Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a journalist and photographer based in Port Jervis, NY and Alexandria, Va.

Filtering by Tag: Colorado

Scrambling Down to the Mee Canyon Alcove

In the 1987 edition of Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey wished his readers' trails to be

"crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. ... May your rivers flow without end, meandering through ... miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs across the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."

Perhaps no place is that more possible than in Mee Canyon, an obscure sandstone gorge near Grand Junction where the wash at the bottom of the canyon inserts itself about 300 feet into the canyon wall, creating a cavern the size of a 747 hangar. I've been to the Mee Canyon Alcove before, but this time I came with better camera equipment.

The Mee Canyon Alcove is said to be the deepest canyon alcove anywhere on the Colorado Plateau, and it's not easy to get to. At the heart of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, Mee Canyon is at the bottom of a sometimes-feint trail descending from the top of Black Ridge overlooking Fruita and Grand Junction. It's a nearly unbelievable sight, one that's well worth the scramble to the bottom of the canyon.

This is what awaits you at the bottom:

Another Colo. Highway 141 Treasure: The Hanging Flume

The Denver Post on Saturday did a story about unlocking the mysteries of the Hanging Flume, a 19th Century wooden structure clinging to the sandstone walls of the Dolores River Canyon in far-western Colorado along Colo. Highway 141. Colorado tourism boosters call the region "Hanging Flume Country," a historic mining district amid Colorado Plateau red rock canyon country nearly spitting distance from the Utah state line. It's one of my favorite parts of Colorado, and certainly one of the least-known regions of the state. Here's what the Hanging Flume looks like from above:

A closer view:

Even closer:

The Hanging Flume was built between 1888 and 1891 as a means to send water to a gold mine in the Mesa Creek Flats area. The mine went bust, and the flume was left derelict on the canyon walls, where it remains, in a somewhat tattered state, today.

Highway 141 runs from Grand Junction to U.S. 491 northwest of Dove Creek, about 165 of the most stunning highway mileage in Colorado. It's far from everywhere, threading through some of the most amazing geology in the state: Unaweep Canyon, Gateway, the Dolores River Gorge, Big Gypsum Valley, Disappointment Valley and much more. If you've never driven the highway, it's a highlight of any western Colorado road trip.

Have You Looked Upon the Poudre River from Atop the Bellvue Dome?

If you're driving into Fort Collins on U.S. 287 from Wyoming, you know you're close to the beer, bikes, bands and CSU Rams of Fort Fun when you see the giant sandstone wedge of the Bellvue Dome. Sloping sharply westward, the hogback, part of the same ridge that forms the eastern flank of Horsetooth Reservoir, ends abruptly at a cliff and drops directly down to the Poudre River hundreds of feet below at Watson Lake. The dome will come into view as you head south at about the same time you pass Highway 14 leading into the mountains and U.S. 287 opens up into four lanes heading into the Fort.

Go ahead, do a Google search. You'll find a gazillion images of the Bellvue Dome from afar, but there aren't many out there taken from its summit.

There are no trails to the top of Bellvue Dome, and in fact, it's difficult to access because it's surrounded by private land. But what's unique about the dome, besides its geology, is that its summit is on a 44 acre parcel of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. BLM land is abundant throughout the West, but it's a true rarity in the northern Front Range region. Most of our federal public land up here is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, or it's part of Rocky Mountain National Park. But BLM land is scattered about here and there, and the summit of Bellvue Dome is one of those places.

There's a hell of a view of the Poudre River from the top, but the the problem, of course, is access. Bordered by private land to the east, city of Fort Collins utility property on the southeast and precipitous cliffs on Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife land to the west, access to the top is almost exclusively on private land.

After work today, however, Jacob and I decided to test how penetrable the private land bordering the dome really is. Fortunately, one of the landowners nearby greeted us as we approached the access road to the city of Fort Collins water tank, and he allowed us to cross his property to reach the summit. Despite my legs being ripped to shreds by thick thickets of mountain mahogany, the reward for the trouble of reaching a rarely-visited parcel of public land was well worth the scratches and scars.

If you're interested what else is on BLM land in eastern Larimer County (much of the Laramie River Valley in western Larimer County is managed by the BLM out of Kremmling), there are some interesting things to find on that land if you can get there. About 80 acres of BLM land just west of Livermore hosts an incredible view of the canyons and foothills west of U.S. 287. Another parcel is atop the hogback overlooking U.S. 287 and what could one day be Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins. All these BLM parcels are managed by the Front Range BLM office way down in Cañon City under a management plan written in 1986. That plan, too ancient and probably too insignificant for BLM officials to digitize, is unavailable online.

