Monday, September 7, 2015

Perins Peak, 8,346', Durango's Natural Landmark

Essence: Well-established trail adjacent to town. Playful features and wild creatures make this an engaging hike for children. Pleasant grade through gambel oak and ponderosa pine habitat. Grassy ridge tops out at the peak. Scramble down boulders to the cliff edge for jaw-dropping views of Durango and the La Plata Mountains. Perins Peak is oft forgotten because it is closed eight and a half months of the year. The path is drenched in bird song and peaceful solitude.
Travel: From Main Avenue and 25th Street in Durango, go west. The road becomes Junction Street. Pass Miller Middle School and in two blocks, turn left on Clovis Drive. Go up the hill and enter the Rockridge subdivision. Drive 0.8 mile and turn right on Tanglewood Drive. Cross a small bridge and take an immediate left. The parking area is on the right.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.0 miles, 1,600 feet of climbing
Time: 2:30 to 4:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation easy; precipitous exposure on the cliff platform
Map: Durango West, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: September 7, 2015
Closure, November 15 - July 31: Perins Peak State Wildlife Area is closed when hunting season concludes on November 15 to provide winter shelter for deer and elk. The closure is extended through spring and early summer to safeguard peregrine falcons nesting and raising their young. This brings the Colorado Parks and Wildlife property into compliance with statewide BLM peregrine falcon regulations.  
Quote:  I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.  Frank Lloyd Wright, 1966

Perins Peak is a defining natural landmark rising west of Durango.

Route: From the Rockridge Trailhead, elevation 6,880 feet, walk southwest up a drainage before winding up a northeast-facing slope. Walk east on the rolling ridge to the peak. Continue to the cliff platform.

The peak trail is within the 13,442 acre Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to maintain wildlife and habitat conservation.

Pass the placards at Trailhead 6,880', bear left, and immediately cross Dry Gulch. The thin trail skirts the Rockridge subdivision on open grassland framed with piƱon-juniper.

Enter dark and mysterious woods. On north-facing slopes and along the banks of a tributary of Dry Gulch are cottonwood, Douglas fir, and soaring ponderosa pine. Steaming piles of black bear scat will be on the trail in the fall. Watch for deer, elk, and the rare cougar. Squirrels scurry all about. (THW, photo)

Traverse atop and balance along humongous logs.

At 1.3 miles, the track begins climbing in earnest up a hillside crowded with gamble oak, mountain mahogany, and chokecherry. Splendor aflame in autumn, many locals make an annual trek to Perins Peak to experience the brilliance of color. (THW, photo)

Look north and the horizon is spiked with the Needle Mountains, including distinctive Pigeon and Turret. In contrast, in front of these behemoths lies the relatively flat summit plateau of Mountain View Crest.

If kids are going to falter, it'll be on this steep and open hillside. The path soon comes to a welcome patch of pine, aspen and snowberry, a good place for revitalizing snacks and water. The pitch softens as the trail emerges from the woods. Wade through tall grasses watching for the slithering neon, smooth green snake. Listen for the western rattlesnake. (THW, photo)

At two miles, 8,000 feet, just after a fallen structure on the right, the trail splits twice in rapid succession. The subtle junctures may be marked with cairns. Turn left/southeast. If the La Plata Mountains are in your viewfinder, turn around!

Go east up the broad ridge.

The treadway climbs another 350 feet to the soft, grassy highpoint. The peak is named for Charles Perins who laid out the Durango townsite for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. A peak register is tucked under the cairn celebrating 8,346 feet. Smelter Mountain and Lake Nighthorse are to the south. The view of Durango only gets better.

Pass by two drive-in movie screens, actually, a microwave reflecting facility. Turkey vultures like to hang out in droves on these structures. You are sure to see peregrine and possibly prairie falcons circling above. Beefy, short-horned lizards thrive here.

Descend gently as the ridge narrows to constrict the passage. At 3.0 miles the earth suddenly falls away. Those with a fear of heights can take in the panorama, compromising little, from this back-from-the-edge overlook. The brave will find a scrambler's route down through gigantic boulders. Be mindful of the exposure.

Kids love messing around in the boulders. Young ones need constant supervision in this precipitous area.

It is a thrill to approach the abrupt edge. Perins Peak is seen from all over Durango so naturally the vista from this lookout is unbeatable. To my right is the Hogsback. Fort Lewis College is on the plateau across the river valley.
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

Children need a spotter while going both down and back up through the boulders. (THW, photo)

Most enthralling of all is Perins Perch. From here, look down on town or west to Silver Mountain in the La Plata range.

Return as you came, passing the microwave reflectors.

At 3.8 miles, don't miss the two essential right turns. (THW, photo)

This hike is suitable for children aged seven and up. They especially like all the wild things, playing in the boulders, looking down on town, and non-stop trail conversation. Bring jackets, hats, treats, and water.

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