Loose in the La Platas
North Fork is a local name for the area where an old mining and logging road once crossed the North Fork of the West Mancos River. Upstream from the river crossing, where the river cuts through some iron-stained intrusive rocks, are the remnants of the mining camp named Jackson City. Captain Jackson was the first prospector to find gold in the area, and in the ruins of Jackson City there are parts of an old ore stamp that was brought in to process hard-rock ore.
North Fork is a popular place to begin ascents of Hesperus Mountain via the west ridge. The hike to the top of Hesperus Mountain takes about six hours and is for the most part nontechnical. There is good elk habitat in the timber south of the river and a good campsite west of the river crossing. In the late summer and early fall, bull elk can be heard bugling in the timber.
The trail between the Golconda route and the river crossing can be treacherous during thunderstorms because of the amount of mud that is produced by rain.
The road north along the West Mancos River canyon follows a sill intrusion at the contact between the lower Mancos Shale and the upper Dakota Sandstone. The trail climbs onto the Mancos Shale and stays on it all the way to the North Fork crossing. At the crossing, more sill intrusions can be seen on the side of Hesperus Mountain, where they form light tray cliffs.
Notice the change in the Mancos Shale as you approach the river crossing. It becomes much harder and breaks into slatey and prismatic pieces. This is due to the contact metamorphism from the heat of the igneous intrusions. The harder rock fragments can puncture tires on occasion. Across the river to the south is a large field of slide rock with ridges and swales produced by landslide-type flows. This is referred to as a rock glacier-type flow of talus that was produced over the last fifteen to twenty thousand years, since the last ice age. Boulders and cobbles in the slide are angular with sharp edges but can be crossed on foot. Most of the talus has resulted from rocks toppling from cliffs of diorite and metamorphosed shale on the ridge extending west from Hesperus Mountain. Large masses of slide rock or talus are common around the bases of peaks of all mountains in southwest Colorado and were produced by thousands of years of freezing and thawing and changing climates.
This route avoids the more heavily traveled and maintained roads following the same initial trail that the Golconda ride used on FS 565 (see map).
Instead of dropping off into the canyon, stay on the old road, climbing up and across the side of the mountain.
After about two more miles there is a fork in the road (elevation 10,200 feet; 3,108 meters), and the right fork (FS 347) leads to North Fork.
From the branch, the old road traverses the slope and drops for another two miles to an old mining and timber camp on the North Fork of the West Mancos River (elevation 10,110 feet; 3,082 meters). The site is still used occasionally by hunters and campers.
The trail continues across the river for about one mile. Forests south of the river were logged heavily, and there are many old logging roads crisscrossing the slopes.
© Article copyright Pruett Publishing
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication