Mommy does a happy dance!

It was the middle of September when we arrived back at the Cherry Creek State Park located near Denver, Colorado. We had an enjoyable and enlightening seven week sojourn that took us to the Midwest and back (I put a map of the trip at the end of this post). Family visits and exploring new territory made for a memorable trip.

Cherry Creek State Park

“Is that you, Ms. Ingrid”, the deer asked quizzically?

As pleasurable as the trip was, it was nice to be back in familiar territory and enjoying regular visits with our daughter again.  I was also relishing the full hook-ups.  After seven weeks of partial to no hook-ups, it was nice to be back in luxury.  Let the cleaning commence!

Colorado State Parks

We enjoyed a wonderful campsite at Cherry Creek SP and loved the neighbors

After getting caught up with chores, we found time to visit with old friends and connect with new.  Fellow blogger Larry, his wife, and sister-in-law were passing through the Denver area on their way back home in Tennessee. Larry and I have followed each other’s blogs for a while now. Thus, when the opportunity to meet up presented itself, we jumped at it.

Bloggers

Blogger luncheon – from left to right; Al, me, Pat, Bev, and Larry

Since we were camped at opposite ends of the Denver Metro area (well over an hour apart), we rendezvoused at the C.B. Potts Brewery in Highlands Ranch where the conversation AND laughs (and maybe even some Beer) flowed freely for nearly four hours.  Obviously, we all had a great time and now with both of us bloggers slowing down the travels, it’s time to get back in the kitchen.  Larry is always cooking up something yummy over at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings and I can always use a little inspiration.

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Ok, now for the BIG news…..  Before we left Denver around the end of July, our daughter, Ashton, had been talking about needing a change.  When she visited a close college girlfriend last spring in Texas, she started thinking about moving to San Antonio or Austin, Texas.  The thought came somewhat of a surprise to hubby and me considering she’s our little mountain goat who has always sworn she would never leave Colorado, but seems she may have inherited that gypsy gene after all.

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

So, there I was in northern Illinois visiting with my dad when the phone call from Ashton came in.  Hmm, it was an actual phone call versus a text message, which of course sent me into mommy worry mode immediately.  I hurriedly answered the phone, “Is everything okay?”  Ashton responded in an upbeat tone, “Yep, sure is.  I’ve decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona”.  SAY WHAT!

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary's Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

In order to understand my utter shock you have to understand, during every visit to Phoenix that daughter made, she repeatedly announced, “I could never live here”.  To some St. Mary's Glacierdegree, she didn’t even like visiting, but considering her brother lived in Phoenix and we (her parents) spend a great deal of our winter in the area, she would visit to be with family, but always reluctantly.

I won’t bore you with all the ensuing calls, text messages, and emails that followed after her initial heart stopping announcement, but I would like to preface, not once did our daughter EVER ask us for our help or assistance regarding the move.  However, that didn’t stop hubby and I from going into parent mode and canceling our Upper Michigan Peninsula leg of our trip and returning to Denver a few weeks earlier than originally planned.

One of just many advantages to RV travel is the ease of changing plans.  A few clicks of the mouse here and a little research there and ta-dah ….. we’re onto Plan B which in this case included exploring South Dakota and eastern Nebraska on our return to Denver.  And if you all remember, Plan B turned out great!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Quite frankly, I was so excited for Ashton to embark on this new journey that I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  I had recommended this move to her for the past couple of years and each time I even mumbled the thought, I was met with a rude dismissal.

Perhaps, she just needed a little time to mull the idea over.  Regardless, I’m one happy mom having both my children in the same city.  This year will have our family of four spending Thanksgiving and Christmas together for the first time in five years.

I’m still dancing, can you tell?  …..  Next up, the big move.

On our last day in Denver, we witness the eclipse

On our last night in Denver, we witnessed the eclipse

Eclipse

St. Mary's Glacier

Ashton and me – St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor
The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day

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Is it worth the drive?

I’m going to wrap up my series of posts on “Top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” by heading up in elevation.  Hold on, as the only road to get to Silverton, Colorado, is not for the faint of heart.

Silverton, Colorado

Highway 550 in southwestern Colorado

Silverton sits in southwestern Colorado and there’s only one paved road leading to this charming and historic town.  I need to put an emphasis on the word paved because this former mining town is host to some of the most fantastic 4×4 back country roads.  That said, you’ll need to know not to trust your GPS because if she recommends any other route other than Highway 550, you may find yourself traversing one of those high clearance, dirt, mountain roads, turned summer fun four-wheeling routes.  Many of those old mining roads are numbered, named, and recognized on maps, and trust me when I say you’ll want a “high clearance” vehicle traveling these back roads as deep ruts, rocks, and water are common encounters.

Highway 550

Highway 550 in southwestern Colorado

So to get to Silverton from the south, you’ll need to take Highway 550 from the town of Durango and travel about 50 miles north on a beautiful and scenic well maintained road.  The road twists, bends, goes up, and goes down as it meanders through the San Juan Mountain Range.  There are drop offs with Aspen treesguard rails or maybe not.

You’ll pass mountains, lakes, and streams and take in some jaw dropping beauty.  And when the wildflowers are blooming in July and August or the Aspen tree leaves turn golden in September….. oohhh …. 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.

