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Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

For solitude, visit Colorado’s SWAs

New guidebook to State Wildlife Areas met early resistance from those who didn’t want them publicized

May 12, 2002

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It won't be long until summer arrives and the inevitable heat. For thousands of flatland residents, that means Colorado, one of the prettiest states in America.

Colorado's lure is the Rocky Mountains and the outdoors experience. Unfortunately, the natural beauty attracts tourists from around the world.

The Rocky Mountain high that John Denver sang about can become a Rocky Mountain low of traffic jams on scenic highway loops and crowded campgrounds.

Dennis McKinney has the solution to Rocky Mountain crowds. McKinney grew up in the Dallas area and visits regularly. He has lived in Colorado since 1977.

"My dad sent me to Fort Collins on a construction job one summer, and I just couldn't believe how pretty Colorado was," said McKinney, who now lives in the foothills west of Denver.

McKinney is a writer who specializes in travel stories, often with a fishing, hunting or camping twist. His first book was a natural for a man who has spent 25 years searching out Colorado's best wild places.

The 352-page book is the state's first definitive source on the Colorado Division of Wildlife's State Wildlife Areas. The book is called Guide to Colorado State Wildlife Areas ($28.95).

Though this book is the official guide to state wildlife areas, McKinney at first met unusual resistance from Colorado wildlife personnel who feared the public might overwhelm the 241 fragile areas highlighted by the book.

"At first, they didn't want the SWAs publicized," said McKinney. "The guidebook has had the effect, however, of dispersing visitors who were using the more crowded natural areas."

There is no charge for visiting these properties for fishing, hunting, hiking or even camping. The camping is primitive, meaning no running water, electricity, showers or toilets, but there are also no crowds.

"One example is the Lajara Creek SWA south of Del Norte," McKinney said. "It's in the lower San Luis Valley where public campgrounds tend to be crowded. At Lajara Creek, you can fish for brown trout in a beautiful setting and camp under the cottonwoods along the creek. There's a good chance you'll have the place all to yourself."

If you're visiting Telluride, an area known for its beauty, be sure to follow McKinney's directions to Woods Lake in the Lizardhead Wilderness Area. It's one of the prettiest high mountain lakes in Colorado, but you won't find it mentioned in most of the local literature.

The locals have known about these places for years. The guidebook levels the playing field for flatlanders looking for hidden gems. After 20-plus years of wandering Colorado, McKinney had visited nearly 100 of the wildlife areas. He and his wife took an entire year to visit and photograph the other 150 wildlife areas.

Some of the areas offer excellent hunting in the fall, and McKinney is very high on the quality of the trout fishing.

"These are wild, self-sustaining populations of trout," he said. "Some are brown trout, which are not native to Colorado but they've been there for years. There are also rainbow trout, brook trout and cutthroat trout."

Most of Colorado's SWAs can be accessed in a two-wheel-drive pickup or SUV. A few spots require an off-road vehicle, particularly during wet weather, but all that information is included in the guidebook.

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