Tag Archives: hiking

The Byways Revisited – Pockets of Color in the Colorado Rockies


Colorado’s fall color explosion begins in early September with high country aspen beginning their golden exhibition deep in the central and northern mountains.

While there are many places I would love to go to view the aspen in their colorful fall garb, this time, I stuck to the central mountains so that I could make it home in time for the evening Broncos kick-off. Still, my little ole car ended up with more than 250 miles in this round-trip jaunt.

So, where did I go? To the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway, the 10th Mountain Division section of the byway that is.

First, let’s get to the color and yes, there were some aspen which were already breaking free of their summertime green exploding into gold with a little bit of orange and rust thrown in for good measure. All along the drive from Minturn to Leadville, aspen were changing in pockets of gold. The most dramatic views were along the Battle Mountain drive.

Pockets of gold along 10th Mountain Diviision Highway.
Pockets of gold along 10th Mountain Division Highway.

The road along this drive climbs high above the Eagle River and the aspen hug the steep hillside only stopping when the hill gives way to dramatic black, red and rust-colored cliffs.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, stopping at almost every pullout, soaking up the scenery, breathing in the cool fresh mountain air and taking in the colorful scenery. Not even the dark clouds that drifted over the mountain range could keep me from feeling completely delighted. Luckily, the storm clouds during my drive came and went pretty quickly, leaving amazing blue and puffy white-cloud skies behind. With the green and gold covered hillsides and red colored cliffs in the background, I was in complete awe of the scenery.

Now, let’s move on to the history of this byway. There are two major historic distinctions along the byway between Minturn and Leadville. One is a rich mining history and the other is a military history. In between Minturn and Red Cliff is the abandoned mining town of Gilman. Now, while this town is an abandoned ghost town, the age of many of the buildings in this town are not as old as one might think, because the town was last inhabited in 1984. That’s right, I said ‘19’ – 84…only 30 years ago.

Gilman ghost town.
Gilman ghost town.

So, what happened? Well, the zinc extraction industry went belly up (with rock-bottom zinc prices) and the town was condemned by the EPA…that’s it in a nutshell. Check out the Substreet blog for more historical information and lots of photos of the town and surrounding area.

As for the military history…well, that comes in the Pando Valley area of the byway, now called Camp Hale for the military operations that took place there during WWII. Camp Hale is located between Red Cliff and Leadville. Many of its distinctions include ski training operations of the 10th Mountain Division as well as a secret CIA training camp from 1958 – 64 with the Tibetan freedom fighters. Check out the linked website for interesting information on all the activities that took place there.

When you visit the area now, you might see a few long forgotten cement walls, some sort of road system which has been almost completely covered by natural vegetation and hopefully you will never come across any, but munitions are still being recovered by the military in its cleanup of the area. Note: if you do a google search for Camp Hale on Goolge Maps and turn to the satellite view, you can still see the outline of the camp buildings and road system.

When I stopped at the roadside pullout which memorializes the secret CIA and Tibetan training operations, I got out of my car just long enough to watch the storm clouds which had been chasing me since Battle Mountain blow down into the valley, completely engulfing the mountainsides, leaving nothing in view except for a thick mist.

Camp Hale Tibetan freedom fighters memorial plaque.
Camp Hale Tibetan freedom fighters memorial plaque.

I took a few shots before the rain began and then hid in my car as it blew through and then quickly retreated through the other side of the valley and over another mountain range. The smells left behind were thick and rich with scents of pine and late summer. Soon, the clouds broke and gave way to a perfectly blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. I was in heaven and lingered for a while longer before continuing on to Leadville.

One other historical note to mention and this piece of history unfortunately has no name, although it’s known as cabin in the valley according to a photo I found on a Google search. On previous jaunts in this area, I had always just cruised past this broken and falling down cabin, but this time, I stopped. When I approached the cabin, I noticed that it had two distinct rooms. This was different from other old relics I had come across in the Colorado Rockies, so I made sure to take as many photos as I could from different angles before leaving the area.

Oh and just so you know, the last leg of the byway from Leadville to Copper Mountain also has a ton of colorful aspen viewing right along the byway. It definitely is worth taking a whole day to linger along the drive if you go.

Looking southward from the road to Freemont Pass along hwy91.
Looking southward from the road to Freemont Pass along hwy91.

Maybe even take a train ride in Leadville during this time of year to capture the changing aspen with an historical train as backdrop against the high mountain peaks. Check out the Leadville Twin Lakes website for more information on the fall train tours.

For info on what to do and see, where to stay and what to eat along the Top of the Rockies Byway, here’s the linked websites in recap:

If you plan on touring the full byway, make sure you do it in summer, since the top of Independence Pass is closed in winter. The furthest end of the byway takes you to Aspen, so be sure to bring a fully packed wallet as well.

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Wildflower splendor along the West Elk Loop


purple_gothic_071214Where’s the best skiing?
Where can I find the most colorful aspen in fall?
Where are the wildflowers growing?

These are just a few of the questions that many visitors, heck I would say that even Coloradans, ask during the different seasons here in Colorado.

If you are looking for mountainsides covered in color in the middle of summer, then my answer would be…Crested Butte.

As a matter of fact, Crested Butte is considered the “wildflower capital of Colorado” and rightfully so. Every turn along every road and every path and trail in mid-summer is bound to take your breath away. And, every summer, Crested Butte hosts the annual Wildflower Festival during the second week of July. Not that the wildflowers don’t bloom at any other time, but mid-July is peak season for a show of colors.