If driving mountain roads isn’t your thing, 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 1860’s.  The town was platted in 1874 and by the late 1800’s 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

It was a cool and wet September day when we last visited Silverton.

Silverton, ColoradoWith mining heavily ingrained in the area’s history, the back country is dotted with remnants of abandoned mines and ghost towns.  Have a high clearance vehicle?  The old mining roads are a blast to explore and remains my favorite thing to do in this part of Colorado.

The visitor center in the town of Ouray provides free maps and info to help you navigate the back country.  The visitor center in Silverton also has a lot of info but charges for some maps.

In Ouray (pronounced; your ray) there’s several businesses that rent Jeeps, ATV’s, and Razors allowing one to explore the high country at one’s own level and pace.  There’s also a few places in Silverton that offer rentals.  However, for those less experienced in high mountain four-wheeling, a guided tour might be the perfect option.San Juan mountains

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.  Although lovely and enjoyable drives, neither road took us above tree line and with the exception of a couple of rutted areas, a Subaru or CRV could easily travel these two 4×4 roads.

four-wheeling

The view along Last Dollar Road

For those of us looking for a true white knuckle Colorado experience, there’s Black Bear Pass.  I’m still working on hubby for us to rent a RZR and tackle this insane scary road, but I’m not averse to signing up for a tour with an experienced driver.  Actually the more I watch this video, the more I think that’s the way to go.

And speaking of white knuckle driving, I’ve shared the route from Durango to Silverton, now let’s talk about driving from the other direction.  Coming from the north, the 21 miles via Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton, otherwise known as the Million Dollar Highway, is an experience in itself.

Million Dollar Highway

a part of the Million Dollar Highway

This two-lane mountainous highway can be a challenging and potentially hazardous drive due to narrow lanes, steep cliffs, and no guard rails.  There are some hairpin curves, elevation changes, and the road is shared with semi-trucks and brave RV drivers.

PoppyWe’ve driven Highway 550 from Durango to Ouray with the truck camper many years ago, but not with the 5th wheel.  It’s all about comfort level.  Northbound traffic gets the luxury of hugging the inside of the curves while southbound traffic gets to be perched on the outside edge.

Is it worth the drive to visit Silverton?  Absolutely!  The drive is an integral part of the overall adventure.  Regardless of which direction one travels from, the San Juan Mountains are breathtaking, and once in Silverton, the towns’ rough, rustic character easily transports a soul back in time.

Ridgway State Park

camping at Ridgway State Park

So there you have it – my Top 5 Favorite Colorado mountain towns;
Telluride – everyone’s favorite
Crested Butte and Grand Lake – my two favs (family memories play an important role in why they are “my” favorites) and then there’s Frisco and Silverton, each with their own unique draw, charm, and character.San Juan Mountains

Camping near Silverton? There are a bunch of camping options, however I can’t speak from experience. We’ve always camped at Ridgway State Park and driven Highway 550, aka the Million Dollar Highway, to Silverton for day trips with just the truck.  If you’re interested in a little more info on camping around Silverton, you can check out Amanda’s post here.  You can also find more camping reviews in western Colorado by checking out Nina’s blog here or my buddy Russ here.

We find ourselves returning to Colorado every summer and during each visit we discover more hidden gems.  I guess there’s more than one kind of mining when it comes to finding gems!Rocky Mountains

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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 and 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

Telluride, ColoradoWe’ve had the pleasure of visiting this charming mountain town a few times over the past three years and each visit was truly a joy.  First off, Telluride is beautiful.  It sits in a canyon surrounded by steep forested mountains and cliffs with the stunning 365 foot 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.

The architecture is a beautiful
blend of old and new that always
captivates my attention.

There’s a hiking trail that allows one to wander from town all the way out toward Bridal Veil Falls.

The houses passed along the way are unique and delightful.

Telluride, CO

love these 1800’s restored homes

 

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.Telluride, Colorado

This charming Rocky Mountain town located in southwestern Colorado is most definitely worth a visit and goes to the top of my list;  Top 5 Colorado mountain towns.  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 loved the free Gondola rides; a bonus not to be missed. Previously we’ve taken a back country 4×4 road to get to Telluride.  You can read about that excursion here.  We’ve eaten at several tasty restaurants, met fellow blog followers for a brew, and generally savored the vibe and beauty that is quintessential Telluride.  I can’t wait to return!Telluride, Colorado

Camping:  Whenever we’ve visited Telluride, we’ve 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.  I did a post on the area a while ago and you can find it here.

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.  It’s super close to Mountain Village where one can park and catch the free gondola taking you up and over the mountain into Telluride.  Unfortunately, we might only fit into a couple of sites and the turning radius to navigate into and around this campground is tighter than our comfort level allows.

Further down the road is the Matterhorn Campground, also a National Forest Campground and this place can accommodate just about anyone.

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.

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 🙂

Telluride Trails: Hiking Passes, Loops, and Summits of Southwest Colorado (The Pruett Series)
Sony WX350 18 MP Digital Camera (Black)

Grand but quaint

Let’s continue the journey on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns”.hummingbirdColorado mountain townsToward the top of my favorites list is Grand Lake, Colorado.  We first discovered this charming little mountain town in the winter of 1997.  We were looking for an affordable place to take the kids on a winter ski vacation.

