Wilderness Expeditions

The American Backpacker

My Wilderness Adventure into the Weminuche Wilderness (Colorado)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

August 2019

The Weminuche Wilderness is in the San Juan National Forest located in southern Colorado. I along with a friend, Christian, spent 4 days and 3 nights in this wilderness area.  Our adventure began from Orlando, and we flew into Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We drove 5 hours North into Durango, Colorado and spent the night there before heading out the next morning.  We parked at the Molas Pass Trailhead which is south of Silverton Colorado.  Thunderstorms and rain moved in as we began our trek to the Colorado Trail.  Once we made it to the Colorado Trail, also known as the Elk Creek Trail, we set up our first basecamp at the Elk Creek Trailhead.  

Top Left: Christian and I, Top Right: Our 1st Basecamp, Bottom: Durango Silverton Tracks near our 1st Basecamp

This trailhead also allows backpackers the opportunity to be dropped off and picked up by the Durango Silverton Steam Locomotive Train.  This old Steam Locomotive was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879.  The Durango Silverton is a Narrow Gauge Railroad that provided transportation for both passengers and freight between Durango and Silverton.  It still operates today for those wanting to see the scenic beauties of the San Juan Mountains.  Incorporating this train ride into your adventure adds an exciting dynamic and overall experience to your adventure.

Silverton Durango Train

Durango Silverton Steam Locomotive at the Elk Creek Trailhead

While we were at this basecamp, we devised a plan to get on this train and take it to Silverton on our return trip.  Once at Silverton, we would hitchhike back to the Molas Trailhead where we parked. The night was quiet with some rain that lingered into the early evening hours.  On day 2 we continued heading east on the Colorado Trail toward the Continental Divide.  The weather was sunny with blue skies.  

The trail was very strenuous as we worked are way up to higher elevations.  We encountered several Debris Field caused by an avalanche during the winter months which were challenging but navigatable.  As we worked are way along the Colorado Trail we met other friendly hikers that gave us information on what was ahead.  We set up our second basecamp in an open meadow just past some Beaver Ponds off the Colorado Trail.  

Above 2 Pictures: Some Debris Fields We Encountered

Hikers and Backpackers we met on the Colorado Trail

We spent 2 nights at this basecamp which allowed us to see some great sunsets and sunrises.  That evening allowed me to explore the area next to a creek that flowed near our basecamp.  That evening brought some awildlife into our basecamp that I caught on my Flir Thermal Imager.  I observed them grazing about 25 to 50 yards from our tents.  These animals were either a Deer, or and Elk based on what I was seeing.  Two of the animals moved out while on large one stayed by the creek.  I am not sure what this animal was, and it could have been a bear due to its size and shape.  

Weminuche Wilderness

Flir Image at our 2nd Basecamp. Our tents in the background with a large rock structure and 2 animals near our tents.

Weminuche Wilderness

Flir Image at our Basecamp with some animals close to our tent by a Creek

On day 3 we headed to the Continental Divide.  As we were about 1 mile from the Divide a thunderstorm moved in.  We found a place to hunker down as we waited for the storm to pass.  We made it to the switchbacks ascending  to the almost 13,000 foot elevation with clouds and rain.  The 25 plus swithcbacks made the ascent much easier.  The temperatures dropped dramatically, and visibility was very poor.  I could not see much because of the weather, but it felt great to be on the Continental Divide. We stayed for a while and then worked our way back to our basecamp and had a nice and well deserved dinner.

The American Backpacker

On Day 4 we started our trek back to the Elk Creek Trailhead hoping to catch the train to Silverton. We were not sure if we would be able to but once at the trail head we spoke to a railway worker, aka Nacho, who operated a safety car before the train.  He explained many things about the railway and its operations.  He was very knowledgeable, and I learned allot about old steam locomotives.  The train pulled in and we were able to board it.  The fee to Silverton from his trailhead was $35.00 dollars a person, cash.  We payed our fair and enjoyed the scenic ride to Silverton.  

