Colorado


Destination – Crested Butte, Colorado

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Inspired by wildflower photos posted earlier this week by our son Eric we decided to head to Crested Butte for the Father’s Day weekend. We left the Denver area via Deer Creek Canyon. The route is popular with weekend cyclists requiring extra diligence in safely sharing the road. We join US285 near Conifer, heading towards Kenosha Pass. From the west side of the pass to Fairplay drainages in South Park bloom purple with wild irises – a late-spring treat. This year’s display seems especially lush. Along the way I make note of several potential day adventures such as the Shawnee Tea Room and the new Staunton State Park.

DSC01043 - Version 2After lunch at Quincy’s in Buena Vista we head west to Cottonwood Pass, one of our favorite routes across the Continental Divide. The paved approach on the east side climbs through aspen and pine forest, trees and grasses shimmering green today. (Note – A colorful drive in September.)  Switchbacks along the 19-mile CR306 climb more than 4,300 feet to the 12, 126-foot summit. Although the road was completely dry, snow banks deepened along the roadside. Vistas of mountain ranges to the east and the west entices travelers to stop for photographs.

DSC01046 - Version 2Gunnison CR209 is hard packed dirt the first 12 miles down the west side of Cottonwood Pass. Closed in winter, the road is car drivable from late May until the first heavy snowfall (usually sometime in November). Early in the season and after heavy rains drivers may experience some mud and standing puddles as well as periodic washboard sections. But the scenery makes the trip worthwhile as you descend to Taylor Reservoir, where you once again connect to pavement. Just below the dam fishermen line the Taylor River fly casting into the cascading waters.DSC01047 - Version 2

Known as the Wildflower Capitol, Crested Butte doesn’t disappoint this June weekend. The annual Wildflower Festival isn’t until July 8-14, 2013 but the hills are already alive with blooming glory. At elevations just above town blossoming lupines tint entire hillsides blue. Observant eyes spot fireweed, larkspur, and Colorado’s state flower – blue columbine. All with promises of richer floral displays to come.

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Elk Avenue, the Butte’s main street, hums with energetic outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking a high-altitude summer respite. We’ve reached our weekend destination – Crested Butte.

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Awesome Autumn Day

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Gunnison County, Colorado glistens in golden glory. We made a circle trip from Mt. Crested Butte south on CO135 to Gunnison, returning via Ohio Creek Road and Kebler Pass Road back to Crested Butte for an early dinner at the Last Steep. A drive to the west side of Kebler Pass for evening pictures concluded the day’s photography. Stream side willows, massive rows of giant hay rolls, cattle roundups, aspen groves covering entire mountain slopes, jagged peaks, and curious clouds provided an awesome autumn day.

On the Road to Crested Butte

 

A real mix of weather as we drove from Denver to Crested Butte, Colorado today. Sunshine as we left Denver, the clouds and rain in the city’s forecast had already reached the foothills with periodic sun breaks. While the groves of aspen on Kenosa Pass are past their prime there’s still some nice color when we catch one of those sun breaks. As we turn south at Fairplay we’re thankful we’re not headed north across Hoosier Pass to Breckenridge – clouds are thick and black. Mountain peaks and ridges dusted with snow warn of the coming winter.

 

Enjoyed a beefy lunch at Quincy’s in Buena Vista. Although the menu is limited the quality is very good. They were slammed with noon hour business but our waitress couldn’t have tried harder. We’ll definitely stop here in the future.

Aspen, willows and cottonwoods in autumn glory graced the slopes as we headed up Cottonwood Pass, west of Buena Vista. A short side road ramble to Cottonwood Lake rewarded with great color, smooth dirt road and little traffic. Temperature atop the pass was a nippy 43 degrees with a stiff breeze and threatening skies along the mountain ranges to the northwest.

 

By the time we reached Taylor Reservoir the sun had won the battle. Road construction through the Taylor Canyon seems to always be a given. This year’s project stretches for eight miles, today requiring slowly following a pilot car. At least we lucked out and only had to wait a few minutes for our turn through.

 

The final ten miles into Crested Butte offer a sunny promise of the outstanding scenery and color we’ll enjoy in the coming days.

 

Son, Eric, joined us for fried chicken dinner at Slogar’s, a long time Crested Butte favorite. (See a full review at The Slogar…) The family-style service includes relish tray including spiced pear slices, cottage cheese, slaw, homemade tomato chutney, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn in cream, warm biscuits, honey butter, strawberry jam and, of course, skillet fried chicken. We waddle away from the table nearly in a food coma but oh, so satisfied.

 

Bike, Hike, Like

Telluride, Colorado

 

Some claim the town’s name comes from, “To Hell You Ride”. Cyclists in the USA Pro Challenge rode into the popular resort town yesterday afternoon in a blaze of glory from cheering fans after a 125.7 mile ride from Durango. Fortunately we can experience Telluride without such a trek. I’m reminded of the many summertime adventures found in the region.

