Saturday, August 11, 2007

North by North Park

The coastal states like California and Oregon have the oceans, vast crystal-blue expanses of water sparsely occupied by lonely island residents and seafaring vessels. But, Colorado has its oceans as well, and in contrast they are vast golden expanses of grasslands sparsely populated by stoic ranchers and pickup trucks. Both oceans react to the wind's constant push with a rhythmic and hypnotic grace. Whereas dolphins and whales slip their way through water's antigravity, horses and antelope swim chest high in Colroado's tallgrass prairies.

Colorado has 5 grassland seas to choose from, 4 of which are large intermountain basins which conveniently align themselves on a map along a north/south trend. The southernmost is the San Luis Valley, then South Park, Middle Park, and North Park. Denverites can't help but already know about South Park thanks to Comedy Central, and Middle Park hosts a local favorite ski area... but no self respecting urbanite has ever had the need to venture as far as North Park. That's just waaaay to close to our throttle twisting sibling state of Why?oming. Home to hundreds if not maybe 1000 (it is Wyoming) dinosaur bone burning and animal killin' outdoor enthusiasts. YeeHaw!

Like its sister seas, North Park is a lonely and haunting expanse of swaying grasslands encircled by panoramic mountain ranges. Our roadtrip this last weekend bisected North Park starting at its southern boundary accessed via the bark beetle stricken Willow Creek Pass (Hwy 125) and then across its lawlands past Rand, Walden, and Cowdry. Then it was off the main highway through 24 miles of enigmatically sculpted hilly ranchlands until we finally reached Big Creek Lakes. These unbelievably clear bodies of water are sandwiched between the beautiful Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and the Wyoming border.

The eastern lake of the two, called Lower Big Creek Lake, is publicly accessed via National Forest land which includes a uber traditional 70's era family campground complete with friendly pit toilets and yet more bark beetle infected trees. The lake however, was pristine and placid making for many serene fishing and paddling excursions over the course of the weekend. Looking westerly however, one could notice the valley that linked Lower Big Creek Lake to its sibling situated within the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, creatively named (yup, you guessed it) Upper Big Creek Lake.

Being in a wilderness area, we were especially pulled to the upper lake's unseen potential and mystery. Late Saturday afternoon, Bobby and I gave in to the urge to explore and with the help of a motor boat, we took his canoe in search of the unknown.

We reached the mouth of the feeder creek connecting the two lakes in short order and moored the canoe to the shore. With me in my leaky Wal-Mart rubberized waders, we hoofed it upstream reaching the lake within 5 minutes. There we stood underneath the clearing sky, whose sunlight began to gleam off of the recently rain washed towers of sheer rock-faces across the lake from us. Capitalizing on my leaking waders, i wandered far out into the shallow flat bottomed lake and fly casted into still waters highlighted in yellows by the sun's low light. 30-45 minutes later, with nary a nibble from an interested fish, we wandered back down to our canoe, leaving paradise behind, and slowly paddled back to camp.

Despite the lack of interested fish, those moments in Upper Big Creek lake gave me exactly what i had been yearning for... that certain dreamlike experience found only by surrounding one's self completely by nature. The tranquility of my environment was quietly balanced by my own rhythmic casting.

For all those Denverites who either never heard of or thought to travel to North Park, now there is no excuse.


Robbie McRobertsons said...


dub said...

Gotta love those Wyoming enthusiastes! (Crazy Fort Collins people.) ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey- I want to take a canoe up the creek to the upper lake. Does it look like nice camping up there- with fewer people?