I’ve been wanting to go to Crested Butte during the wildflower festival for several years now and this year, I finally did it. While my trip out was only for the day, I did my best to make it worth the four and half-hour drive from my place in Denver. The flowers, the town, the people and the weather did not disappoint.

Hiking around Crested Butte:
Daisies along Woods Walk
Daisies along Woods Walk

I took my daughter along this particular trip and we left before the sunrise. We made it to town in time for breakfast and after that, we were on our way to hunt for the best display. I quickly found out that no matter where we chose to go, we were not going to be disappointed. But, on advice from the nice folks at the visitor center, my daughter and I attempted to hike Woods Walk. This is an easy trail for low-landers and those who typically don’t get out to hike too often…ahem, my daughter. I wasn’t disappointed and despite my daughter’s tummy acting up (she headed back to the car while I wandered around the mountainside), I was treated to an amazing display of color and blooms.

Gothic:

When I got back to my car, I made a pit stop at a gas station for two tall cold bottles of water and my daughter and I were off again to explore another area I was curious about….Gothic. gothic_sign_B&W_071214This ‘ghost town’ is quite the opposite…as in, the place is bustling with activity; from hikers, to scientists, to visitors wanting to learn more about the biological lab which is the main focal point of town. “RMBL was founded in 1928 on the remains of an abandoned mining town in Gothic, Colorado. Approximately 160 people are in residence there during the summer field season. Over 1200 scientific publications have been based on work from the Laboratory (currently 60-80 per year).” (Wikipedia)

We took a little break here at Gothic and then continued along the road as far as I thought my little old two-wheel drive car could handle it.

Scenery along Schofield Pass road.
Scenery along Schofield Pass road.

At one point, about a half-mile outside of town, a sign is posted that warns, “Only 4-wheel drive” can handle the road ahead. I kind of ignored this sign for about two more miles before I gave in and we headed back toward the Crested Butte area. Of course, not before I took a few more shots of the amazing scenery of the area. Oh and by the way, this road continues over Schofield Pass and then on to the town of Marble on the other side of the mountain range. One section along this road is affectionately named, “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” Go ahead, look it up! My suggestion would be to search for videos on YouTube.

Ohio Pass:

The next curiosity I wanted to satisfy had to do with the Castles along Ohio Pass road. Of course, I found many images of the Castles on the Internet, but I had to see it for myself. So, off we went over another dirt road. This time though, the dirt road is a little tamer as compared to Schofield Pass road. To get there, I took Hwy12, otherwise known as Kebler Pass road to the junction with Ohio Pass road. This junction comes about 100 yards east of Kebler Pass. The road is actually a forest road, so it isn’t as well maintained as Kebler Pass road, but still drivable in my little old car. Not too far after the junction, you come out of the pine trees and to an area of road which is not quite wide enough for two-way travel.

Castles along Ohio Pass.
Castles along Ohio Pass.

The road has a sharp drop-off, but the views are spectacular. After a few miles of driving downward through an extremely old stand of very tall aspen, we came to a very open valley, green with grass and dotted with several ranches. I found the wildflowers a little harder to get to along this road, since many of them were up steep hillsides. The road continues on from here for another 20 miles until it reaches Hwy50. Since I had other things on my mind, I turned around and headed back toward Hwy12.

Kebler Pass:

This road is 32 miles long and connects Crested Butte to Hwy133 and Paonia on the southern end and Carbondale to the north. The road itself takes you through what may be the oldest stand of aspen in America (just hasn’t been proven yet). The aspen are tall and straight, and the feeling you get while driving through them is that of serenity and peace. Of course, that is if you aren’t zipping through as if on your way to an important meeting. When you come out of the aspen on the northwestern side, you get an amazing view of the Anthracite Range.

Anthracite Range along Kebler Pass road.
Anthracite Range along Kebler Pass road.

Along this route, it’s best to hike one of the many trails (Lost Lakes, Lake Irwin, Anthracite, and more) to get a better view of wildflowers. While the aspen are amazing along the road, the plants that cover the floor (under the aspen) are mostly fern with a sparse few lupine scattered throughout for good measure. I know that I could have found plenty of wildflowers had I had the time for another hike.

After the Anthracite Range, I turned around and headed my humble little car back in the direction of Crested Butte for dinner before hitting the road for a four and a half-hour drive. downtown_CB3_B&W_071214My daughter and I stopped in at The Last Steep and enjoyed massive sandwiches….I had the jerk chicken and she had a “basic” burger.

When all was said and done…I decided that most definitely, I will return with a mission. Whether that mission will be to capture the rapture of fall, or to seek out new wildflower hidden treasures, some of the beauty is in the planning, or lack there-of as the case may be. Crossing fingers that part of the next excursion includes a few nights local stay.

Wildflower capture:

Some of the Colorado wildflowers we viewed, but did not necessarily capture digitally include:

  • aster
  • flax
  • lupine
  • columbine
  • daisies
  • sunflowers
  • paint brush
  • penstemon

Check out Colorado Wildflowers website for more info on the many different wildflower species in Colorado.

Just another Weekend in the Rockies


Sunflowers and the Ten Mile Range.

It’s not a byway, but highway 285 going southwest from Denver through the Platte River Canyon, over Kenosha Pass and into the South Park National Heritage area isn’t such a bad road; I think mostly because of where this road can take you on any given weekend day.

Hiking

Yes, I love to hike and Hwy285 has tons of hikes just off the road, or for the adventurous spirits, taking an off highway road can yield some spectacular hiking results.