Once at Silverton we ate at the famous Brown Bear Café.  The meal was excellent, and we enjoyed the historic aspects of Silverton after our meal.  We were able to find a ride back to the Molas Trailhead and the rains moved in as we traveled in the back of a pick-up to our vehicle.  Once at our vehicle we began our long drive back to Albuquerque, New Mexico for our flight back in 2 days back to Orlando Florida.

Brown Bear Cafe (Silverton CO)

CONCLUSION

This adventure was my second trip to Colorado.  Colorado offers great opportunities for all types of outdoor adventures.  Navigating the Colorado trail from the Elk Creek Trailhead to the Continental Divide is a very strenuous adventure especially with the several Debris fields that you will encounter.  All of these debris’ fields have paths marked though them that have been worked on by the forestry services making it easier to navigate but challenging.  I wish I had better weather at the Divide, but I was still able to see and experience many great things on this adventure.  

Silverton Durango Train

How To Hitchhike out of a Wilderness Area

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently had an adventure in the Weminuchi Wilderness located in Southern Colorado. I along with friend spent 4 days in this amazing wilderness traveling the Colorado Trail to the Continental Divide. On our way back we decided to see if we could get a ride on an old locomotive train to Silverton Colorado. The train travels through and makes stops at the Elk Creek Trailhead. We got to this trailhead early and waited for the train. The below video is the result of our endeavor.

Backpacking the Blue Range Primitive

My Adventure into the Blue Range Primitive

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

My adventure into the Blue Range Primitive (Blue), in Arizona was epic, (April 27 – May 1).   I spent five days and four nights in this remote and rugged wilderness area. The Blue Range Primitive is one of the last designated areas to be called a Primitive in this country.  A Primitive is in its essence a Wilderness area.  The Blue was designated a Primitive in 1938.  The wilderness act of 1964 changed the terminology from Primitive to Wilderness. This area has been on my list of wilderness areas That I wanted to explore.

I spent two nights in Alpine, Arizona before my trip into the Blue by acclimating myself to the high elevations of this wilderness area.  I traveled on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US-191) to get into Alpine. This highway was named after the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who explored this area in 1540. This long stretch of road brings many to this area for its very scenic views especially around the Mogollon Rim. The elevations in this area range between 8000 to almost 10000 feet above sea level. 

I stayed in a motel called the Sportsman’s Lodge, which is approximately about 22 miles from the trailhead I started from. Below are some pictures of the Sportsman’s Lodge, (owner Frank), the Bear Wallow Cafe where I had a nice dinner, and the sign for US-191. The Apache National Forest Ranger Station is also located in Alpine, Arizona.

(Above) Pictures from my stay in Alpine Arizona

I began my adventure from the Hannagan Meadow trailhead located off off 191. There was some residual snow at the trailhead with some downed trees that I had to move.  Once at the trailhead I signed the roster at the information kiosk. The kiosk had some good information on the 2 trails available for you to travel from this trailhead, (Steeple trail and the Foote Creek trail).  I took the Steeple Trail, (#73), south and I worked my way to trail #65, heading east  This trail is a primitive trail that paralleled Grant Creek. 

As I worked my way along this trail, I found myself going over downed trees and doing a lot of creek crossings. I was glad that I had my water shoes on this trip.  The temperatures were in the lower 70’s which was very pleasant. (Below are pictures of the Hannagan Trailhead, Kiosk, and the trail sign for the Foote Creek and Steeple trail.

(Above) Hannagan Meadow Trailhead Photos

 At the 6 mile point into my journey, I began seeing the bones of large elk and deer.  These animals are a food source for the Mexican Gray Wolthat inhabitthis area.  The Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as the El Lobo, are an endangered species. These wolves roamed the Southwest portion of the United States before European settlers began populating this region. There were thousands of these wolves that were hunted and poisoned to almost near extinction by the 1970’s. 

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.  By this time, there were only seven of these Gray Wolves left. All of which were in Mexico and none in the United States. A wolf recovery program was developed and the Mexican Gray Wolf was re-introduced into Arizona and New Mexico in the mid-1990s. There are approximately 100 of these Wolves roaming these areas today. (Below are pictures of some of the bones I saw on my adventure).

