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Day 4: Hike Through Browns Canyon in Chaffee County, CO

10 miles - Nathrop, CO; Browns Canyon; Hike Along Arkansas River To Stone Bridge River Access Point - April 4, 2010

Bobby Swanson Special thanks to my friend and neighbor Bobby Swanson, who for the third time shuttled me before my hike. We drove in seperate cars from Buena Vista to Stone Bridge River Access point on the Arkansas River (approximately six miles north of Salida, CO). Then Bobby drove me to Nathrop, my starting point.

This time, I insisted Bobby stand by his truck so I could capture a picture of him. :)

Nathrop, CO Trailer Park

Hike Begins - Nathrop, Colorado

The weather forecast calls for the high temperature to reach 50 by the afternoon, but on this Easter morning, it is another windy and chilly morning. The sun shines in the east, but thick clouds cover much of the sky. I walk a short distance and snow flurries are coming down, accompanied by swift gusts of wind. The snow doesn't stick to me or the ground, and it doesn't last for long.

I capture two photos of Nathrop, one showing the thick gray clouds over the mountains, and another that includes Sugarloaf Mountain (left), Ruby Mountain (right center) and Bald Mountain (back right) behind a trailer and RV park.

Railroad Tracks

My pace is rapid. My hands are carrying a large container of coffee - no easy task with my thick bulky gloves on - and the coffee is hot and sweet.

By now, this journey has become my "new normal." I can't imagine doing anything else but walking on these tracks.

Clouds cover Mt. Antero, but the blue sky goes to battle with some of the clouds. Maybe, just maybe, conditions will clear enough to photograph the mountain scenery.
I hike approximately 1.5 to two miles and arrive at the mouth of Browns Canyon. This is the the main attraction for today.
Browns Canyon

Browns Canyon, Colorado

The tracks cross the Arkansas River and enter Browns Canyon. For the next seven miles, the tracks travel on the east side of river. This means if I need to "return to civilization" during this stretch, I have two options: Walk in or out of Browns Canyon, or swim across the Arkansas River to the west side. Little to no development exists east of the river.

Browns Canyon is very popular for whitewater rafting. If you are rafting, kayaking or boating through Browns Canyon, the excitement begins here with mainly Class III rapids. I rafted Browns Canyon once last year, and I look forward to hiking the entire canyon by foot this time.

Photo Gallery - Browns Canyon
Browns Canyon, CO Browns Canyon, Colorado Browns Canyon, CO
Browns Canyon, CO Browns Canyon Arkansas River Browns Canyon Rafting River

Whitewater Rafting Country - Arkansas River In Browns Canyon, Colorado
Browns Canyon, Colorado
This might be my best photo inside the canyon. Scenic canyons are common entities in the Mountain West. The Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River and the many slot canyons of Utah come to mind. Browns Canyon can't compete with those marvels, but it is still precious and valuable.

The Arkansas River flows through like an energetic young child before its long journey to the Mississippi River. Unique rock out-croppings line the canyon. The opportunities to hike, fish and explore are vast. This is a special place in Chaffee County.

Geese The hike becomes long, as it always seems to happen near mile seven. I appreciate the wonderful scenery, but my feet are sore and my legs are tired. My ankles have been absorbing the unpredictable bumps of the railroad ties and rocks, and they are agitated. The best analogy I can think of is the stress of shock absorbers of a 4-wheel drive vehicle that is constantly combating a primitive rugged road.

Geese waddle on the tracks. They don't seem alarmed at my presence ... yet. I meander in their direction as gently as possible. I am only 25 yards away and snapping photos like crazy.

Then the inevitable happens. They squak. This is their danger call that an intruder is approaching. The geese flap their wings and fly across the river to safety.

Browns Canyon

Hecla Junction, CO

Hecla Junction, CO

Hecla Junction

River Rafting Access Point

I have had this entire canyon to myself. If it were summer, it would surely be busy with recreationists on the river, but not in early April.

