Visiting Steamboat Springs in the Summer

Visiting Steamboat Springs in the Summer

When I think about the high-altitude mountain town of Steamboat Springs, I think of picturesque ski slopes and stunning mountain views. Although this beautiful mountain town does indeed offer powdery slopes, there’s an abundance of summer activities not to be missed.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado offers an Old West vibe rich in history. It’s about a three-hour drive from Denver and a bit out of the way but so worth the drive.

Continuing with my Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-visit Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re too much fun not to.

Steamboat Springs is last on my list partly because one of these mountain towns had to be last, and secondly, it’s the town we’ve visited the least. However, it is the first place in Colorado that we traveled to with our new 5th wheel back in 2012, and we have very fond memories of that trip … well, except for the RV flat tire on our return home, but that’s another story.

camping Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Steamboat Lake State Park, #visitSteamboat, #campinginColorado

15 Things to do this summer in Steamboat Springs

1. Camping – Camping options around here are awesome. We loved camping at Steamboat Lake State Park which is located 27 miles north of town. Not only were we surrounded by stunning views in all directions, but it also made a great home base to explore the neighboring area. Anytime I can park near the water, I am one happy camper.

This state park can accommodate most RVs and offers both dry and electric sites. Al and I chose to camp on the peninsula where the sites have no hookups, are definitely smaller, and there’s a large area designated for tents only.

Stagecoach State Park is another big RV friendly campground and is located 17 miles south of town and is a very popular boating lake. I recommend making a reservation for a campsite anywhere near Steamboat Springs. For a full list of campgrounds in the area, here’s a list with a breakdown of all the amenities offered.

Out of all the mountain towns we’ve visited, Steamboat Springs offers some of the best camping options. Frisco (around Lake Dillon) comes in at a close second.

RV camped at Steamboat Springs with mountains in the background

2. Go for a paddle – With numerous lakes in the area and the Yampa River running right through Steamboat Springs, kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are popular and fun activities. No problem if you don’t have your own water vessel, there’s plenty of rentals around.

Several outfitters even offer rental tubes, so you can relax and float on Steamboat’s natural waterway and then catch a shuttle back to your car.

3. Soak in hot springs – Looking for more relaxation? Old Town Hot Springs is in the heart of downtown Steamboat and is one of the reasons the town is here. Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a bit more of an adventure located on the edge of the Yampa Valley. Both offer a relaxing soak and a dip into Steamboat’s colorful history.

4. Alpine Slide – The first time I ever road an Alpine Slide was on a trip with my daughter to Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I had never heard of an Alpine Slide before, and let’s just say, one ride is not enough. So much fun! Nothing like taking a chairlift up the mountain and then shooshing down it on a sled like contraption. It’s a thrill!

I’ll admit, I was a little scared and timid the first time, but you can control the speed of your sled as you fly down the mountain. Did I mention how much fun this is?

Steamboat offers two exhilarating slides. The Outlaw Mountain Coaster is the longest coaster in North America at more than 6,280 linear feet. The track near Christie Peak Express descends more than 400 vertical feet and features dips, waves, turns, and 360-degree circles. The Howler Alpine Slide will wind you down a 2,400-foot track through the bends and curves of the natural landscape of beautiful Howelsen Hill. You’ll love the scenic views of downtown Steamboat as you ride the chairlift to the top.

5. Take a hike – I fell in love with the alpine forests, open meadows, beautiful aspen groves, lakes and streams around Steamboat, and my favorite way to enjoy these surroundings was via hiking. Numerous options range from a pleasant stroll along the Yampa River Core Trail, a short jaunt up to roaring Fish Creek Falls, or a couple hours on the Spring Creek Trail. For those more adventurous, you’ll be able to hike a full day or multi-day adventure in the Mount Zirkel or Flat Tops wilderness areas.

A trail at Steamboat Lake State Park, Colorado

6. Mountain biking – The area boasts more than 500 miles of singletrack. There are so many different places to go biking that it can be hard to narrow down. For casual cruising, the Yampa River Core Trail is a 7.5-mile paved multi-use route connecting the mountain and downtown areas.

Scenic road-riding options range from easy pedaling along River Road or Twentymile Road to a challenging hill climb up Rabbit Ears Pass. Then there’s the Emerald Mountain trail system accessible from downtown or the Steamboat Bike Park, which boasts better than 50 miles of gondola-accessible trails on the ski mountain, with rentals available at the base. You can mix and match the area’s various trails to make the right length and challenge for your personal needs.

7. Fishing – The Steamboat Springs area is renowned for its world-class fly fishing. Beginners can take a lesson with any number of outfitters and learn about fly casting, knots, entomology and more. In addition to the Yampa River, there’s an abundance of streams, lakes, and reservoirs for the more experienced angler to check out.

fishing boats at a mountain Lake

8. Shopping, art galleries, concerts, and events – Browse fine art. Steamboat is a creative and artsy town. A leisurely stroll through shops and art galleries is always entertaining. You’ll find paintings, sculptures, blown glass, jewelry, and more. Usually, in early July there’s an art event set at the base of the ski area; Art on the Mountain.

The town is also host to events, concerts and theatrical performances.

9. Visit a museum – Steamboat Springs is known for its great appreciation of cultural heritage. The newly expanded and renovated Tread of Pioneers Museum offers something for everyone. The heart of the museum is a 1901 Queen Anne-style Victorian home with turn-of-the-century furnishings. The Western Heritage Exhibit, home of an extensive firearms collection, traces the areas agricultural history and the story of an infamous outlaw, Harry Tracy. The Tread of Pioneers Museum collects, preserves, exhibits, and shares the history and heritage of the Steamboat Springs area.

10. Golf, Mini Golf, Disc Golf or Sporting Clays – Steamboat Springs has three 18-hole golf courses that challenge every club in your bag. Then there’s mini golf, disc golf, and even golf with a gun aka Sporting Clays.

11. Visit the Yampa River Botanic Park – Go for a walk in the park while enjoying beautiful flowers, trees, and more.  Every garden has a different focus with a unique setting … its own slope, sun exposure, soil chemistry, trees and shrubs which determine what will grow. Since 1992 the Yampa River Botanic Park has grown from a flat, horse pasture into a six-acre gem of over 50 gardens with ponds, benches, and sculptures.

The Park is free and open to the public from May to October. It serves as a place of serenity, as a venue for a summer music and theater festivals, as a site for weddings and similar events, and a resource for individuals. The Park sits at 6,800 feet above sea level, but through the use of carefully developed microclimates supports plants from the entire Yampa River Basin, which runs from 12,000 feet in the Flattops Wilderness to 4,000 feet where it enters the Green River.

Colorado wildflowers #Bokeh #wildflowersinColorado

12. Horseback Riding – Single-day horseback trail rides and multi-day pack trips are an everyday event for local cowboys around here. Visit the Flat Tops Wilderness, Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Routt National Forest, or Howelsen Hill on horseback or ride for two hours or an all-day photo safari or dinner on the trail. You can even ride a horse-drawn wagon for dinner on a ranch.

13. Farmers Market – Fill up on food and fun when you shop, eat and browse at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market. This will give you a great taste of the local culture and unique personality of Steamboat. The farmers market runs from 9 to 2 on Saturdays starting in early June through mid-September.

It’s also a great place to pick up a meaningful souvenir that’s not just regular tourist trap kitsch.

14. Go on a scenic drive

Al and I love exploring the backcountry. So, a scenic drive is a great way for us to take in the surrounding beauty. During our stay, we didn’t venture down any 4×4 roads but did explore the different lakes, campgrounds, and small towns.

One day, during our return to camp, we witnessed a sheepherder and his flock. I asked if it was okay for me to photograph him, but he spoke no English. If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably from South America. I did take a couple of quick snapshots and offered him a cold bottle of water which he seemed thrilled to receive.

You never know what you’ll see when you go off the beaten path exploring.

Shepard, sheep herder, herding sheep in Colorado

15. Dining – The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from breweries to coffee shops to casual dining to fine dining.

Conclusion

This concludes my posts on my top 5 favorite mountain towns. I assure you, one visit to Colorado is not enough. The Centennial State’s crisp air, endless walking trails, inimitable Western culture, and stunning mountain beauty are just a few reasons to return time and again. I feel very fortunate that I was able to call Colorado home for over twenty years.

Do you have a favorite Colorado mountain town?

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Telluride | Everyone’s Favorite

Telluride | Everyone’s Favorite

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like Telluride, Colorado.  If I had to recommend one Colorado mountain town to visit, it would definitely be Telluride.  There’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. Besides, how could anyone resist a place where there’s usually a herd of elk in a meadow on the edge of town welcoming visitors to the area?

We’ve had the pleasure of visiting this charming mountain town a few times over the past several years, and we were never disappointed. First off, Telluride is beautiful. It sits in a canyon surrounded by steep forested mountains and cliffs with the impressive Bridal Veil Falls seen at the far end of the canyon.

Telluride was founded in 1878 as a mining settlement. By the 1970s, the extensive mining in the area was replaced by ski tourism, and by the mid-1990s, Colorado’s best-kept secret was discovered by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, and Oliver Stone.