(Above) Various Bones I came across during my Adventure

On my first nightI set up my basecamp off Grant Creek a mile from Moonshine Park. It was a long day of slow travel as I navigated this primitive trail.  Once at my basecamp, I began a fire and dried out my boots and socks. I had a nice meal by the fire while relaxing and reflecting on my days journey to this point.  That evening was relatively quiet and I heard some wild turkeys not far from my camp. I enjoyed the cooler temperatures which got down into the 40s that evening. Around midnight I experienced some severe leg cramps in my hamstrings. These leg cramps were from my strenuous exercise getting to this basecamp. 

I had been drinking plenty of water, but I wasn’t replenishing the salts and minerals that I was sweating out. I corrected the situation by implementing the use of electrolyte replenishment packets I had with me.  I slept outside under the stars without a tent enjoying the night’s view and cool temperatures. I stayed warm in my sleeping bag, (Sierra Design Mobile Mummy) with my Klymit insulated air mat. (Below are pictures of my first basecamp, my fire, and a partially built cabin nearby).

(Above) Pictures from my different Basecamps

On Day 2, I awoke and started a fire.   I had a warm breakfast as checked my top map and planned my next route.  I broke camp and I traveled to Moonshine Park which was an open flat scenic area that in many ways looked like a large park you would see in the city.  There was some green grass with many trees surrounded by hills.  I observed a lot of bones from elk and other animals in this area. This area was probably the hunting grounds for the Mexican Gray Wolf.

I contemplated on setting up a basecamp here but water was scarce. There was a mud hole here which looked like a watering hole for the local wildlife.  The water was not suitable for consumption due to the wildlife contaminants.  If you needed water you would have to travel a distance back to Grant Creek.  I spent some time in Moonshine Park walking the area taking both videos and pictures as I enjoyed the view.  (Below are pictures of Moonshine Park with that muddy watering hole).

(Above) Pictures from Moonshine Park

I set up my 2nd basecamp near Grant Creek.  I started a fire and settled in for a cool evening.  As I was relaxing by my fire,I did a perimeter check around my Basecamp sometime after 2000 hours, using my Petzl headlamp.  As I was scanning the area, I came across a pair of orange and green eyes less than 50 yards from my basecamp. these eyes belonged to a Mexican Gray Wolf that was watching me.  It was exciting to see this endangered species roaming the wild next to my camp.

As it stood there watching me, I took a picture of it. The picture came out grainy but you can make out the features of this endangered animal.  I estimated it’s size to be between 90 to 100 pounds. After five minutes, the wolf continued its track along a trail looking for food. After it left, I took out my floor Flir TK Scout (thermal imager) and I did a scan of my area wondering if there were other wolves around me. I saw none.  These wolves hunt in packs at night, and I am sure there were others around. This was a great experience for me and one that I will remember.  (Below are 2 pictures of the wolf and my second basecamp).

I went to sleep not long after my encounter enjoying the cool nights.  I heard howling from these wolves until the early morning hours. I awoke the next morning to a red overcast sky.  I checked the weather forecast on my Garmin Inreach Explorer Plus and it stated that rain was moving in. I broke camp and began heading west along Grant Creek.  I made it to my third base camp, day 3,  in an open area which looked like a prairie.   I spent my last two nights on my five day adventure in this area.  (Below are pictures of my 3rd Basecamp with a creek near by).

Not long after I set up my basecamp rain moved in quickly. The timing was perfect, as I just completed setting up my tent when the rain moved in. The temperatures quickly dropped into the 50s. It rained for about an hour as I stayed dry in my tent.  After it stopped raining, I started a small fire and had dinner.  There was a creek close by and I was able to get water easily and quickly.   (Below are pictures of me preparing dinner and a night picture of me getting water by my basecamp).

