Junebug Day 5: River and Mountains

June 18, 2012

After spending two days hiking in the Gunnison area I hoped I’d acclimated better to the altitude and could venture higher during the day, while sleeping below 8,000 feet in Gunnison. So I made plans to drive up after lunch to Taylor Park Reservoir at 9,400 feet and see friends who spend a week or so there each summer for the fishing and to get away from it all.

Up in the mountains (click image for slideshow)

The Gunnison River

Gunnison Whitewater Park

I worked on the blog in the morning until the maid reached my room, departing to go walk by the Gunnison River. My first stop was Gunnison Whitewater Park, just west of town. I’d seen the sign when driving to Hartman Rocks and wondered what was there. I found a parking lot beside the river, where rock has been placed to create various water dynamics for folks to practice with their kayaks and the like.

No one was out on the water, at least not in sight, so I drove a few miles farther west on US 50 to the Neversink Area of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, where there is a riverside trail. I followed it along the river for half a mile until it was lunchtime, so I walked about 3/4 of the entire trail.

Gilded Flicker Woodpecker

This is known as a good birding trail, so a Gilded Flicker Woodpecker obligingly hopped onto the trail with me and then posed on a fencepost. I followed the shady trail alongside a side channel of the Gunnison River, with numerous paths down to the water used by anglers.

But then the vegetation began to close in and the insects were becoming a tad annoying, so when my alarm sounded for me to turn back, I was not displeased. I drove back to Gunnison for a so-so French Dip sandwich and then headed north on the Crested Butte highway to Almont, turning off there to follow county road 742 alongside the Taylor River up toward Taylor Park Reservoir.

Taylor Park Reservoir

Back in the mid 1930s a 206 foot high earthfill dam with a crest 675 feet long was built up here at an elevation of 9,330 feet 30 miles northeast of Gunnison on the western flank of the Sawatch Mountains. A reclamation project, it stores water much like Blue Mesa Lake so it can be used for irrigation down below. People fish for rainbow, brown, and Loch Leven trout in the lake, a primary draw for my teaching colleague, Betty Henderson, and her husband, John.

Taylor Park Reservoir

They rent a cabin at the Taylor Park Trading Post and go out on the lake to fish each morning. I was to arrive after lunch, but my arrival was delayed by heavy road construction on county road 742. Eight miles of the asphalt were being ripped out and the road widened. I had to wait 20 minutes for a pilot truck to guide me and a short line of vehicles through a couple of miles of active work. So I arrived at Taylor Park 30 minutes late, but then the Hendersons and I piled into John’s truck to see the area sights.

Tin Cup

The first stop was the tiny town of Tin Cup, a forming mining town with some very old buildings scattered about the town site, several presumably maintained to resemble what they looked like originally. I was feeling the effects of altitude a bit and did not have John pull over so I could take photos here, but there are plenty on the web. The town’s entry sign is memorable for its admonition: “This is God’s country. Please don’t drive through it like hell.”

The Hendersons pointed out a cabin dating back to the 1800s and old abandoned fire hydrants from a defunct water system. The town’s name comes from a prospector who panned gold in Willow Creek in 1859 and carried it back to camp in a tin cup. The town exploded twenty years later when lode deposits were found, reaching almost 1,500 residents. It would have been named Virginia City but confusion with similar town names in other states led it to be renamed Tin Cup in 1882. It was a very violent place in those days, with two marshalls shot to death in 1882 and 1883. The mines were exhausted by the World War I era and the town dwindled away.

Tin Cup Cemetery

Tin Cup Cemetery

The Hendersons took me to the oddball Tin Cup cemetery, or “cemetary” as its signs proclaim. It consists of several knolls rising up out of huge beaver ponds. Each knoll is reserved for different types of folks: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or other. The other is Boot Hill for outlaws and atheists, but isolated back in a separate area a Negro cook is buried. The bridge across the pond to Boot Hill was out, so we missed that area.

Many graves are protected by split-rail fences, and I spotted one very fancy tombstone. Other graves have only wooden markers, and some are merely piles of stones. I liked one stone marker which had a verse for the wife but nothing yet for her surviving husband. I suppose they’ll wait to decide what to say about him!

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

John drove us over to Mirror Lake, a small but pretty lake nestled against the western flanks of Mount Kreutzer and Emma Burr Mountain. The wind was up, so the mirror was rippling and not providing images. There were several long waterways running down the steep slope of Mount Kreutzer and a bit of snow up top.

The Hendersons and I took turns posing at this stop. Yes, that’s John, not a younger Wilford Brimley. 🙂

Panning for Gold

Betty and John both have fun panning for gold on their trips. John was anxious to bushwhack up one of the feeder streams for East Willow Creek and try to find some bedrock and pan for gold. So we stopped there, the location where Betty took a favorite photo of hers on a previous trip. While John forged uphill searching for bedrock, Betty and I tarried, taking pictures and feeling the effects of the 10,700 foot elevation.

Panning for Gold

I shot my own photo of the beautiful stream, which is a slash of beauty through the forest. Then I composed a photo of Betty beside the stream and then she took her turn, although I’m a terrible subject. I prefer to be behind the lens, not in front of it!

John returned from his trek upstream, reporting no finds in the pans he had made. He and Betty conducted another pan while I observed the process. Although it did not yield anything, I enjoyed watching them at one of their hobbies. I wrapped up with another couple of shots of the tributary.

Dinner and Plans

We headed back to Taylor Park Reservoir for dinner. Betty cooked some beans while John grilled some delicious hamburgers – using a gas-fired grill to comply with the statewide fire ban. After the delicious dinner I had to excuse myself to drive back down to Gunnison. I could feel a headache building from the high altitude. Happily it was quite mild, especially compared to what I’d endured a couple of days earlier, and disappeared soon after I returned to my hotel below 8,000 feet.

Given my progress in handling the altitude, the Hendersons and I had made plans to meet in Crested Butte for lunch the following day and have John lead us on a hike at Lost Lake. I’d finally get in a hike in the high country!

Click here for a slideshow from this part of the trip

Junebug Day 6: Three Lakes >

< Junebug Day 4: Pinnacles and Needles

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.
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