Non-hiking adventures for tired people

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

The most tiring seasonal job we ever did was camphosting in Southern California.  We cleaned huge bathroom complexes, wrangled trash, emptied firepits and hauled water when the campers left their sites with active fires.  Pretty much every activity involved a lot of muscle, and we were absolutely beat at the end of every day.  You might not think that housekeeping would be in the same ballpark, but it’s not all that far off.  The last couple weeks have been particularly busy, and last Sunday was the biggest day so far: 39 turnarounds that had to be ready for checkin before 4pm.  JJ and I cleaned 10 cabins in about 7 hours, and then collapsed in a heap for the rest of the day.  Although the last week wasn’t quite so harried, we generally spend our work day moving so fast that we’re a bit out of breath.  You can appreciate that we just haven’t felt like hiking on our days off, so we’ve searched out some more sedate entertainment options.

Last week was the Crested Butte Arts Festival, which I expected to be some rinky-dink operation, but turned out to feature some world class artists.  We went with another workamper, (and also our neighbor) Carol.  We felt so cosmopolitan to be strolling through the gorgeous paintings, sculptures, and jewellery.

Crested Butte is such a ski town, even the benches are made from skis:

We expected just a handful of vendors, but a quarter mile of road was closed off, with tents up each side:

Secret Stash Pizza is known for its colorful rickshaw that sits out front:

Mount Crested Butte stands guard over the business district:

Crested Butte is known for a very colorful main street:

The proprietor of these completely handmade books suggested I give a sniff, and I obliged, enjoying the warm scent of leather.  She also recommended that I give one a pet to enjoy how soft they are.  When I saw the $1800 price tag, I backed away before I could accidentally damage one!

We considered doing an ice cream crawl at the 3 places in town to get a sweet treat, but settled for one delicious stop at Third Bowl for “Caprese” Ice Cream: Strawberry, Goat Cheese and Basil:

On our weekend, we did a driving tour to an agricultural valley to the west of us, and visited Hotchkiss and Paonia.

The view from Hermit’s Rest Viewpoint over Morrow Point Reservoir highlights how lousy the air quality is around here.  Between Colorado forest fires as well as those in California, it’s always hazy here right how:

I like JJ’s version, using the fence rails to block the smoky parts:

First stop was lunch at Zack’s Bar-B-Q.  It was a funny little portal to the midwest, with lots of old folks in John Deere hats, but also very good food.

Should you ever find yourself in Hotchkiss, CO, may we recommend the brisket and the ribs?

Next stop was Ollie’s Ice Cream in Paonia.  We had to eat fast, because it was 95 degrees:

The valley is hardly 30 miles away from us, but the geology was totally different:

Our main destination was Orchard Valley U-Pick outside Paonia, where we could choose our own peaches, raspberries, and blackberries.

Good thing we had practice from my mom’s berry patch, and we knew how to suss out the little hiding devils.  The rows looked empty when we first arrived, but only because other customers had picked the easy ones.  We squatted down and crab walked beside the bushes, and found oodles at ankle level.

We completed the circle home by driving across unpaved Kebler Pass, and finally saw some of the huge valleys known for enormous aspen groves.  We’ll have to come back when the leaves change to see it all in technicolor!

Up next week: an end of the season ice cream eating contest and employee party.  (End of the season for all the college students, but not for us!)

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Collegiate Peaks Byway

Where: working at our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

If driving scenic byways is your thing, Colorado is your place, with 25 unique roads that take you past the best scenery, adventures and history the state has to offer.  We are in-between a couple of the loops that are known for views and nature, and last weekend, we tried out the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway.  It runs north and south along Highway 24, and provides amazing views of many of the biggest 14ers in the state, like Mount Princeton, Yale, and Harvard.  It made for a long day of driving, but we managed to see the whole route, and had lots of great stops along the way.

Twin Lakes is the turn off to go to Aspen, and the lakes have long been a destination spot for vacationers.  You’ve heard of ghost towns, and Twin Lakes is the home of a ghost resort.  Interlaken was a ritzy place in the 1870s, with orchestra performances, and billard tables inlaid with ivory.  It fell into disrepair by the later part of the century, and was a run-down boarding house by the 1920s.  The Bureau of Reclamation took over the historic parts of Twin Lakes in the 1970s and stabilized many of the buildings.  The only way to reach it now is to hike 2.5 miles in, or to take a boat across the lake.

The trail to Interlaken is also part of the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail.  In addition to lots of day hikers, we saw many long distance folks with their huge packs.  As you follow the lake, there’s great views of Mount Elbert, considered an “easy 14er”.  That will just have to wait for another day!