Shot of the Day: Crude Oil

Much is being said lately about the impacts of oil and gas development in Colorado, especially along the Front Range, where the Wattenberg Field sprawls north of Denver and the rush to explore the Niobrara shale for oil is moving ahead at full steam.

Perhaps there is nowhere in Colorado where energy development is more conspicuous than the Dacono and Frederick areas north of Denver in southern Weld County. Oil wells pump crude in the center of neighborhood traffic circles and pumpjacks act as grand gateways to suburban subdivisions.

Fossil fuels are produced in our Front Range communities seemingly as much as gasoline is burned in our Outbacks and XTerras. Residents in the Dacono subdivision above are as much neighbors to oil and they are neighbors to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks, which rise in the distance.

At long last, an appreciation for Colorado's best beverage

I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and so was my budding love of beer — 34 years later.

You have to understand: Since my first taste of beer sometime early in college (also in Charleston), I've tried to like beer. I swear I have. My sister and I visited the tasting room at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins a few years ago, and each of the eight beers I tasted were so disgusting to me, so foul and repugnant that each one drew a tear from  my eye. True story. We left the brewery very quickly. But living in the "Napa Valley of Beer" — that is the Colorado Front Range in general and Fort Collins in particular — the depth of beer culture here has always been difficult to ignore. Our governor became a successful businessman after starting the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver's LoDo district, and the local newspaper even has a beer beat — a reporter devoted almost entirely to the culture and business of beer (and bicycles, too — a symbol of New Belgium). Clearly, Colorado takes its suds seriously.

But some people are wine people or vodka people or tequila people, and I've always been one of those guys, looking down my pretentious nose as I pour my glass of $15 zin at those who have an almost religious devotion their local craft brewery. My membership in the brotherhood of the wine connoisseurs of the world was always an excuse to keep an arm's length from Colorado's beer culture, but as millions imbibed liquid bread at the establishments that put Fort Collins on the map as much or more so than Colorado State University, I tried hard nonetheless to love beer. Maybe I'd spent years sampling crappy beer (Bud Light Lime is brewed in Fort Collins, too, after all), but whatever it was, it didn't work.

That is, until two months ago when I visited a restaurant in Charleston, and the only affordable drink on the happy hour menu was New Belgium's Trippel. The waitress poured, I drank, and holy shit, it was delicious. Really, really good.

I think learning to like new things is a mindset. If you're convinced something is going to be unpleasant, there's a good chance it will be. But if you completely open yourself to it, resign yourself to enjoying something that you've previously despised or considered repugnant, maybe it'll be easy to learn to like it. Maybe you can't apply that to everything, but for me, it certainly applies to beer.

So, I've found some incredibly great beers out there over the last two months, mostly from Colorado. Regardless of my new appreciation of beer, one thing is clear: Just like wine (Franzia in a box, anyone?), there's plenty of bad beer out there. Corona Light? Awful. Bud Light Lime? Detestable.

But I've found a few that I really love, in order of preference (so far): New Belgium's 1554 (an "enlightened black ale"), Left Hand Brewery's Milk Stout, Great Divide Brewery's Hibernation Ale, New Belgium's Trippel, Deschute's Brewery's Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout and Fort Collins Brewery's Chocolate Stout.

What I love about the beer culture here is the sense of exploration that it engenders. People in Colorado aren't satisfied with just a six pack of Golden-brewed Coors; they want to sample the gazillions of microbrews and craft brews that are in such great abundance here. We dropped into the Boulder Liquor Mart the other night and were greeted by an entire isle of single bottles of craft brews from all over Colorado. It would take years to sample all of those if you drink one each night.

Which is to say, I have a lot of exploring to do.

Tonight, I'll keep the adventures in craft beer local: New Belgium's Abbey Belgian Style Ale. Half way through the bottle, it's not my favorite, but it's pretty damn good regardless.

That's better than I can say for the last glass of $20 wine I had.

