Exploring Squaw Lake from above

It’s still a touch too windy to enjoy a paddle exploration of the area but I’m getting anxious to see what surrounds us.  The thing about these little valley spots we often camp in is what you see of the area is limited.  What’s around that hill?  Where can the water around those reeds take you?  It’s hard to sit around and do nothing, as good as that can feel sometimes.  Contention seeing the same views and ignoring what might be around the bend seems to cheat the ideals or purposes this whole trip was based on – that is to see as much as possible.  I’ve been getting out for morning runs with Jake, mostly following horse trails pounded into the rocky landscape.  Following someone else’s footsteps to see what’s over there.  Without disappointment we are stumbling on small lagoons, filling up when the Colorado runs high, and cut off from draining until it does so again.  From the cliffs above this lagoon, currently barely accessible by boat through a small reed filled inlet which you wouldn’t know you could boat through if you weren’t familiar with the area, I watched and laughed as two men fished below.  The slowly trolled 6-8 meters from shore while casting with great accuracy to the edge of the reeds, never getting hung up.  This isn’t their first time.  It wasn’t the fishes first time either.  No sooner than they passed the shore did dozens of what I call, big enough to eat fish, came out of the reeds to explore where the fishermen had just been.  I couldn’t help but laugh, appreciating the situation I’ve been in myself countless times.  There’s nothing worse fishing than watching them circle you but refusing to bite.  One’s only one consolation.  And that is the clear state of mind achieved while accomplishing nothing, or maybe something if you’re lucky.

Two feet will only get you so far from home base to explore before some sort of mechanical means needs to be called in to get you further.  I was at that point.  We’d run and hiked as far as we comfortable could, already crossing Property of US Government signs with suggestions of no trespassing.  I say suggestion because it was clear I wasn’t the first to bypass them, following a well beaten trail beside with recent horse droppings and bike tire tracks.  But again, that only got us so far.  Eventually the poles with cameras were enough to have us turn back.  I’m not sure what the penalty would have been, and I really didn’t want that badly to find out.  Back to the campsite we go.  Further exploration will require mechanical means.

A quick once over on the bike, and a packed bag with spare tubes, tools and a pump and I was ready to go see further.  I had my sights set on a bigger hill the opposite side of the lake of which I figured would be a pretty good vantage point from which to see the lake and all around it.  I was able to avoid paved road to what I figure would be a trailhead to get me where I wanted to be.  The trailhead was more a rarely used service road carved through the rocky hills, hard sharp gravel mixed with sand.  It was pretty smooth going, with exception of a few sand holes that were total sink holes; nearly stopping me in my tracks and putting me over the bars with my momentum.  The problem with this trail however, was it seemed to be leading me the opposite direction I had intended to go.  Eventually I had to branch off, following was resembled a horse trail, but quickly faded into the natural surroundings with no trail to follow at all.  I was going the right way though.  Just another hill to get over, and maybe a few more after that before I could look down on the lake and valley below that we were camped on.  I felt I was on track, coming up to another road of sorts that ran below power lines coming from the hydro electric dam that separated Squaw Lake from Senator Wash, another lake next door.  The problem arose around the next bend, where they were actually working on the lines, which now hung low, resting on the road I was riding.  Workers ahead, and not wanting to mess with potential high voltage line, I opted out on the next horse trail, heading again in a more direct route to the water.  I think.  I’d lost sight of any visual markers some time ago with which to orient myself.  So long as the sun was behind me though, I assumed I was going the right way.

The current horse trail brought me, to my surprise, another hurdle.  The area I wanted to get to was not blocked off by a 4 foot barbed wire fence.  This fence didn’t have any signs on it, so once I was out of sight from the hydro workers I slipped under it where it ran high above a small gulley.  And to my surprise, another horse trail!  Like the no trespassing signs, I wasn’t the first to cross this fence.  I assume it was for animals, the human variety not included.  Once again though, the horse trail faded to nothing and I found myself pedaling over a gravelly hillside littered with baseball to basketball size rocks.  Full attention was required to navigate the minefield of rock that could quickly put one face first into it.  I soon came upon a hill, the tallest of the rest on the way to the lake I was pursuing, which wasn’t one to be pedaled up.  It was time to set down the bike and summit this one on foot.  It wasn’t a long scramble up, but by the top I could see for miles.  The Colorado river was visible below, with the growth around it barely concealing small creeks that fed surrounding lagoons, bright teal in color.  It was such a contrasting palette from up here; red, brown and black rocky hills give in to bright green grasses and reeds at their base.  Littered with palm trees, the growth surrounding the water stops almost dead, with little to no transition before the teal green water takes over.  From above I could see the floor of these serene little lakes up to 2-3 meters of depth below the surface.  And turning back around I saw movement on the hill behind me.  At first, I thought they were goats.  My experiences to date on mountains would of course lead me to this conclusion.  It’s almost always a goat.  But as they began to move around I recognized the little horns were not horns at all, but big pointy ears.  Donkeys!  Not an animal I’d ever expected to see in the wild.  Four of them.  Watching me with great care, likely wondering what sort of animal I was riding out here.  The area they were in was the other side of the fence I’d crossed.  From there, there was really no fence keeping them, so I can only assume they were wild donkeys.

By this time the sun was starting to creep behind the hills casting shadow over me and our campsite in the distance below.  I was so close, but on the wrong side of the water.  Not wanting to follow my bath back the way I came I figured there must be a trail below me that wrapped the lakes edge and would be an easy pedal back.  That said, and despite the lack of a trail of any sort, I decided to make my way down.  The steepness of the hillside seemed a bit much to go straight down so I began to traverse, thinking a couple switchbacks would be my best bet.  The loose rocks gave way to the pressure of my weight and rolling tires and I found myself on my side hanging on to my bike so not to lose it.  That experience left me with only one, in hindsight, highly illogical solution; to go straight down!  With brakes on near full I hung on for the ride, weight all on the back trying to steer around softball to basketball size rock that I rode through and over.  About halfway down I was just starting to feel pretty good about my decision, and abilities.  But those feelings stopped, in a hurry.  I likely looked up for half a second to admire the view.  In the second half of that second, I was looking at my seat, upside down.  Well the seat was right side up, but I was upside down.  And then I was fully down.  Sliding briefly on my side along these rocks, the friction of my skin on stone brought me to a pretty quick stop.  The anchor of a bicycle behind me, legs pretzeled into the frame, probably helped to.  I picked myself up, dusted myself off, waved to the lone fisherman on shore watching my escapades, turned my handlebars straight again and got back on.  I made it halfway down without falling until then, thanks to a momentary lap in concentration.  I was sure I could make it the rest of the way if I just remained focused.  I was wrong.  Just reaching the base it happened again.  This time I was ready for it and stepped over the bars, smoothly landing on my feet.  Alright!  Now, where is the trail to lead me home?  Good question!

I hiked with bike on back around the shoreline trying to locate my easy route out, encountering only a deep creek canyon that did not invite access or egress from below.  It appeared my fate was set, in the stone hill I just descended, only now I had to climb back up it all, with bike on back.  On the upside, on the way back out I saw my donkey friends again.  They probably watched the whole show, thinking I was the ass.  Sometimes you ride the bike.  And sometimes the bike rides you…