Colorado 2012: Grand Lake, Part 2

Sunday was a hiking day. Just after sunrise, we headed north back into the park, just about running over a buck which darted out in front of us. The brakes on the truck work great. Several years ago when we visited this area we noticed a ridge line going across the flanks of a string of mountains of the Never Summer Range. We learned that it was a ditch, that a trail led up to it, and we’ve wanted to hike up there ever since. It is called the Grand Ditch. It was originally called the Grand River Ditch because the river flowing in the valley below was called the Grand River. In a burst of civic pride the Colorado legislature persuaded the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (bet you didn’t know of that group) to change the name of the river to the Colorado River. But the name originally given to the ditch remained.

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The ditch cuts across the mountains.

Work on the ditch started in 1890 and the first water was transported across La Poudre Pass 45 days later. It is reported that Japanese and Mexican laborers hand dug the first 8 miles. The final 6 miles were mechanically dug in about a year during the mid 1930s. The ditch has a 0.2% grade over its 14 mile length. It diverts water that would flow into the Colorado River into the Cache La Poudre River on the other side of the Continental Divide, down into Fort Collins where shareholder farmers and ranchers on the eastern plains draw their shares.  The ditch is about 20 feet wide and 6 feet deep at its maximum. When we were up there water was flowing at about 6 inches of depth. There is a service road that runs next to the ditch.

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Water is scarce out here and everyone fights over it. They say that “whisky is for drinkin’ and water is for fightn’.” They have a Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, basically first come first serve. Then there is a use it or lose it doctrine, so that if you don’t use it for several seasons you could lose your rights. Apparently it is not unusual for more rights to be assigned to water than exists in even the wettest of seasons. We have read that the NPS has questioned the allocation of the water, and has argued in court that the support of plant life, animal habitat, and other aspects of nature are just as valid as he needs of man for agriculture and drinking water.  The fish population in the Colorado River is failing.  The water flow has been cut in half, not only limiting the number of fish it can support but also causing an increase in the water temperature, which endangers the existing fish.  And so the fight goes on.Image

We hiked about 3.5 miles up to the ditch through the forest. It sits at about 10,300 feet. (by the way, the lowest point in RMNP is higher than the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina).

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We made it!

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We encountered a chipmunk chewing away on some tasty morsel on the way up. Not all wildlife viewing has to be of some huge ungulate.

Once up at the ditch, we couldn’t see the valley below through the trees, so we hiked another (level) mile to the west where the trees opened up to a wonderful view of the Kawuneeche Valley stretching down to Grand Lake.

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Melinda took her time in order to get the best possible shots.

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The pine beetle has ravaged this area. Most, but not all, of the pines are dead. We read that this affords the surviving trees more water and nutrients, allowing them to resist the beetles. The warmer climate also allows them to move higher than they have in the past. Nevertheless, it is a devastating sight and a reminder of our changing environment.

We had been informed that wildflowers flourished around the ditch.  But this has been a bad year for the flowers in Colorado . . . having little winter snow has left the ground too dry.  Those flowers that did manage to come up bloomed about a month earlier. Nevertheless, we did see more than a few clusters lining the waterway.

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On the return, we noticed a promontory jutting out from the trail.  Knowing a good photo op when she sees it, Chris was sent to stand on the brink to give some perspective to the shot.  The mountaintops of RMNP show in the background. It was a terrific view.

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Too soon we had to leave and head back down the trail. Even though it was just 1pm, it had started to cloud up (not a good sign when you are at elevation) and we had a little sprinkle on the way down the mountain along with some cracks of thunder.  We “walked” a little faster than we would have liked. But we made it back to the truck without getting soaked. It had been a hike of about 9 total miles and 1,400 foot elevation gain.

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We drove south and saw a big bunch of cars stopped on the road. That usually means there’s been a wildlife sighting. There was a moose and calf calmly grazing near the road. Was this to be our only chance? We managed to get a picture, but they were in waist-high grass and it isn’t very dramatic.

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We headed back to Grand Lake to mail some post cards, get some groceries and then on to our campground. After a rest we hiked down to the end of the dam. We’re on the southern shore of Shadow Mountain Lake in a campground called Green Ridge. When we last camped here it was in the deep woods. Thanks to the pine beetle there are no woods, just stumps. We counted 14 good size stumps within 20 feet of our camper. Interestingly, there are a few young trees in the campground and they are right in front of our camper.

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The hillsides around the campground have been essentially logged and are covered with fireweed, a wildflower typically seen after a forest fire. With their bright fuchsia color, they add a little beauty to an otherwise desolate scene. In some areas they just leave the logs lying on the ground. It is pretty sad.

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We enjoyed a second campfire until rain drove us under the canopy and eventually inside. The temperature was dropping dramatically.  Tomorrow morning we pick up and head over to Steamboat Springs. The GPS on the truck has stopped working and we’d like to get it fixed. Otherwise all equipment is working flawlessly.

From the shores of Shadow Mountain Lake on the outskirts of RMNP,
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Airstream Travelers,

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Chris and Melinda

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About airstreamtravelers

An Airstream Flying Cloud suits our lifestyle perfectly. The two of us are now spending several months each year on the road. We hope our posts and accompanying photos give a vivid description of where we travel, illustrating to our followers what's out there, just beyond their horizons.
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