Although Telluride is well-known for outstanding ski slopes, the summer months have become even more popular with tourists as the town hosts a variety of festivals all summer long, including film festivals and endurance events.

Telluride, Colorado
Looking down Colorado Ave (main street) in Telluride, CO

Continuing with our Top 5 Favorite Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they are just too much fun not to.

Telluride, Colorado

Telluride’s festival season kicks off at the end of May and is host to a variety of festivals held each weekend. The diversity of festivals range from Music to Brews to Wine, Yoga, Film, Sports, and more.

There’s also no shortage of summer activities available for individuals and families alike. One of my favorite things to do is hike to Bridal Veil Falls. There’s a hiking trail that takes hikers from town all the way out toward the falls. The trail allows me to admire the beautiful architecture along the way, which is a unique blend of old and new.

The colorful Victorian-era homes that I pass always captivate my attention. These Victorian-era homes help preserve Telluride’s historically significant architecture. The town of Telluride is just eight blocks wide and twelve blocks long and is designated a National Historic Landmark District due to its role in the history of the American West.

Tidbit:  The famous bank robber, Butch Cassidy, committed his first recorded major crime in Telluride by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889 and exiting the bank with over $24,000.

One of our favorite places to grab a bite to eat is at the Smuggler’s Brew Pub.  Al particularly enjoys their brew called Debauchery. I think the name speaks for itself and considering its high alcohol content combined with Telluride’s high elevation, one drink is usually enough … that is, if your goal is to be able to still walk straight. Picking up a bite to eat at the Friday morning farmers market is also a fun option, and of course, we never head home without picking up a few fresh items. And I never miss the opportunity to take the gondola ride up and over to Mountain Village … a bonus not to be missed.

Mountain Village

Mountain Village, Colorado
Mountain Village

The Town of Mountain Village is a European-style village that was founded in 1987 and sits at an elevation of 9,500 feet.

The architecture and feel between the two towns of Telluride and Mountain Village are vastly different. Where Telluride offers that old town historical western feel, Mountain Village offers a feel of polish and elegance that reeks of money – in a good way. I absolutely love the architecture around here.

The two towns are connected by a 13-minute gondola ride that is the only free public transportation system of its kind in the U.S. This popular scenic attraction provides access to hiking and biking trails during the summer and the ski slopes during the winter.

But Telluride isn’t the only mountain town worth visiting in this part of Colorado.  Nestled in the San Juan Mountains are three more quaint and scenic towns, each with its own vibe and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them as a must-visit.

Other must-visit mountain towns near Telluride; Ouray, Silverton, and Ridgway

No visit to this part of Colorado and the San Juan Mountain range would be complete without visiting the beautiful little mountain towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Ridgway. As the crow flies, Ouray and Telluride are less than twenty miles apart, but taking the shortcut would require a four-wheel drive vehicle and a few hours to spare. The regular car route between Telluride and Ouray is around 50 miles and will take about an hour.

horses near Ridgway, Colorado

Ouray, Colorado

Not only is Ouray known as the Switzerland of America, but it’s also considered the Jeeping Capitol of the World with over 500 miles of accessible high country 4WD trails.

Tidbits: Ouray is pronounced ‘your-ray’ … hurrah for Ouray! I don’t recommend using a GPS in this part of Colorado. First, these three mountain towns are located along Highway 550 and as long as you stay on the paved road, you won’t need a map let alone a GPS to find your way around. Second, with miles and miles of former mining roads, some GPS view these roads as accessible, leading many a visitor astray. Don’t be fooled and turn off that GPS!

So, with all these former mining roads to explore, renting a 4×4 vehicle in Ouray won’t be a problem, but you’ll need to wait until the month of July before these roads are somewhat clear of snow. I highly recommend stopping in at the visitor center in Ouray and picking up a map of the backcountry roads and checking up to date road conditions.

During previous visits, Al and I have taken the Toyota Tacoma on a couple of the “easy” 4×4 roads.  The map info is very helpful in rating these roads and we wanted to start easy and work our way up.  We’ve taken Last Dollar Road to Telluride and Owl Creek Pass to Silver Jack Reservoir.  Both drives were enjoyable and neither road took us above tree line. During our explorations, with the exception of a couple of rutted areas, a Subaru or CRV could handle these two 4×4 roads. BUT please check recent road conditions before attempting. Weather can and will affect road conditions drastically.

This map might be a little fuzzy. You can Click here for a clearer image and more road information.

If hiking is more to your liking, Ouray has no shortage of trails to choose from. The most popular is the Perimeter Trail. It’s a five-mile well-marked trail that circles the town of Ouray. Al and I have hiked portions of this trail and look forward to returning to hike the total perimeter. May and June you’ll need to keep snowmelt in mind as all creeks and streams run dangerously fast and furious and trails can be muddy. July into August is stunning as the meadows are dotted with wildflowers. Then there’s September when gold can be seen … yellow Aspen leaves.

Box Canyon Falls
Box Canyon….the bottom of the falls can be seen in the lower part of the photo

One section of the Perimeter Trail that we loved is the hike to Box Canyon Falls. Box Canyon Falls is known as Ouray’s own wonder of the world.  The waterfall is created from the combination of Canyon Creek narrowing into a rock canyon and then plummeting 285 feet, spilling thousands of gallons of water per minute.  The word ‘dramatic’ sums it up nicely. As you hike further into the canyon, the roar of rushing water becomes more deafening and the dirt trail quickly turns into a slatted iron bridge complete with rails.  The temperature drops, the humidity rises, and the sun is hidden. Al and I both agree this is a unique find and experience not to be missed.

Silverton, Colorado – Is it worth the drive?

Hold on, as the only road to get to Silverton, Colorado from Ouray is not for the faint of heart. This stretch of Highway 550 is known as the Million Dollar Highway. The road twists, turns, bends, goes up, goes down, and meanders through the San Juan Mountain Range. It’ll help if you have some mountain driving experience and aren’t afraid of heights. There’s a notable lack of guardrails and you’ll want to plan on taking around 45 minutes to drive the twenty-five-mile distance between Ouray and Silverton.

Silverton, Colorado
Highway 550 aka the Million Dollar Highway

If driving mountain roads isn’t your thing and you happen to be near the town of Durango, consider taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  The rail route is even more scenic than the highway and the train pulls right into the town of Silverton.

Durango & Silverton Train

SilvertonOnce in Silverton, you’ll find the town has a natural beauty that’s steeped in Victorian charm and mining history.  Gold was discovered here in the 1860s.  The town was platted in 1874 and by the late 1800s, the main business section was built.

On the “other side of town”, is notorious Blair Street.  At one point, Blair Street was home to 40 saloons and brothels.  Many of the original buildings are still standing today and have been turned into quaint gift shops and restaurants.

Tidbit: During the mining boom, Silverton boasted a population surpassing 2,000. Today the year-round population is less than 700. Although tourism has replaced mining as the current economic engine, conjecture is someday mining will return.

Silverton is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmark District.

Silverton, Colorado

With mining heavily ingrained in the area’s history, the backcountry is dotted with remnants of abandoned mines and ghost towns.  If you have a high clearance vehicle (or rent one), the old mining roads are great fun to explore.

Ridgway, Colorado

If you’re a John Wayne fan like my husband, then a stop in the little town of Ridgway is a must. During one of our day excursions from Ridgway State Park to Telluride, we took the Last Dollar Road. This gravel/dirt road takes travelers past the Ross Ranch, one of several film locations that took place in Ouray County from the movie True Grit. The road is accessed about 10 miles outside of Ridgway. Last Dollar Road is rated as an easy 4WD road. At the top of Dallas Divide, the road offers majestic views of the backcountry without traversing any extreme switchbacks or sheer drop-offs that are commonly found driving some of the more difficult backcountry roads.

historical western buildings in Ridgway Colorado

Camping and lodging

Camping:  Whenever we’ve visited Telluride, we love camping at Ridgway State Park, which is about a one-hour drive away.  The park offers sites accommodating tents and large RVs alike.  Ridgway State Park is one of our favorite campgrounds in Colorado.

camping at Ridgway State Park

For those interested in full hook-ups, the Centennial RV Park near Montrose is a consideration. When we weren’t able to find an available site at Ridgway State Park, we’ve stayed at the Montrose Elk’s Lodge (members only). There are also private campgrounds with full hook-ups in the town of Ouray, but they like to pack’em in tight … a little too close for our taste.

Tee PeeMuch closer to Telluride is a delightful National Forest Campground;  Sunshine Campground.  We would love to stay here due to its stunning views and near proximity to Telluride, but unfortunately, we might only fit into a couple of sites and the turning radius to navigate into and around this campground is tighter than what we think we could navigate. The campground is super close to Mountain Village where one can park and catch the free gondola taking you up and over the mountain into Telluride.

Further down the road is the Matterhorn Campground, also a National Forest Campground and this place has several sites that can accommodate just about anyone … that is IF you can snag an open site.

For those traveling with tents, vans, or small RV’s, the perfect place to camp and really immerse yourself into the Telluride lifestyle is the Telluride Town Park Campground.  Nestled in a grove of pine trees along a creek, it’s within walking distance to festival venues, restaurants, and shops.  Obviously, where there are trees, there are low branches and tight turning radius’.  Thus, we feel it’s not an option for us.  Once again, small RV’s have the advantage.  Note; during festivals, this campground is jam-packed making it difficult for even a Honda Civic to navigate.

