Monday, November 30, 2009

Gashouse Gulch-Baldy Trail Loop

Distance: 7.7 miles round trip
Elevation: 7,500 ft - 8,100 ft
Elevation Gain: 600 ft

Verdant green grasses disguise the horror of the fire that blazed through the Buffalo Creek area

In 2004, I went camping over the Memorial Day weekend in the Buffalo Campground near Buffalo Creek. A friend and I went hiking on several of the trails in the area. One day we took a long hike that was a loop through the charred remains of a forest. I have had pictures from this hike sitting in an archive not knowing what to do with them. Our route was lost in the sands of time, ground into the soles of my boots.

Then, the other night I bought a topo map of the area for a hike we were planning for Thanksgiving day and I started studying it. I realized the trail we did that weekend was the Gashouse Gulch-Baldy Trail Loop. We walked the loop counterclockwise starting at the Gashouse Gulch trail head.

A distant rock formation. Would you have known it was there?

Mostly listed in mountain biking books, this trail is also accessible to hikers, in fact we saw many while there. Its topography changes from a Martian burnt-out landscape to lush Aspens forest. Throughout are the sandstone rock formations characteristic of the Lost Creek Wilderness Area (just to the southwest).

A trail segment

By far the most interesting aspect of this hike is the burn zone. Huge piles of rocks that would have been hidden by trees were suddenly visible through the burned out stumps. I felt like a voyeur, peeking into Mother Nature's lingerie drawer. Somehow I could tell that this geology was never meant to be seen so openly by human eyes. The weather that day was characteristically schizophrenic. We put on layers, we took them off, we put them on and took them off again in an endless cycle. Was this Mother Nature sighing at our intrusion and the folly of man that lade bear her secret places?

Map showing the extent of the Buffalo Creek Fire (1996) and the High Meadows Fire (2000). Click on the image for a larger view. You can also see this loop and other trails in the area.

The Buffalo Creek fire occurred in 1996 and burned 12,000 acres. It burned very hot and most of the trees were totally destroyed. While grasses returned within six years, it will take a century or more for the trees to return.

A hidden knoll. Hmmm, does Mother Nature have cellulite?

I took these photos long before I started blogging and they do not represent a complete picture of the route. In fact they only represent the first couple of miles that are within the burn zone. Still, since it may be a very long time indeed before I ever retrace my steps and this trail is not well known, I decided to post them anyway.

If you decide to camp near Buffalo Creek, give this trail a try. Just bring plenty of water. There was none in the campground despite advertising to the contrary and the camp hosts were making a killing selling jugs of the stuff. Folly of man indeed.


Anonymous said...

FYI - the fire that burned the area around gashouse gulch was the Hi-Meadow fire in June 2000. The Buffalo creek fire did burn near by.

Anonymous said...

The author is talking about part of the Gashouse Gulch bike trail that crosses thru the Buffalo burn area.