Some places we visit will always hold a special place in our hearts and Crested Butte, Colorado is one of those places. We moved to Colorado in the mid nineties when our children were young, and the first Colorado mountain town we visited was Crested Butte.
This former flatlander from Illinois was awe-struck with the majestic snow-covered mountains surrounding Crested Butte. Our family of four was immediately smitten, and subsequent visits to this lovely Colorado mountain town ensued over the years.
Although our first visit to Crested Butte was during the winter, Crested Butte is every bit as much fun during the summer as it is in winter. The town may be known for its awesome skiing and winter fun, but summers offer a whole slew of other activities. As a matter of fact, Crested Butte is considered the birth place of mountain biking. Although, I’m sure there are plenty of folks that might disagree with this statement. There’s an ongoing debate about where mountain biking originated 😏
This quaint little mountain town is also considered the Wildflower Capital of Colorado and home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms. Once Al and I became empty nesters, we skipped the winter excursions to the mountains and focused on embracing those summer get aways.
A memorable trip
July 2012 – It’s three o’clock in the morning and the dog is shaking and can’t seem to get comfortable. He’s laying in the tent on a blanket near my side of the air mattress and he is clearly cold. I grab my hoody and cover him, and he falls back to sleep. I’m glad one of us can fall asleep so quickly.
After tossing and turning for a bit, I decide to step outside for a moment. I reluctantly throw off the two layers of sleeping bags and scurry to the foot of the air mattress to put on my shoes. No need to throw on clothes, since I’m already fully clothed in sweatpants and sweatshirt. It’s cold at three in the morning camped at 10,000 feet in elevation …. as in 36 degrees Fahrenheit cold and this being mid July 😯
I’m not sure whose idea the tent camping excursion was considering we had a new 5th wheel sitting on the side of our house. Okay, it was my idea! We were such newbies at the time with the RV that we weren’t comfortable pulling it to the Lake Irwin Campground near Kebler Pass. Plus, there were only a couple of first come first serve campsites that we felt we would comfortably fit into.
I quietly unzip the tent and crawl out. I’m immediately awestruck with the most incredible vision while my face is assaulted with a blast of cold air. The stars and crescent moon are so vivid and bright that I have no trouble seeing around the campsite. I stand there taking in the incredible beauty surrounding me before I’m reminded as to why I’m standing outside the tent at three in the morning …. and shivering.
Hmm, I contemplate the walk to the restroom down the road. This is serious bear and mountain lion country. Since I have no inclination of being some animal’s midnight snack, I quickly take care of business at the edge of our campsite. I continued to linger outside admiring the sky before the cold has me crawling back into a nice warm bed.
After what felt like only thirty minutes of sleep, I’m woken by a very restless Brittany Spaniel. It’s only 5:30 in the morning and I’ve decided to rename my sweet little Bear…..”damn dog”. (ya know, I love my Brittany Spaniel and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but he wants a walk at fricken 5:30 in the morning in the fricken cold while it’s still dark outside). Al remains sound asleep …. grrrr!
Damn dog and I go for a stroll, not venturing too far from our campsite. I’m the only two-legged creature out and about. Did I already mention we’re camped in bear and mountain lion country? I’m on alert! “Hurry up, damn dog”. Finally with his “business” complete, we return to the warmth of sleeping bags and try to catch a few more winks of sleep.
By seven o’clock, the sun is rising and I hear other campers in the distance. Al awakes and informs me how great he slept (damn husband). In a not so pleasant voice, sleep deprived wife tells damn husband and damn dog, “We’re going into town for breakfast. I need a cup of strong black coffee”.
We drive aimlessly around Crested Butte looking for a place for breakfast. Eventually, Al has me pull to the side of the road and stop. He jumps out of the truck and walks over to a pretty blonde lady watering flowers.
He and blonde lady chuckle in a flirtatious engaging way (do I really care? NO … need coffee). When Al hops back in the truck, he proceeds to tell me to drive up Elk Street three blocks. “Blonde lady says McGills serves a great breakfast”. It was indeed a good breakfast, BUT the coffee was amazing and just what I needed.
A full tummy and two cups of coffee later, we’re back to “dear husband” and “adorable Bear”. I love my boys! Al and I discuss exploratory options for the day, but first I need a little retail therapy.
We enter a T-shirt shop. Al and Bear head over to the counter where Al strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the counter. We love the fact that this town is so dog friendly that Bear is able to go with us everywhere except inside restaurants.
We’re the only ones in the store and during the course of idol chit-chat with the shop clerk, he notes we drive a Toyota Tacoma. He drives a Toyota 4-Runner, sister to the Tacoma lol, and immediately recommends a backcountry scenic loop drive that we must experience.
We’re given a complimentary map along with a few pointers and warnings from this knowledgable local. Two t-shirts later, we hit the road heading into the backcountry … ready to explore.
A scenic drive
We head up Slate River Road, just north of the town of Crested Butte. As expected, the pavement ends quickly. We pass some beautiful homes early in the journey. As we start to climb in elevation and the road starts to narrow, we see campers , ATVer’s as well as local wildlife.
A little further into the remote landscape, I finally start seeing some wildflowers. Up to this point I wondered, “Wildflower capital of Colorado”? Say what? The drought conditions severely affected the display of wildflowers during the summer of ’12. Even though the wildflowers weren’t impressive, the scenery was spectacular.
