A hike in the South San Juan Wilderness

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Pagosa pioneer Fil Byrne shows off the effectiveness of his new 30.30 to a couple of young admirers back about 1900. Byrne was our first superintendent of county schools. The bear formerly lived in the Lower Blanco Basin. The 30.30 Winchester was first marketed in 1895.

This week we return to our description of events that took place in the southeast corner of Archuleta County that I am loosely referring to as Banded Peaks Country.
A few years back while I was living in Dulce, things got restless around the house and so I decided to take a hike, but where? In the deeper recesses of my cranial cavity, I heard Navajo Peaks, Price Lakes and the Little Navajo River calling. The call soon amounted to an echo reverberating around and around and around. I’d rather not discuss the geographic condition that allows sounds to reverberate around in my cranial cavity. Think of Carlsbad Caverns and draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, I sent the now-empty coffee cup to the sink, strapped my 6-inch Buck knife with No. 119 etched on its worn leather sheath to my left hip, my .357 magnum pistol with its worn leather holster on my right hip, hung a pair of 8×21 binoculars around my neck, stuffed several chaws of beef jerky into a vest pocket, slipped into my hiking boots and set out for a relaxing stroll in the high country.
Chipmunks (golden mantled ground squirrels) frequently challenged my old GMC pickup for the right of way as we (we = plural meaning me and my old pickup, definitely a relationship) thumped up the mountain on the narrow, rock-infested dirt road. I slowed down at the first beaver pond, hoping to see trout splashing around trying to grab a bug or two. My fly rod lived in the back of my old pickup, armed and ready with a gray hackle yellow fly on a No. 14 hook.
“Nope. No fishing today,” I told myself. “Today I’m going for a walk.”
The Navajo Peaks blotted out the eastern skyline as I set the hand brake while my old GMC pickup nestled into the parking lot at the entrance to the South San Juan Wilderness area. From there, the trail snaked along a corridor through closely packed conifers, tiptoed past a fair-sized beaver pond, and dropped down and down through an opening in the woods. Birds chattered, squirrels scolded and the occasional sound of elk crashing through tangled underbrush provided a choral background adding to the satisfying pleasure warming my heart on this beautiful outing.
Soon I reached the Rito Navajo River, rested on my haunches long enough to down a stick of beef jerky and then started back up the trail on my way home. A short distance off, a crashing through the bushes reminded me of more elk. As I rounded a turn in the trail, I discovered the source of the noise. No, it was not elk. About 30 yards ahead on my right, a black bear was busy with both paws tearing the bark from a stump and lapping up the ants and other occupants living under the bark. Suddenly, the ursine critter quit ripping up the bark, fixed his stare in my direction, turned toward me and took a few stiff-legged steps closer in order to see me better. My brain began to search for a plan. I thought I knew what was on his mind, and I needed a remedy.
Read this column next week to learn what happened next.

This story was posted on August 27, 2018.