July Escape Day 4: The Piedra River

Piedra River Valley

The Piedra River (click image for a slideshow)

I started my day with a cold breakfast at the lodge, opting out of their featured self-made waffles. WiFi works fine in the dining room and office lounge, so I took the opportunity to catch up on some email and wrap up my video of my train ride from the day before.

The morning was bright and sunny, so I didn’t take the time to slowly upload the movie but instead got ready and set out for Piedra Falls. It was a 25 mile drive north of Pagosa Springs, most of it on gravel roads and the last ten miles on a single-lane gravel road. The journey began through cabins and then on through pastures with the mountains rising in the background to the north, west, and east. Some particularly eroded mountains were quite impressive.

I finally reached the beautiful East Fork of the Piedra River and walked up the riverside. A promised trail sign was missing, so folks were having trouble finding the proper path. My guide book told me to veer uphill through the tall conifers and that led me right to the falls after a short hike of perhaps half a mile. I could see from below that the falls were in two parts, with the upper section barely glimpsed in a cleft in the rocks.

Climbing up, I could again see the two sections and then the trail led in front of the upper part of the lower section. The water was pounding with mist everywhere and I could see several logs bouncing about in the pool below. The scence is best appreciated in the Piedra Falls video I shot.

I had reached an altitude of about 7,575 ft and now clambered back down the 526 feet to my car, helping direct a few hikers along the way. I headed back down the gravel road about 10 miles to where it had first crossed the Piedra River for a trailhead there.

There were many vehicles at that trailhead and hikers all about even though a sign indicated the 11-mile Piedra River Trail was closed due to fire. Evidently the first section was still worthwhile, so I headed up the hill. The grade was steep as I entered the forest, passing some large clefts in the earth.

A rock slide at one end of the largest cleft allowed me to clamber down its narrow bottom, with nearly vertical side walls rising a few stories above me. I shot a video clip of my surroundings and then climbed out of the cool shaded cleft up into the warmer air of the afternoon.

After about a mile the trail forked, which posed a quandary. This trail was not in my guide book and the Forest Service map was less than detailed. With no one handy to guide me, I had to decide between a more level trail that headed off in the direction I expected for the River Trail and another that rose steeply up the mountainside. I opted for the latter, which was fortuitous.

The trail wound its way upward and I made full use of both of my trekking poles to help me ascend. I finally saw the edge of a cliff, and popped out at a tremendous view of the Williams Creek Canyon and Piedra River valley at over 8,000 ft, having ascended 500 ft from the trailhead.

Thunderclouds were building to the northwest and my view both north up Williams Creek and south down the Piedra River was impressive. I walked out and sat on the edge of the cliff for a lunch snack, scanning the canyon hundreds of feet below, and shot some video of the view. I then hiked along the canyon’s edge until I reached a nice rock bench with a better view of the river winding its way below. There I posed for a self-portrait as thunder began to roll.

I decided it was time to head back down rather than follow the main trail onward. Sprinkles began as I drove south to Pagosa Springs, but it never really got started as I returned to the lower elevations. I showered at the lodge and edited my movies and photos so that for once I could do a blog post in the afternoon rather than late at night.

Later I went to town for dinner at JJ’s and at the door a lady had stopped to try and correct the French on a menu chalkboard. That led us to strike up a conversation and she and a lady friend invited me to dine with them. They both own property in Pagosa Springs and were charming dinner companions with helpful recommendations for my visit to Santa Fe in a few days.

It began to drizzle so we fled our riverside seats before the skies opened up. I bid my companions farewell and headed out to wrap up this post and spend a relaxing evening reading a wonderful novel, The Manual of Detection, which has fun playing with an update of the The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

Tomorrow I hike at Fourmile Lake, weather permitting.

Click here for a slideshow of today’s adventure

Day 5 of this adventure–>

<- Day 3 of this adventure

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in day hike, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to July Escape Day 4: The Piedra River

  1. Pingback: July Escape Day 3: Riding the Narrow Gauge « MEADOR.ORG

  2. Pingback: July Escape Day 5: Fourmile Falls « MEADOR.ORG

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