Defining the Friction Between Oil and Water in North Park

Back in September, in a story for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, I wrote that new oil and gas development is popping up all around North Park in northern Colorado, and anglers are concerned the development could damage trout fisheries in the area. Some of that development is part of the Niobrara shale exploration boom occurring throughout eastern Colorado and Wyoming. Today, I received a call from the National Wildlife Federation, whose photo (below) puts a new perspective on how oil and gas development in North Park can have a direct effect on the rivers, streams and water quality of Jackson County, which is known for its world-class fly fishing. The NWF is concerned that the proximity of the Moore State oil well, which was being drilled in September, to the Michigan River could degrade its water quality.

Jackson, one of Colorado's most remote and rural counties, is about 80 miles west of Fort Collins and is wedged between the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Park Range, bordering Wyoming to the north. It's an area as beautiful as it is partly dependent on the oil industry for its economic prosperity.

This is the same well as seen from Highway 14 in late September:

The Niobrara shale exploration boom is making a significant economic and environmental splash throughout eastern Colorado and Wyoming. The public radio program "State of the Re:Union" broadcast a fascinating show this week about the changes southern Wyoming is undergoing as the drilling in the Niobara changes landowners' relationship to the land they own. Many of those landowners may own the surface rights to their land, but not the mineral rights, creating a "split estate" and a problem for those who don't want oil rigs on their land. They may have little control over whether and how their land is drilled. The issue is part of the third segment of the episode, which is well worth a listen.

Anadarko, Noble Energy to transform oil development in Northern Colorado

Last week, I wrote a story (PDF) in the Fort Collins Coloradoan about Anadarko Petroleum's announcement that they plan to drill up to 2,700 new oil wells in the Niobrara and Codell formations in the Wattenberg Field northeast of Denver. Here's the gist of the story:

Anadarko announced Nov. 14 it has plans to drill between 1,200 and 2,700 horizontal oil wells into the Niobrara shale and Codell formation in the Wattenberg Field, with expectations to produce up to 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

The only other oil play of that magnitude was the Rangely Field in northwest Colorado, which began producing oil in the 1940s.

The company has access to hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Weld County and along Larimer County's eastern border. So far, Anadarko's exploration has been limited to 11 horizontal wells drilled in southwest Weld County, which have been producing between 300 and 1,100 barrels of oil per day, according to Anadarko's announcement Monday.

If Anadarko drills the number of wells it's projecting, it will make oil and gas the primary driver of industry in Northern Colorado, said Mark Snead, an energy economist and the vice president of the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.


Now, Noble Energy, one of the biggest players in developing the Niobrara in northern Weld County, is getting into the act, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Noble plans to invest $8 billion into drilling north of Denver over the next five years — in an area that's already one of the most productive oil fields in Colorado.

I'll be interested to learn how this will affect the Front Range's air and water quality.




Dinosaur gets its Quarry back

Back in 2006, I wrote a six-part series for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about the budgetary and environmental plight of the region's six national parks and monuments managed by the National Park Service. In my story about Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border and encompasses the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers, I reported that among the monument's myriad challenges was that the park was dealing with the closure of its famous Quarry Visitor Center and the exhibit hall surrounding the Dinosaur Quarry itself. The buildings were in danger of collapsing because of the shifting soils underneath the structures' foundations. Read that story here.

As of this week, Dinosaur has its quarry back. It took five years, but the National Park Service's shiny new visitor center has reopened, with the Dinosaur Quarry to follow next week. I visited the original quarry pavilion and visitor center shortly before the NPS closed it because of the possibility of imminent collapse, and it clearly needed renovation. But the ultimate loss of the original visitor center meant the loss of another fine (and rather famous) example of the National Park Service's Mission 66 program.

The Mission 66 program was the Eisenhauer-era initiative by the U.S. Department of Interior to breathe new life into the infrastructure of the nation's NPS sites, which by the mid-1950s was fairly dilapidated. If mid-century institutional architecture is your thing, check out the NPS' history of the Mission 66 program here.

Dinosaur's old visitor center was completed in 1958 and quickly became the symbol of the feds' Mission 66 program — a brick and concrete ultramodern edifice placed smack in the middle of a wild desert landscape. The visitor center is just a small part of the modern history of Dinosaur National Monument, which has a fairly prominent place in the history of water in the West: David Brower and the Sierra Club made it their crusade to save the monument's famous Echo Park from being dammed as part of the Upper Colorado River Project, which eventually flooded Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon and the Gunnison River in western Colorado.

