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Solitude in the Beautiful Blue
Here is another trail seldom heard about located in the Blue Range that departs from the Blue river and accesses the high country to to the east of it. By utilizing this trail it enables one another loop option starting and finishing your trip from the Blue Administrative site. The length of the loop is up to you since there is a wonderful network of maintained trails in the high country on this side of the Blue with some of them taking you into New Mexico! This area does not see much use from hikers/backpackers but does see use from hunters, horseback riders and local ranchers who appear to still pasture their cattle in the high country.
Terricita10, myself and Minnie the hiking dog used this trail to start a 3 day/2 night backpack to Franz spring, WS Lake and Devils Monument(NM), we exited on the Lanpier trail. Although I did most of this trail (S.Canyon) in 2005 I had a hard time remembering/finding where the trail departs from the river and starts its climb up and away from it, it was much easier last time. I believe the reason for the difficulty this time was that the Blue River had much more water running in it this time.
The trail is signed at its start about 50 yards behind the TH kiosk. You'll have to walk along a fenceline that straddles a small ranch to reach the signed junction (Lanpier/S.Canyon), be very quiet the ranchers dog likes to bark loudly. At the JCT you'll have to take a left and hike up river passing along the flank of the Blue Administrative site. At about the administrative sites boundry you'll come to a spot where the river will flow from a small wall lined canyon, you'll have to cross the Blue here (about a 3-5 minute hike from the start). Try to locate the cairn on the other side, once on the other side you'll have to hike another 3-5 minutes to the second crossing of the Blue. This is the crossing that took us AWHILE to find, a helpful hint is it's further upriver than you would at first think. If your tall you should be able to see a very big cairn on the other side of the Blue, it's about 100' in from the river. Once you find the cairn it's easy going and about a 5 minute hike to the signed trail, you'll be walking along a ranchers road on this stretch but you'll still have 1 more crossing of the Blue to make.
After the last crossing you'll reach a brand new trail sign indicating the S.Canyon trail, if you look around closely enough you'll see the old weathered sign that is still posted nearby. From here the fun starts!Up, up, up you'll climb for the next 2 miles or so while gaining 1000'. With the exception of a couple of short stretches the grade will be gradual. About 15 minutes from the sign you'll pass an unsigned trail junction that drops down towards the river and a ranch, ignore it and continue climbing. During this 2 mile stretch of trail you'll pass through some nicely wooded transisional forest with no recent fire damage. However the canopy offers little shade at noon time.
You'll know you finished the above mentioned section of trail when you reach a recently burned saddle on a ridge at 7000'. Here we encountered lots of cow pies, a couple of salt blocks and numerous cattle trails. At this saddle you'll have great views towards the west side of the Blue, down into S.Canyon, Cow Canyon and the Blue River valley as well as some of the upper reaches of where you headed and even a peak at Escudilla. From the saddle try to ignore all the cattle trails, you basically have to climb to the left side of the ridge you'll be facing. This part of the trail for the next .75 miles or so is rocky and steep and will climb 600' and into a dry pine woodland. Again this part is very rocky and has some trail damage due to cattle in places.
Finally you'll top out at about 7600' and then abrubtly drop about 150' along some really rocky trail to a large flat area. This flat area seemed to consist mostly of junipers and a recent burn has done some damage here. You'll stroll thru this flat area for about a mile, in a couple of places the trail is faint but the trail generally heads due south. This is as far as I made in 2005 when I spotted a horse riding posse of a dozen or so camped out, I didn't like the odds of me against them so I back tracked down the trail. After strolling for awhile you'll notice that the trail is starting to climb again and in a short time you'll have climbed about 100' and onto a VERY TOASTED saddle on a ridge.
Here the trail disappears. We went with our instinct and stayed to the left while making our way SE to an area that we could see had some living trees. I'll guess and estimate that we hiked about .33 of a mile thru the burn and to this undamaged area. Once here I wasn't convinced it was the trail until terricita10 found it. I didn't like what I saw from her discovery and even whinned about it since it had us dropping into a canyon, Cow canyon.
The drop lasted about .50 mile and was steep and again rocky in places but brought us into big pines and the Cow Flat area. There is a little burn damage and some downfall here which made for a little route finding but the somewhat modern corral we found told us where we were on the map. From the south side of the corral it's about 50-100 yards to the intersection of the Bonanza Bill #23 trail which looks like a super highway. On our topo map a spring is shown just south of the corral, we found it and it had flowing water but not much. Our guess is it's not reliable.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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