Flattops Recon

There is an old saying related to skiing that states: “It’s not just the skiing, it’s where it takes you.”  This idea resonated with me as I joined four other guides and our Flat Tops Wilderness Guides wrangler, Jimmy on a recon trip into the spectacular Flat Tops Wilderness on horseback.  The objective was to see how a day of riding deep into the wilderness to fish small brook and cutthroat inhabited streams would go.
The day started with a scenic drive from Colorado River Road up Sweetwater Road to the southern boundary of the Flat Tops Wilderness; Colorado’s second largest wilderness area.  Designated in 1975 this protected forest encompasses over 235,000 acres of pristine cliffs, valleys, mountain lakes and streams.  Our plan was to leave the barn and lodge near the Hilltop Ranch Trail Head and ride our horses deep into the Turret Creek drainage to a high alpine meadow.  At the meadow, located at an elevation of about 9,700’ the creek meanders through a large wetland flanked by cliffs and waterfalls; above which are the Flat Top Mountain’s southern summits.
We met Jimmy at the barn and after a tour of the grounds we walked through the guest lodge nestled next to the lower reaches of Turret Creek.  The lodge is a classic large beam structure with vaulted ceilings, a stone fireplace, and large windows allowing the high country sun to illuminate the traditional mountain décor. 
With the sounds of Turret Creek rushing by, the sweet smell of pines and the other mountain flora, it was tempting to grab a chair on the large deck and let the day ease away.  However, we had “work” to do.  So after a glimpse into the stocked pond where large Brookies and Cutties revealed themselves in the sunlight, we headed to the barn to meet our mounts for the day.  Jimmy loaded our pack mule with the day’s provisions and fly rods, then introduced us to our horses and we were off.
The climb out of the barn area was a gentle road that quickly gained elevation and brought us to a meadow of scrub oak with views of the surrounding steep valleys and cliffs.  It wasn’t long before we left the open bench and found ourselves deep in an old growth aspen grove with a high canopy of newly sprouted aspen leaves.  The dispersed sunlight revealed lupine, paintbrush, and columbine that were poised to bloom and will soon carpet the forest floor with brilliant colors in the coming weeks of summer. 
After an hour or so ride through some of Colorado’s most scenic terrain, we reached the meadow and the meandering curves of Turret Creek were laid out before us.  The fly fisher in each of us quickly woke up and it was difficult to rein in the excitement as we looked upon this inviting fishery.  The creek was perfect habitat for hungry fish that were eager to take dries on a well presented drift.  With plenty of seams, pools, cut banks, and gentle runs to cast into, it was hard to focus on a certain zone to fish.  The flow was heavy as run-off was in full force but it was obvious that once peak flows subsided, this would be a fabulous place for Brookies on dry flies.
We ate a casual lunch under the shade of large Douglas Fir, Spruce, and Lodge pole Pines.  All the while switching our gaze from the swollen creek to the waterfall cascading high off the ridge top then up to the majestic pink and red cliffs then back to the valley floor and its peaceful and serene display of Colorado’s best offering for secluded fly fishing.
The ride “back to the barn” was equally spectacular.  We took a different route that hugged the steep southeast flank of a mesa that made up part of Shingle Peak.  From here we re-entered the old growth aspens, equally spaced and allowing good visibility into the sparse meadows that dotted the landscape.  Through the trees we spotted deer and elk as they woke from their daily slumber to forage in the fading early evening light. 
As the shadows grew longer, valleys and cliff bands changed in their relief, looking more prominent and majestic than before.  We marveled at the scenery and looked forward to another opportunity to share the landscape, the open air, and of course, the fishing with anyone looking for a unique adventure into a corner of Colorado that few ever see.  I again pondered a variation of the thought about skiing, “It’s not just the fishing, it’s where it takes you”.
Thanks for Listening, 
Mike Wallace

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