Autumn Blaze of Glory Beneath Comanche Peak

It's the end of September, and three days of mostly sunny, 85-degree weather in northern Colorado can easily give way to the season's first blizzard, so Jacob and I decided today could be our last chance to catch fall color above tree line before the snow flies.

The Emmaline Lake Trail, which leaves from Colorado State University's Pingree Park campus high in the foothills, is a fantastic fall hike because the first several miles of the trail pass through an old wildfire burn area now completely covered in densely packed aspen trees. And right now, all those aspens are bright gold and firehouse red.

The 5.5 mile Emmaline Lake Trail follows Fall Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Poudre River, and starts just off Pingree Park Road at about 8,600 feet. The trail passes into the Comanche Peak Wilderness in Roosevelt National Forest after about three miles, and ends at the lake at tree line just above 11,000 feet. The Rocky Mountain National Park boundary is at the top of the ridge above the large glacial cirque containing Emmaline Lake. Comanche Peak straddles the park boundary.

Looking for phantoms along Colorado's Gold Belt

It's been more than a decade since I've seen the eastern flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, which tower over the Wet Mountain Valley, forming one of the most dramatic skylines in the state (there are a lot of those, however). Last weekend, after spending a few days in Salida, I took the scenic route back to Fort Collins, looping through the Wet Mountains, driving the 30-some odd miles of the Gold Belt BLM Backcountry Byway north of Cañon City and briefly experiencing the spectacle of Cripple Creek, one of the last towns of more than 1,000 people I had not yet visited.

Westcliffe, in the middle of the Wet Mountain Valley between the Wets and the Sangres, feels like a cheap tourist town without the tourists (do many tourists come to Colorado in September?), sort of what I imagine Estes Park might be like if the national park weren't next door and the Stanley hadn't been built. But Westcliffe, the seat of Custer County, has a hell of a view, one that stretches from the Crestone peaks all the way to the Sawatch Range. To the east are the very Black Hills-like Wet Mountains, which are as lush as the name implies and as rolling as the Blue Ridge.

The Wet Mountains are the last sub-range of the Rockies within Colorado that I had left to visit, and apparently very few people spend much time here. They barely top out above 12,000 feet, and aren't typical of the rugged, rocky summits you'll find in nearly every other mountain range in Colorado. In other words, the Wet Mountains and the Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness at their southern tip are well worthy of exploration one day soon.

The highlight of the trip on Sunday was the drive up Phantom Canyon from Cañon City to Victor. The road follows the grade of an old gold mine railroad threading through a rugged and surprisingly arid canyon at the edge of the Front Range south of Pike's Peak. The road, mostly in Fremont County, passes through Bureau of Land Management land, which is a rarity on the Front Range. The BLM owns a large swath of public land along the U.S. 50 corridor along the Arkansas River and into the canyons and hills around Cañon City, but, except for scattered parcels here and there, there is little other BLM land in Colorado east of crest of the Front Range. Most BLM backcountry byways are in incredibly remote areas in southwest New Mexico, southern Utah, rural Oregon and in other distant places.

The Gold Belt is the exception. Known for its narrow path through the canyon that simply doesn't allow opposing traffic to pass each other in the most precipitous places, it's a fun drive if you don't mind creeping around blind corners on the side of a cliff, hoping some yahoo doesn't fishtail around the curve without regard for the oncoming traffic neither he nor you can see. It's a great ride in any case, and how often do you get to drive over wooden bridges in Colorado?

The Gold Belt byway deposits you in Victor, more than 3,000 feet higher than where you started along the Arkansas River. Victor is an old mining town similar to Cripple Creek, only without the casinos.

Until Sunday, I'd never visited Cripple Creek, where — and this is no exaggeration — the oxygen tank-carrying elderly far outnumbered those younger than, say, 50. What strikes me about the city, which is perched at 9,500 feet on the side of a hill with a million dollar view of the Sangres and points south, is that people seem to visit to feed slot machines while paying only passing attention to the landscape. Why anesthetize yourself with the hypnotizing slot machine jangle and false promises when the landscape and the history of the Cripple Creek beg exploration?

Ruminations on the Sangre de Cristo Arc

I'm in Salida on business, and I can't ignore the mountains rising outside the window, which is to say I'd rather be in the mountains than looking at them through a window that won't open.

Salida, Colorado, sits at the very northern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, at a spot where you can see the extraordinarily towering summits of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range to the northwest, the very beginning of the arc of the Sangres to the south and the rugged canyons of the Arkansas River Basin to the east.