 I went to bed early that evening, and I awoke about midnight too loud thunder and lightning.  The temperatures were in the freezing range and the rain turned into hail as it was hitting my tent. The rain subsided sometime after 0130 hours and the temperatures dipped into the upper 20’s by 0500 hours.  I awoke around 0630 hours and started a fire with a quarter moon above. I had breakfast and I began exploring the area.  I conducted some camp maintenance and repairs on some damaged gear. (Below are pictures of the elevation, temperature, hail, and frost on my tent).

 That afternoon was sunny with the temperatures in the upper 60’s.  I was able to sit under the blue skies and reflect on my adventure up to this point.  I took many pictures and videos of the area.  There were no bones around my basecamp that I could see, but I did see the tracks of many different animals elk, deer and wolf. I saw nbear tracks on my adventure.  I had a sense during the day that something was watching me but I saw nothing. 

I did have a tree fall not to far from my camp but many of the trees in that area had been damaged by fire so it was not that unusual.  I made sure that I set all of my 3 basecamp’s up during my adventure utilizing the acronym that I came up with (W. E. S. S.), (Water, Elevation, Security, and Safety). I finished day four with a warm basecamp fire and meal. (Below are pictures of me at my basecamp and charging up my gear via solar panel).

CONCLUSION

If you are looking for an adventure where few travel than I highly recommend you planning an adventure into the Blue. There are many good trailheads you can start from with plenty of loop hikes to choose from.  Make sure that you carry a GPS, Compass, and a good Topographical map.

Much of the trails in this area were damaged by the Wallow fires and you will have to do some bushwhacking to navigate around the downed trees. It is a remote and rugged area and you will definitely have an adventure to talk about for many years to come. You may even encounter a Mexican Gray Wolf which will definitely make the experience more memorable.

Video on My Blue Range Primitive Adventure
Backpacking in the Blue range Primitive

My Encounter with a Mexican Gray Wolf

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently returned from my adventure into the Blue Range Primitive.  The Blue Range did not disappoint me.  It was rugged and remote.  I saw no one out there, and I did allot of bushwhacking in this beautiful Alpine wilderness located in the eastern part of Arizona bordering New Mexico.  The area was very scenic, and I am working on doing a separate article documenting my entire adventure.  This article is about a specific encounter I had in this wilderness area with a Mexican Gray Wolf.  My contact with this wolf happened at my basecamp on the second night of my adventure. 

I had been following Grant’s Creek navigating east toward Moonshine Park.   As I was navigating, I found an area off the creek to set up my basecamp.  Not long after getting my basecamp set up I started a fire to warm myself for the cold evening that was slowly rolling in.  I had a nice fire going and I ate my meal while I reflected on my day’s activity.  I started scanning the perimeter of my basecamp with my headlamp when I hit on two eyes across the creek.  The colors of the eyes were orange and green and they changed intermittently as I moved my headlamp. 

I found this unusual and I increased the intensity of my light. As I did this, the object moved and I saw that is was a Mexican Gray Wolf on a game trail watching me.  It stopped as I moved my light, and It stayed in place curiously focused on me.  The area around me had many bones from elk that were probably taken down by these Mexican Gray Wolves. My research told me that elk in the Blue Range are a food source for these wolves.  I was definitely in their hunting area.

Bones I found Throughout my Adventure

Elk Bone

As I watched the wolf, I wondered if there were other wolves nearby.  This wolf was out looking for food and they usually hunt in packs. Hunting in packs allow them to take down the large elk in this area. I began looking around the perimeter of my basecamp looking for others wolves that may have infiltrated or surrounded my camp.  I knew through my research of these wolves that they are a curious breed that could be scared off by humans if threatened.  My fire was going strong and I continued to watch my friend.  I had my Flir thermal imager with me and it was not readily available for me to get it. My concern was the wolf and what its next move would be. It was less than 50 yards from my location and I estimated its size to be approximately 90 pounds. 

Pictures of the Mexican Gray Wolf I saw

After a few minutes, the wolf began moving along the creek paralleling it heading east toward Moonshine Park.  I was able to get a picture of it using my cell phone with my headlamp shining on it.  The picture came out grainy, but you are able to see in the center of the picture what the wolf looks like, (tail and head).  After it was out of my sight I grabbed my thermal imager and scanned the area for other wolves with negative results.  I went to sleep not long after my encounter hearing the sound of howling wolves. The experience to see this endangered species on my wilderness adventure was amazing. 

