Crystal Reservoir Loop: For the Insatiably Curious
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Are you a person that just has to see behind the familiar? To peer beneath the everyday and common place? When you were six was Curious George an inspiration rather than a warning?
If so, you have something in common with Albert Einstein. “I have no special talents,” he wrote in a letter. “I am only passionately curious.”
Albert, I have a fine spring hike for you.
What is more familiar than the road-side view of Crystal Reservoir in Curt Gowdy State Park? Lovely fishing spot, picnic area, weekend campsite. Are you curious about what secrets hide beyond the pleasant scene?
There are wonders, wonders shown to those who check out the Canyons Trail. The path, built within the last few years for mountain bikers, opens a way into the jagged canyons, gullies and draws that drain into and out of the Crystal waters.
I love these trails. They were built for sightseeing rather than just getting from one place to another. It’s as if the trail builders are saying, “Hey check out this cool spot!” and “Isn’t this a great overlook?!”
Connecting with the Crystal Ridge Trail hikers and bikers can make a broad seven mile loop around the lake, winding up and over the hills, often out of view of the water, and then coming back to the water’s edge.
The country is one of rough hills pierced by jagged salmon-colored granite, granite that that lichen has painted sage-green. Pines are rare. The hills of the Canyons Trail are dotted with rough buck brush, spiked by yucca.
The trail makes a switch-backing rise and fall to drop into the bottom of Middle Crow Creek, the out-flow of both Crystal and Granite. It then climbs up and over, dropping into other smaller side canyons along the way. The Canyon Trail is well named.
You will edge into the old Silver Crown Mining District. Between 1880 and 1906 a dozen mines produced copper and a little gold in the area. The ore was crushed at the town site of Hecla further down the creek. I spotted at least one exploratory tunnel not far off the trail. You may see more. The Board of Public Utilities, which manages the land, does ask that users stay on the trails.
Small gems of wildflowers are scattered about, ground huggers, except for many bold clumps of passion flowers that reach their innocent lavender faces to the sky.
This is hot country with scarcely a lick of shade. Perfect for spring and fall. A scorcher in summer.
When you take your hike of discovery…..
Pick up a free “Curt Gowdy State Park Trails” map at the Bicycle Station, Rock on Wheels or any of the visitor info centers to plan your route.
There are two good trailheads, one at the spillway on the east side of Crystal Reservoir, turning near the fee station toward the bridge, and one at the end of a gravel road that leads to the creek midway between Crystal and Granite.
To get there I prefer to drive up Happy Jack Road (WY 210), turning left just past the Bunkhouse Bar onto Crystal Lake Road (CR 210), continuing 6.8 miles to Granite Springs Road and the reservoir on the right. Of course you can take Happy Jack to Curt Gowdy State Park, then follow Granite Springs Road past Granite Reservoir to Crystal as well.
Trails are well marked with sign posts at every trail junction, numbered to sync with the map. While there are maps on the posts some are very faded so you are wise to bring your own.
Mountain bikers should note that this section of the Canyons trail is rated for expert or advanced riders. Few bikers use it, preferring the routes closer to the visitor center.
Park entrance fees are $4 for Wyoming vehicles, $6 for out-of-state. Bring correct change as the entrance stations are often unmanned. Dogs are welcome on leash. While there are several pit toilets near the water there are none on these trails or trailheads.