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Mosca Pass - by Tom Macedo - Huerfano World - August 4, 2005
The Latin word for fly is mosca. It means the same in Portuguese, Italian, and a handful of other languages. Mosca Pass, located just west of the Huerfano County line, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is aptly named. There you will find flies, or more accurately, they will find you. Keep moving and you may not know they are there. Stand still for just a moment and the small black flies that form the Mosca Pass welcoming committee will greet you in a most annoying fashion. But, one shouldn't be deterred from visiting Mosca Pass and the Mosca Pass Trail. A little insect repellant will keep the pests at bay. Oh yes, and keep moving.
The Mosca Pass Trail can be accessed from one of two locations: there is a trailhead at Great Sand Dunes National Park to the west, and one at the top of Mosca Pass at the eastern terminus of the trail. County Road 583, west of Red Wing, originates at Sharpsdale and ends at Mosca Pass. For those wishing to hike the trail, but not wanting to take the long drive to the Sand Dunes, this is a good option. The drive alone is worth seeing. The views from County Road 583 are spectacular. To the south, the peaks of the Sierra Blanca Massif, Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear and Lindsey, dominate the horizon. They are tucked behind long prairie-covered hills, which roll back into the distance like ocean waves. The road is rated as a four-wheel drive road, however it has a relatively smooth surface which should accommodate most vehicles. At the end of the road is the Mosca Pass trailhead. No vehicles (motorized or bicycles) are permitted beyond this point as the trail enters the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.
The Mosca Pass Trail follows a route that was once used by Native Americans. In the late 1800's European Settlers turned the trail into a toll road. A venture that was disbanded shortly after the turn of the century as the road was washed out a number of times when Mosca Creek would flow over its banks. Since that time, nature has reclaimed the land, so much so, that it's now difficult to imagine a road could have ever existed there.
The Mosca Pass Trail begins at an elevation of 9750' and descends to 8000' at the Sand Dunes, 3.5 miles beyond. It begins in an area which alternates between wooded patches and open flower-filled meadows. The terrain soon changes as the trail drops into an area of thick vegetation as it follows the course of Mosca Creek. Here, the canopy is dominated by aspens and willows, which keep the trail shaded and cool even on a hot day. For the botany enthusiast, this section of trail, which lasts for much of the hike, provides a real treat. The diversity of vegetation is impressive. A great variety of wild flowers grow in abundance as well as do fruiting shrubs such as elderberry, raspberry and currant.
About two thirds of the way into the hike, the terrain again begins to change. The grade of the trail increases as it snakes in and out of the cool forest into hot open areas where rocky outcroppings loom. Here the tops of the sand dunes begin to show through the rocks and trees. And so it goes, hot and cool, to the end of the trail where the grade levels off in a burn area. In the year 2000, a 3,100-acre section of forest burned adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes. Walking through this area, one is afforded interesting views of the dunes behind charred snags. At this point a visit to the National Park is a bonus to the hiking adventure. One can cool off by wading in Medano Creek, which skirts the dunes, before heading back up to Mosca Pass. For the hardy, a trek up the dunes might be in order; otherwise ascending back up the Mosca Pass Trail should provide enough of a challenge to most. Some hikers opt to be picked up at the park and driven the long way home. For those who prefer ending a hike heading downhill, know that the hike back up to the pass is visually more dramatic. The grade is not so steep as to be a deterrent, but then again, there are those flies.