Travel: From Main Avenue in Durango, go west on 25th Street. It transitions to Junction Street and then La Plata CR 204/Junction Creek Road. At the first stop sign, 2.8 miles from Main Ave., turn right onto CR 205. Pass Turtle Lake and watch for a long parking pull-out on the right as you are mid-way up a hill. A large undercut boulder on the northwest side of the road marks the spot, 1.1 miles from the stop sign.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.2 miles; 2,240 feet of climbing for the Scenic Route, ascending, and Cut-Off, descending. Returning on the Log Chutes Loop adds half a mile and 100 feet of vertical.
Time: 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation moderate; no exposure
Maps: Durango West; Durango East, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quads or Apogee Mapping
Turtle Lake Bouldering Garden: There are over 50 climbs identified in the popular bouldering park. Mountain Project describes the classic climbing routes.
Latest Date Hiked: April 29, 2018
I have pine wind for sale
have you ever tried it
three tons of gold
gets you a gourdful. Tung-Pin Lu, Secret of the Golden Flower
Looking west from the Haflin Creek Trail, the Animas Overlook is on the horizon, image-center. Barnes Mountain is at the north end of the cuesta. This image was shot in January, 2018, during a warm and dry winter.
Route: Begin at the Turtle Lake Bouldering Garden and walk north through BLM property to the Log Chutes trail system in the National Forest. While there are many options in the maze of old logging roads, now mountain bike trails, this hike follows the cuesta rim as closely as possible. Hike east above the Turtle Lake valley and swing north tracking Hidden Valley to the Animas Overlook. Return on the Cut-Off or Log Chutes Loop.
The image below was taken from the parking pullout at elevation 6,940 feet. Head to the right of the roadside boulder these women are climbing and start weaving through fallen giants. Bouldering trails spin off every which way. The trickiest segment of navigation is right here at the base of the scarp. The immediate goal is to locate a trail up the first pitch located to the right of the cliff band.
Follow the main trail to a gigantic toppled block and go to the right of it.
Then walk between two resting monsters, shown looking back.
The trail is easy to follow at first but it becomes less obvious. I marked the proper track with cairns. If they are absent just continue walking parallel to the road until you come to an open area with a fire ring and log teepee. A mountain bike trail emerges from the forest and exits onto the road. Turn left and follow the bike tracks uphill. They lead onto a stony slope at 0.2 mile. This steep, 150-foot climb is as rugged as this hike gets.
After a brief stretch of clambering the trail heads to the right and transitions onto a constructed, well-engineered footpath that meanders magically around all impediments. It starts at 7,200 feet, between a large squared-off boulder and juniper, shown.
The trail switchbacks up the southeast facing slope. Old growth ponderosa tower above the Gambel oak and piñon-juniper woodland. At 0.5 mile, the singletrack passes a stone foundation. People who frequent this trail conjecture this is an historic still from Durango's bootlegging days in the 1920's.
The route works its way up a broad ravine through the Morrison Formation, a soft greenish gray shale and mudstone mix. There is not a lot of cliff structure in the recess and the trail makes the most of the weakness to penetrate the Dakota Sandstone, shown. There's been a whole lot of tumbling going on. Scattered on the slope, the boulders keep it interesting. Some rolled all the way down to the bouldering garden.
At 1.2 miles, 7,620 feet, there is a T junction marked by a cairn. Turn right. (The left spur rises to a nice overview off-route.)
The track crosses a spring. Watch carefully for the winding treadway in this area. At 1.4 miles, 7,720 feet, the soft dirt path ends at an old logging two-track. For those familiar with the Log Chutes mountain bike trails, the roadbed is shared by Loops #2 and #3. This junction is not marked so take careful note of your location. I look for the fallen tree laying across the road a few paces away but who knows how long it will linger. The remainder of the hike is on US Forest Service property.
Turn right/east. Our route stays fairly close to the rim of the cuesta all the way to the Animas Overlook. In half a mile (1.9 miles from the start), the Scenic Route and the Cut-Off split at a Y, shown below, and on the map above. I typically take the rim route going uphill and the Cut-Off, saving half a mile, on the return. Bear right on the more primitive track.
The ponderosa were logged 120 years ago to build Durango. Some of the most venerable trees were spared but most of the forest is youthful. At the slightest breeze, pine wind is a winsome companion.
At 2.3 miles, reach the lofty southeast corner of the cuesta. Here we transition from overlooking the valley of Turtle Lake to Hidden Valley as the road swings due north. The track narrows to a rocky treadway and shoots up a rather steep hill.
At 2.7 miles, 7,840 feet, the Cut-Off joins from the left. Memorize this junction for the return. Climb a small roller and then step aside into a little opening revealing the cliffs below. The prominent rock formation is Entrada Sandstone. Basketmaker archaeological sites are located within protected alcoves. Junction Creek Sandstone is the thin band above the Entrada. US 550 rolls pleasantly through Hermosa and then rakes up into the San Juan Mountains.
A map of the Log Chutes trail system is located at a junction at 3.2 miles. This is where the Log Chutes Loop option initiates on the return trip. For now, continue straight. Irresistible viewpoints are frequent.
There is an astounding overlook at 4.0 miles, 8,600 feet. This is by far the best view of Hidden Valley, the Animas River Valley, and Missionary Ridge. Meandering oxbows span the width of the floodplain. In January, 2018, a golden eagle circled below. If you have but half a day to hike, this is a satisfying turn-around.
Reach the overlook at 4.8 miles, 8,960 feet. It is located just off Junction Creek Road, 7.5 miles up FSR 171. The access road is closed in winter (until May 1st) but if you hike in the summer you may see vehicles in the parking lot. (THW, photo)
The vantage point features the San Juan Mountains: Rolling Mountain, Twin Sisters, Engineer Mountain, the Twilights, Pigeon Peak, Mount Eolus, and Mountain View Crest. Retrace your steps down the pleasant backslope.
Log Chutes Loop
At 6.5 miles, you will be back at the Log Chutes map. You may extend your hike by bearing right/west. This route is the same distance as the upcoming trek. There are two gentle, short climbs. Study the map before launching because there are some essential junctures. The link trail from the boulder garden is not shown on the map.
The westward road passes through an aspen grove. In the interior, the broad back of the cuesta is open, trees well spaced.
At 7.3 miles, keep going straight where Loop #2 takes off and a few steps further, Loop #1 bears off to the right. The track switchbacks at the bottom of a shallow ravine. Go through a gate and hang a sharp left at 8.0 miles. Stay straight at the next junction. Climb a mellow hill. At 8.4 miles, close the loop at the trail linking Log Chutes with CR 205. It will be on your right.
The fastest return route is the Cut-Off, 0.5 mile south of the Log Chutes trail map. Turn west and walk straight toward Perins Peak and North Perins Peak, shown. You will transition back onto the upcoming route, possibly without realizing it. Keep a sharp eye out for the link trail on your left.
Retrace your steps on the downward switchbacking trail to the rubbly pitch. At the base, spur trails splay out in a confusing maze. Just keep heading down and to the right and eventually you will pass between the two colossal boulders and out onto the road.