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Day 1: North Chaffee County Border To Numbers River Access Point

6 miles - North Border Line, Snow Flurries & Cold Winds, Town of Granite, Numbers River Launch Point - April 1, 2010

Click on any image in this photo gallery to view it at a larger size.

Bobby Swanson

The First Day

Special thanks to Bobby Swanson, my next door neighbor for driving me on this first morning. One of my primary stressors as I planned this trip was organizing who would shuttle me each day, and so I appreciated his help on three of the seven days.

Adjacent is a shot of Bobby as he drove north toward Granite. I also drove my car and parked it near the Numbers River Access Point, the destination of today's walk, and then Bobby shuttled me to Granite.

Railroad Tracks Bobby transported me to the small village of Granite, Colorado, but the actual northern border of Chaffee County is one mile north.

From Granite, I walked one mile north on the railroad tracks until I saw the county border signs on Highway 24 across the Arkansas River. If you click this image, you can faintly see the sign.

I walked into Lake County and zoomed-in on the Chaffee County sign across the river. :)
Railroad Tracks
Photo Above: The adjacent photo is a shot as I stood in proximity to the Lake and Chaffee County borders. This is the northern edge of Chaffee County; my walk formally begins here. And this walk will not end until I reach the southernmost end of the county at Poncha Pass, seven days later.
The Journey Begins

Now let me be clear: It is cold! Really cold. It's a windy cold. The kind of cold that alarms even a Coloradan like me, who is well acquainted with 5-6 annual months of blistery, wintery cold days. As I walked to the border, strong southerly winds slammed against my back, and now I am nervously aware I will be facing these winds head on as I begin to hike south. This does not bode well for my morale on this first day. What am I thinking to be doing this on such a ridiculously cold day?

At the border, I go through my backpack and get my bearings. Interestingly, before making one step forward, I pull out my camera to capture the adjacent photo, and at this very moment, snow flurries begin to fall. The snow didn't accumulate on the ground and only faintly sticks to my jacket. This wind is a much greater nuisance anyway. Yet I wonder if the weather's uptick is a test at the start of my trip. Is this splash of wind and snow a test of my will? Am I to show that I have the determination to walk through and face whatever comes my way? Or are the circumstances simply evidence that I have chosen the wrong day to walk! Today is, after all, April Fools Day.

Arkansas River A nice shot of the Arkansas River and the guardrail on Highway 24. If you have driven through Granite, you may distinctly know the sharp left the road makes as one travels north out of Granite. This is the view right here.
Arkansas River in Granite CO My walk continues. The wind howls and slams against me. The snow flurries intensify. I pull out my camera again and again to take pictures, hoping the images will show the thickness of the snowflakes, but it never does. The obsessive chronicler in me is frustrated.

The railroad tracks bend to the right. I originally hoped to casually stroll on this stretch along the river, but it is too cold. I devote only enough seconds to stop, hold the camera firmly and snap this picture. Continuing my movement is imperative to staying warm!

Last year, on a snowy Saturday morning in January, a young woman named Abigail Cortese tragically died in a car accident. Specific details are unknown to me, but Abby was en route northbound and she lost control of her car. Her vehicle tumbled into the river bank (adjacent photo) and she died. Abby's death shook the community of Buena Vista. As a testimony to the myriad people she influenced and befriended, a large gymnasium was packed with mourners at her funeral. The Chaffee County Times published her obituary, and I wrote my own personal memories of her online.

Granite, Colorado

Granite, Colorado

Granite was once a bustling mining town in the late 1800's and served as the county seat when Chaffee County was created. Today it is an unincorporated village with only six year-round residents (as of this past winter). When I reach Mo's house on the left, I know I was back in good ol' Granite, Colorado.

I have spent much time in this region. Below are some of my pages:

  • Snowshoeing
  • Granite, Colorado
  • Gene's Yaks
  • Lost Canyon Road
  • Twin Lakes, CO
  • La Plata Peak
  • Mountain Biking Twin Lakes
  • South Elbert
  • Independence Pass
  • Granite, Colorado
    Later, after my walk, I learned it was 28 degrees on this morning with wind gusts in the 30 mph range. Only God knew the temperature with the wind chill factor. I snapped many photos of Granite, including this one that includes the historic one-room schoolhouse (upper right) that served as a school for this community until 1953.
    The winds from the south blast mercilessly against my front side. My cheeks are in shock from the cold. My fingers feel numb despite wearing quality gloves. And so I put away everything that I am holding and clinch fists inside my gloves. It helps somewhat.

