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.

Rocky Mountain National Park road, how to get to, Colorado scenic road, #sightseeing in Colorado

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.

For those of us that spend our time exploring mountain states with big rigs, I highly recommend picking up the Mountain Directory for Truckers. This is not an affiliate link, but a product I’m glad we own. It has saved us from driving on roads, that due to our size, we shouldn’t. At the very least, it helped prepare us for the grade and width of a given road.

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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.

Dillon Reservoir, Colorado scenic drive, friendly chipmunk #chipmunks, #scenic view in Colorado, #Dillon, CO
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.

Heaton Bay Campground, Camping along the shores of Dillon Reservoir, mountain reflections in the lake, #DillonRes, #campingLakeDillon
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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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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Color of Spring in the Desert

Thanks to the unusual and excessive rainfall this past winter in the desert southwest, the hills have come alive.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Phoenix valley so green, but it’s not just an abundance of green that has carpeted the land.

hiking in Phoenix
Superstition Mountain – Apache Junction, Arizona

Everywhere I look, I’m greeted with a delightful kaleidoscope of color. The wildflowers are on steroids this year and I’m loving the view.  Each bloom, bush, and tree is a wonderful sight to behold.

poppies
me photographing the wildflowers

desert wildflowers

The stunning display of wildflowers is an unexpected surprise to those visiting the desert for the first time.  The desert southwest is lush with vegetation and color and a far cry from the drab, barren brown most folks associate with a desert.

Phoenix hiking
Spring hiking in the desert is the best!

desert wildflowers

I always look forward to spring in Arizona, and couldn’t wait to share some of my favorite Phoenix valley spots with my daughter.   First up was hiking at the Superstition Mountain located on the far east side of the valley. This is my absolute favorite place to hike in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain
My daughter – it was a glorious morning to hit the trails.

March 2nd – Al and I managed to snag a lovely campsite in the overflow loop for a couple of nights of dry camping at Lost Dutchman State Park.  This is a popular state park and without a reservation, it’s difficult to nab a site with electric.

Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

By camping at the base of the Superstition Mountains, I was able to hike multiple times throughout the day and photograph the beauty that surrounded me. Sharing this amazing scenery with my daughter was a special treat.

wildflowers
Fields of poppies blooming at the base of the Superstitions

If you ever find yourself visiting Phoenix and looking for an entertaining way to spend a day, here’s a post I did a while back about the Apache Trail that you might find fun.

Lost Dutchman State Park
The desert provides the best skies

Who knew the desert could be so colorful?  ‘I know, I know’, she exclaimed with raised hand!  And once the wildflowers wither, it’ll be time for the cactus to bloom. The color of spring in the desert is a memorable and unique experience …. not to be missed.desert wildflowers

CMT 1 Pair – Anti Shock / Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles

Pinty 2L Hiking Backpack Hydration Pack with Water Bladder Cycling Climbing Camping Bag (Pink)

Day Tripping in Idaho

Throughout the months of May and June, Al and I took full advantage of our days off from our work camping gig to explore parts of Idaho via a series of day trips.  The Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho are a sight to behold with their jagged and impressive mountain peaks, and just like so many other beautiful places we visit, photographs don’t always do justice to the majestic beauty laid before our eyes.

Exploring the back roads in central Idaho
Exploring the back roads in central Idaho

We found Central Idaho to be a visual treat and an RVer’s delight with a ton of raw wilderness just ready to discover.  Finding a place to dry camp in remote national forest does not seem to be a problem around here.

Looking toward the quaint town of Stanley, Idaho
Looking toward the quaint town of Stanley, Idaho
Sun Vally
Shopping – loved the European feel

One of my favorite day trips was a loop drive that took us about ten hours to complete.  We started at our home base in Arco, Idaho, and our first stop was the popular mountain town of Ketchum, also known as Sun Valley.

To get to Ketchum we had to drive through Hailey, Idaho, which I was particularly curious about.  Now mind you, I’m not one to get all caught up or go gaga over Hollywood celebrities, but I do have a curiosity about the lives they lead behind the scenes.

