Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Other Subalusky Adventures

I figure it's about time for a change of scenery, so I wanted to share another Subalusky adventure with you all. Let's jump for a moment from the grassy savannas of eastern Africa to the rolling desert mountains of Colorado and New Mexico, dotted by beautiful lakes and trout streams to inspire the most tried and true fisherfolk. My parents went out for a 3 week fishing and camping road trip around the 4 corners.

They trout fished...

...the cooked their catch over campfires...
...they visited ancient cave dwellings...
...and just generally had a fabulous time!
My father is a master at writing trip reports, so I thought I would share his report from this adventure with you all here. It's interesing, educational and a lot of fun to read! I'll try to do a better job of emulating him in future postings!
The twelve day, 1200 mile trip started in New Mexico, moved into and tracked predominantly in Southwestern Colorado, transited the San Juan National Forest, Carson National forest, and Rio Grande National Forest, and concluded back in New Mexico. Our mission was two fold: to test our flyfishing abilities in various trout waters not yet visited by us, and to tour the Mesa Verde National Park. Challenges beset us at the outset when, two days before the trip, the guide ripped a muscle in his back while loading mulch at the Buck n’ Bird farm, under the direct supervision of his overseer. The injury limited his ability to bend over far enough to enter a tent, thus leading to two additional days in a motel on the front end of the trip. Noteworthy is the point that no fishing time was lost and the injury in no way detracted from his fish-catching or guiding ability.

We camped out on seven of the twelve days of the trip, being somewhat tested by the weather. Upon arrival in the West we were informed that this was the time of the “monsoons”, heavy thunderstorms that develop every afternoon and last a few hours. We had rain on every day except two, but the tent and sleeping pads kept us dry as bugs in a rug. Venturing about during the rain had no effect because of our high tech clothes and the close-to-zero humidity air that quickly dried them. Day time temperatures reached into the nineties, with evenings often dropping into the low fifties. We found this remarkable for late July, with evenings sometimes requiring fleece tops and a fire when allowed.

Major towns visited in New Mexico included: Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, and Chama, and in Colorado: Durango, and Pagosa Springs.

Our tour of Mesa Verde National Park was nothing less than “hard to believe.” We were able to walk through the remains of stone dwellings built by the Pueblo Indians during the period 500 to 1200 AD. Much of these structures, made only of stones and mud packing, was still intact and contained wall paintings and blackening of the overheads from the original inhabiting natives’ camp fires. We toured two sets of these ruins with park rangers as guides, and drove on our own to a number of others. There are over 500 of these ruins in the park as well as an estimated 20,000 other archeological sites. Camping in the park, and listening to nightly talks by park rangers as we sipped wine and brandy in the cool evenings lit by a full moon were special treats of the visit. We somewhat surprised the rangers when we asked if we could use our small propane stove at a roadside picnic table. Saying this had never been requested before, they discussed among themselves and then approved. We then commenced to whip up the most aromatic full-blown meal combination of onions, eggs, sausage, and potatoes – just outside the Visitors Center. We pitied those poor devils eating cold sandwiches.

The fishing portion of the mission was well addressed on the following streams:
1. West Fork of the upper San Juan River – this is a small stream carrying only native trout. The stream eventually flows into the Upper San Juan River. Fishing this required camping at the remote “West Fork” campground, about twenty miles back from anywhere, on a very rough dirt road.
2. Upper San Juan River – this is a medium sized stream in Colorado which flows through the Colorado town of Pagosa Springs and has been dammed to form Navaho Lake in New Mexico.
3. William’s Creek and the Piedra River – both of these are remote streams, deep in the mountains, containing only native trout, with no trout stocking. Again we camped in a quite remote state campground.
4. Animus River – a large river that flows through Durango, CO. This river was still extremely high due to an unusually large snow pack in the mountains that was still melting and feeding the
5. The “famous” lower San Juan River – a tailwater fishery in New Mexico that flows out of the dam of Navaho Lake. This stream reportedly carries 20,000 trout per mile of stream and the upper portion is a trophy area requiring essentially all caught trout to be released. The fish are large and well educated from being caught so many times. They are also highly selective in what they eat and will take only extra tiny (size 22 & 24) nymphs. Locals implied we would catch no fish without a guide. They were wrong. We met a really nice guy who was camping alone in the Cottonwood campground where we camped. We had him over one evening for wine. We didn’t purposely try to liquor him up but he ended up giving us some of the secrets of catching these fish. The lower portion of this same river seems and fishes like a different river. It is a stocked fishery that allows the normal limit of five fish. Typically, only the local Indians fish it. We fished both the upper and lower portions of the river. Mother did well enough in both the upper and lower portions of the river to gain the trip name of “San Juanita.”
We caught fish in all waters fished except for the Animus River. Slow fishing here was due primarily to the high water.