    I accept that it is too cold to continue this walk ... at least in the moment. I must sit out the winds and snowfall. Fortunately, I have friends who live in Granite. I know they are currently not home, but I run to their house and shelter myself on their front porch. The walk, so far, has only been one mile (technically two if you count walking north to the border), and the trip feels so dramatic and serious. "Fun" is not an adjective I would use to describe the events so far.

    Granite, CO
    Photo Above: A pretty view of Granite from a hill. No services currently exist in this town. The Granite General Store (gray building across the street) served as a general store, liquor store, post office and fueling station for over a half century until 2008.
    I rest for 30 minutes in my friend's patio area. I regroup. I put on all of my layers of clothing, including my tight cycling pants that serve fantastically as long johns during cold days. I tweet a message on Twitter. I jot notes of what I am experiencing, so I will remember.

    Thoughts flow through my mind, and they're mostly negative. What the heck am I doing? This is a cold and wintery day and you're walking seven miles?! I debate whether to continue. Would I really enjoy my walk if it is this cold? If I am constantly rushing through today's planned route just to stay warm, would I miss out on enjoying the scenery? I already know standing around, exposed to the elements, is unpleasant. And realistically, when I snap photos, I like to take my gloves off to capture photos with precision. Bare hands will be brutal in this cold.

    Thankfully, my determined side reasons with me. It is not in my personality to wait for conditions to be supposedly "convenient" or "ideal" before starting something grand. I like the idea of declaring a starting date, and encountering whatever the hands of Providence deliver. Waiting for perfect conditions is fake, because life isn't like that. It's messy. It's surprising. It's uncontrollable. And there's often a great amount of suffering (and hopefully) overcoming. It is life's ups and downs that make our personal stories interesting, and this journey is no different.

    I am indeed continuing. Barring any situation that is obviously dangerous, I will continue walking. I will wait out this intense wind and cold, even if merely for an hour when the temperature will likely rise. It's only 9:30 a.m. and I have plenty of time.

    Railroad Tracks

    20 minutes later ...

    The snowfall stops and the wind relents. The wind doesn't entirely go away, but mother nature shows it has a merciful side. Although gray clouds cover the sky, I sense conditions have warmed, however slightly.

    I go for it! I scamper back onto the railroad tracks and proceed south.

    After a few steps, I stop. I realize I have not said a prayer before starting my trip this morning. I say a "quickie prayer" that, in my mind feels weak and inept.

    Immediately, I walk. It feels like someone grabbed me by the arm to remind me that I must continue moving. Keep that blood circulating on this cold morning!

    Granite CO Railroad Tracks A nice view of the railroad tracks, the Arkansas River and the horizontal line of Highway 24 in the background.
    Railroad Tracks
    A right turn in the tracks south of Granite, Colorado.

    I realize my normal walking stride is not in harmony with the spacing of the wooden planks on these tracks. Walking on each respective wooden plank is short and feels like baby steps. Placing my foot on every second plank requires an unusually large stride. And so I step one foot on the planks, and the other foot on the rocks in between.

    This pace slows me down. Compared to the average speed walking on pavement or a well-defined trail, I am making my way slowly.

    Railroad Tracks

    Rocks on Railroad Track

    The tracks pass rocky hills with fences to block boulders and rock slides from blocking the tracks. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad have not run on these tracks since 1997, and most of the fences look good, except for this area. As noted in the photos, some rocks sit on the tracks or are positioned perilously close to the rail.

    I wonder what would happen if a locomotive running at a routine speed met these rocks. I would think the rocks would split like butter, but who knows?

    Rusty Nails Rusty spikes on the tracks.
    Colorado Railroad Tracks I noticed signs with numbers earlier, but at milemarker 255, it becomes clear the railroad has their own milemarker system. At this point, I have walked 3+ miles from the north Chaffee County border. It is presumably only 255 miles to the Kansas state line! :)
    Colorado Railroad Tracks Walking on the quiet and peaceful tracks.
    North Chaffee County Railroad I reach the area near Clear Creek Reservoir and Clear Creek Canyon.

    Notice the foundation of a bridge on each side of the Arkansas River. I am not sure what was previously here. On the right, an old grade begins that I believe was known as "Old Stage Road." This relatively flat grade (across the river) travels up the canyon on the same side of Highway 24 before meeting with the road.

    So much can be said about this beautiful region known as Clear Creek Canyon. My Chaffee County route will stays close to the Arkansas River during the first five days. This means I will hardly walk through the mountainous and spectacular Sawatch Range on the west side of the county.

    Below are my pages in and near this Clear Creek Canyon area:

  • Mt. Belford
  • Huron Peak
  • Vicksburg & Winfield Ghost Towns
  • Autumn Colors In The Canyon
  • Snowy Railroad Tracks

    Snowy Railroad Tracks

    I encounter stretches of railroad tracks that are covered in snow, and this particular spot is the snowiest!

