Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Monday, August 8: 
Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 - Continental Divide
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           Our vacation with Jed ends today. So sad!  We arise, pack up the tent trailer, clean out cars and make sure everyone has their own gear.  Pull out of the campground just a few minutes before 9am.  We are bound for Leadville and south, Jed for dinner with Grandma and Matt in Albuquerque before driving on home to Socorro.  It sure has been fun to spend the week together. 
            We are heading back down to I-70, but NOT going to go through Center City this time!  At Blackhawk (the town Jed and I totally missed with our scenic bike trip) we stay on 119 to wind down a steep river canyon to the freeway.  Blackhawk is a gambling town also known as Casino Canyon and the name is very apt.  Set in a narrow canyon and lined with western style monster buildings, parking garages, and hotels.  Some of the building are new made to look old, and others as probably as old as they look! 
            At the junction with I-70 we part company with Jed as he heads east toward Denver and then south on I-25 and we head west. This section of 70 is pretty interesting as it winds up through canyon with the chance to grab a view of bigger peaks every now and then.  I see many waterfalls coming down off the sides of the canyon walls, and at one point spot a herd of about 6 young adult mountain sheep on the cliffs!  Not the huge curved horns, but “teenagers” probably! 
            A long uphill haul to the Eisenhower Tunnel at the Continental Divide – elevation 11,500 (more or less) and then DOWN to Dillon and Frisco, set in a beautiful valley.  The ski resort Breckenridge is accessed from this location.  Just 6 miles up another canyon and we arrive at our exit and highway 91 to Leadville. 
            Road to Leadville is exciting and pretty.  We climb up to Fremont Pass, amid numerous mining reclamation areas and old abandoned mines.  This area was mined extensively for a wide variety of minerals, including gold, silver, lead, etc. 
Old building in Leadville
            Leadville is not what I expected, after all the other mining towns we have found nestled in the bottom of creeks and canyons – Leadville sits on a broad plain high above the valley at 10,200’.  Wow.  We park at the visitor center, pick up some information, and then wander up and down main street , ending up at a Mexican restaurant that advertised fish tacos.  I have a halibut taco and two shrimp tacos, while Rick has a halibut burrito.  Excellent. 
Mt. Massive
            Leadville just celebrated this past weekend their equivalent of Miner’s Jubilee, and hosts this next weekend a major 100 mile long bike race, so things were hopping!  We left the trailer at a parking lot and drove down to Turquoise Lake just to see what was there.  The views of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert (tallest in Colorado at 14,439’) are beautiful.  Since the valley is at 10,000 feet it is hard to realize the mountains are another 4 thousand above you!  They have snow patches, but in no way are covered with snow. 
            Down the valley (emphasis on DOWN) past our exit for Twin Lakes and tomorrow’s trip to Aspen, through the narrow confines of the Arkansas River canyon.  Many rafting companies operated on this stretch of the river.  We find our Arrowhead Camping Resort five miles north of Buena Vista, check in, and get settled in a site between two cottonwood trees.  (We asked for a shady spot!)  I think we got the only shady spot available in our loop! 
Our campsite north of Buena Vista
            Afternoon spent relaxing as we do laundry (Rick) and I get caught up on photographs, blogs, and journals.  (I work for two hours and only get finished with two days!) And then?  A shower for both of us!  That sure felt good!  We basically snack our way through a light dinner as we ate a good meal at lunch time in Leadville.  Talk on phone with Luke and Mom Mac – we have cell reception, although spotty at times.  Jed texts us to say he is safely in Albuquerque, and then later, safely in Socorro. 

Tuesday, August 9:
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Rick and Ginger on top of the world!
            What a beautiful day in paradise!  Yesterday afternoon when we checked in to the campground, Rick picked up a couple of brochures on hiking and car tours in the area.  They proved to be one of the best investments of the trip (and they were free!)    He found a car tour to Cottonwood Pass with a 3 mile one way hike along the Continental Divide Trail to a couple of summits at 12,600 and 12,800 feet.  The pass was at 12,100’.  Wow!  What a glorious hike it was!