I usually drive during these exploratory excursions to maintain marital bliss, but more importantly to control photo-op stops. Yeah, I can go a little overboard with the photo-op stopping which can get a tad annoying for a non photographer 🤗 Besides, Al says he likes being chauffeured around by a pretty lady. Awe, ain’t that sweet!
We continue up Slate River Road. It’s narrow but in good condition. This one-lane road is meant for two-way traffic which is why we like driving the Tacoma in lieu of the F-250 while exploring mountainous backcountry.
As we come around a blind switch back, we encounter a truck loaded with people heading toward us. The pickup truck is colored lime green and set up kind of like an open air safari vehicle with bench seating in the rear. “Oh dear! We are going to need to pass each other!”
I need to back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (thank goodness, I have the inside). The other truck and I both pull in our outside mirrors and we slowly pass each other within inches. He’s the one on the outside edge and I can see his tourist passengers are wide-eyed and a tad nervous. One slip, and down the mountain they roll. Once we successfully passed each other, the driver waves and comments, “Thanks, we got’er”, and the passengers started clapping. Since this is Wildflower Festival week, there are all kinds of additional tours, vehicle traffic and activities planned throughout the week.
We’re on the other side of Mt. Baldy now and we stop for a much-needed break. The scenery is breathtaking. Al checks his phone and is shocked. “It works!” No cell reception at the Lake Irwin campground, but it works up here.
After a few photo-ops near Schofield Pass, we retrace that ledge of a road back to the Washington Gulch turn, all the while I pray I won’t have to pass anyone. That would put me on the outside edge … yikes! Fortunately my prayers are answered, and we don’t meet another vehicle for quite some time.
Washington Gulch Road does present its own challenges with a small creek crossing, but nothing the little truck can’t handle. We also noticed a few RV’s boondocking off Washington Gulch Road.
(We were such RV newbies at that time, that we couldn’t imagine pulling our brand new RV to any of the boondocking locations we saw. Now? Piece of cake and we wouldn’t give it a second thought. But then again, our RV ain’t so new anymore … as evidenced by the dings and scratches and as one person recently referred to us …. we’re “seasoned” RVers 😏)
What a great Day!
We had such a fabulous time exploring this stunningly beautiful landscape that I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone with a high clearance vehicle. However, please check at the local visitor center in the town of Crested Butte for up to date road conditions, and do note, there are some areas where the road is literally cut into the side of a mountain causing severe drop-offs. Thus, I don’t recommend it for anyone with a fear of heights.
For a more tame backcountry excursion, we enjoyed driving Route 12 from Crested Butte to the tiny town of Paonia. Paonia is a small community with wineries, lavender and agricultural fields. No four-wheel drive needed when we took this drive in July of 2012. Please verify and double-check road conditions before embarking on this remote stretch of road over Kebler Pass.
Quaking Aspen at Kebler Pass
As Al and I continued to explore Colorado’s backcountry near Crested Butte, we take in the sights and sounds of the stunning terrain. We travel from open mountain meadows, through scented pine forests, and pass through densely populated aspen groves.
The unique sound of quaking Aspen Leaves lures us in. The sound has us wondering if there’s a gentle waterfall in the distance or is it merely the fluttering of aspen leaves?
This particular grove or colony of aspen trees along Kebler Pass is derived from a single seedling and spread by means of root suckers. New stems in a colony may grow as far away as 130 feet from the parent tree. It’s kind of like there’s one mommy tree and all the rest of the aspen trees are children. Fascinating!
An individual tree can live 40-150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony can live for hundreds of years. Legend has it, the aspen tree can drive off evil spirits. An aspen stake was believed to be one of the few weapons suitable to kill a vampire🧛♂️
Colorado is synonymous with this famous white-barked tree, adorning golden leaves in the fall. Colorado gold comes in many forms. Beautiful golden leaves dotting the landscape and the peaceful sound of quaking leaves are just a couple more reasons to love Colorado!
For Coffee Lovers
After three days and four nights of tent camping near picturesque Crested Butte, it was time for us to break camp and head home, BUT first, we needed (or rather I needed) to have breakfast one more time at McGill’s to drink up some more of that yummy coffee.
Al is not normally a coffee drinker and when he does drink coffee he sticks with one of those designer concoctions like a macchiato or mocha, but after trying my cup of black coffee, he ordered a cup for himself 😲
While the waitress was refilling our coffee mugs, we mentioned how good the coffee was. She was quick to share the name and location of the local coffee roasters and the blend McGill’s uses.
With that said, we couldn’t possibly leave town without a visit to this coffee roaster. Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned Crested Butte business and has a cute little shop just down the road from McGill’s.
There was no way I was leaving town without a bag or two of Camp 4 Coffee. I purchased a couple of pounds of the Sledgehammer roast and a pound of the Blue Mesa blend which is the blend McGill’s serves.
Can you believe, after thirty plus years of marriage, I turned Al into a coffee drinker thanks to Camp 4 Coffee. He still prefers those designer coffee concoctions, but when I splurge and buy a special roast, he’ll join me in drinking his coffee black. Wonders never cease!
Yep, Crested Butte, Colorado remains one of our favorite mountain towns and holds special memories for our family!