“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like the autumn leaves.” John Muir
Day 3: Today I sleep late to recuperate from Day Two’s long hours on the water, the two mile hike back to the SUV, then the hour-long 4WD trek to camp. With plenty of good winks, I am ready to explore some new water, and as things start to warm up around 9 a.m., head out to the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness area. It’s about an hour’s drive on Forest Service 794, a wash-boardy, circuitous gravel road that ends at the boundary of the wilderness area.
Enroute, I cross over a handful of alluring little creeks—Pauline (hardly a trickle, but I’ll fish it downstream tomorrow and have a great day—see the entry entitled “The Pleasures of Pauline.”), Perfecto (aptly named, pristine and sprinkled with good-looking beaver ponds), and Nutra (more beaver ponds). It’s a challenge not to stop and sample. I am surprised to see a sign saying I am on an old 1874 toll stage route that navigated over the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide to the gold mines in the remote San Juan Mountains miles and miles to the west. Just when I think I am quite the adventurer, I see a prompt like this that reminds me of what hearty, tough souls those trail-blazers were. It’s hard to comprehend how they built this road hundreds of miles by hand with mules and horses over this rough terrain. It was supposed to become a rail line, but was eclipsed by other equally daunting routes to the north and south.
Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.
~ Cree Prophecy
On my homestead in the Colorado high country, the main tree is the Piñon Pine interspersed with a smattering of juniper and, along the creek, some big willow-leaf cottonwoods. Truth be told, until a few years ago I never made the connection between these tough, short trees that dominate the dry southwest landscape in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico—over 36 million acres of them–and delectable, pricey pine nuts. The best pine nuts are actually the seeds of the Colorado Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis). Shelled, they go for about $36 a pound!! A lot of what is pawned off as pine nuts in the grocery store comes from…surprise…China!!
Day 2: After a relaxing, easy day of fishing yesterday and a good night’s sleep, I’m rearin’ to explore the more remote middle section of Cochetopa Creek. I haven’t been up there for a couple of years. Over five miles of beautiful, meandering meadow waters are bracketed by two steep canyons above and below that make access a challenge. The hearty angler can hike in on the Colorado Trail or four-wheel in on one of the rough access roads, then walk to the good water. A detailed topo/trails map is a must before venturing into this backcountry—the National Geographic Trails Map #139 LaGarita/Cochetopa Hills is a good place to start plotting your trip.
Day One: I’m in my little travel trailer a.k.a mobile fishing camp parked next to Dome Lake located in a high country state park near the Continental Divide, not too far from Gunnison, Colorado. I drove up early this morning, sorely in need of a multi-day injection of nature and zen trout fishing time on one of my favorite waters—Cochetopa Creek. It’s mid-August, the rain has finally stopped, and the streams are clearing and fishable.
Maybe 15 feet at its widest, Cochetopa Creek arises at the foot of an imposing 14,000 foot+ mountain, San Luis Peak, in the La Garita Wilderness area south of Gunnison. Miles below, the creek squeezes out of a canyon stretch into a vast open sagebrush and grass valley called Cochetopa Park. There it meanders for a good 10 miles with gentle runs and S-curves before plunging into another canyon and joining Tomichi Creek which flows into the big Gunnison River, a fabled trout water. Cochetopa Creek is loaded with healthy, eager fish and steeped in history. In other words, my kinda place!