 

The spectacular mountain setting draws outdoor lovers – casual walkers to extreme adventurers. With dozens of challenging trails and terrain, mountain bikers make Telluride a destination. The free gondola that connects Mountain Village with the town of Telluride is outfitted with bike racks during summer months. The San Juan Scenic Byway gives road cyclists the same opportunity the pros faced climbing to 10,222′ altitude on Lizard Head Pass.

 

 

Hiking, fishing, rafting, 4-wheeling, rock climbing, bouldering – an entire summer’s worth of possibilities. Less rugged options also abound. Golf, spa treatments, shopping and, of course, plenty of dining. Float above the picturesque valley in a hot air balloon, relax and soak up the rays poolside or challenge the family to disc golf.

 

Park the car, ride the FREE gondola between the valley nestled  town and the resorts of Mountain Village. After just one trip you’ll agree that locals have the best commute imaginable. Some of the gondola cars are even pet friendly.

 

Delve into the regions history with a walking tour of the National Historic Landmark District of Victorian homes, downtown storefronts and mining relics. The New Sheridan Hotel was constructed in 1895 after the original Sheridan burned down. Recent renovations keep the hotel a hub of activity in restaurants, Telluride’s oldest bar and 26 award-winning guest rooms.

 

As if scenery, history and outdoor sports weren’t enough Telluride fills the summer and fall calendar with weekend festivals. Still coming in 2012:

 

The Ride: Telluride’s Rock Festival – Aug. 25-26

 

Telluride Film Festival – Aug. 31-Sept. 3

 

Imogene Pass Run – Sept. 8

 

19th Annual Blues & Brews – Sept. 14-16

 

Mountain to Dessert Ride – Sept. 22

 

Fall Tilt Bike Race – Oct.6

 

 

Chihuly Exhibit Extended

 

The ticket says Chihuly Venetians through June 30, 2012. Golden’s Foothills Art Center has hosted the Stroemple collection of Dale Chihuly’s dramatic art glass since early April. Those who have missed this special show have a second chance until July 15th.

 

We’ve sought out Chihuly works and exhibits in West Palm Beach, Tacoma, Oklahoma City, Loveland, Spokane, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Colorado Springs so couldn’t miss this one much closer to home.

 

Even though the Venetians are not quite my favorites of Chihuly’s series, visiting the Foothills Art Center show proved enlightening and inspiring. Fascinated after watching the creation process on the 18-minute, continuously looping, video I felt compelled to walk through the exhibit a second time, appreciating the incredible artistry, detail and skill.

 

The Laguna Murano Chandelier with over 1500 separate glass pieces arranged in five elements highlights the exhibition.

 

Colorado citizens and visitors are fortunate to have two more weeks to see Chihuly Venetians.

Not All of Colorado is Burning!

Not to downplay the seriousness of the multiple fires that are currently underway and receiving massive publicity, but be aware that there are many areas of the state untouched by the tragic flames. Mountains stand tall, wildflowers are in bloom and communities eagerly await your visit.

 

I share a few photos taken by Eric Yackel on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in the West Elk Mountains southwest of Crested Butte.

 

More than ever Colorado appreciates and needs all the positive effects of tourism. Want to help? Include Colorado in your summer itinerary.

 

Opening to the Public

Highlands Ranch Mansion

After a highly successful grand opening and dedication the renovated Highlands Ranch Mansion opens to the public on a regular schedule June 26, 2012.

 

Shea Homes conveyed the Mansion to the Highlands Ranch Metro District and provided six million dollars for renovation as well as establishing an endowment for future upkeep. Massive work projects began in 2010. The completed project including a new 5,000-square-foot event pavilion, was unveiled to the community June 8th.

 

Beginning June 26 the mansion’s doors swing open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm. A brochure will be available for self-guided tours of the first floor and several of the historic rooms on the second floor. Guided tours will become available at a later date. Check the website for select public weekend dates. No admission is charged during open public hours. Wander through the refurbished rooms, admire the craftsmanship and detail or picnic on the lawn.

 

For the first time in 30 years furnishings appear in many of the mansion rooms. The Highlands Ranch Park and Recreation Foundation continues fundraising to purchase additional furniture and art work that reflect the mansion’s earlier eras.

 

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The Highlands Ranch Mansion, Carriage House Pavilion and back yard are available for weddings, private events, business meetings and conferences.

 

     Upcoming scheduled community events include:

  •      Jazz at the Mansion – August 16, 2012

  •      Highland Ranch Days – September 6-8, 2012

     Sponsored by the Highlands Ranch Community

     Association, admission charged for both events.

