Creek moisture: Find some wet air at Lake of the Woods Trail No. 506
We’ve had more rain in the past two weeks in the Grand Valley than we’ve had all year, yet nary a drop fell on the Haggerty property beneath Colorado National Monument.
What’s with that?
Thus, in a desperate search for moisture and cool air, I headed up in elevation — to Grand Mesa, just east of town.
Specifically, I traveled to Bull Basin, one of my favorite places on the mesa, and the Lake of the Woods Trail No. 506.
A complex trail system provides numerous options for exploring Bull Basin, situated on a large bench on the northern flank of Grand Mesa. The Lake of the Woods Trail would be considered a “typical” trail on the mesa: It flows in, out and around a lush forest in this basin with meadows of thick, tall grass and wildflowers, patches of low-growing Oregon grape, dense stands of Aspen, Douglas fir and Englemann spruce. It bobs up, down, over and around small, intermittent streams and across a twisting and rocky terrain that includes splendid glimpses of Crag Crest, the famous top ridgeline of Grand Mesa that runs parallel to this trail.
This ‘Crag’ crest is a long, rocky ridge left behind by two parallel glaciers in the last ice age. It’s about six miles long and reaches an elevation of 11,160 feet. By contrast, the trail head for Lake of the Woods is at about 10,200 feet. Lake of the Woods Trail actually gives up a couple-hundred feet of elevation from the trail head, but climbs again.
Thunderheads billowed overhead as I hiked last week, and even though I prayed and danced for it, rain did not grace my presence. In previous years, I have been stuck inside this forest in a torrential downpour, and the trail can be very slippery when wet.
The swarms of mosquitoes greeting visitors to Grand Mesa on a normal year were not swarming the other day. I was only visited by a handful of the blood-thirsty critters, who found a handful of my own wrath, albeit two or three bites too late.
To reach the Lake of the Woods Trail head (Forest Service Trail No. 506), travel east from Grand Junction on Interstate 70 for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit, No. 49. That’s Colorado Highway 65, a National Scenic and Historic Byway.
Go through the town of Mesa, past Powderhorn Ski Area and head into the forest. About two miles past the Mesa Lakes Resort area, on the last long curve before heading up the final stretch to the top of Grand Mesa, you’ll come to mile marker 38. Beyond the mile marker is a long cabled guard rail. Just past the cabled guard rail, turn left on graveled Forest Road 250. (Before your navigator has a fit, this Forest Service Road is not marked.) Travel four-tenths of a mile to a parking area large enough for horse trailers at the end of the road.
This particular trail is designed for foot and horseback traffic. Motorized vehicles are not allowed, unless you happen to work for the Bull Creek Reservoir Company, which owns the reservoirs on this bench.
About 1.5 miles from the trail head, you’ll come to the miss-spelled junction of Lake of the Woods Trail 506, and Bull Creek “Cutofe” Trail 506-1A. If you take the Bull Creek Cutoff, you’ll wind your way over to Bull Creek Reservoir No. 4 and eventually to the road that leads past Waterdog Reservoir and back to Colorado Highway 65 across from Jumbo Reservoir in the Mesa Lakes group.
If you stick to the Lake of the Woods trail, however, you’ll generally follow the ridge line of Crag Crest to Bull Basin. In about 10 minutes, you’ll come to a few other trail junctions, but stick to the right, or toward the ridgeline, and you’ll pop up to Bull Basin Reservoir No. 2.
Continuing on the trail to the north and east of this small lake, you’ll find Bull Creek running between reservoirs Nos. 1 and 2. In another few hundred yards, you’ll find Bull Creek Reservoir No. 1. These two ponds are almost identical in size (about 10 acres and 10- to 12-feet deep, although the water level fluctuates greatly with irrigation demand.
No developed campsites exist at these reservoirs, so you must pack out what you pack in. Note to anglers: Fishing here is by artificial flies only. The bag, possession and size limit for trout is two fish, 16 inches or longer.
The trail gets a little more rugged from here, but you can continue on Lake of the Woods Trail No. 506 all the way to Cottonwood Lake No. 1, about two miles further to the northeast.
Or not. I guess it depends on how you feel — and whether it’s raining.