Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weekend Water and Wildflowers

At the end of our week in Vail, my mom headed back to Chicago while Millie and I headed for Southwest Colorado for a few weeks.  I decided to meander my way there by taking the full weekend to make the 4 hour trip to Ouray.  After dumping my tanks at the Edwards rest area (free!), I began driving down US 24 towards a potential boondocking spot I’d read about overlooking Buena Vista.

I arrived to the location just as the sun was setting, and unhitched the Tracker so I could go scout the campsite.  It was a gorgeous location overlooking the entire valley, however, it required a 2 mile drive up a narrow, somewhat steep, sandy road.  Not a problem for the Tracker, but I wasn’t so sure about the View towing the Tracker.  With visions of the View getting stuck halfway up as nightfall was quickly approaching, I decided to play it safe and find an easier spot for the night.   After consulting my trusty iPad camping apps, I located a Wal-Mart about 20 miles away in Salida which suited my purposes just fine.

The next morning, I stocked up on groceries and gas, took a quick tour of the cute little town of Salida, and then headed across Monarch Pass to Blue Mesa Reservoir (Curicanti National Monument).  We arrived to Stevens Creek campground around noon and snagged a nice spot overlooking the lake.  With the View all settled, I decided to take an afternoon drive with the Tracker up to Crested Butte, about 45 miles away, as there were a couple 4-wheel drive trails I wanted to try out and supposedly lots of wildflowers to see.

I first took the road to the old, restored town of Empire north of Mt. Crested Butte ski resort.  Seems like every other tourist in town wanted to take that drive as well…it was packed!  But, I could immediately tell why—wildflowers were everywhere!  The hillsides and valleys were carpeted with yellow wildflowers that were just spectacular.

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By mid-afternoon, Millie was getting rather hot and restless riding around and was ready for some playtime.  We found a terrific mountain stream for her to swim in.  The current was strong enough to carry her a few yards, but not so strong she couldn’t swim out of it.  She had a great time!
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My 4WD guide book mentioned a place called Emerald Lake at the top of Empire road, so we continued on up to find it.  As we got near the top of the pass, I discovered that the road was still closed due to snow (in late July!), so we had to turn around.  Still pretty up there though:
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Since it was still a few hours before sunset, I decided to try one of the other roads that also goes to Emerald Lake via the northern route across Schoefield Pass.   This road was far less crowded, and a bit more challenging with some narrow and rocky/steep spots.  But after a few nail biters and driving over downed trees, we made it to Shoefield Pass, and finally to Emerald Lake, which indeed really was emerald!
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But the road to get down to the lake looked rather treacherous, and I wasn’t sure exactly where the road closure was for the snow that had blocked me from getting here from the south.  So, I just took a few more photos from the road above the lake and turned around to head for Paradise Divide.
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The road back down from Paradise Divide was fairly easy, apart from a few “shelf” roads that hugged the mountainside.
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The views were still spectacular from this road as well:
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We arrived back to our campsite at Blue Mesa just after sunset, exhausted and exhilarated!

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