maggiecampsiteLast week I wrote about our two week RV boondocking stay on Mineral Creek, three miles west of Silverton, Colorado. After getting run out of there by all the fifth wheelers showing up for the 4th of July weekend, we decamped to another spot about five miles north of town on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and got through the holiday in fine style. It was a lot livelier than Mineral Creek, so we stayed entertained our entire two-week stay.

Map of the Animas Valley north of SilvertonFirst a little geography, and then I’ll tell you about the entertainment. The Animas River flows down the valley toward Silverton, and Maggie Gulch is an old mining area off the road that goes north from Silverton, becomes a pretty hairy jeep trail, and eventually rejoins US 550 in Ouray, Colorado.  The first few miles of this are navigable by two wheel drive vehicles, so there we were, at 9800 feet up in the San Juan Mountains. This map shows the area- the yellow line is the continental divide. The miners had actually hauled a steam engine and stamp mill up to the Esmerelda Mine at 13,000 feet, and there it sits today. Gold fever is a powerful motivator.  All around us on the ground were reminders of the late 1800s mining operations – broken porcelain tableware, milk glass and cobalt glass fragments, and all kinds of strange and primitive machinery.

The night visitors. Very inconsiderate - didn't wash their paws or anything.

The night visitors. Very inconsiderate – didn’t wash their paws or anything.

The first entertainment was the bears.  As we set up we were cautioned by nearby campers about the bears. They said there was a smaller one, around 300-400 pounds, and then there was the BIG bear. We saw the smaller one one afternoon, and were visited at night by one or the other of the bears. We slept through it, but Fiona was a little wide-eyed the next morning.  Sure enough, there were paw prints all over the cargo carrier, and paw prints on the side of the Roadtrek where they peeked in the windows. It make me grateful that Roadtrek does such a good job of building their units – Class Bs are the hardest of the hard-side campers, and there’s not much for a bear to get their claws into.

Dusky Grouse - this is mom.

Dusky Grouse – this is mom.

Next were the dusky grouse, which are HUGE, chicken-sized game birds who come up here in the summer for some reason. Fiona again got motivated to get herself a chicken, but her resolve weakened as she approached and saw that the intended dinner was roughly her size.  Her step faltered, and she looked back to me, for suggestions, I suppose.

Baby grouse, if you look hard enough.

Baby grouse, if you look hard enough.

After Fiona flushed the adult, she started poking around near a rock, and there was a perfectly camouflaged baby grouse chick, frozen in place. That’s why the adult was hanging around – she could fly, but the chicks couldn’t yet.  There were about eight or ten of them. Fiona was put on Roadtrek restriction, happy grouse family was reunited, and they went off into the brush,  pecking away.

The mining boss' house in Animas Forks.

The mining boss’ house in Animas Forks. Nice bay window.

A few days later, Harry Bawcom, a fellow Roadtrekker who follows my misadventures on the yahoo group, saw that I was in the area, and took me on a jeep ride up the valley to Animas Forks, an old mining town at 11,200 feet, that was pretty much evacuated every winter back when they were mining up here. Some of the old buildings are still standing, and the local preservation folks are doing a good job in this rough climate.

Engineer Pass looking northwest.

Engineer Pass looking northwest.

Harry then took me further up the jeep trail all the way to Engineer Pass at 12,800 feet. It’s fourteeners as far as the eye can see in every direction from up there. Thanks for the memorable ride, Harry. It makes you realize what you miss staying on the paved roads.  At that altitude, there’s still snow all over the place in mid-July. The plants are tundra plants – no grasses, because the ground’s frozen solid half of the year.

We called this one the fire fairy flower.

We called this one the fire fairy flower.

For me, the most amazing thing about our stay there were the wildflowers around our campsite, which were just coming out in early July at that altitude. They are utterly alien to any I am used to – we just started making up names for them. A few like irises were familiar, but most of them were totally new to us. A stroll through the woods was magical discovery at every step. Summer is brief but vigorous up near 10,000 feet, and we really got to see all the flora and fauna close up.