Mount Bailey: My first hike was up to the top of Mt. Bailey close to our mountain home and about a mile off of Hwy285. I decided to walk to the trailhead from our front door, which was about a half to full mile walk. At the trailhead, you are greeted with a sign that says, “Hike at your own risk.” I wasn’t too worried, even if this was the first time I had hiked the mountain. Less than a hundred yards in, I understood what the sign meant. The first part of this trail seems to have a gentle slope, but right at the first switch-back, the trail slopes upward steeply and this steep grade continues for the rest of the hike. Luckily, the switchbacks not only keep you from completely losing your breath, they also offer a short respite before forging upward.

Of course, I’m talking about myself mostly when I talk about losing breath. I seem to have this issue with exercise induced asthma. It’s nothing I can’t handle, nor does it make me give up. On the contrary, it pisses me off just enough to get my stubborn streak roaring into full steam ahead.

Another interesting thing to note about the hike, is that there are plenty of “stay on the trail” signs along the way, to help guide you as you go. The trail almost seems to disappear at times, because of the ruggedness and maybe also because it doesn’t seem to be used that much. I was the only person on the trail this day.

Just before you reach the end of the trail which is an amazing cliff drop-off, you cross over several metal lines that carry information from the Mt. Bailey radio tower down to the residences below.

The reward after hiking the steeply graded trail with a gain of approximately 375 feet from the trailhead is breathtaking. Of course, I had to watch my step, as there is quite a drop-off at the cliff’s edge. The cliff is quite broad and faces southward producing spectacular views of the Platte River, Kenosha Mountain Range and the town of Bailey below.

Mt. Bailey = 9089 feet above sea level
Trail = 1.2 miles from trail head
Elevation gain = 375 feet

Boreas Pass Trail: The full trail is about 10 miles if taken on the Breckenridge side of the pass. On this trip, my hubby and I drove up from the Como side and parked at the Pass at 11,481 feet. The drive is a very rough dirt road of about 10 miles to the pass. It’s better to drive it with an AWD, or 4×4 vehicle, but this day, we took my small front-wheel drive Pontiac.

There are at least two trail heads at the pass. On the north side of the pass is the Black Powder Trail and on the south side is a trail which you can take to the top of one of Colorado’s 13’ers, Red Peak.

We took the southern trail, but only as far as the first ridge described on the 13ers.com website. The trail is strenuous, but again, quite rewarding when you reach the top of the first point. Because the starting point is quite high in elevation already, it didn’t take too long to leave tree line behind and what lay before us, was the colorful tundra bursting forth with wildflowers. I had lots of excuses to stop and take photos…um, aka catch my breath.

Again, reaching the top of the first point was quite rewarding…not only because of the views, but because of taking on a challenge and overcoming that little voice in my head that tends to want me to give up. After reaching the top, my hubby and I had a nice snack, granola bars and water, and took our time soaking in the landscape and amazing weather.

Coming back down, we had to bypass a small snowfield to get to the trail. As I walked carefully amongst the tundra wildflowers, I looked down and noticed something flitting quickly from bluebell bunch to bluebell bunch. At first, I thought it was a small humming bird, but it had antenna and no long beak. I watched it work its way from one bunch of flowers to the next…sucking in the nectar as it darted back and forth. Later, I learned this strange creature was actually a moth, sometimes called the “hummer” moth. Its actual name is the Banded Sphinx Moth. I won’t include the scientific name, but the website I linked does.

I think we’re going to have to come back to Boreas Pass at least twice…once to hike the Black Powder Trail and another time to hike the full Red Peak trail.

Red Peak Trail (first point) = 12,029 feet above sea level
Distance = ~1 mile from parking area
Elevation gain = 548 feet

Lunch in Breckenridge: After finishing our hike, we were famished…really hungry. Lunch was late for us, but well worth it. We stopped at the Breckenridge Brewery for a sandwich and a beer before heading back home to Bailey.

Heading home: The nice thing about driving over Boreas Pass into Breckenridge was that we didn’t have to touch any high-volume highways, such as I70, which can get quite crowded on weekends. As we headed back to Bailey, we took highway 9 which takes you over Hoosier Pass and into the town of Alma and then Fairplay.

Byway #19 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Flat Tops Trail


flattops_sign_062913-72Road: dirt; hard-packed and loose gravel in spots
Round-trip from Denver: 549 miles
Length of Byway: 82 miles
Vehicle types: car, motorcycles – dirt and dual sport, 4×4 and OHV trails all along byway
Elevation change: 6240 to 9763 feet above sea level
Location: North Western Colorado

The Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway is as unassuming as the father of the Flat Tops Wilderness area, Arthur Carhart. Known as the ‘cradle of wilderness’, Trappers Lake, which is centrally located about 11 miles from the main byway into the wilderness area, is where Carhart suggested that,

“There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people.  They should be preserved for all time for the people of the Nation and the world.  Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.”

Trail around Trappers Lake.
Trail around Trappers Lake.

After driving along this byway over the span of two days at the end of June, I wholeheartedly agree with Carhart. This area is serenely beautiful and that is an understatement. Luckily for me, a friend had joined me on this tour and so, I have corroboration for the breathtaking views and tranquility all along this byway.

This byway skirts along the northern edge of the second largest U.S. wilderness area in Colorado. All along the byway, you can find hiking, OHV, horseback riding, fishing and hunting areas. But, if you look at the wilderness area on map, you will see that the actual ‘wilderness’ area is untouched by any roads.