And when it comes to other types of lodging, Telluride has it all.  Click here for more info and enjoy your own Rocky Mountain getaway. I promise you won’t be disappointed 🙂

four-wheeling
The view along Last Dollar Road

Western Colorado is definitely one of my favorite places to visit. You’ll take in some jaw-dropping beauty as you pass mountains, lakes, and streams.  And when the wildflowers are blooming in July and August or the Aspen tree leaves turn golden in September … oh … my … gosh!!!  Let’s just say, it’s a sight to behold and photographs rarely capture the enormity of such a spectacular and stunning sight.

Between the majestic San Juan Mountains and the small-town mountain lifestyle, it’s no wonder this area of Colorado is a favorite with many.

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Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte, Colorado

When we moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in the mid-’90s, we couldn’t wait to take our first trip to the mountains.  I’m not sure why or how we picked Crested Butte for our first Rocky Mountain destination, but Crested Butte it was.

We packed up the vehicle, two kids, and the dog and ventured into unknown territory. I don’t remember which child said it first, but Crested Butte quickly turned into Crusty Butt.  Oh dear, out of the mouths of babes … to dub, such a beautiful, pristine place with such an unpleasant title is just wrong, but to the four of us, Crested Butte was now officially known as Crusty Butt.

Continuing with our Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that special.

Wildflower Capital of Colorado

This quaint little mountain town will always hold a special place in my heart due to fond memories that were created during several family excursions to this part of Colorado. Aside from that, Crested Butte does offer a vibrant little community and is considered Colorado’s wildflower capital. It’s home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms.

downtown Crested Butte, Colorado, Colorado's wildflower capital
Downtown Crested Butte, Colorado

McGill's Restaurant in Crested Butte, Colorado, best coffee in ColoradoA stroll down the main part of town is always at the top of my to-do list. Elk Avenue is the main shopping and restaurant district and one of our favorite spots for breakfast is at McGill’s. The food is delicious but the coffee is even better.  During one of our visits, we couldn’t resist asking what kind of coffee they served, and we discovered that the coffee is actually roasted right there in Crested Butte by Camp 4 Coffee. McGill’s serves their Blue Mesa blend.

Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned coffee shop and roaster. I love supporting local businesses. We consider no visit to Crested Butte complete without a stop at this establishment. A little afternoon latte pick-me-up followed by a purchase or two of their freshly roasted coffee beans to bring back home to the RV always fits into our schedule.

Another notable restaurant that we’ve enjoyed is The Last Steep Bar and Grill. Sitting outside on the deck is nice during beautiful weather.

Mount Crested Butte

As we head north of town just a little further, we come to Mount Crested Butte. This is where all the mountain action takes place. Although Crested Butte is known for its amazing ski slopes, it’s also considered the birthplace of mountain biking … well, I understand most mountain bikers might dispute this fact. The origin of mountain biking is something I’ll leave to the Colorado towns vying for that title. I’m merely repeating the Crested Butte information that I read online and at the visitor center.

Visiting the Back Country

One of my favorite things to do whenever I’m in the area is taking a little 4×4 backroad excursion. This is also where you’ll find the majority of wildflowers. During the Wildflower Festival, these backroads are active with tour companies and individual sightseers alike. The festival brings folks in from around the world, thus tourists are everywhere and it’s one of the busiest weeks of the year in Crested Butte.

Not to worry if you can’t make it for the festival. If you show up a week before or after, you’ll still be able to enjoy those blooms and with a lot fewer people around.

(This post is intended for entertainment purposes only. Please do your own research before driving any of these roads. Weather, rain, and flooding can impact the drivability of these roads and conditions can vary from one day to the next. If this is your first time to the area and you’re traveling with an RV, we recommend staying near Gunnison and explore camping options near Crested Butte first without the RV.)

Gothic Road, Slate River Road, and Washington Gulch Road are all worth exploring. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended as you travel further into the backcountry. A regular vehicle can traverse some of these gravel roads up to a given point and then road conditions can get a bit rough for the average car.

Emerald Lake, Crested Butte, Colorado, mountain meadow wildflowers along the shore of an emerald colorado lake in Colorado's high country
Emerald Lake. Can you spot the ledge of a road? I don’t think the road was even wide enough to accommodate a dually truck. Perfect for ATVs or small SUVs. I was so thankful that we didn’t encounter any oncoming traffic on this one lane width ledge of a road.

My Toyota Tacoma is perfect for these roads. With the exception of possibly a creek crossing, I don’t recall having to put the Tacoma into four-wheel drive. There are, however, a couple of real white-knuckle spots in the road on the backside of Mt. Baldy and above Emerald Lake. Yeah, those ledge type of roads that are the width of one lane, cut into the side of a mountain and are intended for two-way traffic are a real thrill!

Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado
A portion of Slate River Road. An easy stretch.

During one of our first backroad excursions, we started off by heading up Slate River Road. We shared the road with other trucks, Jeeps, and ATVs/UTVs. We passed a large staging area for the trailered OHV (off-highway vehicles), as well as a camping area along the creek. We intended to make it a loop drive but decided to take a quick detour when we got to the turn for Washington Gulch Road where we decided to continue up toward Schofield Pass.  At this point, we were on the backside of Mt. Baldy and the road gets narrower and more precarious. I couldn’t envision two vehicles fitting on this ledge type of road. Oh, and I initially forgot that we’d have to retrace our tracks to connect at the Washington Gulch intersection meaning we’d be driving this ledge to and from. Eek!

As we rounded a blind switch back, we encountered a pickup truck loaded with people heading toward us.  The truck was lime green in color and set up kind of like an open-air safari vehicle with bench seating in the rear. My fearful thoughts had me mumbling, “Oh dear! How the heck are we going to pass each other?

I needed to back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (thank goodness, I had the inside).  The other truck and I both pulled in our outside mirrors and we slowly pass each other within inches. He was the one on the outside ledge and I could see his tourist passengers wide-eyed and a tad nervous. One slip, and down the mountain they’d roll.  Once we successfully passed each other, the driver waves and comments, “Thanks, we got’er done hon”. The passengers started clapping. I’m sure, they too were as relieved as I was.

I love exploring these backroads, but not on those narrow ledges. I’m always grateful to have Al sitting next to me assisting and encouraging me. He and I decided long ago that I would drive on these exploratory day excursions due to my many photo-op stops. This way, he gets to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride and not listen to someone yelling, “Stop!” every five minutes. 😏

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery simply click on any image)

Not only do these backroads take you into some stunning countryside, but they also take you to some trailheads for some amazing hikes. Since we were traveling with an elderly dog during these summer visits, we had to pass on the hiking opportunities, but I assure you next time through, we will definitely add a little hiking into our schedule.

The itty bitty town of Gothic is also worth a short visit and a great place to use a public restroom before heading up toward Emerald Lake. I’m pretty sure the scenic drive to Gothic can be navigated with a regular car but do check at the visitor center in Crested Butte for up to date road conditions.

Lodging and Camping

Blue Mesa RV Resort, camping near Gunnison Colorado, Full-hookups in ColoradoSince Crested Butte is known as a tourist destination, finding a variety of lodging shouldn’t be a problem. During ski season, we usually opted for a condo near Mount Crested Butte. We’ve also stayed at the Comfort Inn in Gunnison which is about a one-hour drive south of the ski area.

Gunnison is a major town located along Highway 50 and makes a great home base to explore this area of Colorado. It’s also the perfect place to stock up on supplies.

Camping: With our RV in tow, we’ve stayed at a private RV Park with full hook-ups along Highway 50 just west of Gunnison, as well as the Curecanti National Recreation Area along the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The Elk Creek Campground does have some electric sites, but the majority of campgrounds in the area are dry only.

Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado, camping near Gunnison
Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

Closer to Crested Butte are some national forest campgrounds suitable for tents and small travel trailers. Even at our modest 31 feet, we were too big and tall for most. We loved tent camping at Lake Irwin. Although we probably could’ve squeezed into a site or two with our 5th wheel, it was just much easier with the tent.

camping near Crested Butte, Colorado, at Lake Irwin Campground, wildflowers, a picnic table and mountain lake
A campsite at Lake Irwin, near Crested Butte, Colorado

We’ve also seen some folks boondocking off CO Road 12 and 730 near Lake Irwin, but the most popular boondocking locations are off Slate River Road and Washington Gulch Road near Mount Crested Butte. The mountain meadows and views are beautiful, but this is a place for seasoned boondockers who are well acquainted with mountain travel. For first-timers, it’s best to leave the RV camped near the Blue Mesa Reservoir and take a day exploring camping options closer to Crested Butte with just a regular vehicle.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Gunnison, Colorado
Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As long as you’re in the area, you might as well head a bit further west on Highway 50 and take in the unique beauty of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But keep in mind, if you’re camped in the town of Montrose, it’ll be even easier to access this park. And Montrose happens to be even closer to our next favorite mountain town.

Final thoughts

Crusty Butt Crested Butte is the perfect place to chill and unwind. It’s lowkey, beautiful, and super dog-friendly. However, if you’re into music venues and festivals, I know just the mountain town for that. Stay tuned!

