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Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

Fall in the High Country

My mom and dad came to visit us last week, and we went up in to the mountains near Buena Vista to look at old mining towns.  It turns out last weekend may have been peak fall color in the mountains of Colorado.

St. Elmo, like most mining towns we saw, experienced a boom in the late 19th century and at one time had as many as 2,000 inhabitants.  Today, a few people still live here, and there are even a few operating businesses, such as a general store and a vacation rental service.

Winfield, a bit further north, had a similar story and similarly sized population at one time.

There was still a little bit left of the Winfield Cemetery, which served as a final resting place for 25 people (many of them babies, sadly).

My favorite was the company town of Vicksburg.  It was the smallest of the three we visited, but maybe that gave the obvious attempts at creating a “real town” more poignancy.

After exploring these old sites in the San Isabel National Forest, we drove north to Leadville for lunch.  And guess what? there was a reason for the bite in the air: it was already snowing in the high country.

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Hazy

Denver in the haze

The past few weeks have been very hazy for us here in Golden.  It’s frustrating, because we had friends visiting, and we wanted to show them Breathtaking Vistas from the high places we hiked and drove to.

at the Denver Botanic Gardens, where the poor air quality didn’t matter so much

Alas, no sparkling, clear vistas of the mountains were to be had.  Ironically, the haze is from fires in other states such as Idaho and Montana.  After experiencing almost NO effects from the two giant fires within 100 miles to the north and south earlier this summer, we now are getting smoke from fires that are much farther away.

foothills to the south

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12,095

My aunts came to visit this week, and we traveled up in the high country.  Since I moved here over a year ago, I haven’t done much exploring to the west, so their visit was a good excuse.  Little did I realize how quickly you can gain in altitude!  Leadville, at 10,000 feet,  is only about an hour and a half away.  The Continental Divide is also hard to avoid.

Since I live at 5,674 feet, I thought I should be impervious.  My aunts took aspirin prophylactically, and I felt okay without it.   But I slept poorly and had weird dreams, even at only 7,900 feet.  I’ve heard the altitude affects are exponential, not linear, once you get above a certain level.  If so, that would explain why athletes train in high-altitude places.

…and not all of these athletes are human

Over the course of three days, we took in the towns of Buena Vista, Leadville, and Aspen.  Of these, I most want to return to Buena Vista.  It’s cute, has character, and is situated amidst many opportunities: ghost towns, hiking, historical exploration, fishing, rafting, and more.  We are expecting more visitors over the next few months, so I should be reporting on more adventures soon!

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Uplift

It was time to spend a Saturday doing something other than Work on the House.  So, we jumped in the plane (at the crack of noon) and headed to Cheyenne.  Although a brownish haze blanketed the entire area, it was a good day to look around at the landscape of northern Colorado.  The snow brings out terrain details that are not so obvious otherwise:  hedgerows, roads, paths, tilled fields, etc.  I’m still pretty sketchy on regional geology here, but my understanding is that landforms in Wyoming preserve areas of the original high plains, which previously sloped down eastward from the Rockies.  Later uplift led to speedy erosion of most of the high plains that existed throughout the continent just east of the mountains, but not in eastern Wyoming.  There, the original high plains surface still exists, and is known as the “gangplank” since it serves as a ramp that allows travelers to go gradually from lower elevations to higher (around 8,000′ near Laramie, WY).  Our airplane trips let me identify some of that over the larger landscape.

terrain and wind farm south of Cheyenne

To get back to human affairs: downtown Cheyenne was rather quiet and half-shut-down on the Saturday afternoon preceding the President’s Day holiday.  But we wandered around window-shopping and reading historic marker signs, trying to decide where to get something to eat.  The historic train depot was mildly busy, with a visitor center/museum at one end, a restaurant at the other, and this in-between:Since the Korean restaurant was closed on Saturday (you may be thinking “???” and so did the locals whom we asked about the Korean restaurant…), we picked the brewpub at the depot for a late lunch of pulled pork and sweet potato fries.  Although the building is no longer used as a depot for passengers, the railyard is still active with hundreds of freight cars with the Burlington Northern logo, which we could see coming and going from our table near the window.

Meanwhile, another symbol of the West is strewn about the downtown area: giant cowboy boots decorated with appropriate subjects.  I’ve seen this kind of thing in other cities, usually with old carousel horses: local artists decorate them, they are auctioned off to raise money, and then the finished products are displayed around town.