It’s been a while since I’ve been through such untouched beauty. Is Colorado beautiful? Oh without a doubt, but actual wilderness in Colorado? Well, the Flat Tops Wilderness really does live up to its name.

Start of Tour

My friend is also my co-worker. She’s a transplant from Florida and since she’s been here for about two and a half years, there’s a lot of Colorado she has not seen yet. We began the tour from the eastern end where the byway starts just outside of Yampa. Our first stop was the Yampa Ranger Station where we were lucky enough to speak with the ranger there and learn a little more about the area. After picking up the driving tour guide, we were on our way.

The next stop was the Bird Homestead just north of Yampa. This little home along the rolling high country prairie had quite the view back in the day. After taking photos and breathing in the sweet clover-filled air, we rounded the bend and came upon a typical western Colorado site…cowboys in a meadow prepping a calf for vaccinations.

All along this drive, as you get closer to the Flat Tops area, the hills gently rise above the valleys and meadows in the deep greens of summer…from the dark pine green to bright green aspen and every shade in between. Not only that, but since it was the end of June, the wildflowers were in full bloom. My friend and I couldn’t stop our amazement and joy in the beauty of all of it. And I was more than happy to oblige her gasps of wonder by pulling over along the road every now and then. I knew that the day was going to be quite long, but it was well worth it.

Bird homestead.
Bird homestead.

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Leaving the pavement behind

Once we left the paved road, the byway began to rise in elevation and as we rounded each bend, my friend and I gasped in amazement. We truly felt like we had left a world behind us and had entered a world where nothing mattered at all. As I drove along, I had told my friend that since the wildflowers were blooming, that I would stop once I saw any Columbine (Colorado’s State Flower). She had said that the only Columbine she had ever seen were those that were planted…never wild. After saying that, we decided to take a break for lunch and found the turnoff to Chapman Lake which was only a mile off the byway. About 50 feet down this road, I noticed a bunch of Columbine hiding amongst the Aspen. I decided to pull off the forest road and park, so we could get some photos. When I turned around to back into an open area, my jaw dropped. There, on the other side of us and growing by the hundreds amongst the Aspen were hip-high Columbine.

Columbine and Aspen forest along Flat Tops Trail.
Columbine and Aspen forest along Flat Tops Trail.

Lunch break

We didn’t even make it to Chapman Lake. After taking about 15 minutes for photos, we pulled out a blanket, spread it out under the Aspen, ate lunch and looked around in wonder. To think this spot was right there, just a few feet off the byway…amazing!

After lunch, we both wandered through the stand of Aspen, wildflowers and forest undergrowth. At one point, a Rio Blanco County deputy sheriff (Deputy Baughman) who was driving up from Lake Chapman had pulled off the road and chatted with us for a bit. He gave us a detailed map of the OHV trails in the area and pointed out a view of the Flat Tops Wilderness that we would not want to pass up.

Deputy Baughman and Vicki chatting about the byway.
Deputy Baughman and Vicki chatting about the byway.

On the road again

My friend and I did not stop admiring the beauty and serenity of the landscape. As we drove, we found ourselves stopping every few miles to step out, stretch, take photos and breathe in the fresh air. I knew we weren’t going to be able to take in all of what this byway has to offer, but we were going to give it our best effort. Although Deputy Baughman’s description of the road he had suggested we take was hard to pass up on the first day, we ended up waiting until day two to take that side trip. On this day, we made sure to take the Trappers Lake side trip to get a glimpse of the wilderness as Arthur Carhart had so many years ago.

Even though some of the area had been devastated by wildfire in 2002, we were happy to see the resiliency of nature as amongst the charred remains of the forest was new growth; wildflowers, bushes, small pine and aspen had been springing up all over the hills since the fire. Trappers Lake is one area in particular where you can also witness the volcanic activity from millions of years ago and how it had carved the landscape. I found the exposed lava rock to be quite interesting as I walked the trail along the lake.

Lava rocks near Trappers Lake.
Lava rocks near Trappers Lake.

On to Meeker

Not to rush you, but there was a lot to see and do along this byway, my friend and I stopped at almost every sign post that had been placed by the Flat Tops Byway organization. By the time we made it in to Meeker, it was past dinner time. Our resting place was the Meeker Hotel.  We got lucky enough to get the Gary Cooper room which is located on the second level of the hotel and just above the main street. This room can be joined by a second room, which turns it into a suite and the old wood floors, décor and ambience do a pretty good job of taking you back in time. Oh and yes, Mr. Cooper had stayed in this room many years ago.

Meeker Hotel, Gary Cooper room.
Meeker Hotel, Gary Cooper room.

Day two

I woke early the next morning….it’s just in my nature to rise with the sun…and so I took a short walk around Meeker and down to the city park before my friend rose and breakfast at the Meeker Hotel Café. After breakfast, we were on our way again and back over the byway to see more of the wilderness and share in the peacefulness one last time. Before we found the road that Deputy Baughman had suggested we take, I pulled over quickly to watch three Sandhill Cranes in a soggy meadow. I had never seen any in the wild. I’ve seen plenty photos and heard about people flocking to see them in February in southern Colorado, so this sighting was quite the treat for me.

Sandhill Cranes.
Sandhill Cranes.

