Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sun, July 18: Crested Butte, Day 3 and 3-Year Anniversary

We woke on Sunday morning and headed into Crested Butte for breakfast, assuming that there would be plenty of breakfast restaurants to choose from.... which was an error on our part. While wandering around town, we passed this sign explaining to outsiders like us that if we "found" a bike we really stole it, and I find it pretty funny that people would think Crested Butte so quaint and kind as to provide free bikes for the tourists. I mean, really? REAlly?? We did eventually end up finding a place that makes the most delicious breakfast sandwiches in the world. Since I drove us home (B had been doing most of the other driving that weekend), I of course chose a different way out of town. :) We navigated through the very busy main street, packed with people and vendors laying out their wares for a farmer's market, and entered the relatively quiet Kebler Pass.
Kebler Pass leads from Crested Butte to Route 133, and empties out somewhere between Panoia and Marble. One of the first sights we came to was Lake Irwin. I was hoping that the lake would be a peaceful oasis of mountain beauty; instead, we found ourselves surrounded by summer cabins, RVs, and fly fishermen.
I would love to return to the lake some time during dawn or dusk in the hopes of enjoying that beautiful view in solitude.

We saw wildflowers flourishing on the hillsides throughout the Pass. On the way back to the road from Lake Irwin, the flowers were delicate little freckles peppering the green grass, and I loved seeing their tiny splashes of color.
We came to an area where the hillside opened up into a riot of bright colors, and I pulled over to take a few pictures. It turned out that we were in the Irwin cemetery, which I didn't even know existed, and we strolled around for a bit enjoying the flowers and reading the memorial stone.
At one point, we rounded a corner and the most beautiful view opened up for us:
In order to take that picture, I waded across a field knee-deep and sometimes waist-deep in thick grasses and wildflowers. Seeing a field like this, I always assumed that it would be flat, and quickly learned that it's anything but. This beautiful pearl gray mountain was my favorite of the trip, and reminded me of the beautiful gray mountains in Wyoming that I fell in love with almost 3 years ago.

This next picture was taken of the view right across the street from the gray mountain. I always think it's funny in Colorado how two peaks so close to each other can look so different.
The road closed in on us a bit, surrounding us with the thickest, most expansive aspen groves I have yet seen in Colorado.
The beautiful shimmering light filtering through the quaking leaves was enough to sustain wildflowers and ferns below, and we passed fields of yellow and white flowers thriving in the trees.
.... and so, so many aspens....
Throughout the entire trip, Crested Butte and all of our drives and hikes there as well as Kebler Pass, I frequently commented on how absolutely beautiful these places must be in the fall. All of those aspens turned to rich gold must be such a wonderful sight, and I hope that we can return in a few months to see it.

Kebler Pass opened back up, and as the trees marched away from the road we were afforded once again with a beautiful peak view, this one looking back toward where we had already traveled:
Route 133 winds up into McClure Pass, which I have traveled once before and have only seen illuminated in moonlight. It was fun to see it in its sunlit glory, and we once again commented on how nice it must be to see it in the fall.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that I completely forgot to write about my 3 year Colorado anniversary, which was this July 5th. To be honest, it feels pretty nice to have forgotten about it, as though I'm settled in enough here that my journey and arrival doesn't seem like such a notable occasion anymore. Since realizing this oversight, I have been spending a lot more time thinking about the circumstances that brought me here, and the people who were involved in my life at that time and how they helped or hurt me. I have learned the value of true friendship and kindness; I have learned how much it can sometimes mean for some random person to strike up a conversation or share a smile, just to acknowledge another in a positive way; I have learned to be less afraid of my life and trust that things really do happen for a reason. I feel like the events surrounding my move to Colorado have helped me to "grow up" in the sense that I have become independent and confident in my abilities to navigate some pretty tough situations. I remember 3 years ago, saying to myself multiple times a day that everything is going to be ok, and "I love you" just because I needed to hear it and there was nobody else to say it. And I guess loving yourself is the most powerful love, because you know yourself through and through. I know the good things about myself, as well as my moments of despair, the mean little thoughts, the jealousy and anger, and all the other things that most of us try to hide from others so that we can be "nice people". To recognize myself as essentially good, but also know my many faults and dark moments, and still love myself? That has been one of the many gifts of my time in Colorado, for which I will always be grateful.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sat, July 17, 2010: Day 2, Crested Butte

On Saturday we headed into Crested Butte with the intent of taking a few short wildflower hikes. We set out on Brush Creek Road, and the wildflowers began before we even got out of the car. There was an abandoned farm along the side of the road and you can see the barn peeking around the hillside in this picture:The view out toward Gothic Mountain from this area was amazing, and I loved the silvery blue green color of the sagebrush at the shore of the meadow.
Brush Creek Road turned into a 4 wheel drive road, so we parked Philippe (my car) and headed up the road on foot. B was a good sport despite the copious amounts of flies biting him, as he knew how badly I wanted to photograph the wildflowers.