 

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Brief Mansion History

"Original" homesteader Samuel Allen Long made an appearance at the Highland Ranch Mansion grand opening.The often enlarged and altered domicile dates back to the 1880s when Samuel Allen Long (re-enactor let) built a simple farm house on his homestead acres and named it Rotherwood. Succeeding owners of the home and expanding ranch land included politicians, Confederate colonel, bankers, oil entrepreneurs and businessmen – John Springer, Colonel William Hughes, Waite Phillips, Frank Kistler, Lawrence Phipps Jr. At one time the property was thought to be the largest ranch in Colorado.

 

Prominent Colorado business leader, Lawrence Phipps Jr. owned the ranch from 1937 until his death in 1976, naming it Highlands Ranch. The Mission Viejo Company purchased the property in 1978, beginning the creation of a new Douglas County community that today has a population of nearly 100,000.

Final Day

 

The final day of our 17-day Canyon Country trip started with the best Crested Butte breakfasts. McGill’s is located downtown on Elk Avenue.

 

I selected one slice of French toast and sausage patties. McGill’s French toast is dipped in cinnamon sugar before going on the grill. The sweet, crisp crust is perfect. The thick cut pieces makes the one slice serving all I could handle.

 

Eric ordered the breakfast tacos served with hash browns. The tacos looked terrific and I noticed they disappeared even more quickly than my French toast.

 

 

We head to Denver via Cottonwood Pass, while we’re use to the 14-miles of gravel road on the west side of the pass we didn’t know that miles of the road east of Harmel’s Resort  is under major construction this summer. Delays were not an issue since this was Sunday but the rough, dusty, slow surface would make us consider the longer Monarch Pass route this summer.

 

 

Cloudy skies and a few sprinkles accompanied us all the way to Buena Vista. We decided to make a side trip to St. Elmo 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista. On the National Register of Historic Places St. Elmo is known as one of Colorado’s best preserved ghost towns. Founded in 1880, the town grew to 2000 residents – mostly gold and silver miners.

 

 

 

 

All the remaining buildings are in private ownership and are in various degrees of repair/disrepair. The original Town Hall burnt down in 2002; Buena Vista Heritage has built a replica complete with jail cell in the rear. The St. Elmo General Store opens from mid-May to October offering an eclectic mix of antiques, souvenirs, ATV  and cabin rental, cold drinks and ice cream bars.

 

Cortez to Crested Butte

We trade high desert for mountain vistas as we drive from Cortez to Crested Butte in the heart of Colorado. The morning is cloudy with scattered rain showers, while we never get rained on we often have wet pavement. Makes for poor photo ops but speedier travel since the scenic drive would require frequent picture stops under sunny skies. We especially enjoy the thick green forest, jagged mountain peaks and alpine lakes.

 

From Cortez we follow the San Juan Scenic Byway along the Dolores River, up Lizard Head Pass, to Telluride and across the Dallas Divide to Ridgway. After lunch at Kate’s Place we leaved  the Scenic Byway heading north to Montrose. It appears Montrose has grown up since our last visit, we’re surprised at all the new businesses both national retail stores and local enterprises.

 

US50 takes us to Gunnison where we turn north for Crested Butte. It’s still off-season in “The Butte”. In a  couple more weeks summer adventurers will keep the area hoppin’ until mid-September. The Grand Lodge is open but extremely quiet – translate, great rates.

 

A visit with Eric and a family-style chicken dinner at Slogar’s fills the evening. I’m especially grateful for the two hour tutorial on my new laptop.

Winding Down

Travel can be hard work with the busy agendas we try to keep. After a couple of weeks we will both admit to wearing down, moving slower and accomplishing less each day. We have explored:

  • 6 National Parks

  • 7 National Monuments

  • 1 National Recreation Area

  • 1 Tribal Park

  • 1 State Park

In addition to numerous trails, backroads, museums, restaurants and trading posts.

 

Today’s itinerary included two National Monuments. Our first stop was Hovenweep NM on the Utah/Colorado border, the site of six pre-historic villages perched on canyon rims or balanced on massive boulders. I’ve always been fascinated with the intricate masonry.

 

We also visited Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which encompasses a large area in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Located within the monument are literally thousands of archeological sites. Most have not been excavated and appear only as rubble heaps. The most accessible of the sites is Lowry Pueblo housing 8 kivas (circular ceremonial rooms), 40 rooms and a Great Kiva.

 

The Anasazi Heritage Center, 10 miles north of Cortez, is the best place to start a Canyons of the Ancients visit. The AHC contains interactive exhibits, artifacts from excavations, galleries for temporary exhibits, a theatre showing two introductory films, and a gift shop. We found detailed information on sites to visit within the monument including a one-mile interpretive trail to Escalante Pueblo.

 

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