Hiking with Mom on the N. Crestone Trail: Hooper Pool to Moffat
Monday August 19, 2013, 20 miles (32 km) – Total so far: 4,225 miles (6,800 km)
I pack in the dark. The bike is loaded and ready to go at first light. While I’ve been packing, I’ve been listening to the morning conversations of all of the birds in the adjoining wildlife refuge. It is a fairly noisy and chaotic conversation, but it exudes life and vibrancy. Good stuff.
I head up to the showerhouse. I’ve been very impressed by the facilities here, but I’m anxious to get out of here before I inadvertently stumble into another Craigslist Casual Encounters advertisement.
As I open the door to the showerhouse, the tinny, fuzzy sound of Led Zeppelin being broadcast on a small cassette player greets me. I also hear the slightly off-tune, but up-beat, voice of a man singing along in one of the shower stalls. He is singing with gusto, and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone make a Led Zeppelin song sound ‘zippy’. Good on the guy for being so into the day at 5.15 am.
I’m rolling at 5.25 am. Several groups of Canadian geese have alighted from the wildlife refuge. As I ride, I watch their V-formations take shape and change and reshape as they turn and ascend into the sky. It is an elegant choreography of individual and group form. They rise higher and higher and head off west until they are just a tiny, V-shaped line in the distant sky.
Today is a super-short day. I’m meeting my mom in Moffat to go hiking. There is a trail just outside of Crestone that she’s always wanted to do, so we’re going to try that today.
I love hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Range, but here in the northern part of the range, it always entails a steep climb. The range is a normal fault, like the Tetons, which means it has no foothills. You just climb straight up from the valley floor into the peaks of the range. However, if you’re lucky enough to find a creek to follow, then the ascent can be a little less taxing. The trail we are going to do today does this, so it shouldn’t be as difficult.
The road north, State Highway 17, has no shoulder. Oh, there’s 6 to 12 inches of leftover pavement on the right-hand side of the white line, but I don’t consider that a shoulder. Don’t believe the Colorado bike map.
As I ride, I reflect on the unique beauty that is the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Range. The Valley is one of the largest high altitude valleys in the world with an average elevation over 7500 ft. It is the size of Conneticut with a length of more than 125 miles and a width greater than 65 miles. It is part of the large Rio Grande Rift structure, a place in the earth’s crust that is ripping apart through extension. This all makes it a very unique place.
The Sangre de Cristos mark the eastern edge of the rift valley. The mountains stretch from Poncha Pass in the north to Taos, New Mexico in the south. The Sangres have a complex geology. Faults and uplift have occurred since the late Paleozoic (approx 300 million years ago), including during the major mountain-building episode of the Laramide Orogeny (approx 55-60 million years ago). However, the range you see today is relatively recent, only 25-30 million-years-old.
The long range can be dissected into northern, central and southern sections. The central section, which we rode over at North La Veta Pass, is different in character to the northern and southern sections. Unlike the northern and southern sections, it does not rise from the valley floor, but instead has an area of foothills 5-7 miles wide.
What I most love about the northern Sangres, however, is the striking evidence of faulting on its flanks. The fault scarps (i.e. the ‘step’ in the landscape that shows the movement between the two pieces of earth) are clearly evident here. When you look to the northern Sangres from the San Luis Valley and see all of the slopes that look like upside down “V”s on the front of the range – that is the upper side of the fault. Anytime you see mountains with this shape, and a down-dropped block of earth below, you are looking at an area of active or recent fault movement. (I can’t get a good photo, though, because I’m shooting into the sun!).
Indeed, the Sangre de Cristo fault has the highest document slip rate (i.e. vertical movement over time) of any Colorado fault. It shows up on state and national geohazard maps, because it’s last major earthquake, big enough to rupture the ground, was very, very recent in geologic time (i.e. only thousands of years – parts of the fault slipped only about 9,000 years ago). It has the potential to unleash a large magnitude quake again.
The earth is not moving for me today, though. I roll into Moffat early, so I head to the little cafe next to the post office and grab a hot chocolate. The owner is from my home state, but he got the heck out more than 20 years ago, too. While he’s making my drink, I check out all of the artwork for sale. I buy my mom a small clay dish with a fern on it, since I don’t have to worry about transporting something fragile in the panniers today. My mom shows up right on time and we head up to North Crestone for a delightful hike and picnic.