May 19, 2008

Little Mountain, By the Backroads

We’ve had some excellent horseback outings from March 15 to the present. We started out in the relative lowlands near the Ouray Wildlife Refuge and gradually moved up to the Nine Mile canyon area.
· Our first ride into the mountains was off the Lapoint highway toward Little Mountain. We almost made it to the top. Snow stopped us at around 8200 feet. Our horses made a 15 mile run, 2600 feet elevation gain, in about 5 hours.
· This is our second year using easyboot bares. We think we went through 2-3 sets last summer, covering a distance of 3oo-400 miles, but we didn’t keep very good records. We’re going to try to keep up with the mileage and boot wear this year.
We’ve ridden Little Mountain many times from Cottonwood Springs and from another road that leads past a huge meadow planted in crested wheat grass. Both of those routes begin off the Vernal-LaPoint highway.
Yesterday, we decided to try a route starting from the Paradise Park road. Steve had spotted a road on Google Earth and identified it on his Topo! Map, so we thought we had it all figured out. However, the route he’d marked had a locked gate. We found an alternative that looked like it might work, but that one also had a locked gate. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover that second gate until we’d driven the horse trailer down a narrow two track for almost a mile. There was no turnaround that would work for the truck and trailer, so we ended up backing up for 200 feet or so before coming to an area that was open enough to turn.
Whew! That was a good find. Backing up all the way to the main road was not going to be fun.
At that point, glad to be out of the woods, so to speak, we parked near the road, saddled up, and did our exploration on horseback. The route was on Indian land, posted No Hunting, but not No Trespassing, so we took that as a go-ahead sign. No fences there, at least. After much wandering through giant sage (we’re talking 5-6 feet, full of pollen), we found a deer trail that crossed Deep Creek. On the other side, we came to a faint road that led to a fence with a gap that just happened to be there, almost as if it were created just for us - one of those little unexplained miracles of life. Since the gap wasn’t locked or posted, we went on through. On the other side, we found a more apparent two track that led to a definite dirt road that eventually led to a BLM gate.
Quite an adventure, but we ended up where we were supposed to. Now on BLM land, we were able to continue the ride as originally planned.
We saw Indian paintbrush, wall flowers, milkvetch, and phlox in bloom. Bluebirds flitted through the meadow. A small herd of cows and calves snorted at Daisy, whom we managed to mostly contain so she wouldn’t chase htem. Farther up the hill, we came to two very nice springs with great water for the horses and dog. Both had small ponds. At one, we disturbed a pair of ducks, who flew away as we came by.
We had a bit of a search to find the springs, but the GPS is really a miracle worker when it comes to locating anything. Other than when we were searching for the springs, we were able to follow a road on our way up. The steep parts of the road were very rocky, but the horses manage rocks just fine with their EasyBoot Bares.
Having spent a lot of time finding the trail and the springs, we were running out of time before we reached the towers on Little Mountain. The top was in sight and maybe only a mile away, but we decided to head back. After retracing our crazy and somewhat ugly route through fence gaps and giant sage, we reached the trailer about 5PM. The total ride was 15 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain, and about 5 hours in the saddle.
Conclusion: An interesting trail, but not one we’d try again unless we can find better access.

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