 10 year-old boy in a convenience store as Tim and I enter in soiled clothing and dusty boots, announcing our return from a weekend backpacking trip.  
              Explorers, are we?  Well, maybe so, after having spent two nights camped along the small creek referenced in the Powell quote, above.

Ready for Powell's expedition?  The intrepid explorers—
Tim and Rita—pose near Ely Creek Campground.

                   Jones Hole Creek Trail follows the stream from Jones Hole Fish Hatchery to The Green River in eastern Utah.  It’s part of Dinosaur National Monument and the National Park Service has designated two backcountry campsites where tiny Ely Creek joins Jones Hole on its run to The Green.
            We hike into the canyon on a Friday evening and meet two friends at the campsite.  Box Elder trees shade the site and Box Elder bugs have made themselves at home here— crawling over the picnic table, the tents and our packs.  The bugs are harmless but it’s disquieting to see them covering everything we own.  

One of the two backcountry campsites at Ely Creek Campground.
You can't see the pesky Box Elder bugs but they're there, invading our site.

            As we enjoy freeze-dried dinners groups of rafters hike by on the trail.  They’re on multi-day float trips and are camped downstream where Jones Hole Creek empties into the big river.  The happy campers walk upstream to view petroglyphs and Ely Creek Falls—two hidden treasures of this canyon.

Petroglyphs along the Jones Hole trail.  On our hike to The Green River
we saw a group of bighorn sheep with young—but none
with antlers as big as this!

           Night falls and the “river rats” return to their camps.  All is quiet.  We retire to our tents and nod off to the sounds of rustling leaves and scurrying rodents.  Don’t worry,  we’ve hung our food bags from tree branches to discourage these nocturnal marauding munchers. 
           The following morning dawns clear and cool.  We sip coffee while Yellow Warblers flit among branches in the speckled sunlight. 
           After breakfast the men suit up to fish and we women lace our boots to hike 1.8 miles to the Green River.  The trail, used for thousands of years by the Fremont and other native peoples, is a delightful trek through the ages.  We arrive at The Green and, with its expansive views upriver and down, I understand why Powell’s expedition stopped here.  
           Twenty-first century river runners—recreating now rather than exploring—cherish this favored campsite as well.

View downriver on The Green.  A fine place to camp, whether you
were part of a 19th century expedition, or are a twenty-first
century river runner.

           This evening fresh trout sizzles in the skillet, the moon rises above the flame-red rocks and the night birds call.   Wilderness doesn’t get much better than this.
           In the morning we break camp and load our packs for the 2.2 mile walk back to our vehicles at The National Fish Hatchery.  
           As we hike out I ponder the Powell expedition:  What must it have been like to have been the first caucasians explorers of this canyon, its wonderland of secrets waiting to be discovered?

John Wesley Powell enjoyed "a good supper of trout" and
so did we.  This brown trout provided a tasty meal.

This fat rainbow trout was luckier than the brown; it was released
to swim another day in the clear waters of Jones Hole Creek.

My pack is loaded and we're ready to leave
our room with a view.

           Many feet have trod this ancient trail.  Add yours to the adventurers and explorers who’ve gone before by visiting this website for more information:  http://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/jonescreekarea.htm

Add your pair of feet to this scene; relax along
lovely Jones Hole Creek after a day of exploration.

For information on the National Fish Hatchery, and fly-fishing Jones Hole Creek, check here:  http://www.ecoangler.com/habitat/Jones_Hole_Creek.html  and
NOTE:  This post was first published on June 12, 2012.  One year later, on June 18 and 20, 2013 a large rock slide occurred near the Fish Hatchery, closing Jones Hole Creek Trail until further notice.  Contact Dinosaur National Monument for more information.
Update:  As of June 2014 the trail along Jones Hole Creek is open.  The park service considers the rock fall to be "active" and as such caution is advised along the quarter mile or so of the trail in the rock fall area.

Tim poses in Jones Hole Creek.  He's eager to spend the
next couple hours casting for trout.

Tim snapped this photo while standing in the creek,
looking upstream.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Powderhorn Lakes Trail, Colorado

    • Mountain meadows
    • Wildlife viewing 
    • Alpine lakes
    • Trout fishing 

                Have I forgotten anything?  Oh yes—solitude.  
            Powderhorn Lakes Trail, near Lake City Colorado, combines the above ingredients into a delectable day hike.
We begin our trek on a cerulean Colorado morning.  The first section of trail climbs through a mature spruce/fir forest.  It’s a steady uphill and our calves are burning.  We stop several times to rest; breathing deeply we’re rewarded with the penetrating scent of evergreen—nature’s air freshener.
The trail breaks into an open meadow where golden grasses reach for the horizon.  This is a fine place to stop for pictures and Tim and I indulge our photographic passions.

"The Hills are Alive..."  Views from this expansive meadow
tempt you to open your arms and sing!

              We re-enter the forest and continue an undulating climb through the trees and past sparkling beaver ponds.  Finally the trail skirts Lower Powderhorn Lake where we stop along the south shore and drop our packs.  We set up base camp here at 11,600 feet.  Tim inflates his float tube and strings his fly line while I gather twigs for a small blaze.  The presence of fire rings alerts us to several campsites along the lakeshore—both Lower and Upper Powderhorn Lakes provide excellent backpack camping opportunities.

Beaver pond along the Powderhorn Lakes Trail.

Tim fishes while I relax by the fire and read; I can’t think of a better way to spend a morning in the mountains.  Tim hooks a few brook trout and we break for lunch.  This afternoon we hike another half mile to Upper Powderhorn Lake, nestled into a semi-circular soaring rock face.  The sparkling water entices Tim to try his luck with the fly rod, but the fish aren't biting at Upper Powderhorn today.  It’s possible the trout were killed during exposure to harsh winter conditions at this shallow high-elevation lake. 

Welcoming fire at our "base camp" near Lower Powderhorn Lake.
                  Note:  This photo was taken during a hike to Powderhorn Lakes several years ago.  Fire danger in the backcountry is extreme in 2012;  please do not build and ignite any campfires in the wilderness this summer.

Tim fishes Lower Powderhorn Lake from his float tube.

Returning to Lower Powderhorn, Tim has better luck catching small “brookies” in the beaver ponds.
We gather our belongings and leave this tranquil wilderness, our backcountry appetites sated for now.  We’ll return again someday to savor the many delights served along The Powderhorn Lakes Trail.

Looking down on Upper Powderhorn Lake.

Satisfy your taste for solitude this year.  Visit this site to plan a wilderness adventure to Powderhorn Lakes:  http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/gfo/recreation_information/hike-info/hike-trails/powderhorn.html