The calendar says summer's start is less than a week away, but winter is taking its time departing Colorado's high country as the snowmelt continues to swell area waterways.
At Mesa Lakes Lodge on Grand Mesa, people are still renting snowshoes for use on the lingering snow higher up the flat-top mountain while the lakes around the lodge have opened for fishing.
"We have very little snow around us. You're going to find two to three feet up higher" on the mesa, said Andy Brito, the lodge's owner.
He's seen people continue to come up to go snowmobiling to the Lands End area even as the lawn is dry at his lodge and the facility already has hosted its first wedding of the summer season.
Western Coloradans may be ready to stow away their cold-season toys and put their hiking boots, mountain bikes, off-road vehicles and camping tents to use in the mountains. But they should be aware that patience may be required after a Colorado winter that featured above-average snowfall that has been in no big hurry to melt.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort, which celebrated more than 300 inches of snow over the winter, is asking for patience as crews work to remove snow and deal with extra runoff in order to prepare bike trails for a later-than-scheduled opening. On top of Grand Mesa, some lakes remain frozen.
Officials with Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests in late May urged the public to be aware that some higher-elevation roads, motorized trails and campgrounds will open later than normal this year. They are asking people to minimize damage to roads by limiting use of wet, muddy or snow-covered roads.
The White River National Forest has issued a similar advisory and additionally noted the potential for lingering debris from large avalanches this winter. On Friday, Montrose County reported having to close Z84 Road, also known as High Mesa Road, in southeast Montrose County because it's blocked by significant avalanche debris. It also remains covered with nearly 5 feet of snow.
The Divide Road on the Uncompahgre Plateau has had to remain closed because of lingering snowpack.
Karl Wetlaufer, assistant Colorado snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, thinks much of the remaining high-country snowpack is finally loosening its grip on the landscape, based on indications from measurement sites.
"All these sites are in a fairly advanced state of melt right now. They really are melting pretty quickly," he said.
This year, Colorado's snowpack peaked at 134% of statewide normal, the conservation service says. It also has melted off later than normal, not just because of its volume but because of moderate spring temperatures and continued precipitation. May's statewide precipitation was 174% of normal.
Colorado River flows near the Utah border reached a peak of about 37,000 cubic feet per second Monday. That amount was enhanced by increased reservoir water releases in the Gunnison River Basin to help endangered fish, and those releases since have been ramping down.
Still, the Colorado was flowing as of Saturday at 33,000 cfs, more than twice the long-term median flow for that date. As of Friday, the National Weather Service continued to have flood advisories in place for areas including the lower Gunnison River in Mesa County and in the Colorado River near the state line. The advisories noted the possibility of minor lowland flooding and the need for recreational users on and near the rivers to exercise caution.
High-country snowpack levels vary widely from location to location in some areas, Wetlaufer said. McClure Pass south of Redstone, at 9,500 feet in elevation, is melted, but Schofield Pass, at 10,700 feet and in the same general vicinity, still had snow containing 24 inches of water in it as of Friday.
In the Grand Mesa area, the 9,840-foot Overland Reservoir site is dry, the 10,000-foot Mesa Lakes site had snow with 4 inches of water content Friday, and the 9,960-foot Park Reservoir site had snowpack containing more than 28 inches of water.
"It really is interesting how Park still has a ton," he said, speculating that localized precipitation patterns during the winter may have played a role.
That said, Wetlaufer thinks snowpack conditions will be changing in fairly short order — which would come as good news for people ready to get going in earnest with summer recreating in the mountains and forests.
"We're definitely seeing some pretty quick melt rates going on," he said.