Way Out West, Part One: Cheesman Canyon

Some of the things you’ve never done are accepted as not to be reasonably expected. You’ve never gone skydiving. You’ve never climbed K2. You’ve never dated a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

But it seems improbable that until a few days ago, I’d never fished the western United States.

I had my chance in the form of family vacation to the Grand Canyon. We’d do our thing in Arizona, then head northeast to Colorado, where I’d have two days to fish the legendary South Platte River. For years, I’d been reading about the South Platte in books like Ed Engle’s Trout Lessons; Landon Mayer’s The Hunt For Giant Trout; and especially Pat Dorsey’s Fly Fishing Guide to the South Platte River. I’d casually said hello to Pat before, but I got to chat with him at the Edison Fly Fishing show last January. He wasn’t available to guide me, but Chris Steinbeck, another guide at The Blue Quill Angler, was. Done and done.

I have a love/hate relationship with every guide I’ve hired. They’ve all been really good, but as a night owl they’ve all horrified me with lines like, “We’ll meet at the Cheesman Canyon parking lot (over an hour drive from our hotel) at 7am.” Such is the price to pay for fishing in paradise. And paradise it was.

On the drive through Pike National Forest, there were long stretches of wildfire remnants. But you could also see the earth beginning the healing process. Nature finds a way, right? Much of the the drive was a twisting, turning route through the mountains. My wife made the comment that auto brake shops must do very well out here.
The North Fork of the South Platte winds along Rt. 285. Much of it is pretty meadow water like this, but it also has some gnarly whitewater sections. I was told this section is mostly stocked fish, perhaps why I didn’t see anyone fishing it during our drives.
That headline don’t lie! We didn’t gear up in the parking lot; we packed our waders, boots, gear, and food/water into the canyon. The first day we hiked in to Cow’s Crossing, which is a one mile one-way trek. The trail isn’t particularly steep, but it does have ups and downs and rocks and gravel that would very much like to trip you up. There are also some trailside ledges that, if you are inclined to suffer from vertigo, you should not look down! The walk in during the cool of the morning almost seemed fun. It’s the hoof out that gets you. Chris and I went way into the Canyon on the second day. It was an hour walk, one way, and the trip out had me taking frequent water and rest-my-weary-bones breaks.
There are specific access points to the bottom of the canyon from the main trail, and this ain’t one of them. I took this shot from a mark we fished on the second day. That’s a long way up!
Cheesman Canyon possesses a stark beauty, much of it consisting of dreary earth tones: rocks, gravel, truck-sized boulders, and dead vegetation melding into one giant sun-bleached brown-grey blandscape. But it’s also dotted with evergreens and grasses and lovely gems like this wildflower.
And there’s poison ivy. Lots of it. “Irving,” as I affectionately call it, is everywhere. Irving was kind enough to hitch a ride home with me, evidenced by a quarter-sized conglomeration of blisters on my left forearm. It’s ridiculous how easily it finds me.
We have this plant, mullein, in Connecticut. It’s colloquially known as cowboy (or indian) toilet paper. You can do whatever you like with any plant’s leaves, but I would advise against using Irving for this purpose.
Stay tuned for part two of “Way Out West”: The South Platte River.

2 comments on “Way Out West, Part One: Cheesman Canyon

  1. wmalkauskas says:

    Gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing.

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