Lulu City and Little Yellowstone
Roughly 10 miles round trip
Class 1 -- Trail the whole way
For this trip I was joined by Geoff Lassner, who for a long time wanted to hike around the Never Summer range. Unfortunately for us, a bike marathon was scheduled the same day we hiked, so we had delays on Trail Ridge Road. I must say, though, having traffic delays on Trail Ridge is much prettier than traffic jams in Denver...
Geoff told me about a trip he made up here with his family a few weeks earlier. They had inadvertently mistaken the Poudre River trail from Milner Pass as the Colorado River Trail towards Lulu City. However, they had a blast, and Geoff even found some evidence of Indians (in the form of an arrowhead, found off trail. Very unlikely that a tourist "planted" it).
Note, Geoff left it where it was. What a guy!
Soon enough we arrived, and off we hiked. The trail is nice and level for a few miles. At one point, we saw an arrow scratched into the dirt pointing to a small "offshoot" trail. We ignored it, and continued on.
We arrived at the site of Shipler's Mine, and almost missed it. At this point, the trail crosses some old tailings, but you would miss them if you didn't know what to look for. Up the mountain a few dozen feet was a large rock outcropping. Presumably, Shipler dug his mine into this outcropping. We didn't investigate. Within 1/2 mile, hiking along marshes and meadows, we arrived at the Shipler cabins.
This was where Shipler and his family lived back in the late 1800's. Of course he, nor the folks at Lulu city (and other nearby cities, such as Dutchtown), never found their fortunes here. Two of the cabins are still there (well, they're run down). Then off towards Lulu City.
One note, the dramatic Never Summer peaks are barely visible from this hike. Fortunately, the area is so beautiful with pristine forests, meadows and river, we didn't really notice.
We eventually reached a sign stating that Lulu City was along a downhill fork. The way down was pretty steep, and we didn't really look forward to climbing up it. Soon we reached the clearing where Lulu City was. Very little remains, and if you are looking for a ghost town, you will be disappointed. We found remnants of only one or two cabins. We also rested by the Colorado River, here just a few mere feet wide. This was our planned destination for the day, but we were feeling so good, we decided to hike up the trail a bit -- to nowhere in particular. Up we went, but not towards where we came from. We decided to head for Little Yellowstone.
We had only a little clue as to what Little Yellowstone was. All of my guidebooks only gave sketchy descriptions of the area ("it looks like Yellowstone" -- duh). The forest closed in on the trail, and soon we were travelling up the canyon that is Little Yellowstone. Just before the elevation gain, we crossed the tiny Colorado River once again. The area showed signs of a recent elk herd in the form of numerous scat piles.
Along the way we encountered a few sections of loose rock... very characteristic of the Never Summer range. Across the valley was a large, bare slope. Strangly enough, the rocks were a blue-green color. In the words of a woman we passed along the trail, "This place *does* look like Yellowstone!". In a few spots, the trail crosses small streams, encased in rainbow color rocks -- prominant pinks, greens, blues, golds. This area was truly a unique area in Rocky Mountain National Park. The only downside was the overcast sky. Just shy of the Grand Ditch, we decided to turn back, in order to avoid the threatening rainstorm. We had lunch, and headed back... and almost made it. In fact, we would have made it had it not been for our curiosity...
On the way back, we encountered the arrow scratched into the trail. What the heck, we decide, why not? We hiked along the spur trail (pointed to by the arrow) for about 30 feet, climbed a pile of rocks, and found... an old mine! The mine only went in 5 feet or so, and was littered with a sulfur-like powder and old logs. A sign in front warned about old mines. We explored a bit more, took a photo, then left. Along the way we found another small spur trail, and got even more adventurous. This time the trail led to another mine, but this mine had been sealed shut. On the way back, it started to rain... but who cared?
We made it to the car, and the rain stopped (of course). An elk or deer had visited the parking lot, and a few folks were taking pictures of it. On the drive back, near Milner Pass, a herd of mountain sheep were crossing the road. Another delay, but one I would take any day.
In fact, any delay in the mountains is something to cherish.