Our first glimpse of Colorado gold – Breckenridge

Comments 10 Standard

Last spring when my good friend Ingrid learned we would be back in Colorado this fall, she quickly whipped up a list of “must see and do” mountain towns along our proposed route.  As a welcome reminder, she recently posted her favorite mountain towns and added even more places that piqued our interest.

Thankfully we listened to this Colorado gal, for the two stops we made along I-70 in the Rocky Mountains offered our first glimpse of the aspen’s golden shimmering leaves. Those of you who have driven RV’s on I-70 know it’s a scenic drive for the passenger, but not so much for the busy driver, who is trying to avoid frying the brakes and/or transmission on those major grades.

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It should read “Truckers and drivers of motorhomes and vehicles pulling other RV’s!”

Steve had to focus on the road as we traversed the Rockies and several construction zones, while I was busy snapping away at the gorgeous scenery.  Our first mountain town stop was at Breckenridge, located at the base of the Tenmile Range at an elevation of 9,600 ft.

Breckenridge Ski Resort

The peaks around Breckenridge are nestled among a host of Colorado’s famous “14ers.”

Nothing says “autumn” in Colorado quite like the side of a mountain covered in the stunning leafy gold of aspen trees, and at this elevation they were changing colors daily right outside our door.

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Enjoying the fabulous leaf peeping, we just happened to be in town at the right time to check out their annual Oktoberfest celebration.  It was a fun event, and several revelers donned German outfits and brought their own steins for frequent refills.

Octoberfest 2015 Breckenridge

A beer, a pretzel and perhaps some German folks?  We had a great time at this big party!

Colorado’s famous high country aspen reliably turn gold beginning the second week of September through the first week of October.  And the quaking aspens were aglow as we drove along the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway toward Leadville and then made a detour to Lake County airport.  Steve had heard about the highest-elevation airport in the U.S. at over 9,900 ft., and he was pleasantly surprised to discover we were close enough that he could stop by to check it out.

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Leadville Airport

With a spring in his step, he was on top of the world!

As one might imagine, Colorado has countless top-notch hiking trails surrounded by natural beauty, and while at Breckenridge we hiked two of the three we were hoping to complete.

We started with an easy hike at Hoosier Pass Loop, but it was miserably cold and started raining so we aborted that one early and left after getting a photo at the Continental Divide.  But we did complete the other two hikes – a “must do” at McCullough Gulch Trail and a section of the extensive Colorado Trail that we were able to access right out of our campground, Tiger Run RV Resort (Steve’s review here).

Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass

Those dark clouds behind me conspired to thwart this hike, and no time for a re-attempt

Colorado Trail –

Just a short walk from Betsy was an access point to the 500-mile Colorado Trail (we didn’t do all of it 😉 ).  We followed switchbacks up the hill behind the RV park and enjoyed beautiful views of the area below.  This trail took us through several miles of forests and meadows while providing great views of Tenmile Range and Mt. Quandary, one of the 14ers.

Tiger Run RV Resort

Those switchbacks are the access to the Colorado Trail, right out of our RV park

Quandary Peak

Viewed from the trail, Quandary Peak, the highest summit of the Tenmile Range at 14,271′

Tiger Run RV Resort

Looking back at our campground – Tiger Run RV Resort

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One mile done, 499 to go!

Aspen Gold

Aspen gold at our feet

McCullough Gulch Trail –

On another day we followed the McCullough Gulch Trail, considered a hike with elements of quintessential Colorado landscape.  This trail meandered through evergreen forests and meadows, and past waterfalls to finally end at an alpine lake at the base of Quandary Peak.  There were some challenging sections in this 5+ mile roundtrip trek with an 800-foot elevation gain.  The scenery was so gorgeous I don’t think you could take a bad picture here, and my camera was in overdrive.  So much beauty to capture and take in, it was definitely one of our top hikes of the year!

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Blue Reservoir

Blue Reservoir framed by 14,265′ Quandary Peak

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Here’s where we had lunch

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Steve was repeatedly awestruck on this hike

And there’s more gold at our next stop!

 

Next up:  Colorado’s Top Gems



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roaming Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Comments 14 Standard
Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park

We’re back in Colorado, and this time we’ll hang around the central and western areas of the state until the threat of nasty weather runs us off to warmer grounds.  The first time we stayed in Colorado last spring we were enthralled with the beautiful scenery around us, and the many iconic outdoor places to explore and visit.

