Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 6: Waterton Canyon, Section 1

With the Lime Gulch fire under control and sections 1 and 2 reopened, we decided to head back to hike the sections we missed. The drive back was an adventure in itself. One red fox scurried across the road. Then two deer sauntered in front of the car. But I wasn't really surprised until three horses plodded up the road toward us. One of the horses stopped to nuzzle my hand through the open window when he passed.

For logistical reasons, we decided to hike Section 1 eastbound, so we began our hike at the South Platte River trailhead. Although the river looked cool and inviting, the heat sizzled as we began our hike. Shaded pockets of cool morning air provided our only relief as we trudged up the long, hot climb to the ridge. By the time we reached the top of the climb, we both felt ready for a shower. The dense foliage of the next canyon provided little relief. Instead it seemed to trap and intensify the heat and humidity of the day.

Clouds of little orange butterflies greeted us as we approached a narrow trickling stream. We crossed the stream several times as we descended the canyon. Each time the clouds of butterflies were so thick, it was difficult to avoid them.

Several local hikers had warned us that it was too early to see Bighorn Sheep, which live in the protected habitat of Waterton Canyon. So when Sierra exclaimed, "Look, Bighorn sheep!" I responded, "Oh no, I'm sure it's just deer." But just down from the Stronia Dam, a small flock of Bighorn Sheep grazed near the trail. We watched as they grazed, using their horns to jockey for position. Their sandy colored coats were mottled, and it looked like the sheep were in the process of trading thick winter costs for sleeker summer ones.

The last 6.5 miles followed a dirt road down the narrow, rocky Waterton Canyon. The road paralleled a river, and cool green pools of water invited us to swim to find relief from the oppressive heat of the day. But numerous signs proclaimed "no Swimming" so we trudged on.

Water birds freely ignored the prohibition against swimming, and we enjoyed watching them as we hiked. A family of Canadian geese perched on a rock in the middle of the river. A young duck skittered over a section of rapids, then clambered back up and skittered over the rapids again, like a child at a water park.

Eventually we reached the trailhead, which is also the eastern terminus of the Colorado Trail. We will be camping near the Little Scraggy Trailhead tonight, and hiking section 2 tomorrow.

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