 

Dexter’s Cabin was a caretaker’s house, and is completely open to the public.  All the past owners were very preservation minded, and it still had all the original, gorgeous details from when it was first built.  Plans are in the works to update it as an overnight spot for long-distance hikers.  How would you like to have this to look forward to in the midst of weeks in tent?!

A bit further on the trail were the rest of the saved buildings.  There were lots of plaques with history and neat little details about each one.

Note the good Colorado dog:

This unassuming building was my favorite: a six sided outhouse!

 

The main event, at least for horse-crazy me, was an evening at the Chaffee County Fair, to see the Equine Gymkhana event, a competition of speed pattern racing.  The contestants were members of a local riding club ranging from toddlers up to folks in their 60s.  I loved seeing the barrel racing that I was familiar with, and also new-to-me events that were more like slalom racing.  There was some real skill on show, with experts tearing around the arena, and also little wee ones going around the patterns with their parents riding along beside, at just a walk or trot.

Everyone was out at the same time during the warm up, getting their steeds ready for some serious running:

Some of the kids were so young!

We left before it got too late, and also before the really nasty weather came rolling in off the mountains:

Of course, no outing is complete without an ice cream stop.  If you should ever find yourself in Buena (that’s “bew-na”) Vista Colorado, be sure to stop at K’s!

Tincup and Scarp Ridge: strange names, pretty places

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

While we were sitting around the lunch table recently, our co-workers were discussing where they had gone over the weekend.  Everyone had dispersed in a different direction, and had traveled an awfully long way to get to those places.  One woman mentioned an area I’d though about seeing as a day trip, and I asked how far away it was.  “About 3 hours.” “So, how many miles away is it?” “I don’t know, but it was definitely close to 3 hours.”  I realized that they were all talking about distance as a measure of time, rather than mileage. See, when you’re driving through mountains (and sometimes dirt roads), a very short distance can take a whole lot longer than driving on the freeway. Like, insane amounts of time longer.

So, this week, I present our latest very slow journeys, to Tincup and Cumberland Pass (36 miles and 2.5 hours) and Scarp Ridge (26 miles and 1 hour). They weren’t very far away, but they looked like a whole different world!

Our neighbors, Carol and Jerry, just drove over Cumberland Pass a few days before in their truck, and had nothing but horror stories about the experience.  “But maybe it will be better in your car!”  So we gave it a whirl, and we have to agree with the wise counsel from those who went before us.  It’s a road, but only the most basic sense, and it would have been a lot more fun on an ATV with super robust shocks and high clearance!  But, we made it, and I think our Jeeper friends Dave and Max would have been very proud!

We hiked towards Napoleon Mountain, with views over Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area:

And then, because we were tired and the skies looked mean, we decided to throw in the towel and head back to Tincup for milkshakes at Frenchy’s:

When you’re standing at Frenchy’s and you turn around, you see the Tincup Store.  Besides the church and a couple houses, that’s all there is to the town:

The following week, our outing to Scarp Ridge started west of Crested Butte, at Lake Irwin.

The trailhead for Scarp Ridge starts at the abandoned Lake Irwin Lodge, “accessible” by a gnarly dirt road. The part you see below is the really good section, but we were thrilled that we decided to walk it when we got to the rough sections.  We watched a couple SUVs in a row bottom out on a particularly rocky climb:

With the Ruby Range in the background, the meadows were gorgeous:

First view point down into Peeler Basin:

Almost there:

I think this was one of the best views we’ve had. Scarp Ridge is a long uprise overlooking a huge basin, and everything was a little bit pink:

On the way back down, on a different side of the loop, we could see Green Lake, inaccessible due to a dispute with the landowner:

This would have been the perfect spot for a zipline to get back down to the lake:

May all your trails be gently downhill and blanketed with sunny flowers!

300 days of something, but not sunshine

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Every state has its own version of “the lie”, the not-quite-truthful version of what life in like in that state, primarily composed for ad campaigns. California’s lie is that you will dance on golden beaches, alongside tan and beautiful surfers, and eat nothing but farm to table organic produce.  Nevada promises infinite fun times while you turn every slot play into a huge payoff, and in fairness, I will also critique Ohio for claiming to be “the heart of it all.”  Maybe it= corn fields?

Colorado promotional literature loves to tout the quote “300 days of sunshine.” That certainly was the case in the Sierra over the last couple summers, so we assumed this high mountain range would be similar.  And while we did have some nice sun in the mornings, the Colorado spring also brought a lot of heavy, overcast clouds that would roll in about noon, and stay the rest of the day.  July and August are “the monsoon”, when warm air from the Gulf of California comes north and creates afternoon thunderstorms.  Our co-workers explained that it’s generally sunny in the morning, rains in afternoon, and then clears for the evening.  But now that we’re in it, the reality is that clouds appear mid-morning, and the rain is likely from then til the middle of the night.