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We took Bear with us everywhere in Crested Butte. He was even welcome in the T-shirt shops.

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Things to Do in Grand Lake, CO

The mere mention of Grand Lake brings a smile to my face. We first discovered this charming little Colorado mountain town in the late ’90s. At that time, we were living in Colorado Springs and looking for an affordable place to take the children on a winter ski vacation. Plus, we wanted ski slopes that weren’t too challenging for beginner skiers.

What started out as a nice Colorado winter spot quickly turned into one of our favorite summer mountain towns. The fact that Grand Lake is also located near the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and sits along the shores of a picturesque mountain lake just adds to her overall appeal.

Main Street in Grand Lake, Colorado

Continuing -Top 5 Favorite Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.

Discovering Grand Lake

While picking up my children from summer camp (1997), a staff member overheard that I was looking for a recommendation for a winter destination and mentioned we should look into Snow Mountain Ranch.  Little did I know, Snow Mountain Ranch would quickly become our go-to place to spend Christmas and ring in the New Year.

favorite Colorado mountain towns and why you should visit, #VisitColorado, #ColoradoLoveOur adventures on the western side of Colorado’s Continental Divide were plenty. Over a ten year period, it was our family tradition to rent a cabin in the woods and savor the amazing views. As the week unfolded, the days were filled with outdoor activities; snow skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing. The evenings included games and storytelling near a toasty fire blazing in the cabin’s fireplace.

Snow Mountain Ranch is world renowned for its Nordic Center and groomed trails, but not for downhill skiing. For that, we would need to go to either Winter Park or Granby Ranch (previously known as Silver Creek and Sol Vista). Granby Ranch is the perfect place for beginners. Al and I would put the children in ski school while he and I lounged around the fireplace in the ski lodge exercising our arms by lifting mugs of hot chocolate. 😉

The outside deck offered a perfect vantage point for me to photograph and videotape the kids in ski school.  As Al and I got more comfortable leaving the children in ski school, he and I would venture off (with the instructor’s knowledge of course) and explore the surrounding area.  Those explorations always included lunch and shopping in the quaint little town of Grand Lake, about a 30-minute drive from the slopes. Strolling the wooden walkways connecting the rustic buildings made us feel like we had stepped back in time, a time when life was a little simpler and slower.

When the kids needed a break from skiing, we would rent a couple of snowmobiles near the town of Grand Lake and make a day of exploring the backcountry at 9,000 plus feet in elevation on some of the best groomed and scenic trails around. Views of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park were breathtaking. We always wanted to return during the summer to rent ATV’s, but somehow life got in the way. Sure, we returned to Grand Lake many a time during summer excursions but we never seemed to have enough time to hit the trail in an ATV. Oh well, I guess that gives us reason to return … again.

Grand Lake is NOT a winter destination

We loved our winter excursions to the high country, but summer is even better. Although visiting Grand Lake during winter conditions is beautiful and fun, the town is much more of a summer and fall destination. It is, after all, the western gateway into Rocky Mountain National Park. Actually, during the winter, about half the businesses in the town of Grand Lake appear to be closed, especially the galleries and tourist shops. Yeah, I don’t think they sell a lot of ice cream during the winter. Plus, once the snow starts falling, access into the national park is closed off at the western end. Crossing the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter is not an option.

Grand Lake, Colorado
My daughter during one of our fall excursions.

What makes Grand Lake so popular during the summer months is the easy access into Rocky Mountain National Park and the summer recreation available throughout Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. And let’s not forget about the beautiful lake itself; Grand Lake. (The town AND the lake share the same name. Hmm, that can get confusing.)

Grand Lake (the lake) is a popular draw for anglers and water enthusiasts.  Personally, I can’t imagine engaging in any activity that would require me actually touching the water as the water temperature appears to always be COLD. I remember one time standing on a dock at the water’s edge and feeling a wave of coolness rise and sweep over me.  It felt like I had opened my refrigerator’s freezer door and was greeted by a rush of cold air.  Yep, that’s some cold water!

Grand Lake, Colorado, wildflowers along the shores of a mountain lake, #picturesqueColorado, #mountainLakes
The town of Grand Lake sits at the shores of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake.

Wildlife!

As the summer season winds down, leaf peepers and wildlife enthusiasts flock to the area. Actually, September is one of the most popular months to visit Grand Lake, Estes Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Can you believe this is also when the national park starts closing campgrounds … seriously? ☹

September is when the Elk are in rut, the boys are fighting and posturing for the ladies attention, and their bugling sound is easily recognizable. Spotting a herd of Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park during the rut season is not a problem. Fall is, in my opinion, one of the best months to visit the area.

Rocky Mountains

As much as I love Elk, I’m a tad more drawn to Moose, and Grand Lake is the place to spot these fascinating animals. During one of our summer visits, I was on a quest to find and photograph a moose. I hear that it’s not uncommon to see a moose walking down Main Street early in the morning.

It wasn’t that easy for Al and me to find Bullwinkle. We had to spend a little time moose hunting searching for me to get that photo-op. Hint: ask a local. The gal in the ice cream shop shared a few moose hang-outs with us.

After driving around for about an hour to the popular ‘moose hang-outs’, we were near the verge of giving up when Al spots the most gorgeous bull moose feeding in a small pond. Score! We pulled off to the side of the road and stayed a safe distance away knowing moose can be mean and deadly. Thank goodness for zoom lenses. He was such a treat to watch!

Between the amazing wildlife, the beautiful scenery, and the fond memories of our family adventures, it’s no wonder why Grand Lake, Colorado remains a favorite.

Lodging

Winter Park lodging, Alpine slide Colorado, #alpineslide, #winterparkfun
One summer, my daughter and I stayed in a condo in Winter Park. We loved riding the Alpine Slide!

There are several private and national forest campgrounds in the area and of course plenty of little hotels. However, we’ve never personally overnighted in Grand Lake. We have stayed at the base of Granby Ranch mountain in a ski-in-ski-condo.

But our preference was renting a cabin at Snow Mountain Ranch which is about a 30-45 minute drive away from Grand Lake. The ranch also offers room style lodging and in the summer they have a campground.

While RVing, we quite often camped in the national park (close to the town of Estes Park) and then visited Grand Lake for the day. Camping and lodging options near Estes Park are plentiful considering its close proximity to Denver.

The drive from Estes Park to Grand Lake is not to be missed, but do note, the road does not open until the end of May and usually closes in October depending on snowfall.

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How to get there?

There are three different routes to access the town of Grand Lake. All three routes are easily navigated with a regular vehicle but not so much with an RV.

Most scenic: From Denver, head west to the town of Estes Park, Colorado. From Estes Park, you’ll enter Rocky Mountain National Park. A leisurely drive through the national park via Trail Ridge Road is a memorable scenic drive with stunning views accompanied by wildlife sightings.  I highly recommend this drive, but keep in mind, this road is not RV friendly. Depending on your personal comfort level with mountain driving will determine whether or not you should take your RV via this route. We’ve never driven this road with our RV in tow, nor do I think we ever will.

(This post is intended for entertainment purposes only and all road information should be researched and verified before driving. Road conditions change regularly.)

My recommendation: If you drive a motorhome and pull a toad, I recommend you not tow, but rather, drive each vehicle separately. If you’re pulling a trailer/5th wheel, go early (before 8:00 a.m.). The tight switchbacks on the western side of the Continental Divide on Trail Ridge Road will require swinging into the oncoming lane (depending on your length and direction of travel) to make a few hairpin turns. The majority of scenic pull-outs and parking lots will not accommodate most RV’s, especially during busy traffic periods.

Altitude and elevation need to also be taken into consideration. The 50-mile drive between Estes Park and Grand Lake will take you up and over the Continental Divide with elevations exceeding 12,000 feet. Plan at least 2 hours to drive the 50 miles (no services) and more if you plan on stopping at any of the numerous scenic pull-outs. Note; the combination of grade and altitude may be too challenging for older vehicles. Also, anyone with health issues should take the high elevation into consideration. I highly recommend talking to a ranger for more information before embarking on this drive.

trail ridge road Colorado, Roads above treeline, Rocky Mountain National Park, #can I drive an RV, #coloradoroads
A small section of Trail Ridge Road near 12,000 feet in elevation. This photo was taken a few years ago in late August and early in the day before tourist traffic picked up.

RV route: Although longer, these roads will be a little easier to navigate with an RV. From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to the town of Silverthorne and then head north on Highway 9. Once you get to the town of Kremmling, take Highway 40 east to the town of Granby, then north on 34 to Grand Lake.

Winter route: This is the route we often took during our winter excursions driving our F150. From Interstate 70, we would head north on Highway 40 through Berthoud Pass heading toward Winter Park.  Although fine for a regular vehicle, we would not personally pull the RV up this road. The grade is such that it would put a tremendous strain on the engine not to mention navigating all the switchbacks.

During winter conditions, beware of avalanches. One year we cut our vacation short knowing weather (i.e. snowstorm) was rolling in. The day after we drove Hwy 40 over Berthoud Pass there was an avalanche that crossed the road and damaged some vehicles. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, and we were very glad we didn’t experience this personally.