Suddenly I am surprised. Two men are fishing along the river's edge! I have grown so accustomed to solitude that being in the presence of humans feels awkward. To them, I'm sure it is no big deal to notice me and in fact, they don't wave, shout "hello" or give eye contact.

Various people are all on the other side. Some are fishing. Some are sitting by RV's. Others are sitting in the sun and picnicing.

For those who raft Browns Canyon half day, boats leave the river at this place named Hecla Junction. Full day rafting trips continue through the southern end of the canyon and finish at Stone Bridge, which is also my destination.

Reaching Hecla Junction gives me hope that I coming closer to the end.

Hecla Junction, CO Looking back at Hecla Junction, a nice view of Mt. Princeton.
Browns Canyon, CO Onward I hike in Browns Canyon.

A peculiar road sign reading "Dip" is hoisted among rocks.

Fly Fisherman A fly fisherman in waders stands in the river and adjusts his fly rod. He spends most of the time intently working on something. The loudness of the rapids blot any noise I might be making, and he does not notice me.
The canyon twists and turns. My topographical map shows there is only one more major bend to the left, followed by a bend to the right, and then the canyon ends. This here, is the left bend.

The sun comes out. The temperature is surely in the 50's. The warmth feels good, and I remove my heavier second layer jacket. However the wind blows hard minutes later, as it does intermittently all day, and the cold wind chill wallops my frame. My jacket comes back on.

I am also tempted to remove my wool hat, which no longer seems necessary to wear. However, the sweat on my forehead and hair clashes with the cold wind. I am awkwardly bundled up despite the sunshine.

I check my cell phone to see if I have reception. Maybe it is because of my exhaustion, but I lazily drop my phone.

The phone thuds loudly on a wooden plank. I shutter that I may have just broken my phone! I anxiously check its settings and learn everything works. All is fine.

My friend Derek texted me with an inquiry about my trip. My reply text read: "I'm at the very end of browns canyon. 9 miles, 1 more to go. 4th day of walking. 38 total miles. yes i'm tired ha ha."

Steve Garufi

Near the end of the hike, my legs are so worn that it hurts to stop. It is more comfortable to keep my legs moving. But I know I need to capture a photo of myself inside this canyon.

As I set the tripod on the tracks, it occurs to me that I should probably capture a photo of the tripod itself. This helpful tool, purchased for only $35 at Best Buy in Colorado Springs, has been my unsung hero in helping take self-portraits. :)

Colorado Scenery The canyon experience ends. The Arkansas River flows back into the greater valley of Chaffee County.

The beautiful view of Mt. Shavano (alt. 14,229') and Mt. Antero (alt. 14,269') stand tall and proud to the west. Finally, there are enough blue skies to capture many of our scenic mountains.

Mt. Ouray, CO My car is parked in the Stone Bridge River Access lot across the river. The only way I can get there is to walk on the tracks and exit on Highway 291. Private property, mainly ranches with horses and livestock, are on each side of the tracks.

Out yonder, Mt. Ouray (alt. 13,971') displays its beautiful snow-capped peak.

One final look back at the tracks I had just hiked on. The crevasse of Browns Canyon is right of center.
Colorado State Highway 291

Mt. Princeton, CO

Arkansas River, CO

Highway 291 - North of Salida, Colorado

I say farewell to the tracks when they come close and run parallel to Colorado State Highway 291.

I walk on the highway shoulder and continually snap photos of the mountains. Mt. Princeton stood prominently to the left (top and middle photos).

I cross the highway bridge over the Arkansas River and have a short distance to the Stone Bridge parking lot.

I really want to take off these sneakers, and fortunately I was wise to leave sandals in my car. Joyfully I go barefoot momentarily in my car. My dirty socks and sneakers are tossed in the foot space of the passenger seat, as if I would never have anything to do with them again.

The sneakers have certainly solved my blister troubles, but my ankles have had it. I grab and squeeze the minimal flesh of my bony ankles, and it helps in the short-term. The key right now is to stay off my feet. My body longs for a hot shower and to lay on my couch; this will surely happen once I return home to Buena Vista in an hour!

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