Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Upper Lucas Canyon( FT 251)- Lincoln National Forest
Last August we hiked the lower end of the Lucas Canyon Trail. We came back on Sunday to hike the upper half starting at the trail head on the Benson Ridge Road( FR 223). The trail head is no longer directly across from the Benson Canyon Trail but a half mile further east.There is large flat area here for parking and camping.
It was a cloudless 70 degrees or so when we started. The trail quickly entered a shady grove of aspens, firs, and spruce(almost no pines to speak of). The aspens, already beginning to change color, shed a few leaves in the breeze. The smell of their damp comrades already lying on the trail and floating in its many muddy puddles confirmed that Fall had indeed arrived up here at 9,200 feet. It was a heady feeling for me, and I always relish it year in and year out.
Right from the get go, we heard elk trumpeting, and they continued with very little down time for the entirety of our four and a quarter hour walk. At one point we were startled to realized , one was very close by hiding in the thicket along the streambed. He was startled too: quickly and loudly breaking branches as he ran up the hillside, I only caught a glimpse of him from behind. This all happened close on the heels of having a huge Brangus bull crash out of woods and across the road just a few steps in front of us. He stayed close to the trail, refusing to take his squinty little eyes off us, the ornery cuss. I didn't take my eyes off him for a long time either. In between these two events, we had several deer, including one buck with an enormous set of antlers ( at least 12 points I would estimate, but probably more like 16) dash across the open meadow in front of us. This was all a bit too much for our 5 month old puppy Nessie who was only on her second hike.
The trail cuts steeply down to and crosses the valley less than a mile in and follows it closely from that point. They are wonderful open meadows with picture perfect stands of aspen along the way. In a few narrow stretches the valley itself is more forested. Moss grows along the hillsides. Many huge stumps 4 to 5 feet in diameter, some with remnant gigantic, sawn logs nearby, are to be seen throughout. I can only wonder why the loggers would have left them behind. Thick iron cable, and other iron artifacts were there as well, all left behind from the heyday of logging in this area.
We began walking along the valley course, leaving the road for awhile. There were a few puddles where weak springs emerged. We ate lunch under an thick, old, lone aspen in the meadow clearing where a side canyon joined the main. We continued on along the valley bottom for a ways, but took up the road again when we encountered our second group of cattle.
Down near the second big hairpin turn of the trail, where we had stopped our hike from the other direction a year ago, we did small detour following a grassy , unmarked road up a hill for a little look around. It's an old timber road that's still quite clear on the section we walked. On the map it's numbered 5596 and it hooks up with another road 5598. They both do a lot of aimless meandering over the hills by the looks of it. They might be nice to explore,but plan on coming back the way you came unless you're really good with GPS, compasses and maps.
After coming back down we hiked across the large open meadow which is about the halfway point along the trail and made our way down to a trickling, spring up on the side of the valley just below the road,which we had encountered on last years hike. After letting the dogs drink, we began our return leg, little knowing the excitement( the bull, the elk, the deer) in store for us.
This trail's use is rated light. We saw no one.
Note: Once again I've learned that your dogs usually know better than you do. Right before the close encounter with the bull,both were looking repeatedly to the slope above the trail,but I couldn't discern anything there,only seeing a few cows gathered on the down slope side. Sure enough, a few seconds is when ol' Blackie the behemoth comes trotting out in front of us.