July Jinks Day 9: Climbing the Mountain of Souls

Missionary Ridge (click image for slideshow)

I awoke after a very late night of blogging after only 4.5 hours of sleep. I still had time to grab a continental breakfast at the hotel before the breakfast room closed, and then spent over an hour wrapping up and posting about July Jinks Day 8. I knew that by 6 p.m. I’d want to head north for the Bar D Chuckwagon Supper and I was not interested in a long drive to and from a hiking spot on top of that. So I drove only a few blocks northeast of the motel, which is in north Durango, to hike Animas CIty Mountain. The name refers to the Animas River, which winds around west and south slopes, and in that context Animas means Souls, so I shall very loosely call it The Mountain of Souls.

My trail book said it was a 5.5 mile hike, but you know me. I almost never meet a trail or bushwhack I don’t like, so I managed to lengthen it to 7.2 miles. It took me 4 hours and 40 minutes, my slower-than-typical pace attributed to a sunny day in the high 80s, climbing from 6,645 feet up to 8,155 feet of altitude with gradients reaching 18%, and doing that on less than 5 hours of sleep. I’m glad I did it, but when I was done I was truly pooped and very glad my motel room shower and bed were only a few blocks away.

There were several cars at the trailhead on this Sunday morning, and I would see both families and other singles out on the trail from time to time, although I never saw anyone on the far north section. Most seem to stick with the loops on the mountain’s southern and eastern edges, which overlook the city.

The trail ascended the mountain rapidly on a rough 4-wheeler road, with an option for a route with more switchbacks, which I declined. At every trail junction was a post with a helpful map of the trail system, so I didn’t really need the paper copy I’d ripped out of my trail book and brought along. There were also posted maps for a different, evidently more recent trail system, offering 4.7 miles of trails on the western part of the mountain, while the Animas City Mountain trail system is 9.2 miles if you take all of the alternate loops.

The stones lining the 4-wheeler road had similar color but I imagine they’d spring to individuality if you splashed them with water. The stony trails reminded me that while my new hiking boots work fine and are good at keeping water out, they have noticeably thinner soles and I get tired of feeling sharp stone edges through them. There were a few big boulders jutting out from the hillside – er, mountainside; since this thing rises more than 1,000 feet it gets the more impressive moniker.

The trail forked and I took a low one to the northeast, which turned out to not be on my trail guide nor to connect to any other segments. It provided frequent views out over the city and then the Animas River valley. I sat on a boulder for a self-portrait. The trail was sketched out by rock curbs here and there, meandering up and down the slope as it travelled northeast, with rock outcroppings and good views of the ox-bow lakes of the Animas. Far across the valley I saw the wiggling furrows of a field.

I followed the trail for over a mile, but it began to peter out and there were no paths to climb upward on top of the high bluffs. So I finally gave up and backtracked, getting on a regular trail which steadily ascended. The mountain slopes consistently upward to the north, so the upward march was unrelenting.

I had a straight-shot view of highway 550 and the narrow gauge railway leading up into downtown Durango, with the Animas River snaking along over to the east. To the southeast I could see Carbon and Smelter Mountains, and at a different angle Smelter Mountain and Perins Peak. I zoomed in on Perins Peak; that mountain once had the mining town of Perins City and the Boston Coal Mine, which was one of the largest in the early 20th century.

While I was hiking on top of the mountain, I heard the roar of a propeller and a small plane and glider flew overhead – it was an aerotow and they flew overhead periodically throughout the hike.

I really struggled along this part of the hike. The sun was beating down as the trees thinned out and the never-ending hill and my lack of sleep were taking toll. I was high enough now to see the white layer in the surrounding rock beds exposed as it projected from the mountainside. The mountains have thin carpets of green, with many gaps and tears.

Dark clouds over the La Plata mountains far to the west produced thunder from time to time, but it was mountain effects of early afternoon and brought no rain nor storms to my mountain.

I was now truly high above Durango. When I finally reached the easternmost point of the mountain, I posed by a tree and celebrated a sweeping view of the immense tilted Missionary Ridge to the east – the miserable part of the hike was now redeemed.  I had a clear view of the rockfall where the top of the ridge collapsed in 1998 and which creates mudflows across the roads below.

I hiked along the northeast edge of the mountain, passing a large felled tree. A pile of stones marked the northern lookout point, which provided a great view of the Falls Creek valley to the northeast. Down below against the valley wall I could see houses bedecked with solar panels. The panoramic view of Falls Creek valley, the Animas River, and Missionary Ridge made me very glad I persevered to reach the far point of the hike.

I was standing on rock layers projecting from the mountain’s north face, and sat down here to enjoy the view as well as a snack. The walk back down followed a 4-wheeler road and was uneventful. Heavy clouds loomed overhead but there was no thunder or rain.

I drove back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. Once I awoke, I started editing photos until it was time to leave for the chuckwagon show.

Durango’s Bar D Chuckwagon Supper Show started in 1969 with Cy Scarborough, who is semiretired but helping out a bit here and there. You make a reservation online or by phone (their capacity is 700) and then show up 11 miles north of town, southeast of Hermosa, to buy your ticket on a first-come best-seated basis. I arrived around 6:20 p.m. and snagged a seat in the second row of picnic tables near the stage, and there is an awning they can pull out in case of rain. There were little shops selling trinkets and sweets, a miniature railway, and in the Record Shop the four current Bar D Wranglers were playing and making sales.

I wasn’t interested in the shops, but I spotted a nature trail in the back. The Bar D Ranch is situated up against an impressive section of Missionary Ridge. The trail got somewhat steep after a bit and then led into a burned-over area which they could turn into a haunted forest. It petered out after a few thousand yards at an impressive rock wall. I suppose after the fire they lost interest in maintaining the nature trail. But I bushwhacked my way back, guided by the sounds of the miniature train.

I wound up by a curve in the track where I could shoot video of it going by, and walked back to the show area, where the smell of barbecue was building. I had opted for barbecue beef rather than chicken; they offer a pricier steak option, but I’ve had plenty of steak lately. I dislike barbecue, which aggravates my esophageal spasms, but I managed.

I found my table and was joined by two couples from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (they flew, so they’re definitely not Amish) and two separate couples with children/grandchildren who happened to both hail from Farmington, New Mexico. They were all very friendly, even so polite as to laugh at my jokes. The Farmington people, who live 30 miles east of Shiprock, discouraged my plan to visit it tomorrow, saying to skip visiting that volcanic plug in the desert and stay in the pretty mountains. But I’m determined to go to Shiprock on my way to Albuquerque – familiarity breeds contempt. I will, however, consider their advice to look at staying in Ouray to hike next summer since it is less snooty and pricey than Telluride.

Supper was tasty and served expeditiously, with the musicians helping serve. After the lines closed up, the stage was lowered and the show began. Gary Cook now leads the Wranglers band. He is a champion guitar flat picker and has been in the show for 23 years, singing tenor. Matt Palmer has been in country bands since childhood and has played fiddle in the show for 11 years and sings baritone. Joel Racheff manned the upright bass and provided the comedy songs and has been in the show for 6 years. And Richard Lee Cody sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar and has been in the show either for 2 months or 60 days, as they put it.

I cobbled together a video from my visit and greatly enjoyed the experience. It was a great going-away present from Durango.

Tomorrow I head out to see Shiprock and stay in Albuquerque and that will generate my final post of July Jinks 2011; I don’t expect the long drive from Albuquerque to OKC the following day to be blog-worthy.

Click image for a slideshow from this day hike


Day 10 of July Jinks 2011 ->

<- Day 8 of July Jinks 2011

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, music, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s