The Sangres are an extraordinary range, arcing about 250 miles from here to Santa Fe, New  Mexico, and rising more than 6,000 feet above the floor of the San Luis Valley. They harbor at least two of the most challenging fourteeners in Colorado (Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle), the fourth highest peak in Colorado (14,345' Blanca Peak), one of the most restricted fourteeners in Colorado to climb (Culebra Peak, which is on private land) and they cradle the Great Sand Dunes. In New Mexico, they're the home of 13,161' Wheeler Peak, the state's highest; the famous Taos Mountain, the trio of the 13,000'-plus Truchas Peaks, and, of course, the entirety of Philmont Scout Ranch (HOmE), where I spent five summers backpacking and teaching Boy Scouts how to avoid being eaten by bears. Good times.

But, more than anything, this is why the Sangres are extraordinary:

The Northern Sangres, which stretch from the Blanca Massif north of U.S. 160 north-northwest to Salida, form a truly giant and narrow wall of mountains scarcely 15 miles wide. In New Mexico, the range widens dramatically, and includes at least the western half of the Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest, home to some of the tallest and unique bristlecone pines in the world.

So, with those thoughts, I return to work...

A First Fourteener: San Luis Peak, September 4, 2011

Of all the peaks I've climbed and miles and miles of backcountry trails I've hiked, I had never climbed a fourteener until yesterday. My partner Jacob and our friend Christian trekked deep into the La Garita Wilderness to climb 14,014 foot San Luis Peak, one of the least climbed and most remote fourteeners in Colorado.

San Luis Peak is in the northwest extreme of the San Juan Mountains in western Saguache County in the giant blank spot on the roadmap between Creede and Gunnison. The primary trailhead, Stewart Creek, is at the end of remote gravel road 29 miles from the nearest asphalt. I suspect that San Luis Peak would see even fewer people were it not for the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail threading along the Cochetopa Creek drainage on the peak's southern flank.

It's a six mile hike — four through dense woods — from the trailhead to the summit for a 3,500 foot elevation gain. Admittedly, this one's an easy climb (I'm spying Longs next), but the allure isn't just the climb; it's the trek just to the trailhead. We drove about 80 miles of unpaved backroads between Lake City and Saguache over the weekend, all of them threading through empty and wild country most folks from the Front Range probably never see. By the way, the rolling Cochetopa Hills west of Saguache are incredibly beautiful, and well worth a trip unto themselves.

24 hours in Lake City, or How I Learned to Accept that Texas has Annexed Hinsdale County

All over Lake City, Colorado, there are signs advertising fried catfish and Southern barbeque, and there's even a restaurant called "Southern Vittles." It's no wonder: About 75 percent of the license plates we saw in Lake City this weekend were from Texas. Texas flags fly along with Colorado flags, and the Lone Star adorns the exterior walls of more than a few homes here. Rick Perry's Great State has annexed this isolated corner southwest Colorado. Unofficially, at least.

Lake City, far from everywhere and close to Matterhorn, Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre Peak and some of Colorado's most classic rugged mountain landscapes in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, was also the home of Colorado's most famous cannibal, Alfred Packer. Packer was tried in Hinsdale County's tiny courthouse and is the namesake of the nearby Cannibal Plateau, which towers over the famous Slumgullion Slide and Slumgullion Pass.

This corner of Colorado has always fascinated me because it's empty, remote and I've found that there aren't a lot of Coloradans who have spent much time in the area, except to climb the surrounding fourteeners. It's on a state highway that doesn't take you anywhere in particular — there's always a better way to get to anywhere else in Colorado — except Creede, which is an isolated hamlet of its own on the Atlantic side of the Great Divide.

Lake City? Slumgullion Pass? Where's that? Well, Lake City (2010 population: 843) is the seat of Hinsdale County (also pop. 843), one of the least populous counties in the state. The city is about 50 miles by paved road from the nearest towns, Creede and Gunnison; about 100 miles from the nearest Walmart Supercenter (in Montrose), 162 miles from the nearest metro area (Grand Junction) and 254 miles from Denver. It's way the hell out in the heart of the mountains, and well worth a trip to eat some catfish and grits with some exotic Texans, check out all things Slumgullion and indulge in some cannibal kitsch.

