We headed out early in the morning to drive about two and a half hours from Lake City to Pagosa Springs to check out potential trails in that area. Pat had left earlier to drop his camper trailer off at home in Pagosa Springs. We met back up with Pat there, and after a quick consultation on possible trails we decided to check out Bear Basin, an area of the upper Rio Blanco river drainage area. Pat had run this trail before and promised us an interesting time.
The trailhead was easy to locate off Blanco Basin Road south of Pagosa Springs after we had turned off U.S. Highway 84. We aired down and disconnected sway bars and were soon heading up the trail. The trail quickly became narrow and transitioned from an easy dirt road to a real trail. We followed the trail through the trees and into Bear Basin. The basin is very scenic, surrounded by low hills and forests of mixed pines, aspen, and scrub oak.
After descending through Bear Basin, we skirted Bear Mountain along a narrow portion of the trail hugging the side of the hill. While not a shelf road, this portion was narrow and steep. Luckily, we met no one as we descended this stretch. Our luck would continue for the whole trail as the only people we saw were at a couple of camp sites -- we met no one on the trail all day, which was nice.
We soon came to a vacant camp site at the Rio Blanco River. This is a beautiful spot, great for a stop. We pulled in and watched Pat's son, Joe, and their puppy, Mia, play in the river. It was too early for a lunch break, so we all loaded into the Jeeps and headed on. Soon after, the trail appeared to dead end at an old corral and camp site, but Pat pointed out that the trail actually made a sharp turn to the right and across the Rio Blanco.
We continued up the trail, with the scrub oak now often brushing both sides of the Jeeps. It was obvious that this portion of the trail sees very little use by full-sized vehicles. Once we came out into the next meadow, we passed through a gate and there was a small patch of mud where water crosses the trail. This mud turned out to give Walt a hard time as he had to make a couple attempts to get through it. He definitely had fun.
We continued through increasingly tighter and steeper areas on the trail until we reached a small clearing where the trail appeared to dead end with signs showing the trail beyond was closed to motor vehicles. Pat again pointed out that the actual trail made another sharp turn to the right and crossed a shallow stream. We stopped for lunch immediately after the crossing since there was an open area and we didn't know how much further it would be until we found another spot.
After lunch, we continued on through the scrub oak with occasional open views. We passed through several gates, closing them behind us each time. Nearing the end of the trail, we came to a long mud hole that Pat had forewarned us about. Pat told us about a vehicle that had tried to go through the mud recently, only to find themselves with a flooded vehicle and a ruined engine and transmission.
We were soon at the end of the trail where it meets up with forest service road 663 and turned right back out to highway 84. It looks like if we had turned left, there are some Jeep trails that go into the area around V Mountain and Buckles Lake that might be worth exploring, but we were anxious to move on with a long drive ahead of us back to Lake City and dinner. It was a great end to a great week in the San Juans!