Now keep in mind, Al and I were bona fide flatlanders at the time with absolutely no interested in schussing down a mountain slope, but since the kids were young and would be growing up in Colorado, we felt it was important to expose them to the popular Colorado sport of snow skiing.  After all, what Coloradoan doesn’t know how to snow ski?  Moi !

Grand Lake Colorado

the town of Grand Lake sits at the shores of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake

The slopes at Granby Ranch (previously known as: Silver Creek or Sol Vista) were highly recommended to us as a great place for beginners, and it turned out to be the perfect venue for the kids to take up the sport of snow skiing.  Al and I would put the children in ski school while he and I lounged around a roaring fire in the ski lodge exercising our arms by lifting mugs of hot chocolate to our lips.

The outside deck offered a perfect vantage point for me to photograph and video tape 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 instructors knowledge of course) and explore the surrounding area.  Those explorations included lunch and shopping in the town of Grand Lake, about a 30 to 45 minute drive from the ski slopes.

snowmobiling in Colorado

snowmobiling the back country near Grand Lake, CO. Rocky Mtn National Park and the Continental Divide can be seen in the background. The Kamikaze duo of Al and Ashton on the left. The conservatives Logan and me (behind camera) on the right.

When the kids needed a break from the slopes, we’d rent a couple of snowmobiles in Grand Lake and make a day of exploring the back country at 9,000 plus feet in elevation.  Our preferred place for lodging for these winter excursions was at Snow Mountain Ranch, a fifteen minute drive south of the town of Granby.

YMCA of the Rockies

We rent a rustic cabin in the woods for Christmas celebration. Snow Mountain Ranch, Colorado

Over the next ten years, this part of Colorado was where we would spend Christmas and ring in the New Year.  It became our family of four tradition and we had a blast snow skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, tubing, and snowshoeing.  The majority of the time, we would rent a rustic cabin at Snow Mountain Ranch, a great place for family fun – winter or summer.  There’s so many activities available at Snow Mountain Ranch as well as multiple lodging options, including a camping (summer only).

scenic towns in Colorado

Grand Lake is loaded with quaint shops, unique art galleries, and fun restaurants.

The town of Grand Lake is actually more of a summer tourist destination, and you’ll find several shops closed during the winter months.  Although snowmobiling is a very popular sport here, offering some of the best groomed back country trails in Colorado, the ski slopes are pretty far away, thus it’s not considered a ski destination.

Grand Lake, Colorado

Grand Lake is the western gateway into Rocky Mountain National Park

What makes Grand Lake so popular during the summer months is the access into Rocky Mountain National Park.  Grand Lake borders Rocky Mountain National Park on its western edge.  Folks from around the world visit this beautiful part of America.

Grand Lake, Colorado

this photo of Al and Bear was taken in Sept. of 2008 at the lovely park along Grand Lake

The lake itself is also a popular draw for anglers and water enthusiasts.  Personally, I can’t imagine engaging in any activity that would require actually touching the water as the water temperature appears to always be COLD.Grand Lake, Colorado

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 freezer door and was greeted by a rush of cold air.  Yep, that’s some cold water!Rocky MountainsAnother popular draw to the area is the wildlife.  The moose population over the past twenty years has grown substantially in this part of Colorado.  It’s not uncommon for a moose to walk down Grand Lakes’ main street early in the morning and Elk are easily spotted roaming throughout the National Park.Rocky Mountains

PikaThere’s several campgrounds in the area as well as plenty of other lodging options. However, we’ve never personally overnighted in Grand Lake, thus can’t speak from experience.

There’s three different routes to access the town of Grand Lake….

During the summer, a leisurely drive through Rocky Mountain National Park via Trail Ridge Road from the town of Estes Park to the town of Grand Lake 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.

The route we often took during our winter excursions:  From Interstate 70, we would head north on Highway 40 through Berthoud Pass heading toward Winter Park.  Although fine for a regular vehicle, there’s no way Al would pull the RV UP this road.  The grade is such that it would put a tremendous strain on the engine not to mention all the switchbacks.ColoradoThe preferred RV route:  From Interstate 70, head north through the town of Silverthorne on Highway 9.  In the town of Kremmling head east on Highway 40 to 34 east.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many visits to this charming mountain town.  You can read about one of my favorite day trips from Estes Park to Grand Lake by clicking here.  And if you’re interested in what others have to say about Grand Lake, you can click here for Lisa’s experience. (Lisa posted some great photos showcasing the area)

Next, I’ll finish up with my next two favorite Colorado mountain towns……

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Top 5 Colorado towns continued

We’ve enjoyed our stay at the Chatfield State Park despite Mother Nature’s wrath. Colorado’s front range received a ton of spring rain and now with the runoff from mountain snows melting, the Chatfield Reservoir is at record high levels.  The flooding is so severe that the west side of the park is closed as are all the boat ramps.  To top things off, ALL sewer services within the park have been shut off.  That means, no RV sewer connections, no dump station, no restroom flush toilets, and no showers anywhere in the park.  Restroom buildings have been locked and lovely construction porta-potties placed onsite in lieu.  And I won’t begin to mention the power outages.