So what gives about this “300 days of sun”? Part of the problem is that there’s no official definition of the phrase, and many meteorologists explain that any day with some sun, any at all, constitutes a “sunny day”. If you change the question to ask how many days fit the classic definition of clear, that is, very few if any clouds and ample sunshine all day, the Denver area only has about 115 of those per year.  Apparently, it all started in 1870, with a pamphlet published by the railroad companies plotting lines out west–there weren’t yet streets lined with gold, but the PR people could at least claim fantastic weather!

So, to recap, you won’t be rich and famous in California, you won’t strike it rich in a Nevada casino, and Colorado doesn’t actually have all that much sun, especially during monsoon season.  A major reason we’ve stayed out west for the past 4 years is the abundant sunshine, but if that’s our goal, it seems like Colorado, even with its slick ad campaigns, may not be the right fit.  We miss sunshine!

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On July 4th, we wanted to get out for a hike, but everyone from Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma with an ATV was already here, and things were busy.  We decided to try out the West Elk Wilderness, a large area just to the west of Almont that is little used since it has no 14ers, and is only for hiking and horses.  There’s just a handful of trails through the wilderness, and they’re really long, so we studied the topo map and made up our own little loop.

The lupine was gorgeous!

South Baldy was our first target at 12,380. After some of the beasts we’ve climbed recently, it looked like a little lump:

If you’d like to spend the night at the top, other climbers have constructed a windbreak just big enough for two:

The flowers at the top were little and windswept:

We could see Beckwith Mountain, which was the backdrop for our hike to Lost Lake Slough a couple months ago.  Because of the smoke from the Durango fire, we couldn’t see much further:

The colors just don’t show well in a picture, but the wildflowers were great:

Wilderness areas here are often used for cattle grazing.  I made JJ go first here to herd a couple beefy (ha!) specimens away:

Down this valley is another trail, perhaps for another day:

It did cloud up later than afternoon, but it cleared enough by evening that we were able to go to the fireworks in Gunnison.  The mountains in the distance still had storms, and we enjoyed a simultaneous double feature, with fireworks right in front of us, and the lightening flashing over on the ranges.

Fossil Ridge and a 14er Picture Post

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Somehow, I’ve gotten seriously behind in posts, and I have approximately one million photos of the past couple weeks to share with you. We hiked in a Wilderness area just to the east of us, Fossil Ridge, and trekked up our first 14er, 14,038 feet tall Handies Peak.  I’m feeling invincible after tackling a couple really difficult routes.

Something really switched for us recently, and hikes that would have seemed much too long to me before are now sounding like a pretty good idea.  It might have something to do with the fact that all the hiking areas are a long drive away; I figure that if we’re driving 2 hours one way, we might as well cover some serious ground!

Fossil Ridge Wilderness is a geologic fantasy land, with large mountains filled with fossils from the time when this was a large inland sea.  First stop was Mill Lake.

From there, it was an off-trail route finding adventure.  The loop started by heading straight up a ridge line.

JJ doing his best Maria von Trapp:

From there, we headed towards Fossil Ridge Mountain.  The route looked steep but doable.

And then we got to the base and could see more clearly that it was just a huge pile of scree.  We could see a packed trail through the rocks, and decided to give it a go.

Mill Lake way down below:

There was never any bad exposure, but the whole way up was climbing:

Major success:

From the top, we could see our goal of Lamphier Lake:

And the route was roughly along this ridgeline, described in my guidebook as “an easy ridge walk”:

I’m sorry to say there’s no pictures of this middle transverse, but you can use your imagination to see giant boulder fields, difficult climbing, and despair.  Just about the time I was really fed up, we realized that it wouldn’t be any faster to go back the way we came, so we just buckled down and went for it.   A mile later, we popped out to views across the Collegiate Range, with views of about half of Colorado’s 14,000 foot high peaks in the distance.

The next “weekend” (only about 3 days later thanks to a wacky work schedule) we headed far to the southwest to summit our first 14er, Handies Peak. July is prime wildflower season, and I’d heard that all the snow is gone, plus the afternoon monsoons haven’t started yet–perfect combo for a very long hike!

This was my favorite hike so far, probably because it reminded me the most of the Sierra.  Rather than just do an out and back, we made a loop by first heading up Grizzly Gulch, alongside a meadow with a creek and wildflowers. From this direction, we could see Handies Peak as we headed towards it.

