Colorado Peaks and Hot Springs

We began our road trip by attending the Colorado Renaissance Festival. Full of turkey legs, meade, and visions of jousting knights, we drove off into the sunset. We found a campsite at the bottom of the road to Gray’s Peak, near Loveland. We woke up at 5am to hike up the road, then summited Gray’s (14,278) and Torrey’s (14,274), which are connected by a ridge.

The weather was near perfect, although we did spend much of the higher sections postholing (this happens when the snow pack begins to melt and becomes soft on top, and one leg goes straight down into the snow, sometimes past the knee). It was a long day, although I was very happy to have summited not one, but two 14’ers in one attempt! This was my first time getting up that high, as we had attempted Quandary a few weeks before, but bad weather forced us to turn around before we reached the summit. We spent the rest of the day napping, and celebrated our success with brats grilled on the fire.

The following day, we continued on to Aspen, home of world-class ski resorts. The runs were green with grass, but we did see a ski jump which can be used year-round. We avoided a rainstorm by watching the latest Game of Thrones episode in a coffee shop. The town was a bit too posh for our liking, especially since we couldn’t seem to find any information about hiking conditions.

Eventually we just decided to give it a go, and headed to the Maroon Bells. Despite warnings that with the high snow pack this year, everything over 10,000 feet was still buried, we were attempting to backpack the 4 Pass Loop. Despite our best efforts, we had to turn back before the first pass. Postholing with a full pack is not fun, especially for miles upon miles. We decided to try it again in the fall, after all of the snow has melted. We did get quite a few good shots of Colorado’s iconic lake!

Next we tried Conundrum Hot Springs. We backpacked in about halfway (4 miles) and camped for the night, since we were already pretty tired from the hike out of the Maroon Bells and it was getting toward dusk. The next day we hiked the remaining 4.5 miles to the hot springs.

The trail was beautiful, and not too snowy until the very end. There were quite a few stream crossings, several with no bridge and FREEZING COLD water. There were campsites surrounding the hot springs, but a few of the higher ones were still buried in snow. We met some other people, from California and Michigan, and relaxed for a few hours, just enjoying the mountain views. One of the other soakers regaled us with tales of cattle getting stuck in a nearby deserted cabin during a snowstorm. They all died, and to avoid conflicts with bears, the Forest Service reportedly blew up the cabin with the dead cows inside! That’s why we saw the occasional skull along the trail… Not sure how legit the story was, but that would’ve been quite a sight.

After a snack, we hit the trail and packed out. We stopped in Aspen for some food, and headed to our next stop.

Our last stop in Colorado was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I’d read a bit about this place, but we didn’t really know what it was except a big canyon (which they claim is deeper than the Grand Canyon) made of dark rock. And that’s pretty much what it was. We did a few short rim trails, but this was the first place where the rangers seemed to be discouraging hiking. The bottom of the canyon looked very pretty, but the trails were unmaintainted, and there was no information about them, I suppose so you’d have to go talk to a ranger and they could judge whether you’d make it down to the bottom or not. Overall, the canyon walls looked pretty cool, but we weren’t all that impressed with our short visit. Someday we’ll go back and hike to the bottom, and then we’ll probably get a better feel for the park.

Some of my favorite places we visited during our time in Colorado:

Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park. This was our first trip when we moved to Denver, and I loved it as soon as we drove in. We made it up there a few times, just for some day hiking. Unfortunately, the snow pack was quite heavy this year, so we didn’t get to do a backpacking trip or the scenic drive before we left. We plan on going back later on. Estes Park is a cool little tourist town, too.

Strawberry Hot Springs, outside of Steamboat Springs. It was a bit of a drive from Denver, but it made for a good weekend trip. There is an admission fee, and it’s a bit more built up than some hot springs we’ve visited so there are normally quite a few people, but you can camp nearby and the entrance fee is included in the cost of your campsite. There were quite a few nice hiking trails in the area as well.

Bishop’s Castle. If you’re anywhere nearby, make a detour, because this place is very… unique. Don’t bother climbing any part of it if you’re afraid of heights.

Boulder. I don’t have any photos of it, but Boulder was a place we visited on occasion, especially when guests came to town. It really is the Austin of Colorado, and there’s always something interesting going on. I’ve heard many stories about the weird people on Pearl Street, but our personal favorite was the guy walking around in what appeared to be a pot leaf bathrobe and nothing else…

For a day trip from Denver, I’d recommend a quick hike in Chautauqua Park, the entrance to the Flatirons, which are a series of picturesque rock outcroppings you’ll see on your drive up from Denver.The Pearl Street Mall is the place to go for food, drinks, and/or people watching. Our favorites were the West Flanders Brewing Co (they have local cider & meade!), and Bayleaf for our favorite European imports (Irn-Bru) and Boulder-made chocolate.

We said goodbye to Colorado for now, and headed on to Utah!

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