Straying close to home: The North Forty Series

It isn't entirely clear how long I'm going to be lingering in Fort Collins, and as we try to save some cash so we can eventually uproot, my straying hither and thither to photograph places somewhere out yonder are going to be cut back a bit. So, my next photography project will occur close to home. I've always found it difficult to be inspired by cities in which I live; my inspiration often comes from the landscape around those cities and towns. That's why my photo archives of 15,000-plus images contain almost no shots of Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Socorro, Taos, Albuquerque, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Grand Junction, Denver and Fort Collins — all places I've lived in the last 34 (!) years. (Today, incidentally, begins the final year that I shall fall into that coveted 18-34 demographic. I'll try not to think about it too deeply.)

Larimer County deserves plenty of photographic love, so that's what I'll give it with the North Forty Series, which will be fully posted on my website,, when it's complete.

The definition of the North Forty is somewhat murky, depending on who you talk to. Feel free to correct me in the comments, but the North Forty sometimes refers to the stretch of Interstate 25 between north Longmont and Wellington, the insanely congested stretch of the highway that is crammed into four very substandard lanes of traffic. That stretch is included in CDOT's long range plans for possible freeway widening and expansion.

But the North Forty most often refers to all of I-25 in Larimer County, roughly from Berthoud to the Wyoming line near Cheyenne. In other words, it's the northernmost 40 miles of the Front Range urban corridor in Colorado. (The Front Range urban corridor extends farther north into Wyoming, however, including all of Cheyenne and Laramie County.)

For my purposes, the North Forty shall include all of Larimer County, certainly one of Colorado's most geographically diverse counties, where the 13,000 foot peaks of the Mummy Range in Rocky Mountain National Park melt into the Fort Collins and Loveland metropolitan area and the Great Plains farther east. Then there's Soapstone Prairie, Poudre Canyon, the red rock badlands along U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins, the shapely Medicine Bow Mountains, the commercial wasteland of the Promenade Shops at Centerra, the rugged rocky canyons and pinnacles of the Red Feather Lakes area and the gaudy resortified tackiness of Estes Park. Few other Colorado counties can boast such a diversity of landscapes.

So, here are the first several images in the North Forty Series, which will also include some previously published images from around Larimer County. Check back weekly for new postings.

Hiking to the jewel of the Medicine Bow Mountains

The Rocky Mountains become a bit less rugged the farther north you go. That's the case in Colorado's Medicine Bow Mountains, which are roughly split in half by Roosevelt National Forest and the Rawah Wilderness in Larimer County east of the Medicine Bows' crest, and Colorado State Forest State Park in Jackson County west of the crest.

Below the Clark Peak, the highest point in Colorado's share of the Medicine Bow range, is Jewel Lake, a rocky tarn nestled deep within a glacial cirque below several rounded peaks, all easy to climb. The lake is in State Forest State Park, which sprawls across the western flank of the Medicine Bows and borders Rocky Mountain National Park to the south.

If you're accustomed to hiking in a national forest or national park, visiting State Forest State Park is a wholly different experience. Full of ATV-riding off-roaders and pistol-toting fishermen (!), the people you'll find on the trails and four wheel-drive roads here aren't the folks you'll run into in the Comanche Peaks Wilderness or Rocky Mountain National Park. State Forest is really a local's affair, but the scenery (and the rental yurts) are well worth the trek over Cam Pass to get here.

Without a four wheel-drive high-clearance vehicle, you have to park 1.5 miles from the Ruby-Jewel trailhead, making the short hike to the lake a six mile roundtrip trek.

Following the Crowds: A Holy Cross Wilderness weekend

Jacob, some of our friends and I spent last weekend hiking in the Holy Cross Wilderness south of Vail, completing the 8.8 mile Missouri Pass-Fancy Pass loop via Treasure Vault Lake. I've seen crowds of people in the Colorado backcountry before, but nothing (except for Longs Peak) quite like the 50+ cars piled up at the Fancy Lake-Missouri Lakes trailhead:

Once we summited 12,400' Fancy Pass, we encountered a massive snowfield, which we had to descend to reach Fancy Lake about 900 vertical feet and a half mile below. A testament to having spent too much time in the city or in a car since the snow stopped flying, sliding down this snowfield was the most fun I've had sitting on my ass this summer.

No weekend in the woods is complete with out a dutch oven dinner, so I cooked up some chicken barbecue stew for Jacob and our friends Dave, Christian and Chad. I hope they learned a lesson this weekend: If you can't cook over a campfire, you don't belong in the woods!

The full photo gallery from the weekend is here.