Grumman parked at Cheyenne airport

We followed our late lunch with some errands, and then a walk in Lions Park, where noisy ducks and geese entertained us with their take-offs and landings on the partially frozen lake and we read the signs for some of the specialized gardens currently buried under a foot of snow.  Then, the sun just having dropped over the horizon, we said our goodbyes to the violent-orange fellow Grumman parked next to us at the airport (but not its pilot, whom we never saw) and got in the plane for our trip home.

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Caribou Ranch hike

aspen lining the trail at Caribou Ranch

I drove up to the town of Nederland this weekend, and stopped at an open space park called Caribou Ranch.  This park is unusual in that no dogs or bikes are allowed; I was a little surprised to see how many other hikers were out there, considering that most people on trails seem to have one or the other around here.

the Bluebird Mine bunkhouse

The several trails are short (4.3 miles all told) and very flat for this part of the world.  Human history is a focal point of this area, as several different artifacts are preserved here:  the bed of a narrow gauge railroad out of Denver, the homestead of the family who first settled this area, and the remains of a silver mine complex.

the DeLonde barn

One of the layers of history related to the barn on the DeLonde Homestead site.  Now renovated and occupied by an artist-in-residence (ahem, that’s a subtle hint for my artist friends who might be reading), the barn was once a recording studio where the likes of Elton John, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Carole King, and many many others recorded albums in the 1970s and 80s.  I can see why the setting would be inspiring for artists of various media.  The headquarters area of the former ranch sits in a sweeping alpine meadow at about 9000 feet, next to a beaver pond, with views of either mountains or aspen stands in any direction.

I really like this fall season; so far it’s my favorite in Colorado.  The days are getting short, and the occasional rain or snow storm keeps me inside, but most of the time the sunlight has lovely slant that makes the landscape glow, and the temperature is just perfect for any kind of outdoor activity.  The winter is coming, but my weekend hikes have given me a chance to check out the trails that might be good for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, once that time rolls around.

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Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for (or, just what I have a hang-up about, if Bo is correct): our first trip Up Into the Mountains of Colorado.

Okay, we’ve driven up around Nederland a few times already, done the Lariat Loop and all that.  But we haven’t driven over any of the big passes, or to the big ski areas or ski towns.  So, today that’s what we did.  For me, I just wanted to drive around, get a feel for the area and what’s there.  No pressure.  Just a Sunday drive.

So, we loaded Joda, water, snacks, and blanket into the car (some of you may know that the Subaru experienced a major breakdown in July and subsequent major engine repair work, and has not been quite the same since) and headed west on I-70.  After driving through the epic Eisenhower Tunnel, we got off and drove south through Frisco.  I think we passed the continental divide the first time somewhere around here.  Since Loveland Pass is at the divide, and the Eisenhower Tunnel goes underneath  Loveland Ski area, maybe that means we drove under  the continental divide (that seems weird!  I’ve never done that before).

Breckenridge gondola

Breckenridge is a ski town.  Besides lifts and alpine runs, it also has a Nordic Center.  This was exciting news for me, since I like nordic skiing and even have my own cross-country skis.  I also am not very good at alpine skiing and resent having to pay a lot of money to do something I’m not very good at.  Today, there was an Oktoberfest going on downtown, but dogs were not allowed, so we skirted the side streets and walked the path along the Blue River.  Then we found out that the gondola that takes people up to the ski runs is free to the public at this time of year, and that includes dogs.  I thought it would be a strange experience for Joda, but she’s old and doesn’t get to participate in lots of things we do these days, so I thought it was worth a try.  She actually enjoyed it a little when she realized that she could look out the window at the trees and marshland below.  Of course, the whole time I could tell she was thinking about how she could just jump off the gondola and run away, which would be a possibility if the clear plexiglass wasn’t there.  But dog logic doesn’t usually extend as far as human logic, so I could enjoy watching her apparent thought process, feeling safe that her basic premises were false.

We went up to the top, looked around at all the children’s rides and games (which is what brings in money during non-snow-covered times of year), and then got back on the gondola ride to go back to the bottom.  Phew!

Hoosier Pass

Then we drove south to Alma (highest incorporated town in the US), crossing the continental divide for the second time.  This was on Hoosier Pass.  I’m not sure why it’s called that, but since I was born in Indiana, I think that makes me a hoosier, so I took a picture of the sign.  And that was our Colorado experience of the day!  I talked Bo into completing the loop (he drove second shift, which was a lot longer than first shift, but at least he didn’t have to worry about the jerks on the interstate), so we went south and then east and north, and saw lots of scenic valleys and mountain ranges on our way home through Fairplay, Bailey, and Conifer.  Then we came home, fed Joda, and smirked behind our napkins as we watched her struggle unsuccessfully to stay awake and watch us eat dinner.

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