The weather couldn’t be better for those who enjoy a hike and the system of trails throughout the area is endless. A leisurely stroll around the 2.2 mile Loyd’s Lake Trail in Monticello is a good starting point. Depending on the time of day you start you may be witness to the surfacing of trout or bluegill in Loyd’s Lake.
And the early risers who make a turn around the lake could be treated to the sound of bull elk trumpeting on the mountainside. They are a little tougher to spot than the many deer who make the area around the reservoir home. This time of year you may spot a doe and fawns or even one of the trophy bucks who range the county.
As you travel over the dam a look to the east will give you a birds eye view of another gem in San Juan County. The Hideout Golf Course. This hidden treasure is rated at #24 on the list of the top municipal golf courses in America. The course winds its way through the canyons below the Abajos for 18 holes. The fees for playing the course are equally stunning.. Adults carrying their own clubs can navigate the par 72 course for $30. $24 if you can prove up on being eligible for the senior discount.
Leaving Monticello and heading south will take you down routes Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch once traversed. Tales of the outlaws working as hands for the Carlisle and LC Cattle companies abound in the histories of the county.
There are two ways to get to Blanding from Monticello. The first is the leisurely drive southbound down US 191 that crosses the dam of the Recapture Reservoir. The reservoir is named for a local myth that claimed the Aztec Emperor Montezuma had escaped the Spaniards and was apprehended near the canyon that was dammed to create the reservoir in the 1980’s. The side canyons below the lake are filled with traces of the Ancestral Puebloans who made the area their home. That route will put you into the town of 4500 in about 20 minutes.
The more scenic and a bit more challenging route gradually climbs from the west edge of the county seat into the Abajo Mountains. The first part of this route is on pavement and will take you from the foothills and grazing lands just above Monticello. As you ascend the appearance of Ponderosa Pine, Spruce and Quaky Aspen will give cover to wild turkey, bear and deer. to very close to the summit of the 11,000 ft peaks. This portion is pretty much a straight shot through scrub oak and high pastures that provides amazing views of the Colorado Plateau, the local wind farm and peeks at wild turkey, deer and the occasional bear.
8 miles west of town the sign for Nizhoni Campground will appear on your left. Once again, this route is not for the faint of heart as you will be traversing dirt roads that cling precariously to the cliff sides plummeting over a thousand feet in some areas, but the views are without equal. Around each bend the traveler will be treated to scenes that could easily be mistaken for the Swiss Alps in front of you. And if your passenger trusts your driving skills enough, a look over your shoulder will provide views deep into the territory surrounding Canyonlands National Park.
There are numerous opportunities for a side hike or to play in the perennial streams that come off the Abajo’s. Some of the easier trails like Robertson’s Pasture make for a good stroll with little elevation change. Near the Nizhoni Campground itself the Red Ledges trail mounts a more strenuous outing but well worth the effort for the amazing views it provides.
As you wind your way down the Abajo’s towards Blanding the views do not cease to amaze. Right now the lower fields are covered in yellow blankets of the Sunflowers and Rabbit Brush in bloom. And in the next few weeks the Quaky Aspen, Maples, Utah Serviceberry, and Oaks will paint the mountainside with their colors.
According to the leaf change experts we may be on track for some amazing sights this season. A very wet summer and gradually cooling temperatures should make this year's change a great one.