Chatfield Reservoir

Site B-74 at Chatfield State Park near Denver, Colorado

If there’s anything this RV life has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected and learn to roll with the flow and adjust accordingly.  And of course, a good sense of humor always helps.  So although we endured a few inconveniences during our Chatfield State Park visit, we still enjoyed our stay immensely.

ColoradoOne afternoon during one of those power outages, fellow campers were out and about checking with one another…. “Do you have power?”  During such an exchange, we ended up meeting some folks from Illinois.

As former Illinoisans, the conversation flowed freely.  The young couple, camping in a small travel trailer, were on a two-week vacation and wanted to see and experience Colorado’s finest.

Al and I did our best to answer their list of questions.  We offered recommendations on roads to avoid while pulling the trailer, keeping in mind this was their first visit to the Rocky Mountains.  Roads that Al and I are comfortable pulling aren’t necessarily roads we’d recommend for those less seasoned when it comes to mountain driving.

One particular question that had hubby and I torn – “What is your all time favorite, must see, Colorado town?”  (ah, a blog post(s) was born)  Al and I agreed it was a toss-up between Crested Butte and Grand Lake.  Both towns are beautiful in their own right and are very different from one another.  They both share plenty of charm, character, and beautiful scenery.

Crested Butte Colorado

the back country north of Crested Butte, Colorado

Mount Crested Butte, ColoradoWhen we moved to Colorado in the mid-nineties, Crested Butte was the first mountain town our family of four (plus doggie) visited.  I think Crested Butte will always hold a special place in my heart due to the special family moments experienced here.

One memorable trip occurred three years ago when I had a crazy idea to go tent camping at Lake Irwin.  I wanted to take the little truck (Tacoma) and explore some of the 4×4 back country roads north of Crested Butte.  Thus, we left the comforts of the RV behind and packed up the camping gear.

Crested Butte ColoradoLake Irwin is located west of the town of Crested Butte near Kebler Pass and sits at an elevation of 10,000 feet.  Somehow that elevation thing didn’t register properly in my mind when I set up this excursion.

Since this was in the middle of summer, I knew the temperatures would still drop substantially during the night, but I never imagined they would drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Thank goodness, hubby brought an extra sleeping bag to throw over us.  Even poor Bear was shivering during the night until I covered him with my sweatshirt.

Crested Butte

Exploring the back country north of Crested Butte

Crested Butte ColoradoIt was mid July and the Wildflower Festival was in full swing.  No coincidence there.  The trip was planned with the wildflowers in mind.

Crested Butte relishes the title of “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”.  Although according to locals, the drought conditions of 2012 lead to a dismal display of wildflowers.  No matter who we talked to (merchant, waitress, gas station attendant) everyone apologized for the pure showing of wildflowers and asked us to please come back next year.  Regardless, the countryside was and is stunningly beautiful.  The town of Crested Butte is filled with charm and character.  Mount Crested Butte is a little further up the road and this is where the ski slopes are located.  Even though the 1980’s architecture at Mt. Crested Butte is lacking in style and character when compared to downtown Crested Butte, it’s still worth a stroll around and there’s new updates yearly.

The back country north of Crested Butte is not to be missed, but strolling the town of Crested Butte can also be pleasurable.  Of course, there was a little T-shirt shopping involved during our visit (a habit of mine). Not wanting to leave Bear in the vehicle, Bear shopped with us and was welcome in most stores.

wildflowers in Colorado

back country road north of Crested Butte – Slate River Road

To read more about Crested Butte, visit our 2012 excursion – click here and here.  We revisited again in 2013 and I share a little more info here.  I wonder, with all the moisture Colorado has received this year, if the wildflowers won’t be in abundance and offer a stunning show for this year’s wildflower festival.  Who’s willing to check it out for me?  I’d go, but I already have commitments 😦

Crested Butte Colorado

camped at Chatfield State Park

Camping?  With a tent, truck camper, or small trailer there’s a bunch of options to choose:  from the Blue Mesa Reservoir to Crested Butte to National Forest back country.  With a bigger RV the list quickly dwindles.  With our modest 31 feet, we could fit into a few sites at Lake Irwin providing one such site was available.

There does seem to be wildflowers in Coloradosome free boondocking off-road 730 (Ohio Pass) just south of road 12 (Kebler Pass) which we would consider, but it does require traveling gravel roads to get there.  Washington Gulch Road also has some spots.

When we returned to the area in 2013 with the 5th wheel, we stayed at an RV Park off Highway 50 near the Blue Mesa Reservoir (west of the town of Gunnison).  During that visit, we spent some time checking out more campgrounds.  You can read about those camping options here.

For any first time Crested Butte RV visitor, I would highly recommend staying in a park off Highway 50 and exploring the Crested Butte area WITHOUT the RV first.  We all develop our own level of comfort when it comes to roads and parking conditions.  Al and I find the camping accommodations around Crested Butte to be a little more challenging than we’d like with the RV, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t work for you.

The stunning scenery in this part of Colorado should not be missed.  Crested Butte is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to “must see” places in Colorado….. it’s a favorite.  Up next, we’ll visit Grand Lake.


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Top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns.

ColumbineHave 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 bend.

