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Horse Ranch Park Loop

Friday – Saturday, June 15-16, 2018

This turned out to be one of those weekends where nothing seemed to work out as planned. I originally had plans of peak bagging in the Ruby Range near Crested Butte, but when I left work on Friday afternoon I already knew there was a good chance that I was probably going to get rained out by the remnants of Hurricane Bud. This tropical storm was going to be bringing some much needed moisture to the Colorado Plateau and Rocky Mountains over the weekend. The weather forecast was predicting thunderstorms, high winds, heavy rain and even possible flash flooding. Even with the chance of storms high, I decided to head that direction anyway and see if I could at least squeeze in a little hiking or photography before the weather arrived. Little did I know at the time that my biggest problem was going to be road closures and not storms!

After leaving work on Friday I drove around the Grand Mesa with a quick stop in Delta for dinner and fuel. After passing through Paonia and the small coal mining town of Somerset I turned off the highway onto the Kebler Pass Road and slowly made my way up to the pass as I took in the surrounding views.

The air was a bit hazy from distant wildfire smoke as I drove toward The Raggeds.

Kebler Pass Road

Soon, the familiar West Beckwith Mountain (12,185) and East Beckwith Mountain came in to view.

West Beckwith Peak

Following the road below Marcellina Mountain (11,348).

Road To Marcellina

A little bit of light on Marcellina Mountain.

Marcellina Mountain

A panorama of East Beckwith Mountain (12,432).

East Beckwith Mountain Panorama

Here’s a view of Ruby Peak (12,644) and Mount Owen (13,058) from near Horse Ranch Park. My plan for Saturday morning was to hike to the summit of one or both of these peaks.

Ruby Peak

Near Kebler Pass (9,980) I found a lot of nice wildflowers right along the road, so I stopped for a couple photos.

Lupine

Kebler Pass Wildflowers

Before heading up above Lake Irwin to find a place to camp for the night, I drove over to Ohio Pass (10,074) to check out the view of The Castles. The sky was very overcast when I arrived, but on my way back the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and it started to rain.

Rain

After driving through the popular camping area along the shore of Lake Irwin, my plan was to continue up the road towards Green Lake and find somewhere to camp for the evening near where I planned to start hiking from on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I was stopped by this sign and a locked gate. Apparently, a property owner has gated off the road and now the Forest Service is trying to figure out another solution for access to this area. This was a little disappointing, especially since I had driven this road back in 2015 when I hiked along Scarp Ridge.

Road Closure #1

At this point I wasn’t too discouraged from the road closure since I already had plans to hike Mount Baldy (12,805) on Sunday morning, and that wasn’t looking good because of the weather forecast, so I figured I would just bump that hike up to Saturday now. I decided to drive down to Crested Butte and then over Schofield Pass to the Paradise Divide so I could do that hike in the morning instead.

Just as I was about to turn back onto Kebler Pass Road I saw a bright light in my rearview mirror and at first thought it was someone’s headlights that had just come around the bend in the road. Then I realized it was the sun and stopped for a quick photo of the red light filtering through the dust that my Jeep had just kicked up.

Red Sun Through Dust

Driving along the East River at dusk on my way to Schofield Pass.

East River

A few miles before reaching the pass I came across my second road closure of the evening.

Road Closed

This time there was still a snow drift across the road that was impassible.

Road Closure #2

At this point I was zero for two and the weekend hadn’t even started yet! Now I had to come up with yet another set of backup plans. I decided to give up on peak bagging this weekend and headed back to Horse Ranch Park so I could hike something else in the area on Saturday morning. I arrived back in Horse Ranch Park well after my bedtime and I was getting pretty tired at this point, so I quickly found a spot to spend the night and went right to bed.

Since I was up late the night before, I was still pretty tired when sunrise came, and since I didn’t need an early start to get up on any peaks, I slept in later than normal. There are a number of trails that take off from the Horse Ranch Park area, so when I did finally get up for the day I settled on hiking a loop that circles through the aspen forest below Ruby Peak and The Dyke. This loop would only be a couple of miles long and really wouldn’t get above treeline, so I didn’t have to worry about the weather moving in. Except for right at the beginning of the hike the sky above was overcast, so I kept an eye out for wildflowers and other small scenes located along the trail to photograph.

Starting out at the beginning of the Dark Canyon Trail. This is a longer trail that can take you all the way to Erickson Springs near the mouth of Dark Canyon, but I would just be combining a few of the trails in the area to create a six mile loop.

