|Hermit Cave & Joneís Hole
I went to the annual CU-CSU game at Mile High Stadium with Dave, Matt and Rachel and watched the Buffaloes end CSUís 2 year wining streak in the series by crushing them. I donít recall the score, but it was bad. The Sunday following the game, Dave and I drove to Dinosaur by way of I-70 from Denver for a few days of camping.
Our first stop was at the park-owned house (I had just moved out of the Rangely apartment) where I grabbed my backpack and some food and we loaded his jeep. It was a typical hot, clear day in early September as we drove off down the Harperís Corner road to Echo Park, passing down the rugged switchbacks of Iron Springs Wash and the sandy grade of Sand Canyon. We set up camp at Echo Park and then just puttered around, wading in the river, hiking along the shore and catching up on the goings on of lives spent thousands of miles apart. Dave had moved to NY after college and we saw each other about once a year since. We hiked north along the river on the downstream side of Steamboat Rock until the river bent around sharply to the west, then turned back. Dinner consisted of rice.
The next day we drove up from Echo Park, then parked the car and went out looking for a cave that was penciled in on a quad map I had grabbed from the Fire Office for veg monitoring work. The cave was labeled ďHermit CaveĒ. I naturally wanted to see this cave, so I figured out the GPS coordinates, and used them to get us there. We hiked through a thin pinyon forest on rocky slopes, and there was little respite from the sun shining down through an unbroken blue sky. The route looked easy on the map, but the draws we had to cross along the way were much deeper than anticipated, and several detours were arranged on the fly. Finally, we got close enough to where we spotted it. Near the top of a steep, 30 degree slope facing west, was a tear in the rock and shadow behind. We scrambled up the slope to explore. The entrance was about 10 feet wide and 5 feet tall at the highest, shaped like a thin oval. Half the oval was walled up with rocks to about waist high. Inside, the cave roof opened up higher, maybe to 8 feet, and the floor sloped up. It was only about 6 or 7 feet deep, rounded and smooth. It was cool and dark inside. On the floor lay a mesh of sticks and grass, obviously brought in on purpose since there was nothing but solid rock and a few junipers and pinyon about outside. My guess was that the sticks formed a sort of thatch wall over the other side of the opening at some point. The other items of the cave included an old wooden crate, almost completely deteriorated, and an aluminum pot, cloudy with age.
We hiked on back to the jeep and drove west to Joneís Hole. The variety at Dinosaur is incredible. First we hike over barren rock, occasionally broken by a pinyon or juniper, then we drive a short distance and hike along a swift flowing creek lined with thick cottonwoods and box elders. The hike down the Joneís Hole Creek was great. We started at the fish hatchery and admired the swarms of trout moving like snakes in the water. Form there, we dropped down onto the trail and walked easily along the creek, crossing it once, to Ely Creek and the designated camp. We set up camp and then walked on down to the river, another 2 miles. At the river I couldnít resist a swim, and we both walked in until the current warned us to go no further. The water coming out of Joneís Hole Creek was clear and ice cold, but the water in the river was muddy and warm. I saw a magnificently-sized trout feeding in the creek outflow water.
We played cards back at camp until it got too dark, using small polished river rocks as chips (white, red and black).
We both got up very early and took down camp. Then we stashed our bags and went hiking up Ely Creek. We quickly came upon Ely Falls, or as Jeremy called it, Butt Dam Falls. It is called this latter name because the upper channel is cut through rock, and is only a little over a foot wide and a foot deep. If one sites just at the edge of the falls in the channel, one can completely dam the current as it backs up on the flat rock behind. I never tried this, but Andra did later on.
We continued hiking south and lost the trail in thick reeds before turning back. We followed a trail that entered the Labyrinth, and found some very impressive rock formations and views. It was a very cool walk, mostly over open rock. I wanted to spend some time exploring the hidden canyons filled with lush vegetation, but we didnít have time to. We walked back to camp by a different route, and ended up having to jump off a 10 foot cliff to get down. I wasnít thrilled about the jumping, but I didnít break anything in the process. We gathered up our packs at camp, then walked back upstream. Along the way, we stopped and looked at the petroglyphs carved in the walls. They were mildly interesting. I donít get as excited about that sort of thing as most other people. Dave left for Denver shortly after we got back to the car.
A quick trip, but better than not seeing Dinosaur at all. The following day I found out that the cave Dave and I had visited was not an officially known cave by the parkís archeological staff. Why was it on the map? My theory is that some detail (two-week stint) firefighter from another park was working at Dinosaur, and responded to a remote fire. In order to map it and be able to relocated it, he noted the fire and the cave on the map, assuming that everyone knew where this hermit cave was and could then find the fire. He did not realize that no one had ever heard of a cave in this area. The fire was never checked on, and the map got filed away in the stack of dozens of identical maps in the fire office until I came along and randomly picked out that very map. The park archaeologist was pretty excited about it, and I sent him pictures of it. He planned on sending a crew out to check it very soon after I talked to him. That revelation made the visit to the cave seem much more worthwhile, although it really shouldn't make any difference at all.