Moose Corners - Thursday
I decided on Grand County Route 4, which leaves highway 32 down below Shadow Mountain Lake, and heads west and north. The map is murder to read, but I had some grounds for believing that it would be at least a dirt or gravel road all along (no 4WD-only sections), and it plainly did some switchback climbing on a map feature identified as Gravel Mountain.
This was a good choice. It is the kind of road that no one takes who is actually trying to get anywhere, so there is no traffic. And it's bumpy rocky quality is totally unsuited to much more than creeping along. So, it's perfect for seeing the sights.
There are several crossing trails for 4-wheel ATVs, bicycles, snowmobiles (in season), and motorbikes. This, after all, is the National Forest, not the National Park, which does not allow any mechanized vehicles on its trails. (As if you could ride a bike up those stone stairs...) The ATVs also use the county road; An older couple on 4-wheelers and I passed each other a couple of times going up. Going down the other side I met a pair of motorbikes, one car, and one jeep. That was it for the whole afternoon.
It was overcast and it rained off and on. I stopped several times for photos. In one place I scrambled up a gravel slide above the road in order to get a shot over the trees. I was pretty sure I could identify the mountains in the distant ridge to the East. Continental divide stuff in RMNP, I think. I'll have to spread out the map, figure out where I was when I took the pix, and see what's over there.
I was pleased to see that route 4, a.k.a. The Stillwater Pass Road, was passable all the way down the north and west side. The map left me with some doubt. On the north side of Gravel Mountain, you look across for several choice views of Cascade Mountain, and another striking peak; I think it's Bower Mountain, but again, I've worked with better maps.
Once you get to the valley on the North side, you follow the most pleasant mountain stream as it gurgles through a meadow. Just as delighful as you could want. And since it's National Forest, there are several drive-up camp sites along the way, complete with stone rings for camp fires. I tell ya, Forest is easier than Park for camping. Just haul in the tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress in the trunk, not in the backpack.
Route 4 comes out of the National Forest and ends at State Hwy 132, which if you follow South, you find your way to US 40 and Granby. Then back up US 32 to Grand Lake, and you've completed the loop.
There's a big lake cum wildlife preserve where 132 meets US 40. Lots and lots of waterfowl of many varieties. There are some foot paths along the way. Not sure how close you could get to the fauna, but it would be a good photo outing. Go early in the morning, get the mist rising off the lake kind of thing.
This Gravel Mountain loop route would be an excellent choice for those who want to really get up in the mountains but don't want to carry packs and do the strenuous climbing thing. Rent your ATV in Grand Lake for the day, and off you go. Or you could just go in the car like I did. But an ATV would let you take those inviting side trails. In the car, I made a bigger loop and used the highways, but there are ATV trails that would shorten the loop and you wouldn't need to use the highways.
I saw several places along the way that would be good spots for a Reading Day, with a lawn chair in the trunk, and a lunch in the backpack. Or if you actually wanted to camp out, drive to one of the no-fee spots along the north valley across from Cascade Mountain and enjoy the quiet.
Labels: grand lake