The winner of the Trip Trophy is currently in contention. The guide landed, and measured, a 20 inch rainbow, taken from the upper San Juan River at Pagosa Springs, Colorado. San Juanita caught a rainbow estimated to be 20 inches in the challenging trophy section of the lower San Juan River in New Mexico. Because the fish had to be quickly released, the only remaining evidence is a picture taken while the fish was in her landing net. This photo, along with the known dimensions of the net, is currently undergoing a CSI-type analysis to determine the real size of the fish. More to come later.

Other highlights of the trip follow:
· Access to the Cottonwood campground on the San Juan River requires driving over several miles of unmaintained dirt road on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. At the start of the road is a large sign saying that the road may not be passable following a heavy rain. I had already read a warning about this road on the internet. The night before we were to leave Cottonwood and drive back to Albuquerque to fly home, we had the heaviest downpour of the trip. Other than a sleepless night as we planned our strategy for getting through the mud road and back to civilization, there was no problem. The road wasn’t that bad after all. This was also an interesting campground. We seemed to be two of the very few “whitemen” in the camp. Everyone else was an Indian. But they were remarkably friendly, offering us wood to make a fire, advice, and generally friendly conversation.
· We had several meals of fresh cooked trout. One that consisted of a thirteen inch rainbow over the fire almost fizzled when the nightly rain started. Being hackers, we just stoked the fire and got it hot enough to burn in the rain, cooked the fish, and ate him in the rain. That was at the West Fork Campground.
· The twenty inch rainbow I caught also provided a hard-to-describe meal. We don’t eat that many twenty-inchers. It is an understatement to say there was a lot of meat on that fish. Butter, salt, and pepper were more than enough seasoning.
· Large, fresh steaks charcoal grilled at a campsite made for a pleasant lunch in the Rio Grande National Park. We had purchased a bag of charcoal and some complementary red wine previously with just this intention.
· Mother devastated the fish on the lower part of the San Juan River, using a tiny (size 18) Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph – that I had tied just for this trip. Most fish here were in the 10 to 12 inch range but she caught one beauty about 14 inches that slipped out of her hands before we could get a picture.
· We saw a lot of snow still in the mountains, at our level, as we crossed the Continental Divide. It is unusual to still have so much snow this late.
· A mountain lion was killed in downtown Durango the day before we arrived there. We had no mountain lion or bear problems, but saw numerous mule deer in the camp at Mesa Verde. The lone gent who gave us the San Juan secrets at Cottonwood campground came under wildlife attack several times. A squirrel chewed a hole in the front of his tent to get to some dry food he had stored in his tent. To exit, the ungrateful little critter chewed a hole in the backside of the tent. The following night, after wine with us, he returned to his tent to find a large raccoon going through some plastic boxes in his tent. He literally kicked the animal out, only to have him return later that night and try to get back in.
· In an attempt to restore the Guide to full capacity, we spent t one night at a motel in Pagosa Springs that had natural mineral water hot springs. As we soaked in them we struck up a conversation with a friendly guy – who turned out to be the mayor – he has been the mayor for thirty years!

Overall it was a highly successful and enjoyable trip. The only things missing were our girls who we thought of frequently.

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