Snowshoeing to the Uranium Mine
Though I’ve lived in Steamboat for almost two decades, I am still a City Girl (you can take the girl out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of the girl). So every time I plan an outdoor adventure into the woods my self diagnosed “desolation phobia” rears it’s ugly head. That would be fear of venturing into places where there is no cell service or Starbucks. But being the 365 trouper (and writer) that I am, I dug out my snowshoes and headed up to the Fish Creek Falls parking lot to join the Yampatika snowshoe tour to the Uranium Mine that runs every Friday from 10am – 1pm. Our group of nine, was lead by Fern, a naturalist and forester by trade, and Lisa, who helped and brought up the rear of the group. Of the nine of us, I was the only official local, most of the others were part time residents or visitors from the front range.
We began our ascent up the switchbacks, which is the steepest and toughest part of the hike. The snow was falling lightly from a heather grey sky. We stopped several times so everyone could catch their breath. We were informed by some hikers on their way down that we had just missed a Moose and her two calves that crossed the trail a bit further up. Along the entire hike Fern fed us tons of interesting and even useful facts about the area, the trees, the snow, the animals in the area and their habits. For instance, bears do hibernate, but while they slow their respiration, blood pressure and heart rate, if you walk into their cave, they will wake immediately (translation – get the heck out of there – fast!). Other animals like bats need some time to wake up, so they wouldn’t be able to chase you. (Whew!)
When we made it to the top of the switchbacks, the trail leveled out and was mostly flat. Here Fern described why we are blessed with “Champagne Powder” in our Yampa Valley. It is basically because of the low humidity and warmer temperatures. When snow crystals begin to form, the are shaped like rods, long and thin. As more rods form and clump together they make the pretty snowflake shapes that are typically seen atop Christmas trees. The air that is between the rods is what makes them fluffy, much like why a down comforter is warm – it’s the air between that gives it loft. Fern’s fun facts continued along the trail as we made our way thru an aspen grove and then an evergreen stand.
We learned about the beetles that are killing the Lodge Pole Pines (it’s actually a blue-green fungus that the beetles leave on the trees that is killing them), and how to tell Fir trees from Spruce – remember Flat friendly Firs, (their needles are flat and soft) and Spiny Square Spruce (their needles hurt, and are square).
When we reach the Uranium Mine, we are rewarded with a beautiful overlook of Fish Creek Falls canyon. This is a perfect place to stop, take some photos, and have a snack. The trail does continue on up to the Zirkel Wilderness. We take a look in the cave, which is barred for saftey. There is not a whole lot to see, but it is interesting that the Mine was active and hard to imagine that the few spoils from the mine were carried out on the narrow trail we have just come up. As it turns out there was little if any Uranium actually mined in this cave. The Uranium Mine is a “wet cave” which basically means there is always standing water in there. It is a shallow cave, and does not go back very far but now houses several bats, who thankfully were nowhere to be seen.
The Uranium Mine Cave Entrance
The trip back is pretty much all down hill, and I realize, that I was so engrossed by both the beauty of the forest and Fern’s entertaining information that I haven’t even felt a twinge of my desolation phobia. The skies cleared as we reached the final portion of the
View of the Steamboat Ski Area from the Uranium Mine Trail
trail, and as we make our way back down the switchbacks, the sun bursts out, shining on our decent.
This is a PERFECT morning for both locals and visitors alike that enjoy the outdoors with the company of a group, education and information about the Yampa Valley, and a bit of exercise to “shoe.” Contact Yampatika to sign up for these Friday morning snowshoe hikes from now until March 23rd. Call 970- 871-9151. The snowshoe tour is FREE but reservations are required. Don’t forget to bring your snowshoes! There is a $5 parking fee in the Fish Creek Falls lot – but you can buy an annual pass for $30 at the forest service located at 925 Weiss in Steamboat Springs. They can be reached at 970-870-2299.
For more information on the Snowshoe Tour and other programs visit the Yampatika site at http://www.yampatika.org
I hope you enjoy the spruce, the pines and the Uranium Mine.