Below is my video of my thoughts right after the encounter and a video taken the next morning.  In the morning video, I show you where I saw the wolf the night before.  

My video discussing my encounter with a Mexican Gray Wolf

Ocala National Forest

Backpacking The Alexander Springs Wilderness

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

The Alexander Springs Wilderness is located in the Ocala National Forest (ONF). The Alexander Springs is one of 4 wilderness areas in Ocala. I recently returned from an overnight adventure into this rugged wilderness area. I began from a portion of the Florida trail by the Alexander Springs Recreation area. This portion of the Florida Trail allows you to park your vehicle in a gated area overnight for a small fee, ($6 dollars a night). This part of the trail is one of the oldest sections of the Florida Trail. I headed South from the Alexander Springs Recreation area a few miles out and then I did some bushwhacking off the Florida Trail into the heart of the wilderness.

In the below video, I discuss how I bushwhack with other important land navigational skills you should know when backpacking any wilderness area. The weather was good with the day time temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s and the evening temps in the mid 50’s. The best time to take on the challenges of this wilderness area is during the winter months, (Nov-March). February and March are ideal since general hunting season runs between October through January.

The video below is my documented travels on this adventure.

Alexander Springs Wilderness located in the Ocala National Forest (Florida)

Ocala National Forest

My Overnight Ocala Wilderness Adventure (June 2018)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently returned from another overnight adventure into the Juniper Prairie Wilderness located in the Ocala National Forest (ONF).  The Ocala Wilderness offers backpackers a different experience from other Wilderness Areas in North America.  The Juniper Prairie Wilderness is one of 4 Wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest.  The terrain in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness is flat with a white sandy beach soil.  The temperatures during my trip exceeded 100 degrees during the afternoon and it dropped into the upper 70’s in the evening which was a welcome relief.

If you decide to do some Wilderness Backpacking in Ocala during the Summer be prepared for a-lot of heat and humidity.  Make sure you keep yourself hydrated and use electrolyte packets to replenish those lost minerals and salts that your body will lose in the heat and humidity.  The Juniper Prairie Wilderness has seen an increase in bear activity. Make sure you carry bear spray and have it readily available.

Make sure that you have insect repellant with you and apply it to your clothing and skin before heading out (Permethrin and Picaridin).  The summer months bring out many biting insects that can transfer diseases such as Lyme Disease and the Zika Virus.  The best time to backpack the ONF is during the winter months.  The heat and humidity in the summer can be very tough on backpackers if they are not used to the heat.  In the winter months be prepared for very cold evenings getting into the 20’s.  During winter months hypothermia is a possibility and you need to have the proper clothing and gear with you.

Backpacking the ONF is a challenge with many scenic beauties such as the open prairie areas in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.  The evenings are mystic especially if you go during a full moon cycle.

Ocala National Forest (Juniper Prairie Wilderness)
JUNIPER PRAIRIE WILDERNESS AREA MAP

Ocala National Forest (Juniper Prairie Wilderness

My Overnight Adventure into the Juniper Prairie Wilderness (Jan 2018)

The American Backpacker

My overnight trip into the Juniper Prairie Wilderness located in the Ocala National Forest.  This adventure was in January 2018 and the evenings had temps in the low 40’s.  The Juniper Prairie Wilderness encompasses one of four wilderness areas in Ocala.

The Juniper Prairie Wilderness is one of the more scenic wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest.  I enjoy backpacking this area and even though there are no mountains in Ocala the Juniper Prairie Wilderness has open areas where you can see the Sand Pine Scrub ecosystem Ocala is known for.

The winters can get very cold so make sure you bring the necessary clothing and gear.  Freezing temperatures can occur and when you mix that with rain Florida is noted for it can lead to Hypothermia.  The Summers are very hot and humid.  The best time to backpack the Ocala National Forest is during the winter months, (October thru February).