            We breakfast and then drive south into Buena Vista, Rick stopping so I can pick up a coffee.  Then we drive east of town to a scenic overlook that was also advertised in the car trip pamphlet.  Well, it charged, but since we only stopped long enough to take a couple pictures, we figured the pay station didn’t apply to us.  Hope we didn’t cheat Colorado out of its money!  The view was of the 10 14ers lined up in a row in this valley.  Pretty impressive, but since they don’t have much snow and the valley is at such a high elevation, you don’t get the sense of grandeur you should probably.  I think it just looks like the Elkhorns west of town!  They are 10,000 feet above our 3500’ valley, and these are 14,000 above this 8,000’ valley!  That’s about the same thing! 
            We drive up Cottonwood Canyon, past the hotsprings and Cottonwood Lake, past Rainbow Lake Resort, and then several beaver dams.  We are supposed to maybe catch a glimpse of mountain goats or sheep on the hills, but we don’t see those.  (We did see a deer in town about a block past a “Deer Crossing” sign!)
Sign at top of Cottonwood Pass
            Eighteen miles from Buena Vista you summit at Cottonwood Pass, one of the highest PAVED road passes in the country at 12,100’.  What a view of mountain peaks all around us!  Trails take off both north and south, and we take the south one for three miles to the top of a peak which we figure is at 12,800’.  (Confirmed now with a visit to Google Maps and Cottonwood Pass topographical) Enroute we visit another summit at 12,600’ where I build an inuksuk for Luke.  On the way back down to the truck, I go to the top of the “Little Summit” (my name for it) at about 12,200’ – just so I can say I hit them all! 
Wildflowers, Lost Lake, and Jones Peak
            We are at the top of the world – literally!  Above the treeline and into the tundra alpine flower world.  Everything is small and the wind blows constantly!  We are glad we have our windbreakers AND another long sleeve shirt.  Especially in the morning with the coolness, the west wind on the ridge is relentless and COLD!  Both Rick and I found ourselves nursing our right ears.  It was a bit of a brutal mile or so right on the west side of the ridge.  As soon as we crossed a saddle and entered the lee of the main summit, it was like entering a different world – no wind, the entire selection of wildflowers seemed to change, and we shed our windbreakers for the ascent to the top of the peak. 
            The top of our grassy summit with rock cliffs on the east side is broad and flat!  A rock cairn is built at the top and we use it for slight wind protection while we sit down and have a MOST SCENIC lunch break. 
            The wildflowers today are hard to describe!  So many, some of which I still have to identify.  But I shall try to list what I did know:  red paintbrush, sulfur paintbrush, dusky penstemon, a white penstemon, tall purple penstemons, yellow alpine avens, white mountain avens, purple fringe, king’s crown, yellow stonecrop, globeflowers, rocky mountain columbine, alpine forget-me-nots, chiming bells, mountain harebells, leafy purple aster, fireweed, elephant heads, moss campion, pearly everlasting, bistort, alpine sandwort, alpine phlox, alpine springbeauty, alpine sunflower, shrubby cinquefoil, and other yellow daisy like flowers that I haven’t identified yet.  Whew!  Awesome it was!
            Before we took off on the hike, coordinators for the Rocky Mt. Bike Race arrived at the top to see up a station at the pass.  The bike race starts on Thursday I think, so this was just a training run maybe.  Anyway, they put up two tent canopies and tied them together.  When the gal went to get the stakes to anchor them down, the wind gust came and it was like a giant kite sailing toward the guardrail and off the edge of the pass.  Another lady grabbed, it knocked her down and she hurt her knee, but they managed to grab the canopy and keep it from just sailing away!  It broke the frame of one and we helped them crash them down.  Offered first aid bandaids to the one lady, but she said she had some and could take care of her owie.  Like I said, the wind was BLOWING!!! 
            We arrive back at the truck at 1:45 and drive into Buena Vista, stopping for groceries before heading north to our campsite.  Quiet afternoon, showers, writing and reading and dinner of smoked salmon (thank you Amber Martell!), fresh corn on the cob, and whole wheat French bread.  Good meal topped with a little wine. 
Does life get any better than this?
            Since the Collegiate Range of 14ers is just to the west of the campground, the sun sets early in these parts! We will hit the sack early as tomorrow we are planning on driving the 60 miles or so to visit Aspen and Twin Lakes region. 
This has been a most perfect of days!  The skies were blue all afternoon – we didn’t have to worry about thunderstorms or lightning (maybe tomorrow according to the weatherman!)  Should be clear skies tonight and we shall again sleep to the rustle of the cottonwood leaves and the clicking of the branches as they rub on the roof of the tent trailer!  G’night!  

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