Fly Canyon

My original agenda for this past weekend was to hike to the highest point on East Mountain, with a short side trip down the Mill Fork Canyon trail to where I’d left off the previous weekend. I ran into snow drifts across the road on East Mountain well short of the trailhead. I could see where ATVs had bypassed the snow by driving over some bushes and through a muddy area caused by snowmelt, but I didn’t want to perpetuate that–especially since there would likely be more snow drifts farther along the road–so I moved on to plan B: Fly Canyon. First I detoured to Potter’s Ponds to check out the damage from last year’s Fly Canyon fire. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. The island and south side of the ponds were burned and most of the trees were cut down, but the rest of the shore and campground were untouched.

Snow drifts on East Mountain
Snow drifts on East Mountain

South and North Tent Mountains covered in snow
South and North Tent Mountains covered in snow

The island at Potter’s Ponds
The island at Potter's Ponds

South side of Potter’s Ponds
South side of Potter's Ponds

At the mouth of Fly Canyon I checked up on a geocache that I placed there in 2005. There were blackened trees high on the mountain to the west, but the fire didn’t reach the lower canyon and the cache was in good shape. There were somewhat fresh bear claw marks on one of the trees nearby, and a 1950 aspen carving near the geocache that I had never noticed.

Burn area on Lowry Top
Burn area on Lowry Top

Bear claw marks on an aspen tree
Bear claw marks on an aspen tree

Glenn Donaldson, July 6, 1950
Glenn Donaldson, July 6, 1950

I parked at the Fly Canyon trailhead and started hiking up the old road. The road was bulldozed in the 1940s to reach the heavily-timbered area at the head of Fly Canyon, where a sawmill once stood, and where I placed another geocache in 2006. According to the fire map I should have reached the burn area in the first half-mile of hiking, but I didn’t see any signs of the fire along the trail until I’d hiked a full mile. I was surprised to see two badgers in a den just off the trail. At first I only saw one, with its back to me while it retreated into the den, and I assumed it was a marmot. Then it turned around and another head popped out of the hole. They both stared at me for a minute, but the first step I took toward them sent them scurrying back into the den. I waited silently a short distance farther up the trail hoping they’d peek outside but I never saw them again.

Fly Canyon trailhead
Fly Canyon trailhead

Old road to Fly Canyon
Old road to Fly Canyon

Overgrown trail
Overgrown trail

A pair of American badgers (Taxidea taxus)
A pair of American badgers (Taxidea taxus)

Entering the burned area
Entering the burned area

I hiked through alternating scorched and untouched areas, but eventually nearly everything I could see had been burned. There were patches of green where ground plants and even wildflowers were thriving. I neared the clearing where the sawmill used to be and I was pleased to see that the small stand of pines where I’d hidden the geocache were unburned. One of the trees had been affected by the heat and many of the needles were brown but the trees hadn’t ignited. The geocache container looked good from the outside, and inside the only damage was a slightly melted plastic bag that held the logbook. I only spent a few minutes looking around the old sawmill area before heading back down the trail and then home. It wasn’t as long a hike as I’d been hoping for, but getting out of the valley heat and into cooler temperatures in the mountains was a welcome relief for a while.

Barrier to motorized travel
Barrier to motorized travel

Fly Canyon trail
Fly Canyon trail

Carvings by Delon Curtis 16 years apart
Carvings by Delon Curtis 16 years apart

Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)
Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)

Fly Canyon trail
Fly Canyon trail

Burned aspen and pines
Burned aspen and pines

New growth on the trail
New growth on the trail

Trees (center) where the geocache is hidden
Trees (center) where the geocache is hidden

Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)
Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

2006 carving on a now-dead aspen
2006 carving on a now-dead aspen

Geocache container hidden in the rocks
Geocache container hidden in the rocks

The geocache contents are mostly safe
The geocache contents are mostly safe

Sawmill foundation
Sawmill foundation

Wheel hub
Wheel hub

Joe’s Valley Reservoir
Joe's Valley Reservoir

Jeep parked at the trailhead
Jeep parked at the trailhead


Photo Gallery: Fly Canyon
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