    I assess the terrain and realize I have no way to get around. I must walk through as best as I can. I balance one foot on the tracks and stick my other foot in the snow. Because the snow is soft, frequently my foot sinks through the snow and to the ground, leaving my leg in ankle deep snow.

    This activity is known as "post holing," a miserable occurance that happens to all of us from time to time in the great outdoors. This is Colorado. What are you going to do? :)

    The First Railroad Bridge

    At some point, I knew I would cross a bridge. For about three miles, I walked on the east side of the river with no way to cross ... unless I chose to swim.

    Finally I come upon the first of many bridges over the river. Adjacent are two photos from afar. Notice the different shades of the respective photos. Because it is so terribly cloudy and gray outside, capturing quality photography is difficult. I often use the landscape feature with "cloudy" for lighting as I did in the right photo, but sometimes, I use the camera's simple automatic feature (left). If I think a scene is noteworthy, I snap multiple photos with both features to assure having the best possible image.

    Railroad Tracks Railroad Tracks
    My light tripod is being carried on my shoulder with a strap. At this point, I pull it out of my bag.

    A self-portrait of me in front of the bridge. :)

    Standing on the bridge, the view of the Arkansas River to the south. There is no guard rail on the edge of the tracks. Arkansas River in Colorado
    I walk about 0.2 miles away from the bridge when the dreary and windy weather becomes nasty. Snow flurries are coming down like crazy again. Visibility becomes poor. The winds pick up and blast against my bare cheeks.

    I pull out the camera and snap photos to document the snowfall. Huddling up my arms is the only way to protect the camera from becoming wet as I review my photos. Once again the pictures do not show the ferociousness of the snowfall, but I laugh and go with the flow.

    North Chaffee County Railroad
    Photo Above: Looking back at my route toward the bridge as snowfall came down in earnestness with strong winds.

    Snowy Railroad Tracks Another vexing section of soft and deep snow.

    But look! Do you see anything notable? Those are foot prints! My hearts warms at the thought that someone else once walked on these tracks ... and in the snow too! Immediately I feel a connection with this unknown person. :)

    Chaffee County Railroad Tracks

    Arkansas River

    Onward I continue. The railroad tracks and Highway 24 come close to each other with a whitewater rafting company across the street.

    Top Photo: Two cars on the road and a third on the shoulder.

    Second Photo: Notice the three modes of transporation: The Arkansas River (rafting, kayaking, other forms of boating); The railroad tracks (for trains) and Highway 24 (for cars and trucks).

    Also, three different shades and textures of mountains and hills surround the landscape. Attractive picture composition, if you ask me. :)

    Colorado Railroad Tracks The tracks split. I didn't know which track to take! Ha ha.

    The tracks run close to the river and highway (elevated above) as all three follow the contour of the canyon.

    Arkansas River
    Pretty picture of the river, rapids and mountain.
    A photo of the Arkansas River. In this area, a tributary creek named Pine Creek meets the river. This is a rafting / kayaking area that is considered Class V, one of the hardest levels for navigation by boat. It is rated as "expert" level, one notch above "advanced."

    Commerical boaters may only run this section when the water levels are low enough, and I believe it is 1500 cubic feet per second. Even then, the whitewater rafting company I worked for last year had rafting guests sign a affidavit where they declare that they have had previous experience in advanced rafting waters. Sadly, last year, at least one private boating expedition had a fatality near here.

    Looking at my fold-out map, a marking shows what appears to be a town or station called "Princeton" across the highway.

    In the vicinity, I notice this silver strucutre that faintly reads Princeton. (Click it to view it at a larger size to see it better.) Perhaps Princeton is the name of this particular area of railroad tracks, or perhaps a small town or nearby mining area was named Princeton. If I learn more, I will update this page.

    Numbers River Access
    Arrival At Numbers Access Point

    I am tired. I have walked much of the way with wind blowing directly at my face. My right calf is somewhat bothering me. And it has been hours since I began my walk. Then finally, after walking six miles from the border, I arrive at my destination: The Numbers River Access Point along the Arkansas River!

    My car is parked a short distance on the dirt road leading to this main parking lot.

    Numbers Access Area During the late spring and summer months, this area is busy with whitewater rafters and other boaters who access the Arkansas River. Today however, on this cold and windy April 1, I am the only person here.
    Numbers River Access All along I thought I would walk down to the river bank to capture photos of the river for one final commemoration of today's adventure. However, large amounts of soft snow cover the stairway, and I do not want to endure any more post holing. It's not worth it!

    Next Day #2

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