The hike was so, so amazing, with beautiful mountain views both ahead of us and behind us.
This is looking behind us, with Mt. Crested Butte on the right. I think we were too close for the peak to be visible which is why it looks so little.
The higher we hiked, the more expansive the views behind us became.
We hiked to the crest of the hill and were able to see Teocalli Mountain (the peak to the left in the photo) and the tiniest glimpse of the peak of Maroon Bells! I thought it was so neat that Teocalli Mountain shares the same striations of rock in its peak as Maroon Bells, and they are also close to each other. I wondered often that weekend what geological forces resulted in both peaks having such a unique face and texture compared to other mountains in the Rockies. Maroon Bells peak is just sticking out to the right of Teocalli.
The walk back was so amazing, and I loved having such beautiful views of the valley.
There were wildflowers everywhere, and although the air wasn't full of their scent like it was on my trip to RMNP with my sister, it was an absolute feast for my eyes which they were joyful to take in.
Heading back into town, we passed an abandoned farmhouse which must have the best backyard in the whole USA.
We headed to Slate River Road for a second wildflower hike, and passed a sign that amused us the day before:
We stopped by the pond again, but instead of finding the golden light of the setting sun we were presented with a crystal clear perfect double of Whetstone Mountain in the water.
I was able to tough out the hike for a while, but my lack of exercise this summer caught up with me and at one point I had to just ask B if we could turn around. This is a view of Mt. Crested Butte from the highest point we reached on the hike:
Looking back up Slate River Road we were given one of the most beautiful views in town, and one of my favorite views in Colorado. I love the beaver dam in the lower left of the picture.
My wimpy constitution definitely limited what we were able to do while in Crested Butte, so we decided to take the ski lift up Mt. Crested Butte. We considered the possibility of continuing to the peak from where the lift dropped us off, but ended up vetoing that idea when we realized the last lift went down at 2:30, and it was about 1:30 already. We did, however, decide to hike up a ways to pass tree line and take in better views.

I'm so glad we did, because I have missed seeing this so, so much. We were able to get a much clearer view of the Maroon Bells:
Looking out toward Gothic Mountain, which is on the right of the picture.
View from Mt. Crested Butte:
On the way back down the lift, we caught a beautiful view of the town of Crested Butte, nestled in its lush valley:
I decided that ski lifts aren't quite as scary when we put the safety bar down and there is no snow below us. The fact that nobody was wearing skis helped a lot as well.

Throughout the weekend, a growing sense of "Ah HAH!" made itself known in me, culminating in the breakthrough thought "now THIS is Colorado!". In many of my travels, I have come across places that claim to be the most genuine manifestation of "Colorado": the most expansive views, the best mountains, the prettiest wildflowers, the most pristine rivers. Somehow all of those places have left me wanting more, with a feeling of disappointment: "Really? THAT's the best of Colorado?". Crested Butte is the only place I have visited thus far that not only met but exceeded my expectations and somewhat resembled the idea of Colorado compiled by my brain all these years. Lush, brilliant green valley surrounded by massive bare rocky peaks (and even containing one!), clear rushing water and ponds, well-maintained historical homes and buildings, and so, so many flowers. I have seen many very beautiful places in Colorado, and I think the best way to sum up Crested Butte is that it contains some of the most beautiful elements that I perceived in each of those places.

So, back to that beautiful afternoon in Crested Butte....

At that point the afternoon was very hot so we spent some time wandering around the downtown area. There are several blocks of old historic buildings and homes, and it was peaceful poking around in the little stores.

Despite living in Colorado for the past 20 years, B has never seen the Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado, which runs along Route 50 just west of Gunnison... so of course we went there next!
The views into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison were stunning, and I still hope that I can spend more time there someday.
That evening brought one of my only mosquito bites I've ever gotten in Colorado. At our campsite, the sun set in a haze of gray and pink, and Venus shined brilliantly in the west. You can see it just to the right of the tree, in a space in the clouds:
Sleeping the second evening was even better than the first, and I was somehow warm enough to leave my sleeping bag unzipped as I dreamed.

Fri, July 16, 2010: Day 1, Crested Butte

Sometimes, during my travels in and around Colorado, I come upon a place that awes me so much, that is so majestic and so breath-taking, that I don't even know where to begin with writing about it. I think it comes from a fear of not doing justice to a place or journey that was very special or touching for me. So here's my best shot at outlining the weekend trip that B and I took to Crested Butte.

We drove along Route 285, which continues to be one of my favorite drives in the state even after 3 years. The road took us up into a wide mountain plateau, and I was taken in by how very green everything still was up there. By July, most land that can be seen from the Denver area is yellowed and past its prime, so it was really wonderful to see the lush landscape that presented itself to us.
We stopped to eat lunch at my favorite rest stop in the world, along 285 right outside of Buena Vista. The rest stop itself is pretty good, but it's the view that makes it spectacular:
You may recognize the view from most times I have written about the Collegiate Peaks, because I usually stop at the rest stop to photograph them. :)

Our campsite itself was in Gunnison, because it was the only place that would let us make reservations. We arrived mid-afternoon, set up our tent, and packed ourselves back in the car for the first trip up to Crested Butte for both of us.

