South From the Woody Creek Post Office on the Rio Grande Nordic Trail

South From the Woody Creek Post Office

and onto

McClain Flats Straightaway

on the

Rio Grande Nordic Trail

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In terms of snowfall January of 2015 will be remembered largely as a month-long drought – the driest January on record is what I have heard being banded about.

But now February is upon us I’m increasingly hopeful that the new month will bring with it, as is often the case, a sizable deposit of snow. For as of this point I am quite alarmed to report that, so far as winter goes, we haven’t really in all honesty had one yet !

This being my 12th Colorado Rocky Mountain winter I have experienced Januaries whereby the thermometer has struggled to break zero Fahrenheit for days, weeks, on end. This time around we have yet to feel the wrath of a single unruly snowy winter storm, the like of which should be pounding us with some regularity right now. Our winter woollies remain still packed away somewhere, the wood-stove remains unlit, and the thermometer these days barely even dips below zero centigrade during daylight hours. It’s all very odd and disturbing. Gone are the star-encrusted minus twenty nights that seemed to ‘let in the very coldness of the universe itself’, as Jack London so aptly put it.

I’ll let you know the moment winter… the real winter that is, finally shows up.

However…

In terms of just… sheer brilliant days, this January has been quite a stunner ! Luckily for us a very placid late December storm dumped a foot or two at a juncture when the nighttime temperatures dropped sufficiently low as to conspire with the warm daylight sun to compact, protect and conceal the snow under thick icy blanket. So successfully was the snow shellacked in fact that to this day, over a month later, we still enjoy the benefits of that one, single, day-long storm. What the place would look like now, without that one huge “dump” comes as a somewhat sobering thought.

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And so it was yesterday that, with no interest in the Superbowl, Kris and I were quite at a loss as how to spend our precious Sunday afternoon when, without warning or hint of prediction, the oppressive gray clouds suddenly parted, bolting the scene to be replaced by the most enormous, empty, clear blue sky it is possible to imagine.

All of a sudden our course of action became obvious: head south out of Woody Creek, on Nordic Skis.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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The thing I love about the Rio Grande Trail is that it has never really lost its old railroad credentials. In some places more than others this great Western American Railroad asserts itself with more concerted authority. The long cutting running south out of Woody Creek is one such place. So subtle is the gradient, as it gradually climbs out of the sunken river gorge and onto the wider valley floor, that it serves to make something of a mockery of the notion as to which way is actually up, and which down?

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Yes indeed the snow and therefore the track has taken something of a beating by the elements, but I’m quite amazed at the resilience of the ingenious Nordic system. Snow, it seems, disappears here there and everywhere – great huge patches open up, trees are stark bare and without the merest hint of snow. Rocks emerge and the roads are dry as dirt – and yet, the good old Nordic Track just sails on. Sticky in parts – a short hike in others – but none-the-less, it’s still there, and running pretty well it must be said. After a month with practically no new accumulation I have to say that, as a novice to all this, I’m impressed.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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At several points along this stretch of the trail the Nordic track’s double slots run thrillingly close to an edge that begins just a few short feet from the end of your pole… and terminates in the swift-flowing icy waters of the Roaring Fork River, far, far below.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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I suppose the sensation of gliding along the edge of such a precipitous drop might prove a little daunting to the uninitiated, but with the certitude of skis being locked into their allotted groove I can vouch for a feeling of calmness and safety as you glide along, all the while monitoring the scene as it unfolds many feet below. I have had cause to run, walk and bike this path many, many times but viewing it in such a surreal manner presents an altogether new, slightly mesmeric, and altogether intriguing perspective.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Thankfully, for all concerned, the safety police have yet to construct their pointless six foot fence –  in order (presumably) to protect us from ourselves. And so, better enjoy it before they make pretty with their work.

Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

One of Snowmass Canyon’s Regrettable Six Foot Rio Grande Eyesores

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Grande Track-Bed Trail, Kris, Woody Creek, CO

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Over the course of two miles or so the railroad exploits the opportunity presented by the steady incline to pull itself free of the river gorge and up onto the valley floor. And what a panorama greets the eyes on finally popping out of the little submerged canyon.

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Kris, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Pulling up and out of the river gorge containing Woody Creek, and onto the wide valley floor always arrives as something of an exhilarating experience whatever the season, and in wintertime the cold mountain air can at times quite take your breath away. On this day though, Sunday, February 2nd, 2015, the weather is mild enough as to be quite accurately termed “springlike”. No need then for Kris, pictured above, to even contemplate impinging on her impressive arsenal of warm winter gear.

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Kris, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Kris, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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‘Up here’, on the valley floor, attention turns and eyes duly riveted upon the view.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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All four of Aspen/Snowmass ski areas; Ajax, Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, come strikingly into view.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Turning a corner however we are confronted with the long straightaway of McClain Flats in a scene little changed since the railroad track was laid over 125 years ago. Little changed save for the ski runs that is.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Author, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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My approach may differ once ‘the real winter’ shows its face, but in the mean time I have found it expedient to revert to my now familiar ‘Rogue Carver on the Loose’ apparel. While it might receive the odd perturbed look by traditionalists it does serve as extremely functional, not to mention comfortable, mild Colorado Rocky Mountain Winter attire – facilitating as it does a whole host of trail necessities such as food, water, gloves, camera, and assorted warm accessories.

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Author, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Author, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Kris, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Author, Woody Creek, CO

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Kris,Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Author, Woody Creek, CO

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A happy result of the recent Rio Grande’s unfortunate blacktopping is that a horse trail was constructed alongside track-bed, providing not only a nice curvy, wavy alternative to the long flat straightaway of the original rail-bed, but if used in conjunction serves as a nice three mile or so loop across the entire plain.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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However, it is important that you read the signs and understand that this innocuous looking point, as the mesa gives way to shale bluffs in the final approach into Aspen, affords your one and only opportunity with which to gain access from one trail to the other, short of wading across the short distance separating the two trails. When these trails do once again collide they do so a mile and a half down the track.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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From here on however, left or right, the journey is down hill all the way. The Woody Creek post office resides around three-and-a-half miles from this point. We’ll make it back in less than half the time it took to get us here.

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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By this point in the day the snow is beginning to turn icy. Kris is beginning to fear that she underestimated in the clothing department, but the speed in which we whoosh down the freshly frozen tracks leave no time for such worries, and soon enough we find ourselves back home and infused with a most rabid, insatiable appetite.

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and now

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the slideshow

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Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Author, Rio Grande Track-Bed Trail, Woody Creek, CO

Until next time, take care, have fun, be kind.

“Get Out There”

Martin

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