After the crane sighting, we were off to find the turnoff by Buford to head south along a dirt road which shared some amazingly breathtaking views of the deep Flat Tops Wilderness valleys. Although the temperature was quite moderate, around 75 degrees and the elevation just above 9000 feet, I still found myself sweating when we took a short hike to Cliff Lake which was one of the spots that the deputy suggested we stop at. After that hike, the next view was spectacular. This view looked eastward and down into two different valleys of the wilderness area. One valley went northward and the other eastward. The hills rising above both valleys became cliffs of red sandstone which were covered in aspen and pine. My friend and I kept saying that this drive was definitely one someone would want to take in the fall for a spectacular color show.

Flat Tops Wilderness valley view point.
Flat Tops Wilderness valley view point.

Not the end

Before I end this byway blog, I want to share some interesting websites. I’m still amazed at how few Coloradoans know about this area. My thought is that if you are a true Coloradoan, then you’ve been here at least once in your life.

Websites:

 

Have I got a 49th birthday celebration for you!


How’s this sound?

Take a few days off from work. Get a hold of as many of your motorcycle riding friends as you can to see who has the time and the butt power to hang with you on a long-ass ride. Oh and let’s not forget the hubby…yeah, even though he does not ride at the moment, he should also join you on your crazy hair-balled idea of a good time for your 49th birthday.

Now, let’s see…What would be a great way to celebrate? Oh yeah…by riding to the southwestern part of the state of Colorado…um, about 400 miles one-way and let’s see if we can’t fit a scenic byway in on the action…one that you haven’t completed yet would fit the bill.

Lastly, but most importantly for your daily recovery is a nice relaxing place to stay. Some place that you can kick your shoes off and not have to get all gussied up to go eat at a restaurant every day. A fully equipped vacation rental would work nicely here.

Ok, so that’s it! That’s what I did for my 49th birthday celebration. I rode on my motorcycle with a riding buddy over a scenic byway I hadn’t been on for my tour all the way to Durango, Colorado to hang out at a nice relaxing vacation rental as I rode around the southwestern part of the state for a few days, covering another two more byways.

Oh and then there was the day of my birthday. On this particular day, I dragged my hubby out into the southern Colorado Rockies to take a 1.8 mile hike up a 1650 foot elevation gain to view a 365 foot waterfall over which a 100-year-old power plant was situated. Now that’s what I call pampering myself.

bridal_veil_hydro_052413-72Well, not really. I mean, I am 49 and a tad overweight, but I did hike all the way up above the Bridal Veil Falls Hydro-Electric power plant of Telluride…all 1.8 miles plus 1650 feet in elevation gain…not just to say that I did it, but to see this wonder up close and personal. To enjoy my special day with my wonderful husband…oh and then there were the Telluride Truffles…yeah, I just had to earn all those calories, dontchya know.

Bridal Veil Falls Hydro-Electric plant

This building is over 100 years old and is the second oldest still functioning hydro-electric plant in the state of Colorado. The oldest plant isn’t too far away in Ophir, Colorado. Bridal Veil supplies 25% of the power to Telluride. You can hike up to this plant or drive up. But, it is heavily advised that you use a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to drive up as the road is pretty rough.

Bridal Veil Falls Hydro-Electric plant hike

The hike up to the plant takes you along the heavily switch-backed road of Black Bear Pass. You can certainly drive along this lower part of the road, but my hubby and I took the hard way…we walked, er hiked…um, more like huffed and puffed our way to just above the plant. The last 50 feet of the hike was crawling over several feet of snow that snuggly grasped the edge of the cliff and the trail that we were on. Yes, there was a steep drop-off from the snow drift, so yes; we crawled over it, because we were too freaked out that we might lose our footing.

When we made it to just above the plant, we were not just ecstatic that we made it this far for two older, sort of over-weight people, but because the views up that high were so breathtakingly amazing. They’re just a tad difficult to describe, so you will just have to take a look at the photos I’ve included with this blog post.

Not only were the two of us taken away by the sheer beauty of the scenery, but were just a tad bit proud of ourselves for being the only pair of mid-century people up this high on the mountain. Although we really did not pass too many people on the hike…only about a handful… they were all half our age and a whole lot lighter than us. So yes, we were feeling pretty cocky if I don’t say so myself. I won’t mention the immense pain I was feeling when we finally made it back to my hubby’s truck…except that my lower back and hips weren’t doing too well.

I found it quite interesting to meet up with a younger couple who had come up behind us after we had crawled over the snow drift. It turned out that they were from Buena Vista, Colorado and in Telluride for the Mountain Film in Telluride. The guy was a freelance writer and had written some pieces for Colorado Central Magazine. He had also mentioned having had some interviews with the High Country News, which would be cool if he had successfully landed a job with them. I like it when anyone can reach their dreams early.

As a side note…I just looked up the various websites that I linked in the previous paragraph and realized that the Telluride Mountain Film festival celebrated its 35th year on the same weekend of my birthday. Now that’s pretty freaky in my mind, since my dream many years ago (during my undergrad studying Mass Communication) was to be a videographer/editor. It figures, huh? Things just keep coming around to tap me on the shoulder throughout my life.

Tasty end-of-the-day Treats

Anyway, back to the hike – after taking in the view for a while and patting ourselves on the back more than once, my hubby and I headed back down the mountainside. My next mission was to enjoy the end of the day with a couple of truffles from Telluride Truffle. I figured I had exercised enough calories off to savor the flavor of at least two tasty truffles.

My hubby and I enjoyed each nibble we took out of our truffles; I had the Black Diamond, a succulently flavorful dark chocolate truffle with Tequila flavored gnash. My hubby favored the Powder Day which came as a white chocolate treat filled with sweetened cream with almond.

