“Intrepid” is the only word to describe Club America’s Senior Hikers who braved the icy waters on Newlin Creek to boulder scramble their way through and up The Wet Mountain canyon to Herrick’s 1887 sawmill. It is a short hike – only four and a half miles round trip with an elevation gain of only 1,360 feet, but the length of the hike is by-the-book. Yesterday’s hike was nothing like a dry book.
Wading through water that channeled down the hiking path and the swollen creek that overran its banks, our only option was to laugh. Our laughter took the form of black humor. At times we called out “Shark!” or “Piranha!” Given the temperature of the water, it was more likely that we might have sighted an iceberg off a nearby glacier.
Once we had braved the water, the die was cast. When you are wet, you are wet. Unless you lose your footing and fall in, you can’t get wetter. As it was, tall hikers got wet to their knees; shorter hikers got wet to mid-thigh. On our return, we skipped the logs entirely. Like dogs on the scent, we stepped into the water without a backward glance.
We were on an adventure. True, it was a small adventure: it was unlikely we would be swept away and drown, but Thursday’s hike up the canyon was extraordinary. We saw everything more clearly: the sky was bluer, the water frothier, the canyon walls taller, and the flowers more abundant. Candytuft, white Violets, red Columbine, Arnica (“Does anyone need something for pain?”), Bluebells, and 20 shades of Green paved our way.
Wading and bouldering our way up the canyon to Herrick’s 1887 sawmill was an exercise in appreciation. Here was a man with vision and frontier guts. The creek runs down the middle; the hiking trail crosses and re-crosses the creek twenty times; and trees crowd in on either side.
It is hard to imagine Nathaniel (his wife Harriot and their children) transporting his equipment, five horses, one mule, two log wagons, and a Studebaker wagon with log chains up to his work site. Having approached the mill site from the east, we wondered if maybe Herrick had come in from the west – off Oak Creek Grade maybe.
Additionally, Herrick had to haul in a huge steam boiler and flywheel. His plan was to mill lumber for the mining camps to the north. Herrick died the same year that he built the mill – a true case of Dream Deferred.
In addition to signage at the mill site, the United States Forest Service drew our attention to the endangered status of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout – the only trout native to the South Platte and Arkansas River basins. Because of its endangered status (same old same old: loss of habitat, over-fishing, and the introduction of non-native trout) fishing is prohibited along Newlin Creek where restoration efforts are underway.
Local readers can easily find Newlin Creek off SH 67, 4.3 miles south of Florence. A sign to Newlin Creek, CR 15, is posted on the west side of the highway. The road to the parking lot is deeply rutted. 4-wheel drive and high-clearance is essential. If your vehicle does not feature both, park your car before you reach the parking lot.
Phil and Debbie Rabinowitz plan the weekly hikes. Keep up-to-date with Club America’s next hike and destination. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask them to add your name to the senior hiking mailing list. You may have missed the most exciting hike of the season. Or maybe not. You never know what lies beyond the next bend.