Rowdy Lake a cool place to catch up, catch fish

KEVIN MATTHEWS, ALSO KNOWN AS Bill Haggerty’s “Cousin Kevin,” tests the water at Rowdy Lake in the middle of Uncompahgre National Forest. The trip over Owl Creek Pass in Ouray County leads to a cool day in the mountains.

“Do me a favor. Go down there and say to that kid, ‘Hey knucklehead, you should have wrestled in high school.’ Go tell him that.”

In the middle of the Uncompahgre National Forest, this seemed a strange request from a former local high school wrestling coach.

All I wanted to see was what appeared to be a splake dangling from the end of his rod. All he wanted was for me and my cousin to harass some poor angler who was enjoying his peace and tranquility.

Shortly thereafter, down on the banks of Rowdy Lake, a former Montrose High School wrestler told us he hadn’t seen his old coach in nearly two decades.

“I did wrestle in high school. I just wasn’t all that into it at the time.”

Now an avid angler enjoying the beautiful and secluded Cimarron Mountains south and east of Montrose, the former athlete was dazed.

“Isn’t that weird? I don’t see that guy for 19 years, and then he shows up here. I had a chance to apologize and give him a cold beer. Cool, huh?”

Sometimes, those chance meetings are cool. Rowdy Lake also was cool! It’s a small pond located .8 miles off the Owl Creek Pass road near Silver-jack Campground and Silverjack Reservoir.

Cousin Kevin and I were looking for cool, but we were really thinking of the weather. We wanted relief from the heat of the smoke-filled Grand Valley last week and we found the weather, the drive, the encounter, the fishing and the day entirely cool.

To find this cool place, travel south on U.S. Highway 50 from Grand Junction to Montrose.

Go straight past the light on Main Street in Montrose and continue south on U.S. Highway 550. Follow the signs to Ridgway and Ouray.

The turnoff to Owl Creek Pass off U.S. Highway 550 is 28.5 miles south of Main Street in Montrose, and only 85.7 miles from downtown Grand Junction. Turn left, or east, off Highway 550 onto Ouray County Road 10. That’s the pass.

This adventurous day trip leads into the heart of the magnificent Cimarron Mountains.

The peaks of Chimney Rock (11,781 feet, 3,591 meters) and Courthouse Mountain (12,152-feet, 3,704 meters) tower impressively over you as you drive along this well-maintained two-wheel drive dirt road.

Follow the signs directing you through lush green ranch lands, along beautiful mountain creeks, through refreshing aspen forests and across colorful alpine meadows to the heavily timbered top of the pass at 10,114 feet (3,083 meters).

If you’re watching your odometer, it’s about 6.8 miles past the Vista Point sign.

By the way, stay left past that sign, and always remember that although I strive for pinpoint mileage accuracy, my truck’s odometer may not be calibrated precisely to yours, or anyone else’s for that matter.

Side Note: If you’ve ever seen “True Grit,” you might recognize several locations in that classic western movie that were filmed along this drive.

Remember the scene where Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) gallops across the landscape with the reins of the horse in his teeth, shotgun in one hand, rifle in the other, shooting as he’s riding?

Great stuff filmed right here!

Here’s another one: “How The West Was Won,” the oxymoronic title of another great western movie from yesteryear, shot on location along Owl Creek Pass.

Back to our story, Owl Creek Pass provides a great round-trip drive from Highway 550, only minutes north of Ridgway, all the way to the tiny hamlet of Cimarron, north of Montrose on Highway 50 near Morrow Point Dam and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River.

There are numerous places where you can stop driving and recreate, or continue driving and recreate. Hiking trails abound.

There’s tons of fishing on the creeks, Silverjack Reservoir, Rowdy Lake, Clear Lake and numerous other bodies of water. There are lodges where you can stay, campgrounds where you can camp, tons of four-wheel-driving, and hundreds of miles of horseback riding.

And, if it wasn’t for a cooperative project among the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and the Montrose Wildlife Volunteers, and an added boost by the Boy Scouts, there may not be any splake in Rowdy Lake.

First of all, a splake is a hybrid species of lake trout or mackinaw and brook trout, which are really char and not trout at all.

Secondly, that cooperative project produced a great protective fence around Rowdy Lake in 1995, keeping bovine at bay and shorelines intact. Montrose Boy Scout Troop 473 rebuilt the fence in 2008.

Cool. Just like chance meetings in the wilderness. But chance meetings or no, wrestling coaches don’t change much.

“See you knuckleheads,” he said to me and Kevin — total strangers — as he drove out of the parking area from Rowdy Lake.

E-mail Bill Haggerty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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