I take pride in being fairly impervious to altitude, but after we hit about 13,000 feet, we had to take breaks about every 2 minutes.

Getting close, and fabulous views:

Success, and as is so often the case on a mountain peak, perfect cell service to tell my sister we didn’t die:

To complete the loop, we headed back down through American Basin.  The other side was less steep, but very slippy with loose dirt.

Sloan Lake:

The basin is known for a spectacular flower display in July:

The 7-ish mile hike up and down the mountain took us 7 hours.  To complete the loop, we returned to the first trailhead via the dirt Alpine Loop road, with other 14ers watching over us.  Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks can wait for another day!

I wish they all could be Colorado dogs

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

“I wish they all could be Colorado dogs”

(Sung to the tune of “I wish they all could be California girls”)

“Arizona doggies want to bite you in the ass, and New Mexico dogs, when they’re outside the fence, well you’ll want to run real fast…..I wish they all could be Colorado dogs!”

If you’ve been following this blog for while, you might remember some of the crazy stories we have about naughty dogs that we’ve encountered on the road.  I’ve been surrounded and bitten by a pack of German Shepherds, chased by a pack of feral chihuahuas, and a few other choice incidents that illustrate why you never, ever just walk into someone’s site as a camphost. When we hike, the vast majority of dogs we pass are off leash, and most are pretty friendly, with just a small percentage acting unfriendly or aggressive. One of my favorite parts of hiking in Colorado is the fact that every single dog is off leash, super friendly, and completely chill with meeting people and other dogs, too.  Unfailingly, the dogs here are well socialized and confident, happy to meet a new friend, even without the reassuring presence of mom or dad who may be a minute behind on the trail.  It seems like dogs are really part of the family here, and exposed to all kinds of stimulus from a young age, and it makes them great members of the hiking community. It’s so much fun to see all these happy, shiny doggies on the trail!

Last week, we hiked an old mining road into the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, just north of Crested Butte. It was one of my favorite hikes so far, probably because the geology reminded me of my favorite, the Sierra.

Gothic Mountain stands tall at the beginning of the hike:

Columbine is the state flower and comes in many colors:

The only way across this creek was to go through:

JJ demos his creek crossing technique:

Apparently, Copper Lake was all frozen over just a few weeks ago:

We saw that the trail continued about another mile to East Maroon Pass.  Why not?

It was a little colder at 11,800 feet:

Copper Lake was amazing from the top!

Where the snow had melted, there were little alpine flowers:

If you squint, you can see the dogs on the trail: frolicking, happy, friendly dogs:

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In work news, we have a new gig!  We volunteered to work the weekly Bingo game on Tuesday nights.  The owner, Mary Jo, has run it for over 30 years, and was ready to take a break for a summer.  She didn’t believe us when we said that neither of us had actually even been to a bingo game before, and that we would need some tutorials.  Thankfully, she came to the game the first night, taught us how to set up the vintage equipment, and explained the basics of how to run the night.  It was a big success, with about 25 people in attendance!

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We also had to go all out to dispute a claim that really cut me to the heart: one of my co-workers, Alysha, thought that she could eat more ice cream than me.  We argued over it for a couple weeks at lunch, and finally decided on a throw-down: 15 minutes, and one 48oz tub each of Cherry Amaretto Cordial.  The contest ended up being between 4 of us: me, JJ, Alysha, and another housekeeper, Callie.

Front row, l-r: Callie, Alysha, JJ and me.  Back row, the JV squad, with reasonable ice cream treats: Julia and Alyssa

The heat of battle:

The look of fear:

Final tally: we all ate nearly the same amount, but the overall winner was JJ, with me in second place, then my ice cream enemy Alysha, then Callie. I felt sick but victorious! (Should you decide to try this feat at home, be sure to weigh all the ice cream tubs before you start.  Even though we all had the same brand and flavor, there was a 5 oz spread in starting weight!)  We’re already talking about doing another ice cream challenge, maybe inviting all the other departments in the resort, but we worry that the ravenous raft guides would totally beat us!

Getting to the good stuff

Where: working our summer jobs at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Hey! Did you know there are giant mountains in Colorado? Yes, I jest, but we only recently started doing some hiking in the true high parts of the Rockies. I love getting up in elevation! It’s a very busy week, so please enjoy a picture post of a couple awesome hikes we did recently.

First set–Cataract Gulch, with wildflowers, waterfalls, and views of a couple 14ers:

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Snodgrass Trail, overlooking the town of Crested Butte:

I promise, more words next week!