As we meandered back over the 100-mile trek to Durango, my hubby and I smiled as we recalled our day-long adventure climbing up to Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.

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High Country Winter Adventure Surprise


ashcroft_ski_touring_021613-72Many people I know…well, maybe just me…don’t ski. I know — that’s crazy considering I live in Colorado, right? Well as crazy at it sounds, it’s true. But that does not mean I don’t like doing things in the snow in Colorado. I actually love to explore Colorado no matter what time of year. Last weekend, it was on one of my Byway tours in what seemed like a blizzard and this weekend, the blue sky over Colorado seemed never-ending, no matter how far we drove.

With that said, I wanted to share my high country adventure in the snow.

What brought me up to the high country was a promise I had made to a friend and that promise will bring me up to this particular part of Colorado 2 more times. This part of Colorado is actually really close to Aspen, which many people around the world have heard of. It’s home to many stars and home to some absolutely gorgeous scenery; the Maroon Bells.

We did not go to the Maroon Bells on this trip, though. The Bells are hard to visit at any time of year, mostly because this area is way over-traveled. On this trip, my chosen destination was Ashcroft and beyond. Ashcroft is actually just outside of Aspen along Castle Creek Road. This town is considered a ghost town and is part of the Aspen Historic Society.

The drive from home was about a four-hour drive. When we arrived at Ashcroft, I was surprised to see that the road heading to the Pine Creek Cookhouse was closed to auto traffic, although it was open to foot, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. During spring, summer and fall, this road is open all the way to the cook house and beyond. At the end of the paved road, it splits off to a 4-wheel drive road which takes you up to Pearl Pass and Montezuma Basin. Because my hubby had recently undergone a full knee replacement (four weeks ago), he opted to hang out in the parking and ski hut area of the Ashcroft Ski Touring King Hut. I made sure the hike was easy enough for me to make by stopping at the King Hut and speaking with one of the ski trainers there. He said that the hike to the Pine Creek Cookhouse was 1.6 miles and about another half-mile to where the road splits off. One thing he warned me about was that the last half-mile is prone to avalanches…so he cautioned me, but I was determined to get as far as I could go.

Like I said, the day was an amazing sun-filled day…I ended up shedding my jacket and tying it around my waist about a half-mile along my hike. The views were spectacular…obviously…and the well-groomed road up to the cook house was easy to traverse. After the cook house, the trail is no longer groomed, but it was still quite nicely packed, because snow mobiles tend to take this route along with cross-country skiers. I kept looking up the side of the mountain at this point, since it was also the avalanche area.

When I finally reached my destination, there was one particular spot I wanted to get to, but leaving the snow-packed trail meant sinking into anywhere from one foot to about three feet (about butt-level) of powdery snow. Because I tend to have a stubborn streak, I forged on until I could not go any further…basically, until the snow was about butt-level. At this point, I finally realized why so many people in the high country wear snow pants even when aren’t skiing. When I finally came out of the powder and onto the packed trail again, my jeans were soaked up to my thighs. And to be honest…I was glad for my stubbornness.

On the way back to my hubby and the warmth of his truck, I passed a slew of folks either skiing, or snowshoeing along the trail. As I passed the cook house, a horse-drawn sleigh packed full of a hungry lunch crowd had arrived. And every person who passed me on the trail had the same expression…a huge smile. It was truly an amazing day. ashcroft-townsite_021613-72

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Doing what’s right for yourself (myself)…


….can sometimes prove to be a lifelong challenge.

I had mentioned a while ago…I’ve been trying to lose weight. And it’s been a year now that I’ve been back on this road to weight loss. The first time was back in ’02 when it took me two and a half years to lose 112 pounds. Yep, I was a hefty woman.

Why am I even admitting this here in this blog…because I do not want to take this weight with me into old age! Gah!

Yes, I’m just a tad miffed, but I have only myself to blame.

Here’s the gist…the first time I lost weight, I was about 27 pounds from my goal. My goal was actually at the top of the weight range that was considered healthy for my height and frame. I stopped losing because of a plateau. I couldn’t knock it, but I did not start gaining back because of feeling defeated, I just thought I had the whole food thing figured out. I figured out that my body cannot process foods like others can, so I was very conscientious about what I put into my mouth. Over time though, stress, job changes and life (re: I) got in the way and I put 68 pounds back on.

So, here I sit complaining, but very aware of what it is that I need to do to get rid of this extra baggage. A year ago, I went back to Weight Watchers to get back on track and to get rid of this extra weight once and for all. The reason I’m angry with myself though, is that I have not been able to lose like I did the first time around. In my first year of losing a decade ago, I lost 54 pounds. To date, this second time around, I’ve lost 26 pounds. Granted I’ve also lost 17 inches, but because I am also exercising like crazy, the weight should be coming off at a better rate.

So, what’s wrong? Cheating. Alcohol. Diet drinks.

There. I said it. It’s out there and I do not want it to ruin my old age.

  • Cheating happens when I see a piece of chocolate or a slice of cake or bowl of ice cream and tell myself that I’ve got extra points to spare, so I can indulge.
  • Alcohol is just another form of sugar and since my body does not process sugar well, it’s wreaking havoc on the inside.
  • Diet drinks are full of sodium…more so than regular soda, etc.

It’s time to make these things a part of my past along with the extra weight.

Imagine not being able to do this because I’ve got too much weight creating so much pain that I cannot walk or stand for long periods of time…

Nymph Lake and Hallet Peak, RMNP – November, 2012.