The view heading into town was so amazing, and we found ourselves driving into a beautiful semi-circle of mountains. Mt. Crested Butte, the only peak to interrupt the large mountain valley in which Crested Butte is nestled, seemed a sentinel presiding over the comings and goings of the town. It is the large peak on the right side of this photograph, taken as we were driving into town:
We stopped at the Crested Butte visitor's center and asked about 2 things: scenic drives and wildflower hikes. Apparently we showed up for the last two days of the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, which is a pretty big deal since Crested Butte is the "wildflower capital of Colorado". The woman at the center seemed pretty hassled, but we got what we needed: a map of the town and surrounding areas. It struck me that Crested Butte looks something like a wagon wheel, with dirt roads heading off in all directions serving as the spokes. We picked out a couple of drives to take that afternoon and headed first up Gothic Road.

Mt. Crested Butte, taken from the car on the way up Gothic Road:
I love this feathery grass, which is very light green with light purple tips.
We passed the little skiing village of Mt. Crested Butte (yes, it shares its name with the actual mountain) which was somewhat adorable and probably less intimidating in the summer.

View from Gothic Road. There were wildflowers everywhere, and while we didn't see any close-up the first day they were absolutely everywhere in the green grassy fields.
View from Gothic Road. There were many rivers and streams that ran through the Crested Butte valley, which is probably part of the reason why it was so, so green.
We passed the small town of Gothic (tiny) which contained some sort of biological research center doing experiments in plastic pools along a hillside. We neared the end of where we were able to travel without a 4wd vehicle, and this was the view:
We headed back toward town and picked up another spoke, Washington Gulch Road. We were able to get a beautiful view of Gothic Mountain:
... and a beautiful view of some wild columbines growing along the roadside:
Back in town, we stopped at some neat statues that we had seen on the way in. Mt. Crested Butte lorded over the scene and would have been to the right of this picture if I had a panoramic setting:
The last road we explored that evening was Slate River Road. There was a small pond on the side of the road and we stopped for a bit to watch the sun disappear behind the mountain peaks.
We had dinner at a delicious restaurant in Crested Butte, then returned to Gunnison and pretty much passed out in our tent. I love sleeping while camping, there's something so satisfying about falling asleep out of exhaustion in the crisp, fresh air.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sun, July 11, 2010: Sightseeing In and Around La Junta

I was finally able to get B to understand how important travel is for me (I think, and hope...), and he suggested we take a trip down to La Junta last weekend. The evening before, we took a bike ride along a bike path that leads you through a very industrial area of town. One of my favorite things about Colorado is its sunsets, and their ability to pierce through any scenery and awe with their beauty.
I rest my case.

We woke up early on Sunday morning and headed out into the prairie, something I haven't done for quite some time and B had done even less recently. He taught me that windmills are usually used to pump water for livestock. Did you know that? I had no idea - I guess that's not the kind of thing one learns growing up in Connecticut.
To the east, we were able to see the faint outline of Pike's Peak throughout most of our trip. It's difficult to make out, but it's the taller peak in the right hand half of the picture. Having mountain companions over long distances in the prairie is yet another thing I love about this state.
The map showed a fairly sizable body of water just north of La Junta called Lake Meredith, so we made sure to stop there on the way.
B was really disappointed by the lack of trees surrounding the lake. As for me, it was pretty much what I expected, but I didn't expect the large crowds of people choking the lake shores with RVs and picnic lunches and motorboats. I was sad not to find the peaceful place I hoped for, but let it be what it is, and we continued on.

The Arkansas River runs along Route 50, and I'm not sure that it really struck me until this trip: the Arkansas River is the same one that runs along the valley that holds the Collegiate Peaks. This wide, slow, muddy river is the same clear and rushing river that I love when I visit that mountain valley. It's amazing how much water is transformed when it leaves the mountains to meander through the prairie.
We visited a place called Bent's Old Fort, which sat on what used to be the boundary between the US and Mexico. The original fort was destroyed in a fire at some point, so the structure that we visited was actually a reconstruction. I was fascinated by how much it resembled the structures in a video game that B has been playing recently about the old west, and I kept expecting bandits to pop out of the rooms and open fire on us.
I never liked history much in school, but I really enjoy being in historical places, wondering how people lived in different times and what it would have been like. As for Bent's Old Fort, it was HOT. I can't imagine being stationed there in a wool uniform....
We were able to climb the towers of the fort and were given a pretty view of the relatively lush land around the Arkansas River. The area was actually somewhat swampy which was unexpected for me.
Bandits, anyone?
On our way home, we stopped to get gas in a town called Swink, which is one of the best town names I have ever heard of!
It was fun traveling with B because he seems to like having certain destinations in mind, while I just like going somewhere and having an experience. I hope that we can continue to travel together.