Next week, I’ll take you to another one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.

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Any time of year is a great time to visit Colorado’s high country for making family memories – me, my daughter, husband, and son.

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Top 5 Colorado Mountain Towns

Have you ever looked at a map and been so curious about a road or town that you just had to hop in the car and explore?  Well, that seems to happen to me a lot. First off, I love maps and have had an interest in geography as long as I can remember.  I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the road.

This summer we’ll be traveling to some familiar and some unfamiliar territory. As much as I love exploring new places, I equally enjoy returning to some old favorites. During the process of planning out our route and schedule for our summer excursion, I found my mind wandering …. squirrel. 😆

Columbine, Colorado, Colorado's State Flower, #columbine, #coloradostateflower
Colorado’s state flower – columbine

Hmm, where exactly did my mind wander off to? Colorado! Ah, the wonderful memories I have in that beautiful U.S. state. After all, Al and I called Colorado home for over twenty years and agree it was a great place to raise our children. These days, Arizona feels more like home to us, but a part of our hearts will always remain in Colorado.

So, while scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories. Could I pick a favorite Colorado mountain town?  Could I pick a favorite scenic Colorado drive?  Absolutely NOT!  I do however have some favorites. And those favorites on my list are mostly due to the memories that were created in those locations. Of course, there are so many more amazing places to visit in Colorado than what I’ve listed here, but that would take me days to share. So, let’s start with these five for now.

Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns; towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.

When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would take our children up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun.

While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would either sit by a roaring fire in the lodge or stroll the shops in a quaint mountain town.  There’s no shortage of charm and character AND amazing views in Colorado.

I’m a bona fide flatlander and the thought of shooshing down a mountain slope with mini sleds strapped to my feet never did appeal to me. Once was enough for me! But my children grew up in Colorado, and therefore, they are avid snow skiers. However, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling were always a fun adventure that I never shied away from.

These days, Al and I save our visits to the high country for summer.  As a matter of fact, some of these mountain communities have become even more popular during the summer months than they are during winter.

Frisco, Colorado

Summit County includes the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne and the village of Copper Mountain, and is located about a two-hour drive from Denver’s International Airport.  So it’s super easy to get to and the area offers plenty to see and do.

As much as I enjoy visiting Breckenridge and think that it too is a must-see, I personally prefer the quaint mountain town of Frisco.  Frisco is much more low-key and less touristy than Breckenridge.  Thus, Frisco is our first stop on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” tour.

Frisco has a population of less than 3,000, sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, and was incorporated in 1880 during the mining boom.  Today it’s a gateway to several major ski resorts.  Main Street offers plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and a historical park with a museum. During one of our RVing visits to the area a few years ago, Al and I discovered the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.  This is a free, self-guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.

Just down Main Street is a local coffee shop we enjoy. After purchasing a couple of Lattes, we strolled over to the museum. Al and I aren’t huge museum-goers, but we found this historical park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop. I was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II … boosting courage.

During WWII, women showed their support by wearing red lipstick. Popularized by the movie industry, women demonstrated their patriotism by wearing makeup, especially the red lipstick.  While mascara and rouge were rationed, lipstick was kept in production because of its benificial effect on morale.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and the buildings at the museum.  Each building offered a little something different enlightening us on the town and its history over the past century. We found it to be a worthwhile stop, and we’ll probably return someday.

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The chipmunk checks my hand for a treat and is disappointed.

Scenic Road – Swan Mtn Road

Off Swan Mountain Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above the Dillon Reservoir. The views from the Sapphire Point overlook are stunning. There’s a short loop trail that can be accessed from the parking lot. We hiked this trail in winter conditions several years ago and I remember the views being very nice.

Aside from the stunning views, there’s the entertainment from the chipmunks to consider. These little guys are used to folks bringing them sunflower seeds and aren’t shy about begging.

Lots to do and see

Rainbow Lake Trail, Frisco, Colorado, #hikingColorado, #hikeFrisco
Rainbow Lake Trail

As many times as we’ve visited Frisco, we always discover some new shop, a new restaurant, or a new hiking trail.  And the scenery never disappoints. During one of our visits, we attended a bi-plane air show which was so much fun to see.

Shopping is not a problem around Summit County. Between the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne, you’ll find several groceries stores, including a Whole Foods. There’s also a Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, sporting good stores, and even an Outlet Mall.

My favorite is a little shop strolling in Breckenridge. We always look forward to picking up a treat at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and perhaps purchasing a T-shirt (or two) from a local store. I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh, that’ll be our secret!

The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from fast food places, to chain restaurants, to independent breweries, to fine dining, and everything in-between. Our biggest problem was always deciding where to eat because of all the choices.

Lodging: When we would visit the area during the winter, we usually stayed at one of the chain motels in Dillon like the Comfort Inn. There are so many lodging options through-out Summit County. You’ll find motel chains, ski-in-ski-out condos, high-end resorts, and private properties available. Yep, no shortage of lodging, but keep in mind premium pricing on weekends … all those Front Range dwellers like to head up to the high country on weekends.

Camping: Parts of Summit County are within the White River National Forest (Dillon Ranger District). There are five different campgrounds located around the Dillon Reservoir, as well as some dispersed camping further into the national forest. We never found any boondocking sites that we felt would comfortably accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel. Thus, we’ve always stuck with one of the campgrounds. With several campgrounds to choose from, we’ve never had a problem showing up without a reservation, but that’s for dry camping, no hookups, and no dump station on-site. Weekends might be a problem though without a reservation.

Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, Colorado, #campinginBreckenridge, #DillonResevoir, #WhiteRiverNationalForest
We barely fit into this dry site at the Heaton Bay CG. We loved our views! I think this is site E76, but don’t quote me.

The Heaton Bay Campground does have one loop that has electric, it’s big rig friendly, and the most popular campground in the area. You’ll definitely need a reservation to stay here. The Lowry Campground, least popular and least desirable, also has some electric sites.

Campgrounds Peak One and Prospector are both large campgrounds with a mixture of sites (small, large, level, unlevel) and dry only. For those of you with big RV’s and setup with solar, you might want to consider the Pine Cove Campground. This is nothing more than a paved parking lot style of place, but it sits right along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir with spectacular views. Because the RV’s are parked so close together, generator use is frowned upon at Pine Cove CG.

Prospector Campground, view of Dillon Reservoir and mountains. White River National Forest camping, #campingnearDenver, #DillonResevoir, #Breckenridge
The view from a campsite at the Prospector Campground.

For those interested in full-hookups and/or doing a little bit of winter camping, Tiger Run Resort might be worth checking out. Just be forewarned, it is pricey, but then again, it’s located in Breckenridge where everything is pricey.

Next up

In next Sunday’s post, we’ll move up the road to Grand Lake, Colorado … the west-end gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Camping at Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, CO. Can you spot our RV nestled in the trees? Hint, we’re on the right.

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A Visit to Crested Butte, CO

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.

wildflowers in Crested Butte ColoradoAlthough 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.

Lake Irwin Campground Colorado Crested Butte Keebler Pass
Lake Irwin Campground, near Crested Butte Colorado and Kebler Pass

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.

camping near Crested Butte, Colorado at Lake Irwin
Our campsite at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, Colorado

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!

camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte Colorado
tent camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, CO – July 2012

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”.

McGill's Crested Butte, Colorado for great breakfast and coffeeWe 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.

Crested Butte ColoradoWe 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.

dog friendly Crested Butte Colorado
Crested Butte is very dog friendly. Bear went everywhere with us.

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.

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte backcountry 4x4
local wildlife – Moooove!
mountain homes near Crested Butte Colorado
Beautiful mountain homes dot the landscape near Crested Butte

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!

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road – two-way traffic on this one lane road

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.

We pass the turn for Washington Gulch Road and continue toward Schofield Pass.  The road gets narrower and more precarious. I can’t imagine two vehicles fitting on this road.

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.

Schofield Pass Mt. Baldy Crested Butte Colorado
Near Schofield Pass and Mt. Baldy – over 11,000 feet in elevation

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.

This stretch of road is tame and easily navigated. Wish it had all been like this.

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 Crested Butte Colorado
Washington Gulch Road – we saw more wildflowers along this stretch

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 😏)

backcountry roads near Crested Butte Colorado

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.

Aspen Trees Keebler Pass near Crested Butte Colorado
Kebler Pass – forest of Aspen trees

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 aspen treederived 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!

Aspen grove at Keebler Pass Crested Butte, Colorado
driving through an Aspen groove at Kebler Pass
Colorado gold
Colorado Gold in the fall.

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.

breaking camp at Lake Irwin campground Crested Butte Colorado
Al breaking camp – it was fun, but I missed the comforts of the RV

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 😲

Camp 4 Coffee Crested Butte ColoradoWhile 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!

Monarch Pass Colorado

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The Back way to Telluride

Stopping in at a local visitor center is the perfect way I like to start exploring a new area. The first time Al and I camped at Ridgway State Park was the first time we experienced this part of western Colorado, and I couldn’t wait to dive in and explore.

