It's beginning to feel like this summer will never cool off! Fortunately, all you need to do is drive for about an hour southwest of Grand Junction and you'll find yourself at Corral Forks Trail on the Uncompahgre Plateau. This is a great place to cool down and enjoy the things that make western Colorado so great.
I started pedaling up the skinny singletrack of Little Creek Trail #655 that bisects a beautiful high alpine meadow. As I rode, I couldn't help but wonder how many eyes were watching me. The tall grass swayed in the breeze, and the aspens leaves shimmered in the afternoon sun. As I rounded a bend, the ground seemed to explode in front of me!
Blue grouse are making a comeback it seems. The fool birds landed in a tree next to the trail (one promptly fell out) and I continued on my way. A couple more miles in and I jumped a mule deer. She gave me a quick stare down, and then bounced into the dark timber. As I came nearer to the creek, and the cool grass that grows along the bank I could see elk beds from the night before. There were 20 at least. Maybe I'd see them today.
Passing the intersection where Corral Forks Trail #652 comes down Corral Gulch, I veered to the left and stayed on Little Creek Trail. Not a 100 yards further, the smell of elk was overwhelming. Then the mewing of the elk cows and calves. The wind was in my face, so I kept riding and as I crested a small rise, I caught a glimpse of four of them amongst the aspens. At this point, I was at the section of Little Creek that most (including myself) are relegated to hike-a-bike. Pushing up the steep ravine, I slowed down and took in the beauty of the Colorado summer.
A short water break after the hike and I climbed aboard my Stumpjumper 29er and completed Little Creek Trail to its junction with Cabin Trail #606. Turning right onto Cabin Trail, I picked up the pace on the Jeep road. In a large meadow, I make a right turn onto Rim Trail #416. No aspens up here, instead it's Ponderosa pine, and big ones at that! As I made my way down Cabin Trail toward Corral Forks, a strange noise? I look up and immediately swerve to avoid hitting a flock of turkeys. Visions of Thanksgiving dinner briefly danced through my head.
I turned right onto Basin Trail #603 for about a quarter mile until the Corral Forks Trail #652 singletrack came into view on the right. This is the reward for the hike on Little Creek. It's all downhill from here back to the truck! I disappeared into the dark timber and imagined myself as a ghost, sliding between the branches and ferns. It's easy to get into your own little world when mountain bike and body are working as one. The rush of air past my ears, the trickling creek, tires ripping in the dirt, the quaking aspens, it's almost an overwhelming rush.
Halfway down I took another break for some water. I sat on a log that had been freshly turned by a bear searching for grubs and ants. Bear tracks surrounded the area. A little more alert, I continued the descent. The wind was blowing up canyon and in my face. I came around a blind corner and right into chaos of butts and dust. A herd of elk had been bedded here and sounded like a hurricane or tornado breaking branches as they made their escape. When my nerves calmed down enough, I got back on and finished the ride.
This is why we live in western Colorado.