Back in the 1990’s when Demi Moore and Bruce Willis started growing their family, they moved to Hailey to escape the Hollywood scene and helped rebuild this struggling little town.  “Why Hailey”, I questioned?  What made this little town so desirable to a couple who financially could afford to live anywhere.  After driving around the town of Hailey …. up one street, down the other on more than one occasion, I don’t have an answer.  Although cute, it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice if money were no object.

Maybe its more about Sun Valley.

Sun Valley Idaho

Sun Valley is a popular winter destination with its challenging ski slopes and European Nordic feel.  However, Sun Valley Idahomoderate weather, wonderful biking and hiking trails, and an eclectic variety of dining options, makes Sun Valley equally popular during the summer months.

Expensive second homes dot the landscape.  The elegant mountain style architecture blends in beautifully with the terrain of rolling, flowersgrassy hills.

Wildflowers speckle the hillsides with color while gardens filled with flowers adorn well manicured yards.  I loved the abundance of flowers seen in all directions.

Although I found the area to be charming, I somehow felt disappointed.  After visiting so many mountain resort towns in Colorado, perhaps I was expecting an unrealistic wow factor.   Various places resonate differently with each of us and just because I wasn’t feeling it, doesn’t diminish its allure or beauty.

Sawtooth MountainsThe mountains around Sun Valley are unimposing, but from what I hear, are steep and challenging for skiing enthusiasts.  Our time in Sun Valley was brief and we didn’t get a chance to hit the trails to really delve into the lay of the land as much as we would’ve liked.

While strolling the streets of Ketchum, we found folks to be particularly friendly and helpful.  And unlike the mountain towns in Colorado, Sun Valley was not crowded.  Let’s face it, it does take some considerable effort to get to this part of the country.The Kneadery

I must share …. we enjoyed a fabulous lunch at The Kneadery  located in downtown Ketchum.  I’m all about décor and atmosphere along with fresh wholesome ingredients and The Kneadery hit the spot perfectly; cute place, a tasty meal, at a reasonable price – highly recommend.Sawtooth MountainsWith tummies full, it was time for us to meander north.  As the road twisted and turned, it wasn’t long before we were greeted by those craggy, snow speckled Sawtooth Mountains.  What a stunning mountain range!  We passed numerous places to dry camp, and as much as we wanted to stop and check out the possibilities, I was on a mission to get to our next stop.Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake ….  Wow!  Thanks Donna and Char for insisting I visit this place.  I haven’t seen such turquoise and pristine waters since I last visited the Caribbean. Redfish Lake

I could’ve sat at that beach for hours admiring the view.  I may not have been feeling it in Sun Valley, but I sure as heck was feeling it at Redfish Lake. The beauty of our surroundings had Al and me feeling somewhat nostalgic  as memories of our Caribbean trips were conjured up.  Then there are the memories of us paddling our canoe in northern Minnesota or taking our kids out on our fishing boat in southern Utah.  Yep, we’re lake people and a beautiful body of water always brings a smile to our faces.Redfish Lake

Al and I grabbed a snack and a drink from the cooler and found a spot to sit.  We initially sat in silence as we watched the kayakers and stand up paddle boarders paddle by.  Sigh!  Oh how I longed to be out on that water.  Al and I reminisced about our boating days and although there are many aspects about those days that I miss,  I somehow felt incredibly content and fortunate to be relaxing on the shore admiring that view.Redfish Lake

We were quite smitten with Redfish Lake and the quaint town of Stanley.  It is breathtakingly, mesmerizingly, beautiful here! It was tough to pull ourselves away, but return home we must ….. though not before checking out the campground for future reference. This area made our “return” list, which I’ll admit, seems to get longer the more we travel.

Thanks Donna and Char. I’m so glad we made it a priority to visit Redfish Lake.  If there’s one place in Idaho I’d say is a ‘must see’, this would be it.

The scenery along the way was every bit as memorable as the stops
The scenery along the way was every bit as memorable as the stops

Now it was time to complete our loop drive with one more exploratory stop before reaching home.