On November 24th, I was missing the mountains, so I decided to take a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. My hike was not a long one…maybe a mile and a half…but, it was a snow and ice-covered balancing act chock full of 94 photos, which I take as I squat — so, 94 squats and a mile and a half of hiking above 9,500 feet. Imagine trying to do that being 70 pounds overweight at 48 years of age…how about 78 years of age? That’s what I’m talking about. I won’t be able to some of the things I do now at 78, but I do not want my weight to be one of the reasons that I can’t do them.

My passion for the scenery of the mountains will never fade and I refuse to allow myself to ruin my enjoyment in my old age…

Me at 70 pounds above goal weight. Morrain Park, RMNP.

A fire still burning by Fern Lake in RMNP.
Ice crystals form as the ice is pushed up against the banks along the creek that runs through Morrain Park.
The creek that runs through Morrain Park.

 

A Walk in the Woods


I did not know this, but my second husband and I were married during the International Year of the Forests 2011. Did you know that 2011 was the Year of the Forest? I didn’t know it, until I started doing some research for this blog. Funny how things come around like this for me. They’ve been doing this since I met my 2nd husband in 2010.

I’m not sure what it is, but lately, I’ve been feeling more and more connected with everything than I ever have before. Ok…so maybe that’s a bit too deep for some of you. It’s ok, I get it and I won’t get much deeper than that for the rest of this blog….maybe.

The Colorado Trail

What prompted me to write this blog was the hike I had recently taken with my husband along two miles of the 500-mile long Colorado Trail recently. More specifically, it was the trees along this trail that inspired me. Sure, I’ve seen some pretty funky-looking trees in my day, especially in the harsher climates of the Rocky Mountains closer to the tundra, but I think the trees along this trail spoke to me more than I had expected…mostly because when I decided I wanted to write a blog about this hike, it was the title that first came to mind. Taking a hike along the Colorado Trail? Well, that was inspired by a previous trip and a discovery of the trail which I had no idea existed until October of this year.

Kenosha Pass divides the Platte River Canyon from South Park and cuts through the Colorado Trail (sign in the background).

Hiking in Colorado

So…let’s start with the idea of taking a hike in the Colorado high country. The Colorado Trail is actually a 500-mile long trail that spans the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. It is broken up into sections and covers lower elevations of about a mile above sea level to higher elevations of about 14,000 feet above sea level. All along this trail, you can find everything from high country wildflowers, to mountain animals and to the trees. The trees range from various pine species to the hearty aspen.

Three hearty aspen stand along the edge of the aspen forest up the hill behind them.

Hiking in the high country can test your stamina. When you hike in Colorado, you have to expect that the hike will be a tad bit strenuous, especially if you are not a Colorado native. Living at a mile high and higher means that the oxygen in the air is thinner, making breathing a bit more labored. You should also expect quickly changing weather conditions with the potential to be exposed to lethal weather depending on where you hike.

This blog is not about the potential hazards of hiking though, it is about what you can see (when you’ve got your eyes and mind open) while hiking in the Colorado high country…namely, the trees.

The hearty high country tree

I love trees! I don’t think I can extol their virtues enough, but will give it my best shot. They provide shelter, nourishment, the air we breathe, healing, a home, artistic vision and so much more. In the high country, you can find trees which have lived long lives…longer than humans’ lives even…all while being bent over and battered by some of the harshest weather on the planet. Yet, they withstand the harshness of nature, holding firm to their ground for the sole purpose of life. To live, sometimes in places where no human would dream; to give life where not much else can live…this is the virtue of the hearty high country tree.

Many lean-to’s can be found all along the Colorado Trail. This one seemed to be very well built and even had a window.

In Colorado, we have various pine and deciduous tree species. In the high country, native trees consist of pine and aspen. In the winter, the mountainsides are dotted with the green of the hearty evergreen pine trees throughout the snow-covered forest floors and in the summer, the forest green of the mountainside pine trees includes the deep green leaves of the aspen. In the fall, the Rockies come alive with the changing colors of the aspen leaves, from neon yellow, to gold, to burnt orange and then brown, before they fall gently to the forest floor below.

Walk into any aspen forest in Colorado and you will see and feel a history of the life of the forest as you move your way in between both young and old aspen stands. This was the feeling I got as my husband and I worked our way through the forest on the west side of Kenosha Passalong the Colorado Trail. We started out in a relatively young aspen stand and then walked through an older one which led us through a pine forest only to find our way to yet another hearty stand of aspen as we gradually walked uphill above 10,000 feet.

This mountain range can be seen from the Colorado Trail looking directly west.

Beaten and weathered

While not all trees can withstand the fury of Mother Nature, those that do, tend to prominently show off their battle worn weather scars. One such scar type is known as the snow knee. This phenomenon occurs when a heavy snow weighs down on the trunks of young trees for a while. Sometimes, this happens year after year until you finally get the effect of a bend in the tree trunk which tends to have the appearance of a knee. Other weather scars include branches that grow on only one side of the tree because of the high winds that occur along mountain tops, or trees that survive drought and even those that survive fire, which show off their scars mostly along their trunks in the telltale sign of blackened bark.

A Poem

By Adelaide Crapsey. 1878–1914

On Seeing Weather-beaten Trees

Is it as plainly in our living shown,

By slant and twist, which way the wind hath blown?

