Sunday, September 26, 2010

Go take a Hike: Crater Lake trail

No painting today, so instead I'll share a selection of the photos taken from today's hike, which is what I did instead of stay inside.  We try to do long day hikes on Saturdays or Sundays, as long as the weather holds up.  Today was another perfect fall day:  temps in the 70's, even at 11,000', and a bright, sunny day.  The aspen are continuing to put on a glorious display for everyone driving up Hwy 550.

Crater lake is an alpine level lake located at the base of North Twilight Peak in the San Juans.  The trail starts at Andrews Lake, right off Hwy 550, about 10 miles south of Silverton.  Last summer when we were  visiting Durango, we started this hike, which is 5.5 mi. to the lake.  Living at sea level and being out of shape made even hiking less than two miles along the trail seem like a grind.  It starts around 10,000' and only gains about 800' during its course to the lake.  Here is a photo I posted earlier taken on the same trail last summer.

North Twilight Peak, as seen from Hwy 550 on the drive ~1 mile from the turn-off to Andrews Lake.  Fresh snow is visible on the north face after a storm we had 2 days ago, and look at those aspen in their full-on-disco fall color!

Afternoon light usually results in really washed-out photos, but we seldom get to the trails this far up the highway before about 11 a.m. (it's about an hour drive from Durango).  Having no clouds doesn't help that, but what are you gonna do?  Answer:  make the best of it!

Aspen stand with rock outcroppings on hillside.  In general, aspen don't grow above about 9,000', and these were one of two stands anywhere near the trail.  

Gray limestone and pink/tan sandstone are the rocks seen from bottom to top here.

Engineer Peak, again.  Yes, it's true:  I have a fixation with this mountain.  I am quite sure I'm not the only one living in the area who does; it's just that cool.

It manages to look good even in midday sun.  As we approach the forested section of the trail, it disappears from view for a bit, only to reemerge from a different vantage point, as we'll see below.

Trail, in shadow.  Through a forested section the trail goes, shortly after entering the Weimenuch Wilderness.  Wilderness = an area untrammeled by man and where man does not remain.

A bit later, I passed a group on horseback with 2 pack mules.  They were heading home after a successful elk hunt.  It's bowhunting season here, so anyone who can bag a bull elk with a bow clearly has some excellent hunting and archery skills.  I was impressed.

Elk generally remain in the high country throughout spring, summer and fall, and are seldom, if ever, seen during the day.  In the winter and at dusk, they descend from the mountains into the open meadows in search of food.  I'm confident I'll be seeing plenty of them this winter.

Twilight Mountain, as seen en route.  Out of the forest and into a meadow of golden-brown fall grasses with a smattering of fir.

This about half way to Crater Lake - just under 3 miles.

One of the "money shots" of Engineer, showing a view you'll not see without some work.  Stands of aspen continue to delight hikers' aesthetics as they form patchworks of color along the contours of the terrain below.

Crater Lake.  Sparkles from the sun dance off the surface as a slight breeze hits the surface.  Residual snow resists immediate melting in the shadows and along the steep slopes.  A few large skimmer-type dragonflies were patroling the shoreline in search of food.

Reeds at the water's edge are also fading to their fall colors.

Crater lake pano
Sit and have lunch, and enjoy the peace and quiet.  A handful of other hikers were scattered along the shore, also enjoying a beautiful autumn day.

A bold visitor.  This chap apparently is quite used to human presence, and given his proximity, we figured he probably is either casing for food opportunities or perhaps defending his territory.  This almost looks like a telephoto shot, but it's only 70mm - that's how close he was.
Engineer on the way back.   Look how the light changes as compared to the above photo.  

Like I said, it's just that cool, and looks good from all angles.

Symmetry and form in the rocks.

On the way back, and waiting for Wayne to catch up, I decided to go have a closer look at the rock outcropping in the meadow about 2 mi. from the trailhead.  It's composed of Leadville limestone, a Mississippian-period rock formed from widespread seas that existed 320 million years ago.  

And, it has fossils!  Click on the photo to see the perfect star-shaped center of these remarkable examples of early marine life forms.  

Paleozoic bas-relief with moss.

I could have spent hours crawling around on these rocks, taking photos and just delighting in the patterns and shapes of these fossils.  

They don't look like the crinoids I've seen in the analogous limestone (Redwall) in the Grand Canyon.  Regardless, they are beyond awesome.

Andrews Lake - late afternoon.  

Back at the trailhead, I had a few minutes to take some final photos of Andrews Lake, this time in better light.  

The photos I took at the start of the hike were so poor they weren't worth keeping.  This one does a bit more justice to the lake, thanks to lower level light.


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