Rio Grande National Forest
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Finding myself once again at a crossing of the Continental Divide Trail (but not as it edges along the Great Divide), I am drawn once again to finding some destination along it to hike to. The benchmark marked FLAT which seems to designate one minor corner of the South San Juan Wilderness looks like a good one, if a little far. I estimate it at 11.5 miles. (Actual: 11.3 miles.) Doable. Especially as the gain really isn't all that much for the length. The trailhead along the old highway behind the train station sits just about exactly at 10k feet and the peak at nearly 12.2k feet. Just 2200 feet gain over 11 miles is what I am willing to erroneously call flat, but then FLAT is the goal. There is a bathroom out of sight of anyone following the trail and a couple possible dispersed camping sites somewhat near the trailhead, but not actually any parking except where it crosses the current highway. For good measure, they don't sign that, just the turns to come in along the old road, so expect a little run around if driving up to do the hike.
|At the old highway, there are clear signs, a notice board, even a register to mark the trail. At the current highway, there is only a post with "813" carved in the top.|
From the register, it looks like most people just get as far as Wolf Creek, about three miles in. The through hikers came a month ago with one straggler a couple weeks ago. The trail slips up through the grasses, edges a little near the railroad tracks, then turns into the trees and pops out among meadows edged with more trees and ever increasing views.
|Narrow gauge tracks for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. A coal powered engine smokes its way along here a few times a day with a dinky little yellow fire suppression car following behind.|
|The meadow beside my camp. Yep, I got one of the dispersed spots and this meadow is so very dark at night for the stars and has some crazy wildlife sightings in the day.|
|The roads below and the trail ahead to the right.|
There is a kind of explosion in the grass about 6 feet to my left. Startled but attempting calm, I look toward the retreating commotion to find a large faun with a spotted back lunging through the grass. Elk? I know deer simply hide. I though they were supposed to be very still no matter what. I certainly would not have noticed without the sudden movement. The meadow has fences and gates for open range, but they aren't up yet. Presumably that means no cows yet either. As the trail meanders further, it dips to cross first a small stream, then a pair of creeks the second being Wolf Creek because Colorado never tires of teasing me about starting off a hike with 2-2.5 liters of water. It does pause to almost view two waterfalls along the way.