Dark Canyon Trail

There was some nice light on East Beckwith Mountain behind me as I climbed the trail. I should mention that it was very humid out this morning and the mosquitoes were out in full force!

East Beckwith Mountain

The ferns on the forest floor were a very vibrant green in this area.

Ferns

The white trunks of the aspen trees added a nice contrast to the green.

Floor of Ferns

Emerging

Another view of East Beckwith Mountain as I hiked through a small rocky clearing.

East Beckwith View

Nice light on the Anthracite Range and Ohio Peak (12,271).

Anthracite Range

Most of the trail was through a large aspen forest (one of the largest in North America), but there were also a few open meadows to cross.

Meadow

Little Aspen Trunk

Little Aspen Trunk

By the time I reached the main overlook of Marcellina Mountain and Ragged Mountain (12,094) it was pretty overcast out.

Marcellina & Ragged

Just a Colorado Columbine seen along the trail. There were plenty to be found.

Colorado Columbine

The trail entered the Raggeds Wilderness where it crossed Dyke Creek for the first time.

Raggeds Wilderness Sign

As the trail climbed up closer to The Dyke, it passed below this rock tower.

Rock Tower

There were plenty of wildflowers along the trail.

Upper Trail

Another view of Marcellina Mountain from a clearing higher up on the trail.

Overcast Hiking

There was a good view of The Beckwiths from up here, too.

The Beckwiths

I completed the loop by following the Dyke Trail back down to the beginning.

The Dyke Trail

The only traiffic I would run into on the trail all morning. He quickly got out of my way.

Trail Traffic

After returning to my Jeep at the trailhead I decided it would be a good time to head into town for some lunch so I could check the weather and figure out what I was going to do for the rest of the weekend. I drove down into Crested Butte again and grabbed a burger from The Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub. While I was there I saw that storms were finally moving into the area and they were supposed to continue through the night into Sunday. Since things hadn’t been going as planned, I decided to call it a weekend and head home a day early. I figured that I could take the Kebler Pass Road back and go on one more short hike along the way.

I stopped at the Erickson Springs Trailhead and hiked into Dark Canyon. The trail crossed this bridge over Anthracite Creek.

Anthracite Creek Bridge

Looking over the creek into the mouth of Dark Canyon.

Dark Canyon

The trail follows closely to Anthracite Creek.

Trail Along Anthracite Creek

Rushing Water

Shortly after taking these photo it started to rain pretty hard, so I turned around, returned to my Jeep and finished the drive back home.

>> Horse Ranch Park Loop Photo Gallery

 

8 Comments

  1. Michele Bullock
    Michele Bullock June 20, 2018

    Great backup plans. You had some gorgeous light on the peaks quite often. Well done!

  2. Tom McCoppin
    Tom McCoppin June 20, 2018

    Randy- thank you for this post. I found it of special interest because I did some hiking around Crested Butte last summer (Scarp Ridge, Copper Creek) and was somewhat familiar with the area. May I ask what maps you use on an adventure such as this? I am pretty much a novice, and many of my navigation problems stem from not having the right maps. A couple of weeks back, I hiked Largo Canyon. A friend who has hiked there many times told be to be sure and contact the BLM office in Farmington and request the “2 BLM Lands Status Maps” for the area to better navigate the roads in the canyon. I called them ahead of time and they sent me some pamphlets that were not useful. Any insight you could provide me on what you use would be most appreciated. I so enjoy your posts….they educate and inspire! Thanks, Tom McCoppin, McQueeney, Texas.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat June 20, 2018

      Thanks Tom. As far as maps go, I have a variety of different ones I use depending on where I go. USGS Topo Maps are always helpful and I carry a Garmin handheld GPS with me that has the Garmin Topo maps installed. For popular areas I like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps and the Latitude 40 Maps. A good resource online to look at different layers of maps (including USGS Topos) is http://caltopo.com

  3. Nhi Casey
    Nhi Casey June 20, 2018

    You captured some beautiful scenery! That area must be really colorful in the fall with all the aspen trees.

  4. Ian Eldridge
    Ian Eldridge June 24, 2018

    Hey – great read. Any chance you can provide the exact location of the closure on Schofield pass?

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat June 24, 2018

      I don’t recall the exact location, but it was after Rustlers Gulch and before the turnoff to Emerald Lake.

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