This summer we find ourselves once again hanging in Colorado.  We’ve done a bunch of serious exploring in this state over the past two summers, but I have a feeling we’ve barely touched the surface of this beautiful slice of America.   Thus, yesterday I pulled out the Colorado atlas again to see what back road might pique my interest.

While scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories.  After all, we did call Colorado home for over twenty years.  Could I pick a favorite mountain town?  BreckenridgeCould I pick a favorite scenic drive?  That would be a resounding, NO!  I do however have some favorites.

When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would bring the kids up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun. While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would stroll shops and go out to lunch in a quaint mountain town.  Charm and character abound.

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

Summit County is a great place to visit any time of year, but March and April are my least favorite due to slushy conditions as the snow melts, but that never stopped our kids from enjoying spring skiing.

Now a days, hubby 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 in the winter.

Keystone

Off Swan Mtn Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above Dillon Reservoir. The chipmunks are used to folks bringing sunflower seeds and this little guy crawled on Al’s hand checking to see if he brought any such treats.

At the end of May, Al and I found ourselves once again camped at the shores of Dillon Reservoir which of course included a little shop strolling in Breckenridge.   We always look forward to a treat stop at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory plus I believe someone purchased a T-shirt (or two) but I’m not telling considering there’s no more room in the RV closet.  I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh!

Colorado museumsAs much as I enjoy Breckenridge and think that it’s 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”.

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 four major ski resorts.  Main Street offers plenty of quaint shops, restaurants, and a historic park with museum.Frisco museum Al and I grabbed a couple of Lattes at a local coffee shop and strolled over to the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.  This is a free, self guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.  Toward the rear of the park was a delightful sculpture that brought a smile to our faces.

After exploring the grounds, it was time for us to tour some of the buildings at the museum.  Each building offered a little something different and from various decades.red lipstick

Frisco musuemI was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II.  Hubby and I aren’t huge museum goers, but we found this historic park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop.

Frisco also offers an Adventure Park as well as a marina on Dillon Reservoir. As many times as we’ve stopped in Frisco, each visit we discover some new shop, restaurant, or hiking trail.  And the scenery ain’t too bad either.

Next up we’ll visit another favorite mountain town……maxine

FYI…. if I’m a little quiet these days, it’s because I’m still under the weather as well as we’ve had some problems with our internet and excessive data usage which we’re trying to figure out where the problem lies.  Grrr….. this isn’t the adventure I signed up for LOL. 

Teva Women’s Kayenta Strappy Sandal, Vega Black, 9 M US
Life is good Men’s Crusher Happy Camper Tee, Teal Blue, X-Large

Back in the cocoon

When we pulled out of Grand Junction, Colorado, it was another overcast day. I must say, the fickle, inclement weather was getting a little old. Let’s face it, excessive rain can easily put a cramp in any hiking and exploring plans. I am, however, grateful we were not caught in any floods or tornado’s and my heart goes out to those who haven’t been as lucky.

Basalt ColoradoSo looking on the bright side, we moved on to our next destination  making the most of whatever breaks we could get in this crazy weather.

Two hours east of Grand Junction was our first stop.  We stayed on private land about 15 miles south of the town of Glenwood Springs.  This was our third time staying here and it was the perfect venue to hide over the Memorial Day Weekend.  As much as I wanted to revisit the Maroon Bells, the weather had other plans.  Thus, Al and I stuck close to home with the occasional stroll up to the grocery store and back.  It was fun spending a few days living in a residential area.

dry camping

Not a bad view. Perfect place to spend the holiday weekend.

Once the holiday weekend was over, we hit the road for our next stop; Dillon, Colorado.  I’m never fond of driving Vail Pass and more times than not the weather is ugly.  This time was no different.  Around noon on May 26th we experienced a little rain, then a little sleet with a snow flake here and there for a touch of added drama.  Oh, and let’s not forget all the semi-truck traffic and occasional potholes as we summit at 10,662 feet in elevation (3,250m).  This stretch of Interstate 70 is a major east west route through the country and I’m always a bit of a white knuckle driver passenger along this stretch of interstate.Dillon Reservoir

With Vail Pass behind us, we safely navigated to our reserved campsite in the Heaton Bay Campground at the shores of Lake Dillon.  Talk about glorious views in all directions.  We spent some time here last year as well and love the area.camping near Breckenridge

One of the things I didn’t give much thought to when setting up our May schedule was  weather in the high country.  Last year we visited Dillon in June and it wasn’t quite as cold.  When we pulled out of Phoenix, Arizona, on May 7th our travels took us on a continuous slow uphill climb in elevation.  And that meant a temperature change….  a drastic temperature change.  Let’s see, where have we been during the month of May…..

  • Phoenix, Arizona              elevation 1,124 feet  (331m)   day temps 90+
  • Moab, Utah                      elevation 4,025 feet (1,227m)          60’s
  • Grand Junction, CO         elevation 4,593 feet (1,397m)          60’s
  • Glenwood Springs, CO    elevation 5,761 feet (1,756m)          60’s
  • Dillon/Breckenridge CO   elevation 9,115 plus feet (2,777m)   50’s

In early May, we were basking in temperatures in the 90’s (32c) with clear, blue sunny skies in Phoenix.  Even the night-time temps were in the upper 60’s.  I had the bed made with crisp cool cotton sheets topped with our medium to light weight comforter.  Every night we slept with the windows open….. aaahhhh!