On the current migration toward our southern winter destination we’re climbing over the Rockies on I-70.  Our first stop includes a long-anticipated visit to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

Boyd Lake State Park

A morning crescent moon (with Venus nearby) appears  at Boyd Lake State Park

A 5:30am wakeup at our home base at Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland gave us an early start toward RMNP, which allowed us to avoid the crowds for several hours.  Leaving before sunrise also rewarded us with an alpenglow as the sun slowly rose to awaken the sleeping giants:

Alpen Glow

Some 4-legged morning greeters were on hand as we entered the park:

Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park

Our greeters just inside the front gate at RMNP

Rising over 14,000 feet at many points, the Rocky Mountain Range stretches between the United States and Canada forming one of the worlds longest mountain ranges.  Rocky Mountain National Park preserves a respectable 415 square miles of breathtaking scenery.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Map of RMNP, courtesy of NPS

With only a day to explore, we had to drive the road to the sky – the Trail Ridge Road. This is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, and it traverses upward from forests and meadows to stunning views of the spectacular Rocky Mountain Range.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road near its highest point – the cars look like ants from here!

Although we’ve been at higher elevations in the Sierra’s, it was exciting to drive over the summit here at 12,183 feet.

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There were pullouts that allowed us to stop and take in a broad landscape of rugged beauty, and to be awed with the enormity of these mountains.

Never Summer Mountains

Looking out into Never Summer Mountains – thus named because summer temperatures average less than 50º

Forest Canyon

Just beyond this meadow lies Forest Canyon and the Continental Divide with Mount Ida

Two hiking trails from the road provided us with sweeping views of the mountains; the Alpine Ridge trail and Tundra Communities trail.

Alpine Ridge Trail

Alpine Ridge was only a short 1/4-mile walk, but its 300 ft. elevation gain got our hearts beating and put us over 12,000 ft. at the top

Alpine ridge Trail

At the summit of Alpine Ridge trail – windy and freezing cold!

The Alpine Visitor Center sits more than two miles above sea level and is self-contained, with no phone lines or utilities to connect it to the outside world.  It’s open only 5 months a year, and it uses a diesel generator to supply power, treated melted snow for drinking water and sewage is hauled away daily by truck to a local treatment facility.  Rangers fondly call it “an island in the sky.”

Alpine Visitor Center

Alpine Visitor Center viewed from the top of Alpine Ridge trail

Along the road, wild animals big and small couldn’t care less if they caused a traffic jam – this is their territory, after all.

Coyote

A coyote in search of greener pastures

Yellow Bellied Marmot

Wouldn’t you stop for this little marmot sitting in the road?

Big Horn Sheep

Although they weren’t on the road, these guys halted traffic in a “no stopping” zone as they rested on a hill

The Tundra Communities trail began at an elevation of 12,050′ and gained 260 feet of elevation.  The area is known as the “Rooftop of the Rockies, the land of fierce extremes.” Only tundra-conditioned plants and animals can survive in this environment.

A plaque along the trail described the alpine tundra of RMNP as vast, covering nearly a third of the park.  It’s only here where one can observe and enjoy the community of highly specialized species up close.

Tundra Communities Trail

Here are some of the species we saw that are able to adapt and thrive in the harsh winter conditions:

By noon things were getting busy, with few places to park our car.  And this was after Labor Day on a weekday!  We were able to find a good lunch spot at Lake Irene, where I captured some beautiful summer flowers on perhaps their last blooming days of the year:

We reached the western end of Trail Ridge Road and cruised through the quaint resort town of Grand Lake after lunch, then turned around for the long haul back home.  We stopped briefly to get a capture of yet another lake surrounded by mountains:

Grand Lake, CO

We were unable to park at Poudre Lake near the Continental Divide, so I just snapped a shot as we went by:

Poudre Lake

Poudre Lake

The first pine tree infestations we’ve seen were in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it’s a major problem here as well.  It seems that Mountain Pine Beetles are killing pine and spruce trees throughout the Rocky Mountains, and it’s a growing epidemic.  On a lighter note these dead trees actually gave a bluish hue to the mountains from a distance, mixing with the green of the live trees:

Infested mountain Pine Trees

Lots of infested pine trees – very sad

Rocky Mountain National Park

The mountains with the dead trees take on an interesting green/blue hue in the right sunlight

We got just a taste of Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was a long day and we wished we were staying nearer to the park so we could get in some more serious hiking on the trails there. No question, this is a place we’d be happy to come back to and spend a lot more time.

With winter just around the corner, these massive mountains will soon be covered in snow for several months – we wish we could see that!

 

Next up:  Continuing our Rocky Mountain adventures…