Humbled

As I walked with my husband…er, trudged through these forests of stately bark-covered life, I felt just a tad humbled by not only their resilience against the tests of time and Mother Nature, but their unique beauty as well. Not one tree was like the other and they were all quite beautiful to me. I felt that if I did not try just a little harder to make it up and over just one more hill that I would disappoint more than just myself…that I might disappoint these creatures of nature who have withstood the elements only to bring life to the rest of the ecosystem.

Tree-loving history

I’ve got a picture of myself up in a tree when I was about seven-years-old. I not only loved to climb trees when I was a kid, but now, I love to sit under them and feel the coolness of their shade, as well as even hug trees…lol. Well, maybe I liked hugging only one tree in particular. This tree just happened to be growing on the property that used to be owned by my ancestors in Pennsylvania during the 1700’s. I came to this tree while I was on my honeymoon in October of 2011. My husband wanted to show me the brilliance of autumn in the Adirondacks and while Pennsylvania isn’t quite part of the Adirondacks, it was our first stop…mostly because I had dreamt of visiting the area where my ancestors had settled in America in the late 1600’s – the Wissahickon Valley. They were amongst the first builders and owners of the first paper mills in this country. So, it meant something to me to be where they had been and to take in the surrounding nature as much as I could…I guess it was my way to feel who my ancestors were.

Walking through time and nature

While I knew I was walking in the same country-side that my ancestors had walked some 300 years ago, the only signs of them left standing were their grand-children’s’ homes. The images running through my mind as I walked the tree and shrub-lined trails in Pennsylvania were similar to those that crossed my mind as I hiked along the Colorado Trail with my husband – Who may have gone here before me? When did they pass this way? Did they appreciate what they were passing through as I appreciate it now?

More

Like I said, I did a little bit of research when I had settled on my blog theme. I found some really interesting stuff on my search for information, so I thought I would share it with all of you:

This is my brain on nature…


Spending time in nature and in the mountains is my way to let go…to release the pressures and stresses of my everyday life and let my mind be free. The feeling is like that bald eagle I saw flying over Lake Irwin on my first anniversary. The feeling is almost indescribable. Imagine, if you will…being somewhere you feel most free, whether in the woods, at home, where ever it is you feel calm and serene.

I know, I don’t need to be anywhere to create that feeling of serenity, but it doesn’t hurt to be in nature. Just check out the research on the correlation between nature and the positive effects it has on your mind and body….

And people think I’m a nature ‘nut’…the secret is out!

The reason I love my Colorado Mountains, the Rocky Mountains is because of every physiological benefit I get from being in them. Of course, I don’t always consider this reason when I’m dying to get back to nature. It’s more like a drive…a yearning to enjoy the beauty and serenity and leave the concrete jungle behind.

A first year celebration

Recently, my husband and I celebrated our first year anniversary. Yes, it’s our second time being married and yet, it feels like the first. For our anniversary, I didn’t want to do just a nice dinner, or a movie…I wanted to be just a tad different and I wanted to enjoy time alone with him. So, we spent a couple of nights in Marble, Colorado at the Chair Mountain Ranch and enjoyed time together in the Colorado outdoors breathing in the autumn air and reveling in the colors of fall.

The view from our balcony at Chair Mountain Ranch.

Colorado color

Coloradans don’t need to be in New England to enjoy the changing colors of the leaves. We just escape to the mountains to view the changing colors of the aspen. Of course, we don’t get the dramatic colors of the Northeast, but Colorado has a way of making up for that with dramatic mountain peaks as a backdrop to the yellow, gold and orange hues of the aspen forests.

Marble and beyond

As for our anniversary celebration, we spent time wandering, hiking, 4-wheeling, fishing around the Kebler Pass area, Lake Irwin, Crested Butte, and the old town of Crystal. The natural high that I…both of us got from enjoying the mountains with its fresh carpet of musty aspen leaves and golden color against a bright blue sky was unmatched. This particular area of the Colorado Rockies has a plethora of aspen forests that seem to go on endlessly. Not to be outdone by the aspen, the geology itself has amazing color, which can go from deep dark red, to bright red and then pale pink and white. So, imagine golden leaves against a pale pink mountain peak as a backdrop with a bright blue sky above.

I guess it’s about time for some photos to share my imagination with you…

Ruby Range as a backdrop to the golden hues of the aspen in the foreground.
McClure Pass in the evening…shot from my passenger side window as we drove back to Marble to make our anniversary dinner.
Marcellina Mountain sits on the west side of Kebler Pass.
Watching my husband fish on the other side of Lake Irwin as I hiked the trail around the lake.
Capturing a bald eagle taking flight over Lake Irwin.
The road to Crystal Mill is a rocky 4-wheel drive road. Don’t let others try to talk you into taking your 2-wheel drive as the road changes with the weather and can expose huge boulders with enough rain and snow.
The old mill, or Crystal Mill which was built in 1892 still stands with the aid of donations and lovers of history.
Crystal Mill.
Mountain range along the west side of Kebler Pass looking southeast.
Ferns grow amongst the stately aspen along Kebler Pass.

Flying Free


Witnessing elk, deer and moose in the wild here in Colorado is pretty much par for the course as far as I am concerned…I’ve seen my share. Bears are a little more rare for me. I’ve seen them only twice in the past 20 years. One animal I have never seen in the wild here, or any other place in the states, or in Canada is a bald eagle. So, imagine my complete joy in seeing one fly over the high mountain lake I had decided to hike around on October 1st.

This eagle didn’t just honor me once with his flight, but twice. Good thing, too…I didn’t have my camera out of the bag the first time he flew in an arch around me from one tree to another.

What a rush!