And then we moved up to Moab where we were greeted with cool overcast skies and cold nights which required us to add our couch throw on top of the comforter for just a little extra added warmth for sleeping.

Onto Grand Junction where a steady stream of storms rolled through bringing with it rain and cold.  We occasionally woke up during the night due to the cold and would need to flip the furnace on.  Brrr….. and to think, we’d be venturing into even colder territory.  I know, what was I thinking?

Camping near Breckenridge Colorado

That’s us – middle right. Heaton Bay Campground on the Dillon Reservoir … only 20 minutes south of Breckenridge.

With the temperatures getting colder, it was time for me to bring back the “cocoon”.  By that I mean, I brought out the flannel sheets and the second comforter.  If you’ve never tried flannel sheets, I highly recommend giving them a try next winter.  The bed cocoon was ready for some great sleeping.  Keep in mind, when we’re dry camping we really don’t want the furnace running and zapping our batteries. Thus, we set the RV furnace down to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.  We keep it on to assure our belly/pipes keep warm just in case temps unexpectedly drop below freezing.

Breckenridge camping

Frost on the picnic table.

Probably a good thing that we kept the furnace running as we did experience cold enough overnight temperatures that we woke up to a thick layer of frost covering the truck and picnic tables on more than one occasion.

camping near Breckenridge

Toward the end of May, water is let out of the reservoir to allow for snow melt. Each morning we were there, the lake was rapidly receding. All part of water management.

During our stay in Dillon (the last week in May), high’s were in the 55° to 62° range with night-time temps dropping into the thirties.  Even though it was rather cold getting out of bed in the morning, while in bed we were snug as a bug and comfy in our cotton flannel cocoon and slept great.

Lake Dillon

the hiking and biking opportunities around the towns of Dillon, Breckenridge, Keystone and Frisco are endless. Gorgeous country that we find ourselves returning to each year.

Did you know, the average snowfall for the month of May in Dillon is 7.3 inches? (18.5cm)  And to think, Phoenix gets on average 7 inches of rainfall a year.  As beautiful as it is around Dillon and Breckenridge, I’m ready for those crisp cool sheets again.   I think we’ll save future visits to Dillon, Colorado, for the months of July and August.  So lower elevation here we come.  I can’t wait to see all the signs of summer!bumble beeFor those of you interested in camping info…. There are four campgrounds situated around Lake Dillon aka Dillon Reservoir and they are all part of the White River National Forest. Lowry Campground and Loop C in the Heaton Bay Campground offer electric. The rest is dry hiking near Breckenridgecamping only. Prospectors and Lowry Campgrounds are located near Keystone, while Peak One and Heaton Bay are located in Frisco.

Also note, the campgrounds are run by an independent concessionaire and camping fees are actually $21 a night instead of the $19 listed on the Forest Service website – half off with the senior pass. $2 more a night for holiday weekends (info as of May 30, 2015).   I’ll hold my tongue about these private entities and their free rein.

We chose to forgo an electric site because Loop C is near a highway and the Interstate and therefore a fair amount of traffic noise is heard. It’s also the busiest, meaning without a reservation, it’s tough to score an open site in Loop C.  Lowry campground is located high above the lake and is not as picturesque as the other campgrounds and therefore folks find it the least desirable.

Larger RV’s might find it challenging navigating around here (at all four campgrounds), not to say there aren’t sites large enough, it just takes some looking around and a little creative maneuvering.  We barely had enough room to park our truck on site E78.  Our 5th wheel is 31 feet long.

Heaton Bay has paved campsites while the others are gravel.  There are vault toilets and the occasional water spigot scattered throughout the campgrounds.  No showers and no dump station but the scenery is spectacular.  Shopping is close by, location is great, and the outdoor activities are endless.

Heaton Bay Campground

Heaton Bay Campground – Site E78

Pinzon Lightweight Cotton Flannel Sheet Set – Queen, Floral Grey
Coleman Water Carrier (5-Gallon, Blue)


I’d love for you to visit my food blog over at   Dally in the Galley

Wildlife, Views, and Friendships

Bighorn SheepRocky Mountain National ParkAlas, our five glorious days spent at Rocky Mountain National Park had come to an end.

Hubby and I were definitely not ready to leave and since the campground was only half full, we figured if we really wanted to extend our stay at the Glacier Basin Campground, we probably could.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Time to move on!

Rocky Mountain National Park

The view from our campsite… weather approaching

But as we were enjoying our morning coffee, we watched the wall of weather move ever more closely toward our camp. That was our cue that it was indeed time to move on. That sky looked nasty and I assure you a dusting of snow that third week of August was not out of the question.

Rocky Mountain National Park

leaving Glacier Basin Campground before the bad weather hits

We arrived back at the Westminster Elks Lodge and set up residency in ‘our’ spot. The camp host informed us some folks arrived the previous day asking about us.  Hmm, were these blog followers or folks we’d already met somewhere along our travels?  Turns out both.

Rocky Mountain National ParkWe met Bob and Kathy a couple of winters ago at Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona. We were RV newbies with our new fifth wheel and had been on a six week road trip.  We credit Kathy for fixing our TV.

