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Perins Peak: Durango’s overseer

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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 10:03 AM
Lynn Coburn works the edge of Perins Perch. Silver Mountain in the La Plata range dominates the backdrop.
Perins Peak is the defining natural landmark rising west of Durango.
Thomas Holt Ward keeps a watchful eye on the troops as they begin the boulder scramble. The Hogsback is the prominence well below.

Playful features and wild creatures make Perins Peak an engaging hike for children.

Adjacent to town, the easy-to-follow footpath wanders through gambel oak and ponderosa pine habitat. The pleasant grade tops out on a grassy ridge with large-caliber views of the La Plata range and San Juan Mountains. The highpoint is the subtle roller on the ridgetop. Scramble down boulders to the cliff edge to experience Durango’s premier, jaw-dropping vantage point.

Perins Peak is oft forgotten because it is closed 8½ of the year. The trail lies within the 13,442-acre Perins Peak State Wildlife Area managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It is open to the public from the first of August until the end of November.

From the parking area, elevation 6,800 feet, pass the informative placards. Turn left, and immediately cross Dry Gulch. The thin trail skirts the Rockridge subdivision on open grassland framed with piñon-juniper.

Enter dark and mysterious woods. North-facing slopes and the banks of a tributary of Dry Gulch are thick with cottonwood, Douglas fir, and soaring ponderosa pine. Steaming piles of black bear scat will be on the trail in the fall. Watch for deer, elk, and the rare cougar. Squirrels scurry all about. Traverse atop and balance along humongous logs.

At 1.3 miles, the track climbs in earnest up a hillside crowded with scrub oak, mountain mahogany, and chokecherry. Splendor aflame in autumn, many locals make an annual trek to Perins Peak to experience the brilliance of color.

Look north and the horizon is spiked with the Needle Mountains, including distinctive Pigeon and Turret. In contrast, in front of these behemoths lies the relatively flat summit plateau of Mountain View Crest.

If kids are going to falter, it’ll be on this somewhat steep and open incline. The path soon comes to a welcoming patch of pine, aspen, and snowberry, a good place for revitalizing snacks and water. The pitch softens as the trail emerges from the woods. Wade through tall grasses watching for the slithering neon, smooth green snake. Be attentive to the warning of the western rattlesnake.

At two miles, 8,000 feet, just after a fallen structure on the right, the trail splits twice in rapid succession. The subtle junctures may be marked with cairns. Turn left/southeast. If the La Plata Mountains are in your viewfinder, turn around! Walk up the broad ridge.

The treadway climbs another 350 feet to the soft, grassy highpoint.

The peak is named for Charles Perins, who laid out the Durango townsite for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. A peak register is tucked under the cairn celebrating 8,346 feet. Smelter Mountain and Lake Nighthorse are visible in the south. The view of Durango only gets better.

Pass by two drive-in movie screens, actually, a microwave reflecting facility. Turkey vultures like to hang out in droves on these structures. You are sure to see peregrine and possibly prairie falcons circling above. Beefy, short-horned lizards thrive here.

Descend gently as the ridge narrows to constrict the passage. At three miles, the earth suddenly falls away. Those with a fear of heights can take in the panorama, compromising little, from this back-from-the-edge overlook. The brave will find a scrambler’s route down through gigantic boulders. Be mindful of the exposure.

Children need a spotter while going both down and back up through the boulders. Kids love messing around on the slabs. Young ones need constant supervision in this precipitous area.

It is a thrill to approach the abrupt edge. Overend Mountain Park, the Hogsback, U.S. Highway 160, downtown, the river, Needham Elementary, Miller Middle School, Durango High School, Fort Lewis College ... half the known world is visible from this boundless overlook, so bring your binoculars.

Return as you came. A mile from the summit, don’t miss the two essential right turns.

This hike is suitable for children aged seven-and-up. The nine- and 10-year-old boys I hiked with favored all the wild things, playing in the boulders, looking down on their town and non-stop trail conversation. Bring jackets, hats, treats, and water.

The peak trail closes at the end of November. Your window of opportunity is slim. For those who must settle for hiking without the joyous accompaniment of children, take heart. The path will be drenched in birdsong and peaceful solitude.

http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.

Trail basics

Travel: From Main Avenue and 25th Street in Durango, go west. The road becomes Junction Street. Pass Miller Middle School and, in two blocks, turn left on Clovis Drive. Go up the hill and enter the Rockridge subdivision. Drive 0.8 mile and turn right on Tanglewood Drive. Cross a small bridge and take an immediate left. The parking area is on the right.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.0 miles, 1,600 feet of climbing
Time: 2:30 to 4:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation easy; precipitous exposure on the cliff platform
Map: Durango West, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Open August 1 - November 15: Perins Peak State Wildlife Area is closed when hunting season concludes to provide winter shelter for deer and elk. The closure is extended through spring and early summer to safeguard peregrine falcons nesting and raising their young. This brings the Colorado Parks and Wildlife property into compliance with statewide BLM peregrine falcon regulations.

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