Fall Colors in Packer Gulch

24 Jun
Packer Gulch and toward Farnum Peak

Looking south, up Packer Gulch and toward Farnum Peak. Most of the aspen are on the east side of the gulch. The bare areas on the mountainside go to the top of the 11,085 foot peak Sunday and I climbed last June. They may be the results of a fire that stopped at the summit

Hike with Cheryl and Sunday T. Dog on September 28, 2008
Trailhead: 39º11’5”N, 105º37’37”W, 9,298 feet
Top of Hill: 39º10’33”N, 105º36’27”W, 9,964 feet
Hiking distance: 3.9 miles


By late September, the height of the aspen fall color in South Park had past, but there were still plenty of leaves on the trees. In late spring, Sunday and I had climbed an unnamed peak south of Tarryall Reservoir, and had looked down into Packer Gulch. I recalled seeing aspen groves there, and thought it might have enough color for a worth-while trip.
We drove to Jefferson, and turned southeast on Tarryall Road, Park County Road 77. 17.6 miles from Jefferson, we turned right onto Turner Gulch Road (PCR23), at the sign pointing to Turner Gulch Road, Packer Gulch, and Highway 24, just past the Tarryall Dam spillway. We turned onto Packer Gulch Road, or Forest Service Road 144, at 1.8 miles from PCR77. In another quarter mile, we reached a fork in the road, and turned onto FSR239, which we followed until we reached a gate to private land, 4.4 miles from PCR77, and 22 miles from US 285 at Jefferson.


 Packer Gulch

Aspen and bushes add color to Packer Gulch

We didn’t have a goal, other than to walk around and take in the scenery. It’s always nice to get high for a longer look around, so we picked the modest hill to the southwest for a vantage point. The walk was about three-quarters of a mile, through a mixed forest of spruce and bristlecone pine, liberally sprinkled with aspen and small meadows. The walk was easy for the first half mile, but the ground became rocky and steeper as we approached the summit. This was nice, actually, since the rocky top of the hill meant fewer trees to block our views around.
To the northwest we got a wonderful view of northern South Park, stretching to the South Park Range. The autumn snows were late, so the peaks above timberline still wore their summer brownish gray. Yellow aspen highlights showed in the forests nearby, but faded into the conifers in the distance.
We found our views south and southeast obscured by trees and a slightly higher peak, so we headed for it. The land was rough, and we had quite a bit of climbing over rocks and downed timber to do, as well as dodging bushes and standing trees, but the trip was short. We arrived none the worse for wear.
From this high point, we had views southeast up Packer Gulch, toward Farnum Peak, the highest of the Puma Hills. The southwest side of the gulch was covered mostly with conifers, but spotted with turning aspen. On the northeast side, though, large groves of aspen followed the small gulches up the mountains.


Looking down Packer Gulch

The falling sun left us in the shadows in Packer Gulch, while South Park stayed sunlit. Eagle Rock and Observatory Rock are not far away, and Bald Mountain, Boreas Mountain, and Mount Guyot are in the distance

Directly across Packer Gulch was the largest of these groves. It swept up the mountainside and was split in two by a wedge of conifers. Each finger of aspens ended at a strip of bare ground, areas burned not too many years ago. Both strips led to the top of the unnamed 11,085 foot peak that Sunday and I had climbed in June.
After a leisurely lunch, we walked down into Packer Gulch, again dodging rocks, trees and bushes on the steeper, upper slopes, then enjoying the gentle terrain and the views that unfolded as we came out of the forest and into the valley. Many of the aspen at the edge of the gulch still showed some green with the gold, bushes had turned a deep brown, and the grass in the meadows was a straw yellow.  We wandered down Packer Gulch a ways, then turned west. Soon we found the forest service road, and followed it back to the car.


Sunday waits impatiently along Packer Gulch Road.

Sunday waits impatiently along Packer Gulch Road. An ATV has just come around the corner up ahead. In the distance are North and South Twin Cone Peaks on the left, and the Tarryall Mountains on the right

* * * *
Readers of these stories may get the impression that all goes well on all these treks. On this trip, we had a bit of a mishap. Cheryl looked at me and said, “You’re putting this in the column, right?”
“Heck, no,” I said. “I left out the bit about me leading the hiking party in the wrong direction, and adding a mile to the Black Canyon trip, or any other faux pas I have made!” But she insisted, so here goes. Just south of Bordenville on Tarryall Road, the car started acting up. Right away I knew what was wrong – I hadn’t filled the gas tank in Bailey. Luckily for me, the first car to stop was driven by a great guy named Jerry, who took me back to the Stagestop, a cafe, bar and general store, 9 miles from Jefferson. The Stagestop’s proprietor, also a great guy, sold me a couple of gallons of gas at his cost. Jerry took me back to the car, and we were able to get to Jefferson to fill up properly.
There are lots of nice places to hike down Tarryall Road, and the trip always goes past the Stagestop. They are nice folks, and deserve the plug: It’s a good place to stop for supplies on the way out, and for a cold soda on the way back from your next hike.


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