You see, no matter what we tried or who we asked, we couldn’t get any reception with the RV antenna.  That is until Kathy asked, “Did you push the little button and get a green light”.  Say what?  Ah ha, all this time Al and I had been focused on the living room area around our one and only TV and the magic button was located in a cabinet in the bedroom.  There sure is a learning curve to this RVing thing but once learned, you don’t forget 😉

We had a great time visiting with this couple and swapping travel tales before it was time for them to hit the road and start their slow meander back to Phoenix, AZ.  You can read about how we met Bob and Kathy here.

Rocky Mountain National Park

As beautiful as the mountains are… the weather can get ugly. Check out that wall of dark clouds… Thunder, lightening, wind, rain, AND snow 😦

Although the Elks campground facility has worked out beautifully this summer allowing us to park close to our daughters place, it isn’t the most scenic and I’m all about the views.  I’m happiest when I have lovely scenery around me and if we get to park near water to boot…. well let’s just say, I’m in my element.

Rocky Mountains

Marmot – Rocky Mountain National Park

So when I heard fellow blogger LuAnn was going to be camped just north of Denver at the St. Vrain State Park which has mountain views AND ponds, I couldn’t make a reservation fast enough, even if for just a few days….

coffee with a view

I enjoy morning coffee and a sunrise at St. Vrain State Park, Colorado

Keurig K130/B130 Brewing System

 

Pure Colorado

Colorado wildflowersAhhhh…… pure Colorado …… the grill was sizzling with a couple of steaks,  the azure blue sky was touched with tuffs of white fluffy clouds, the grassy meadow was covered in yellow wildflowers, the air was crisp, clean, with just a hint of a campfire wafting in the air.

Ah yes, perfect!  Well, not quite …. if only those darn little planes buzzing overhead would stop then life would have been perfect.  What happened to my quiet, remote solitude?Air show in ColoradoWe were camped at Lowry Campground in the White River National Forest near Keystone, Colorado at an elevation of about 9,400 feet and everything but that annoying aircraft noise was perfect.Dillon Air show

Hubby was relaxing in a chair outside and was more curious than annoyed by the little aircrafts dipping, climbing, and zooming back and forth. He was quick to determine these guys were practicing.  Practicing for what, he wasn’t sure until another observing neighbor informed him of an impending air show.Dillon air showThe Dillon Air Show was to be a small air show held near the Lake Dillon Marina.  There was no fee.  Basically it was pick a place on the grass in the park to sit and watch the planes.  Sounded like an event right up our alley especially once we knew biplanes would be involved. It’s been thirty years since hubby and I last attended an air show.  Thus, we were quick to add it to our next days agenda.Dillon Colorado Air showHubby has never regretted walking away from a career as a commercial Airline Pilot.  He found the job to be somewhat boring, especially after the type of flying he did in the Navy.  Now that…… his Navy days, he’ll talk about with a level of excitement.  The mere sight of a biplane brings about that same kind of exuberance and excitement.  His face will light up with delight.biplanes Dillon air showBiplanes Dillon air show

We attended the air show the following day.  As the biplanes started their maneuvers, Al was quick to explain the stunts and what a ‘scream’ this kind of flying is.  He could practically narrate what the pilots next move would be.  I heard repeated comments from hubby; “I’d love to get in one of those again”…. “Could I talk you into going up in a biplane?”  NO …..  “Gosh, if I ever bought a plane, it’d be a biplane”.  “Can we get one?  Huh, huh, pretty please?”  NO …..  “But why?”  Because we can’t pull it behind the RV!  Envision a dejected expression and frown …. however, that didn’t last long.  That big smile was quick to return as the pilots performed their next stunt.lake dillon air showThe whole time these biplanes were performing, hubby had a smile from ear to ear that didn’t end until long after the air show ended.  95% of the time if you ask Al if he misses aviation, he’ll answer “no”, but if you ask him if he misses this kind of flying ….. stunts?  He’ll respond with a resounding, “yes”!Dillon Colorado biplane air showThe air show was short and simple, but entertaining none the less.  It was held among some beautiful Colorado scenery over Lake Dillon.Lake Dillon Marina air show

FoxWe loved our stay in this area very much.  At camp, we felt like we were hundreds of miles away from civilization and yet everything we could possible need was within a 15-20 minute drive.

The towns of Dillon and Frisco offer plenty of grocery shopping possibilities including a Whole Foods and a Walmart.  The town of Silverthorn boasts an outlet mall and a Target.  The ever quaint Breckenridge is just a short drive down Highway 9 with plenty of small shops and restaurants.

There are plenty of hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, condos, vacation rentals, and even a high-end RV Park to call home during any stay.  Yep, I’d say Summit County Colorado is a great vacation destination year round.

I believe we’ve stumbled upon yet another favorite location loaded with the opportunity to explore or relax….. the perfect combination ….. ahhh, this is what Colorado living is all about.chipmonk

Moving on!

We bid farewell to our daughter and point the RV west.  Shortly after turning onto Interstate 70, we feel the slight climb in elevation starting.  No surprise since we need to go from Denver’s elevation of 5,280 feet (the mile high city) to the Eisenhower Tunnel (the summit) at 11,158 feet.  We have to cross the Continental Divide somehow.

