Exploring the Roan Plateau: Day Two

Conservationist blogger Hal Herring and photographer Kevin Cooley spent three days exploring what's at stake in the current rush to develop the energy resources beneath Colorado's unique Roan Plateau -- some of the best big game hunting and trout fishing in the United States. Here's what they found on day two.

We'd seen the Roan Plateau from the air, and we'd seen it from the roads. Marveled at the monster dropoff and big air at Anvil Point, with the swallows dive-bombing around us with a sound like the air itself ripping open. We'd seen the encircling energy development, the giant well pads cut into the ridgelines on the land owned by Encana and other energy companies. As Grand Junction-based real-estate developer (and Trout Unlimited Director) Mac Cunningham put it, "If we did half this much damage in our business, we'd be shut down. The public outrage would be unbelieveable." But now it was time to go wandering and find some fish to catch, deep in the heart of the area that most Coloradoans- and most Americans who know the Roan- want to see protected.

I'd seen the photos of Corey Fisher and Chris Hunt fishing those shadowed cathedrals of moss and rock and clear water for the genetically-pure strain of cutthroats, but looking out across the Roan, it was hard to imagine that those places existed. It looks like great hunting country- there are blue grouse in the snowberry patches at the edge of the aspens, monster muley tracks in the road dust, elk rubbings on the saplings, but no creeks can be seen. It got even harder to imagine as we drove out a ridgeline road, and the land dried out, the snowberry gave way to sage, and the sage to wiry, low-growing potentilla with its yellow flowers and survive-anywhere desert aspect.

We parked at the end of the ridge and looked down, down, 1000 feet or so, where a distant envelope of deep green willow thickets showed at the floor of the canyon. The opposite side of the canyon wall was sage brush falling away to sheer gray clifflines. Ken Neubecker and Chris Hunt were loading daypacks with water and flies and a little food. Mac Cunningham, a veteran of many long downhill scrambles to fish his favorite part of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, grabbed a fanny pack and set off downhill without fanfare. I followed him, down a path eroded into the red rock, heading for the water they all said was down there somewhere. --Hal Herring

Check out Kevin Cooley's photos from day two of our expedition.