Lost Dollar

Last Dollar Road – back way to Telluride, CO

And by diving in and exploring, that meant taking the roads less traveled. One of the activities that is super popular around the town of Ouray, Colorado, is 4×4 back country travel. If you don’t have your own 4×4, there are several businesses eager to rent you a Jeep, ATV, or UTV or you can sign up for a guided tour. Free maps are available noting these back roads with a designation from easy to difficult.

This is another reminiscing post about our travels to western Colorado. Although, I will truly miss a Colorado excursion this summer, new adventures await here in Arizona.

Roads less traveled

It was July 2013  ….  Al and I review the atlas and peruse all the information we picked up at the Ridgway State Park visitor center.  From the state park to the mountain ski town of Telluride should be about a one hour drive if we stay on the main roads.  Al and I talk about it, and contemplate our route. “Hmm, we have all day.  What’s the hurry?” one of us asks.

Telluride

This southwest part of Colorado was a buzz of mining activity in the 1800’s.  Even Telluride’s logo is that of a miner’s pick.   This mining activity created a multitude of back roads throughout the picturesque San Juan Mountains.

Today these back roads are available for Jeeps and OHV (off highway vehicles).

Some of these back roads are assessable by regular automobiles, but most require high clearance, and others demand four-wheel drive capabilities.  The roads might be gravel, dirt, rock or any combination of the three.

Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road – this road is classified as “easy”

The back way to Telluride

My little red four-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma should be able to handle most of the roads we were interested in and researched.  Al and I err on the side of caution and pick a couple of “easy” roads to explore …. one of which is called the “Last Dollar Road”.  As far as mileage goes, this is a shorter traveling distance to Telluride than taking the main roads.  However, time wise it would be double.  Obviously, we won’t be driving this road at 60 miles per hour.

Last Dollar Road

some ruts were a little deep, but no problem for us.

For the most part, it was an easy drive even though there were some mud puddles from the storms the day before.  The visitor center publication was informative, spot on, and we were glad to have read it before hand.  Some of the ruts, mud, and water would definitely present a problem for a vehicle without a high clearance.  We encountered no problems, and the drive presented some amazing scenery complete with wildflowers.

Telluride

Telluride

Telluride

It was the end of July and the wildflowers were starting to wane, but I was still thrilled with the tufts of color here and there.

Telluride

The drive from Ridgway State Park to Telluride took us about two hours and that included all the photo-op stops.  I didn’t think that was too bad considering the slow speed that the road necessitated. It was a beautiful drive that I would do again in a heartbeat. Plus it wasn’t too challenging of a drive and was relatively easy to navigate.

I might venture to say, mid July and mid September would be the two most perfect months to explore these back roads. Wildflowers in mid July are at their peak and fall colors mid to end of September are at their peak.

TellurideOnce in Telluride, we stopped at the visitor center in town to gather up some local information. Al always likes to ask locals for lunch recommendations.

We found ourselves at a kind of sports bar housed in an old house off a side street.  It appears to be a favorite with locals.  Lunch was good, but nothing special, and I’m not sure I’d return, especially with so many other restaurants to try.

After lunch we headed over to the gondola station for a ride up and over the summit to Mountain Village.  The folks at the visitor center highly recommended this. Pretty cool that the ride is free considering other mountain towns in Colorado charge upwards of $25 per person for their gondolas. The Gondola here in Telluride operates year round free of charge and is a common form of public transportation for workers, school children, mountain bikers, hikers, and of course, tourists.  Oh, and it’s pooch friendly too.

On the way to the gondola, we encountered a farmer’s market and quickly took notes as to some potential purchases we should make before heading home.  A grocery list quickly formed in my head!

Gondola

 

Once we arrived at the gondola, we noticed all the mountain bikers and hikers. The Telluride side of the mountain is pretty steep while the Mountain Village side appears to be more moderate.  That’s where these two young mountain bikers were heading.  They’ll disembark at the summit and ride their bikes back down toward the town of Mountain Village.  We also saw quite a few hikers doing this as well.  There appeared to be very few hiking or biking down on the Telluride side of the mountain. Too steep perhaps!

Telluride

Telluride

With our ‘tourist’ day coming to an end, we picked up some goodies at the local farmers market held on Friday mornings during the summer months, and promised each other future visits to this beautiful mountain town would be a must.

For our return drive to the RV, we took the highway back to Ridgway State Park and arrived about an hour later.  I’ll admit, even the scenery via the highway was lovely, although not quite as beautiful or adventurous as taking the Last Dollar Road but lovely just the same.

It was a great day exploring amongst some breathtaking scenery and we couldn’t wait to tackle another back country road.

Telluride
Al and me at Mountain Village – love the European feel

Another back country road

From our campsite at Ridgway State Park, I had an unobstructed view of unique rock formations known as Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock. My curiosity was piqued and I once again scoured the maps and information that I’d picked up at the visitor center.  The map indicates there’s a back country road labeled as easy that will take me closer to this mountain range.

Ridgway State Park Colorado Site 3

We catch County Road 10 just a couple of minutes south of our camp at Ridgway State Park and head east toward Chimney Rock.  The road is wide and gravel and no four-wheel drive is necessary. We pass some of the most beautiful ranches with unbelievable views.

Ranches near Ridgway Colorado and Owl Creek Pass with Courthouse Rock in the background

Somewhere along this stretch is the field where they filmed John Wayne taking on the bad guys in the movie “True Grit”…. reins in teeth and guns a-blazing.

Ranches near Ridgway Colorado

We continue our trek up and over Owl Creek Pass toward Silver Jack Reservoir.  Although the road is gravel, it’s in great shape and easy to negotiate. This is the perfect Owl Creek Pass Ridgway Coloradodrive for anyone who has a problem with altitude because it doesn’t go much above 10,000 feet in elevation and there aren’t any sheer drop offs for those with a fear of heights.

It’s a great excursion easing oneself into the remote countryside. However, the views aren’t nearly as spectacular as the other mountain passes. Much of this road meanders through forested land.

Silver Jack Reservoir and Campground is about a 21 mile drive from Highway 550 and not the preferred route for RV’s.  The easier route to take for campers would be from the town of Cimarron off Highway 50.

Silver Jack Lake near Ridgway Colorado
Silver Jack Lake, Colorado

The Silver Jack Campground sits in a forest of Aspen and Pine trees in the Uncompahgre National Forest.  Some of the sites are large enough to accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel, but there’s no internet service.  We couldn’t even get one bar on our phones 😦 We didn’t find the reservoir to be easily accessible, finding only one road leading down to the water’s edge.  There were, however, numerous hiking trails.

Owl Creek Pass, Colorado
Back road near Owl Creek Pass, Colorado

This was another great driving excursion offering us some beautiful scenery and solitude.

Still on my list

Our time in the area was over before we knew it, and I still had a few more back country excursions on my list. Unfortunately, those roads will have to wait for another time…. there’s Imogene Pass and Engineer Pass, but the Yankee Boy Basin Road remained at the top of my list. It’s classified as moderate and four-wheel drive is highly recommended.  We shouldn’t have any trouble driving Yankee Boy Basin with the Tacoma, but it would be a more challenging drive than Owl Creek Pass or Last Dollar Road.

Mid July, when wildflowers are blooming, would be the perfect time to visit and do a little high country hiking at the end of this out and back road – that is, if I think I can handle the high altitude.

Columbine flower Colorado's state flower

For those of us looking for an “extreme” Colorado adventure, check out this video of Black Bear Pass. This is the one pass vehicle rental companies will not allow you to drive with their equipment. If you do not have your own Jeep/UTV or you don’t feel experienced enough to negotiate this treacherous pass, but are still interested in experiencing this adrenal filled excursion, there are tours available in the town of Ouray – something that’s on my bucket list.

Black Bear Pass is a one way single lane road starting from just outside of the town of Ouray and traversing up and over the mountain into the town of Telluride. The road is only open starting sometime in July and closing sometime in September. Because there have been fatalities, (ya know – folks rolling off the side of the mountain) there are talks of closing off access to this high country pass. So knowing that, would you be interested in such an excursion? I’m game, if you are!

Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue – John Muir

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RVing in Colorado

This will be the second summer in a row that we won’t be spending any time in Colorado… sigh! I love Colorado and called it home for over twenty years. Once we sold our Colorado home and moved into the RV full-time, we still continued to spend our summers meandering around the state, that is, up until last year.

Cherry Creek, Colorado

The RV has allowed us to explore and see parts of Colorado that we never had the opportunity to experience while living in our sticks and bricks house. And while we aren’t returning to Colorado this summer by choice, that doesn’t mean a part of me isn’t missing it.

We arrived at our summer ‘home’ in Prescott, Arizona on the 1st of May and were quickly reminded how weather in the high country likes to surprise us with one last winter storm before giving way to spring.

Our home for the summer in Prescott Valley, Arizona – photo taken May 2nd 🙄

Our first full day in Prescott Valley brought inclement weather in the form of rain, thunder, hail and sleet. Al and I chuckled as the loud sound of hail pummeling the roof of the RV made having a conversation impossible. After five minutes, the hail stopped leaving in its wake a thin layer of white covering the landscape which fortunately melted quickly. And also fortunate, the hail was small in size and caused no damage.