Interstate 70

Interstate 70 west bound

Interstate 70

Colorado

Eisenhower tunnel

Entering the Eisenhower Tunnel

This steady climb accompanied by plenty of turns, proves to be a challenge for some vehicles.  The loaded down semi-trucks, vehicles pulling trailers, and other vehicles not used to the thin air struggle to maintain any speed in excess of 30 miles per hour as they trudge up the mountains in the right hand lane.  I envision a little train engine and hear a voice…..”I think I can, I think I can, I think I can……” as they struggle to cross the Rocky Mountains.

Now the Mario Andretti wanna be’s in the left hand lane are another story.  They’re whizzing up the mountain in excess of 80 mph hugging the turns and enjoying the challenging drive.  It’s best to get out of their way!

Rocky Mountains

Approaching the Eisenhower tunnel

Al and I opt to sit in the center lane (as long as we have three lanes ) driving at a steady speed of 65 mph…..the speed limit…. I believe, through this stretch of interstate anyway.  It’ll pop up to 75 mph down the road a ways.  The F-250 pulls the 5th wheel over Loveland Pass without any trouble.  The Eisenhower Tunnel – Loveland Pass marks the first of two mountain passes we’ll encounter today.  You can click here for more information on the tunnel.  At Vail Pass we’ll encounter another climb and summit.

Eisenhower tunnel

Eisenhower tunnel at Loveland Pass

Eisenhower tunnel

The Eisenhower tunnel

When we exit the tunnel, we are greeted with a gorgeous view and a downhill drive.  There are several ‘runaway truck ramps’ along this stretch of interstate 70.  We take our time going down the mountain and stay in the right hand lane.  Within about 10 to 15 minutes of exiting the tunnel and after the Dillon exit, is a scenic overlook worth a stop.

Rocky Mountains

Interstate 70 continues with a sharp left and down. Runaway truck ramp straight ahead

Lake Dillon

Lake Dillon scenic overlook…..westbound on interstate 70

When we moved from Chicago to Las Vegas, our daughter was a mere 3 years of age.  This view made an indelible impression on that little girl, to the point she would regularly say, “When I a big girl, I move to mountains”.  And move she did.  I don’t see that girl leaving Colorado anytime soon.

Traffic is light today and we don’t encounter any construction delays on our three hour drive to Glenwood Springs.  I enjoy the drive through Glenwood Canyon.  I once again marvel at the construction of this stretch of interstate 70 and savor the beauty of my surroundings.  I’ve written about this stretch of road before, click here.

Glenwood Canyon

Glenwood Canyon – Interstate 70 west bound

Once we get to Glenwood Springs, we head south on Highway 82.  Al found us a private property on line to spend a couple of nights.  But did he get directions? Nope, just google mapped it.  So we drive around some back country roads in search of the property before finally calling the owner.  Gosh, we were close….very close actually.  The address was slightly off making it impossible to find on google maps.  We did pretty good, considering.  Yep, a few pats on the back for both of us and Al gets a special pat for being able to turn the rig around in some rather tight spots.  We drove up the road a ways, then back down, then back up….you get the picture!

Glenwood Springs

Hmm….where is this place we plan to camp for the night?

Glenwood Springs

Going back up the road the way we just came looking for our home for the night

Glenwood Springs

This can’t be the right road! Time to call the home owner. Sure hope we can turn around.

Once we finally find the right spot, we get settled in.   We’re pretty pleased with our little “home” for the next two nights.Colorado

The next day we take the scenic drive down Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.  It’s been twenty-five years since I last visited this area in Colorado.  I wonder, will I be in awe as much as I was all those years ago?……..  Al and I were celebrating our five year wedding anniversary with a trip to Colorado.  We flew from Chicago to Denver and rented a car to take in the sights of Colorado.  The only other time I had seen the Rocky Mountains was on a road trip Al and I took earlier in our relationship.

AspenAspen is a beautiful mountain town.  However, after calling Colorado “home” for the past eighteen years, I’m not wowed.  I guess I’ve been fortunate to see some pretty spectacular scenery.  Aspen is missing the vast, open vistas seen in other places.  The traffic is congested and parking is difficult.  We did enjoy the abundance of outdoor cafes and the beautiful flowers everywhere.

Twenty-five years ago, we took the gondola to the top of the mountain.  As a flatlander, this was a very memorable experience.  At that time in our lives, we didn’t understand Colorado weather and the regular afternoon thunderstorms that roll in.  Lightening is serious business around here and once lightening is spotted, all outdoor activities come to a screeching halt.  Al and I had no sooner purchased a hot dog and drink to enjoy atop of this stunning mountain, when we were asked to leave.  The mountain top was shutting down due to weather.  Really?

AspenThis time around, Al and I are a little lot wiser.  Al and I are on the fence about taking the gondola to the top, but with storm clouds in the distance and a price of $28 per person, we decide to take a pass.  Smart move on our part as the storm starting rolling in thirty minutes later.

Although our time in this area is over, I would definitely like to return and explore the backcountry near Snowmass.  I’ll be doing some research. Any recommendations on the area and the Maroon Bells is welcome.  Next stop, Grand Junction.wildflower