Dave Wood Interpretive Trail

photo of paint brush phot of little girl looking through a magnifying glass at a plant photo of blue bird

Welcome to the Uncompahgre National Forest!
Enjoy the Dave Wood Environmental Area Trail

Dave Wood Interpretive Trail encompasses about 3200 acres of typical habitats of the Uncompahgre Plateau. This forest is a working forest – public land dedicated to multiple uses such as ranching, timber harvest and recreation.  There are many trails in this forest that you can hike, horseback ride, mountain bike, and ride ATVs’ and motorcycles.  The Uncompahgre Plateau offers some of the best big game hunting in Colorado! 

This trail wanders through a ponderosa pine forest, beckoning the hiker to explore. To the casual observer, there is just the forest, the path, and the sky. To the careful observer, however, there is evidence of multiple ecosystems, traces of past life that swam in an ancient sea, plants that actually communciate with each other, and traces of history that shaped our lives.

Be an observant hiker and discover your forest- there are surprises everywhere! This guide will help you get started. Please print it or pick one up at the Ouray Ranger District in Montrose.   

Who is Dave Wood?

black & white portrait of white man

Dave Wood was a freighter in southwestern Colorado. He started his business in 1881 in Gunnison, when the Durango & Rio Grande Railroad made him their "forwarding and commission merchant." Wood freighted supplies west to construction gangs and newly-settled towns from the railroad's end-of-the-line. When the D&RG built its narrow gauge line through the Black Canyon and over Cerro Summit into Montrose, Wood took his business to that town. Montrose would be his largest and most permanent base, and for five years he was the exclusive agent for all freight going to Ouray, Telluride, and Rico. The D&RG extension, built from Montrose to Ouray in 1887, forced Wood to again move his base of operations. From his new location at Ridgway, he did a large freighting business into Telluride and Norwood. The completion of the Rio Grande Southern in 1891 ended Wood's operations. Built in 1882, the famous Dave Wood Road between Montrose and Telluride, via Horsefly Mesa, ran on the west side of the Uncompahgre River parallel with the present highway from Montrose to Ouray, and is today identified by a U. S. Forest Service marker.  More about Dave Wood


Indian History  - time line

black & white portrait of indian chief

About 10,000 years ago, paleo indians roamed the plateau hunting herds of wildlife without bows and arrows! Learn more about them and how Chief Ouray (pictured) and his wife Chipeta came onto the scene.


Did you see a flash of blue! Mountain blue birds are common here on the plateau and so are pollinators. Learn more...

  • Bird list for spruce fir and ponderosa habitats on the plateau.

A nature scavenger hunt! Explore the trail and look for clues.  Depending on the season, you are sure to see many wildlfowers. Learn more about wildlfowers and other plants along the trail (Plant notes by Leigh Robertson, Plant list by Barry Johnston)

Traces of an ancient life in a long ago sea! Learn more about the geology of the Uncomaphgre Plateau and Uncompahgre Valley. (Montrose Geologic Strata Column, Colorado Geologic Events)

Here are a few things to think about as you walk along the trail...don't forget to download and print the trail guide before you head to the forest.

As you walk along the trail, think about what you are seeing; Look and Listen for the sounds of nature…..

  • What does a forest look like? Describe what you are looking at…
  • Who lives in this forest? What are some examples of living and nonliving things you hear and see?
  • How do forests help our planet and us?
  • What harms the forest?
  • Who takes care of the forest?

How delicious was that hamburger you had for dinner last night? 

Do you eat Beef? Then you are connected to an important chapter of Colorado's history- Ranching! Right here, the Plateau offers plentiful summer and fall forage for cattle. Today the plateau has many cattle allotments – areas leased by ranchers to graze a certain amount of cattle.  Over the years, cattle have “sported” many different brands designed to identify specific herds owned by ranchers.  Initially, brands were just one symbol but with more ranchers moving into the area, those "cow tattoos” expanded to 3 symbols. Interview some ranching  families and investigate the vintage brands.

If only trees could talk! This part of the plateau has some captivating stories of cattle rustling – after all this is part of the old west! Do some research at your local library and uncover the tall tales and true stories of ranching on the plateau.

Take a closer look at layers of this forest….

LOOK UP! The tall trees you see up make up the canopy which functions like an umbrella. Their leaves receive most of the sunlight and shade the other forest layers.

LOOK STRAIGHT OUT! You are looking at the understory.  The understory is made up of young trees, bushes and other larger plants that are able to live under the canopy’s shade.

LOOK DOWN! What do you see? The forest floor is covered with herbaceous (non-woody) plants, dead pine needles, and scattered twigs and branches that fell from trees.  The plant and animal matter on the forest floor is naturally decomposing creating nutrient rich soil-  perfect for small plants, fungi, and seedlings to thrive.

Pick a layer and check it out more closely. Look for living and non–living specimens (samples) in your layer. Photograph or draw it in your journal. What is your specimen connected to in the forest?  (Example:a leaf is connected to a tree, but also shelters a ladybug, and will soon become a part of the nutrient rich soil.)

You are standing in a montane forest.

The word montane means mountain. These forests occur between 5,500-9,000 feet elevation. Not surprisingly the major feature of this zone is trees! Ponderosa pines dominate in this forest along with Rocky Mountain juniper. At higher elevation lodgepole pine and spruce become more common. Other trees and shrubs in the montane forest include aspens, mountain mahogany and serviceberry.      

Conifers or deciduous trees- what is the difference?

Deciduous trees like aspen shed their leaves every autumn and go through the winter with bare branches. Coniferous trees like ponderosa pine keep green needles throughout the year. Eventually needles do turn brown and fall off but not until new green needles have already grown.

You are looking at a ponderosa pine forest -

 Ponderosa pines have long, thin needles that tend to grow in bundles of two or three towards the end of their branches. Douglas fir needles grow singly, along the branches, are shorter than the ponderosa's and are flat.

Try your observation skills, and best guesses to work through a dichotomous key that will help you identify these trees

A landscape forged by wind and fire.

These pines have evolved to take advantage of periodic fires. Ponderosa pines often grow in dense stands and don’t always receive the sunlight nutrients and water necessary for vigorous growth. Lightning caused fires clear out forest brush and litter. The thicker bark of the ponderosa pines withstand the effects of low and moderate intensity fires. The surviving trees thrive in the fire-opened areas.

Download the Dave Wood Environmental Area Trail Guide and explore the forest and learn more!