This spring storm reminded me of Colorado and made me smile as fond memories flooded my mind. With that said, I thought I’d do a little reminiscing by sharing with you one of my favorite mountain towns in Colorado. Here’s a blog post I wrote a while back….

Everyone’s Favorite Mountain Town

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like Telluride, Colorado.  If I had to recommend one Colorado mountain town to visit, it would definitely be Telluride.  There’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. Plus, how could anyone resist a place where there’s usually a herd of elk in a meadow on the edge of town welcoming visitors to the area?

Telluride, Colorado

We’ve had the pleasure of visiting this charming mountain town a few times over the past few years and each visit was truly a joy.  First off, Telluride is beautiful.  I mean, drop dead gorgeous. It sits in a canyon surrounded by steep forested mountains and cliffs along with the stunning Bridal Veil Falls seen at the far end of the canyon.

Telluride was founded in 1878 as a mining settlement.  By the 1970’s, the extensive mining in the area was replaced by ski tourism.  By the mid 1990’s, Colorado’s best kept secret was discovered by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, and Oliver Stone.

Although Telluride is well-known for outstanding ski slopes, the summer months have actually become more popular with tourists as the town hosts a variety of festivals, including film festivals and endurance events all summer long.  The outdoor recreation is fantastic and even offers extreme hiking: Via Ferrata.

Via Ferrata

Via Ferrate in Telluride. Photo courtesy of Wiki

Telluride, CO

Newer home styles seem to blend in well with the surroundings.

I love the architecture in Telluride. Each structure is one of a kind. There’s a beautiful blend of old and new which captivates my attention and appeals to my taste. There’s a hiking trail that allows one to wander from town all the way out toward Bridal Veil Falls allowing a visitor to admire the houses along the way …. each unique and attractive.

Telluride, CO
I was in love with these houses – restored 1800’s

Trivia:  The famous bank robber, Butch Cassidy, committed his first recorded major crime in Telluride by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889 and exiting the bank with over $24,000.

Telluride, Colorado

This charming Rocky Mountain town located in southwestern Colorado is most definitely worth a visit and goes to the top of my favorites list.  The town boasts a population of less than 3,000 and sits at an elevation of 8,750 feet.

Bridal Veil Falls

At the base of Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls in the far distance

We’ve enjoyed hikes to Bridal Veil Falls, shopped the Friday morning Farmer’s Market, and taken the free Gondola ride – a bonus not to be missed. We’ve taken a back country 4×4 road to get to Telluride which I call the ‘back way’.  We’ve eaten at several tasty restaurants, met fellow bloggers for a brew, and generally savored the vibe and beauty that is quintessential Telluride.

Where to eat in Telluride

We’ve eaten at several restaurants throughout town but our personal favorites are eating at the local farmers market or Smuggler’s Brewery. At Smuggler’s Brew Pub, they serve up a great burger along with some tasty brews. Al always orders a beer called “Debauchery“. With its 10% alcohol content, it’s served in a brandy sniffer in lieu of the normal beer glass. With Debauchery’s high alcohol content combined with Telluride’s near 9,000 foot elevation, one drink is usually hubby’s limit, especially if I’ve planned lots of walking afterwards 😄

Telluride, Colorado

Camping near Telluride

Whenever we’ve visited Telluride, we’ve always camped at Ridgway State Park, about an hours drive away.  The park offers sites accommodating tents and large RV’s alike.  Ridgway State Park is one of our favorite campgrounds in western Colorado.

Tee PeeMuch closer to Telluride is a delightful National Forest Campground;  Sunshine Campground.  The campground is super close to Mountain Village where one can park and catch the free gondola taking you up and over the mountain into Telluride.

We would love to stay at the Sunshine Campground due to its stunning views and near proximity to Telluride, but unfortunately, we’d barely fit into a couple of sites and the turning radius to navigate into and around this campground is tighter than our comfort level allows, but this campground is perfect for smaller RV’s.

Further down the road is the Matterhorn Campground, also a National Forest Campground, and this place can accommodate just about anyone, but finding an available site might prove to be difficult. It’s a very popular place.

 For those traveling with tents, vans, or small RV’s,     the perfect place to camp to really immerse oneself     into the Telluride lifestyle is the Telluride Town Park   Campground.  Nestled in a grove of pine trees along   a   creek, it’s within walking distance to festival   venues,   restaurants, and shops.  Obviously where   there are   trees, there are low branches and tight   turning   radius’.  Thus, not an option for us.  Once   again, small   RV’s have the advantage.

Note; during festivals this campground is jam-packed making it difficult for even a Honda Civic to navigate.

Lodging in Telluride

And when it comes to other types of lodging, should camping not be your thing, Telluride has it all.  Check out this guide for more information on planning your visit to Telluride, one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns, and enjoy your own Rocky Mountain getaway. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

With so much natural beauty along with an abundance of things to see and do, it’s no wonder Telluride could easily be referred to as ‘everyone’s favorite mountain town‘.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away – Maya Angelou

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When Travel Gods Smile – Part 2

Let’s continue our easterly trek …… Our stay in Montrose, Colorado, was way too short, but luckily the summer rain held off long enough for me to get in a few hours exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  This would be my third visit exploring this small National Park and I never tire of the view.  It’s like a mini Grand Canyon but instead of the various shades of red sand stone rock that’s common in the southwest, there’s an unusual blend of gray and black granite rock.Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

Moving on toward Gunnison, Colorado…..   Just off Highway 50 about an hours drive east of Montrose, the highway starts to meander along the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  This is the largest reservoir in the state of Colorado stretching approximately 20 miles long with about 96 miles of shoreline.

Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado
Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

It was near the end of July and temperatures were expected to be in the 80 degree Fahrenheit range, and with no large trees to provide shade, we wanted the ability to run our air conditioner.  Thus, we decided to scope out a campground with electric hook-up (our generator will not power the A/C).

We pulled into the Elk Creek Campground, the only national forest campground along the Blue Mesa Reservoir with electric hook-ups, and started searching the campsite posts for an available site.  By the way, there are several private RV parks on the north side of the highway that offer full hook-ups.  We wanted to be near the lake.

Elk Creek Campground - Blue Mesa Reservoir
Elk Creek Campground – Blue Mesa Reservoir – west of Gunnison, Colorado

The task of trying to read each campsite pole with the dates quickly became daunting so we drove up to the visitor center to ask if any sites were available.  The ranger didn’t squirrelthink so, but informed us the camp hosts pretty much handle the campgrounds and we should check with them.

Just as we were turning to leave the building, she told us about a couple who pulled out that morning for a family emergency.  It was highly unlikely they’d be back, and we should verify with the camp hosts to see if we could have their site.

Bingo!  We lucked out and scored another great campsite which allowed us to visit Crested Butte, one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.

Oh, how I wanted to linger around this part of Colorado longer, but responsibilities beckoned along with a campground reservation that I had made just a few days earlier.  I figured our good luck in snagging great available campsites couldn’t possibly continue, and since we needed a place to park for two weeks, I managed to reserve the only electric site still available at Lake Pueblo State Park for our time frame.  Whew, I breathed a sigh of relief when I clicked ‘reserve now’, but I did wonder what might be wrong with the campsite.

Site 313 - Lake Pueblo State Park, Colorado
Site 313 – Lake Pueblo State Park, Colorado

Upon our arrival, we were pleasantly surprised with our view from site #313.  Although it was sloped up and down to the left, it wasn’t a problem for us seasoned RVer’s (I still snicker being referred to as “seasoned” – kind of like a good steak, hehe!). I must admit,  Al and I have become quite proficient at leveling up the 5th wheel.  I knew exactly where and how to stack our Camco 44505 Leveling Blocks – 10 pack and signal Al to back up and stop.  I guess after four years of full-time RVing, we should have this figured out, huh.

A familiar view - For ten years, this was the view from my rear deck. Our sticks and bricks home was located four miles from this campsite.
A familiar view – For ten years, this was the view from our rear deck. Our old sticks and bricks home is located four miles from this campsite.

This would be a working stay!  We had a bunch of things to attend to during our time in Pueblo West.  This was our old stomping grounds and it’s still where we have a bunch of things in storage including our construction/utility trailer.  But first on the agenda was my flight from Denver to Chicago.

Al’s sister had recently moved to Denver from Rockford, Illinois, and we were looking forward to seeing her new place.  So the day before my flight, we took the two-hour drive up to Denver and spent the night at her place.

flyingThe following morning, Al dropped me off at the airport and while I visited with family in Illinois, he enjoyed some time with his sister.

Once again, the travel Gods smiled upon me and my flights, weather and visit were perfect.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Back in August, Delta Airlines had a serious computer melt down which caused massive delays across the country.  I was booked back to Denver the day after the melt down.  I was a tad nervous!  Between possible security lines at O’Hare Airport and issues with Delta, I arrived at the airport three hours early.  It took me a total of ten minutes to get through security.  That’s got to be some sort of record for fast airport security.  I literally walked right up, no line, set my purse and bag down on the conveyer, shoes too of course, and through and out I went.  I remember thinking, “Wow, did that just happen?”

MFlighty flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul (yeah, I needed to connect through MSP) left on time and arrived early and the same with my flight from Minneapolis to Denver.  I felt so badly for all the folks around me who had spent the night at the airport and were still scrambling to get a flight home not to mention the gate agents having to deal with distraught passengers.  It was an unfortunate mess for a lot of people.