Mackay Reservoir - boondocking along the shores is a consideration
Mackay Reservoir – boondocking along the shores is a consideration

Mackay, Idaho: from a former mining town to a small recreation town …. folks escape the big cities (big for Idaho, that is) to come to Mackay on the weekends to get away and relax.  The water (my personal fav) and back country 4×4 roads are the draw for this rustic and remote area.

colorful mountains around Mackay, Idaho
colorful mountains around Mackay, Idaho

For now, we need to head back to camp, but we’ll visit Mackay in the next post!

Idaho

All that water we saw has me eyeing one of these inflatables… hmm! Christmas is coming – wink, wink dear hubby 🙂  Perhaps there will be plenty more boating adventures in our future!

My, Those are Big Ones

When Al and I set off in the RV full-time three years ago, we didn’t have a long bucket list of places we wanted to see.  We didn’t even have a list per se, but we did have a few places on our radar that, over the years, we had talked about wanting to visit.Grand Teton

One such place – Jackson, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park.  Having lived in the neighboring state of Colorado for nearly twenty-five years,  I’d say this visit was long overdue.  And it did not disappoint.

I mean really…. how could anyone be disappointed with views like these?Grand TetonsAt 13,775 feet, Grand Teton is the tallest mountain peak in the Teton Range, which is a subrange of the Rocky Mountains.  Although I don’t speak French, it is common knowledge that Grand Teton means large breast.  Earlier settlers also referred to this range as Le Trois Tetons = the three breasts.   Regardless of the name, these large, pointy, granite rock mountains are big and beautiful and a sight to behold.Grand TetonsWe visited this stunning landscape the first week in June, just in time for a lovely showing of wildflowers.Grand Teton

The wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and added a special touch to the already breathtaking landscape.

TetonWe camped at the popular Gros Ventre National Forest Campground (pronounced; gro vont).  This is a first come, first serve campground meaning no reservations accepted.

Although the campground does offer a loop with electric hook-up, we opted for a dry camping site.  After all, our intentions were to spend the majority of our time out exploring.  For me, that meant a lot of picture-taking.

A selfie - Me sitting on the bike trail with my other little camera on a tripod - two cameras and two Joby Gorilla tripods. I did attract a little attention with my antics.
A selfie – Me sitting on the bike trail with my other little camera on a tripod – two cameras and two Joby Gorilla tripods. I did attract a little attention with my antics.

More than once, Al remained back at camp so I could flit about with my cameras.  The Jackson Hole area is a photographers delight and so worth visiting.

The barns at Morman row are a popular location.
A popular photo-op location – the barns at Mormon row.

For information on photographing the Tetons, I found Nina’s blog post  extremely helpful.  I even dragged myself out of bed a half hour before sunrise one morning.  It didn’t take long for disappointment to set in by a thick layer of cloud cover which made for less than favorable light.Pronghorn

The alpenglow may have been elusive, but coming across a couple of pronghorn sparring  made the early morning rise well worth the effort.pronghorn

Pronghorn

With sunrise photos a bust, I was on my way back to camp when I spotted the pronghorn, aka antelope, a short distance from the road.  Excitedly I stopped the truck, rolled down the window, and turned off the diesel engine.  I felt privileged to watch and photograph these magnificent animals until they decided it was time to move on. Grand Tetons

Jackson Wyoming

Our visit was over way too soon.  And although we did manage to get in a great deal of explorations, Al and I both agree Jackson, Wyoming, is a place we look forward to revisiting time and again.Jackson, Wyoming

Update: We ended our work camping gig in Arco, Idaho on July 5th, a little sooner than planned.  Although the gig was going fine, Al and I did consider shortening our stay in SLEEPY Arco.  With oscillating plans, it was an unexpected phone call that catapulted our exit.  We love the flexibility of our home on wheels.  It allows us the ability to change direction easily.  Crisis averted, we have no complaints about our unanticipated summer detour.   All is well….. P1030431

that is with the exception of my on going computer saga.  I’m still dealing with an old laptop that my son gave me when my computer crashed last spring.  It sometimes takes me four tries just to log on to my blog.  Thus, my blogosphere habit has been temporarily curtailed, but do know I’m still here and reading posts when my computer allows.  In the meantime, I guess I’ll be spending more time with the camera.  I know, it’s a tough job!Jackson Hole

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