Ok, ok… if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering why I didn’t book a direct flight from Denver to Chicago and back?  Well,  I could’ve if I had flown another carrier.  My original airline reservation was from Idaho Falls, Idaho to Chicago, Illinois and Delta was my best choice connecting through Salt Lake City.  Thus, I booked on Delta, and apparently Delta Airlines does not fly direct from Denver to Chicago.   I had to connect in either Minneapolis/St. Paul or Detroit, thus MSP it was.

Let me just say, it was a crazy six months for us with lots of twists and turns. I’ll eventually get around to sharing all the highs and lows of our adventures, but do note, overall it was mostly fun and filled with a lot of unexpected delights.

One of my favorite adventures occurred in mid August when we bid farewell to Colorado and said hello to New Mexico.  In most situations, timing plays a key role in how we feel about a place.  And after a very hectic month, we needed to find a spot to relax and regroup.

Aaahhh! Just what I needed to regroup and rejuvenate the soul - a fabulous hike!
Aaahhh! Just what I needed to regroup and rejuvenate the soul – a fabulous hike!

Our two week stay at Lake Pueblo State Park was anything but relaxing.  I was out of town for six of those days.  Al played handyman for his sister during my absence.  When I returned we cleaned and prepared the utility trailer to be moved, rearranged/sorted through things in storage, worked on our RV air conditioner and all the while Al was dealing with an injured back (he had been dealing with the back issue all summer long since the work camping gig 😦 )  Yep, we needed to find a place to chill and relax.

Camping in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Camping in Santa Fe, New Mexico

And we found it in Santa Fe…….  The travel Gods continued to smile upon us…..

Hmm, what’s on your Christmas wish list?  Al likes this GPS while I’ve been eyeing this pressure cooker!

When Travel Gods Smile – Part 1

I had lunch with a friend last week, and she asked me, “How was your summer?”  Without hesitation, I enthusiastically responded, “I had the best summer”.  Initially I was surprised by my exuberant response, but as I continued to share our summer adventures, it became clear what made the summer so ideal for me.Grand Tetons

First off, I visited some places that have been on my must see list for a super long time, and second the travel Gods smiled upon us each stop along the way.  Quite frankly, our travels couldn’t have gone much better.  Sure, we were faced with some unexpected situations, but with cooler heads, solutions were easily achieved.

Bumble BeeI usually don’t like winging our travels during the most popular travel months of the year (July and August), but circumstances had us doing just that.

The upside – without the commitment of reservations, we were able to change direction and plans on a whim, which we did a lot.  We lucked out in so many ways. This post is about our travel route and the places we camped.  We snagged some fabulous campsites that helped make this summer one of our best since going full-time in the RV four years ago.  I’ll write up the things we did at each location in separate posts.

Jackson, Wyoming – From Ririe, Idaho, our easterly trek took us back to the stunning Grand TetonGrand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  Our first visit to this beautiful National Park was in the early part of the summer, and one visit was not enough… I hungered for more!

During our previous visit, we camped at the Gros Ventre Campground, and although it was very workable, I had concerns that we wouldn’t find an available site large enough for us during peak tourist season. I also wanted something with a view.

This was my home for 5 glorious days
This was our home for five glorious days. Photo taken the day we arrived. Two days later, the place was packed with fellow campers. One night we even had a tent pitched right behind our RV.

And oh my gosh, did we have a view.  After doing a little bit of research on Campendium.com, we decided to scope out the boondocking (free camping) sites in the area.  Normally, we like to explore back country gravel roads without the 5th Grand Tetonswheel in tow, but Al and I were in serious winging it mode and threw caution to the wind.

We arrived at the Teton National Forest on a Tuesday morning with no other campers in sight with the exception of one small domed tent.  Someone was doing a happy dance!

The gravel road was well maintained until we reached the designated camping area. We navigated slowly through some very deep rutted road before deciding on a little slice of land to call home.  Later that evening, we enjoyed watching the sunset as more campers arrived.Grand Teton

There continued to be a steady stream of new campers arriving well into the night. Most were tent camping or sleeping in their cars. We didn’t realize how lucky we were snagging that site or having the ample room to maneuver until we woke the next morning amongst a dozen new neighbors.

Many campers would move on the next morning while others stayed a few days, and by the time Friday night rolled around every square inch of available designated camping land was taken up either by tents or small RV’s. We even had a young man knock on our door and ask if he could pitch his tent right behind our RV. We didn’t mind and even enjoyed visiting with the him.  We were all there to savor the majestic landscape.

Each morning, I sat in bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.
Each morning, I sat in a warm bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.  Free camping at its finest. It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside in mid July!

Yep, we got lucky snagging that site when we did and were able to call it home for five glorious days (five day max stay is posted and enforced).  Had we shown up a day later, we would’ve had difficulty maneuvering and wouldn’t have found a spot big enough for us.  Our good fortune snagging great campsites continued throughout the rest of our travels.

During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
Interesting historical site - note the animal bones bottom left.
Interesting historical site – note the animal bones bottom left. Life in the west can be rough.

Since we did have a time obligation requiring us to be in Denver in early August, we ended up two stepping across Wyoming and Colorado….  quick, quick, slow, slow or other times it was more like quick, slow, slow, quick 😉

We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado
We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado

Craig, Colorado – Reluctantly we bid farewell to the Grand Tetons, and embarked on a long seven hour travel day.  As much as we wanted to linger in Wyoming, that time commitment loomed.  We arrived at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado on a Sunday evening and had plenty of nice sites to choose from.

We originally wanted to Elkovernight at the Walmart in Craig, but there are signs all over posted ‘No overnight parking’.  Al even confirmed with a store manager.

This northwest part of Colorado is known for excellent Elk hunting.  We even passed a herd of Elk grazing near the side of the road.   Could be too many hunters were trying to set up camp at Walmart and thus they ended any RV overnighting. Fortunately, the Yampa River State Park had plenty of room for us.

Rifle, Colorado – The next day was a quick travel day to a Colorado State Park I’d been curious about for years.  As many times as we’ve traveled Interstate 70 through Colorado and stopped at the excellent rest area near the town of Rifle, we never took the time to visit Rifle Falls State Park.  Now was the perfect opportunity to check out this lovely state park.

Rifle State Park - Rifle Gap Campground
Rifle State Park – Rifle Gap Campground. We’re by the water on the left.

Of course, I wanted to camp as close to the falls as possible, but wasn’t sure if that was possible.  There are two campgrounds at the Rifle State Park.  We stopped Rifle Fallsat the main park office for the Rifle Gap Campground where I was able to ask all my questions.

Turns out the Rifle Falls Campground, located further up the road, was full. Had we gone there first, we might have found it somewhat challenging to turn around.  Although the sites do seem large enough to accommodate most RV’s, they do not have a convenient turn around road set up.

Also, the paved road to the campground is a little narrow in spots.  Therefore, it turned out to be more ideal for me to drive just the truck to see the waterfalls.Rifle Gap Campground

We were given a very nice pull-thru campsite near the water at the Rifle Gap Campground. The camp host gave us the option of driving against the one-way so our door could face the picnic table, but due to winds we opted to park with the door to the south.  The next day I drove to the waterfalls for a little hiking and photography.  Stay tuned for photos on that hike!

Our next stop would be Grand Junction, Colorado.  The James Robb State Park Fruita Section is a regular stopping point for us.  It’s the perfect location for me to visit with my brother as well as get in some fabulous hiking.  Without a reservation, we knew snagging a campsite at this popular state park over a weekend would be highly unlikely, but we figured a couple of weeknights shouldn’t be a problem….. wrong!

Our good fortune led to us spending five nights here.
Our good fortune – we were able to spend five nights here.

We were able to get a site for only one night.  Apparently there was a fundraising concert being held the following evening in the day use area, and thus the campground was all booked up, but the ranger did recommend stopping by the next morning to see if there were James Robb State Parkany cancellations.

That morning, we hooked up and were ready to roll, but before doing so I stopped in at the office, just in case.

While the gal was checking the reservation book, I made polite small talk.  And then I heard the preverbal, “Sorry, no cancellations”.   Just as I turned slowly to exit with my head hung in a dejected feel sorry for me stance, the gal said, “Wait one second”.  She then radioed one of the rangers, and I overheard her ask, “Did we decide to open the group campground to the general public because of the concert?”

Our awesome site backed up to the pond.
Our awesome site backed up to the pond.

As my ears perked up, I was told, “If you don’t mind not having a sewer connection, you can stay in the group campground through the weekend”.  YES!  We even got to pick out which site we wanted.  Sweet!  Turns out this was indeed a rare situation proving once again, lady luck was certainly on our side.  We not only had a great campsite at the James Robb State Park, we enjoyed a nice concert.

Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After a wonderful six night stay in Grand Junction, it was time for us to move on down the road to Montrose, Colorado.  This would be a quick two-night stay so we decided to give the Elks Lodge a try.  We snagged the last electric site available.  Maybe we should’ve bought a lottery ticket (we didn’t).  But our luck didn’t end here……

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