New Mexico & Colorado (Jul 20 to Aug 2, 2013)

h o m e     |     a b o u t     |     l i n k s     |     c o n t a c t     |     t r i p  r e p o r t s

Conditions: Car camps, day hikes, over-night backpack...
Gear: lots and lots of stuff...
Map: USGS Alamo Mesa West, USGS Ophir, USGS Telluride, USGS Handies Peak, USGS Longs Peak
Area: New Mexico and Colorado
Reference: Photographing the Southwest: Volume 3-Colorado/New Mexico
Stats: 31.84mi, 7857 gain (for all days combined)


So I get an message from Karen early in the year...so...remember how I said I'd never go back to the SW in July...well how about payback (of at least it was something like that).

Karen (and David) took the lead on trip planning. Tisha too. Me...swamped at work...tired...yes need a vacation...whatever you plan is fine with me... Yeah, I know...I should have helped out more.

The general plan was to head first to New Mexico, fly into Albuquerque, and see Carlsbad Caverns (it's underground and cooler than the blistering heat above ground. A side trip to Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness, and then head up into the San Juan Mtns of Colorado and eventually Rocky Mtn National Park for some hiking. Turned out to be a great trip with really awesome company. We about had it all...cool temps, caves, blistering heat, sandstorms, thunder and lightning, hail, rain, awesome views, flowers....and generally we all had a great time...

rattlesnake_springs_covercarlsbad_caverns_np_cover1Rattlesnake Springs & Carlsbad Caverns NP
Jul 21-22, 2013

Rattlesnake Springs Slideshow
Carlsbad Caverns NP (Day 1) Slideshow

Carlsbad Caverns NP (Day 2) Slideshow

We flew into Albuquerque on the 20th and rented an SUV. We'd find out later this turned out to be a citified SUV but more about that later... From the airport we encountered intense rain, thunder and lightning. We should have known this would become a pattern throughout our trip.

We car camped at the Carlsbad RV Park. OK sort of place. Noisy birds. Iffy Wi-Fi. Noisy road. Pool out of commission... Just a place to stay though for a couple of nights while we explored around nearby Carlsbad Caverns NP.

On July 21st, we headed over to Rattlesnake Springs for some birding and acclimation to the heat of the southwest in the middle of summer. Ugh...it was hot. The birding was so-so. Bright red bird abounded everywhere. Even got a decent photo of a turkey vulture. There is an old catch basin for a hot spring/mineral spring here. Looks like long ago, this must have been a visitor attraction of some sort.

Later that day, we headed over to Carlsbad Caverns NP. Tisha and Karen had booked a tour of the Spider Cave. Crawling. Yuck. Can't do that. Bummer. No problem, I headed down the Natural Entrance to the caverns and planned to walk the main cavern on mine own while Tisha and Karen had fun watching dangling daddy-long-legs hanging from the cave ceiling of their tour.

It's a bit weird to hike a trail, see a big hole in the ground, see that the trail heads down into that big black hole, and then voluntarily follow that trail. The trail is easy. It heads down the main entrance to the caverns for a couple hundred feet and then doubles back below that entrance. At the turn you can faintly see into the section of the cave where the Mexican Free-Tailed bats roost. The other direction, where the trail doubles back below the entrance hole, is near total darkness...until you eyes adjust to the low light levels.

The features along the trail are pretty cool, holes, popcorn, flowstone, soda straws, drapes, stalactites and stalagmite...it's just everywhere. The park has low level lighting strategically place along the trail to ever so slightly illuminate the caverns. I brought, but didn't need, a headlamp. I had brought my big camera and a tripod but honestly, with the crowds, it was just too much of a hassle to set the camera up to take photos without fear that someone would kick the tripod over.

Down, down, down the trail goes. Lots of places to stop and gawk. Eventually, the trail reaches the "bottom" of the main cavern, about 750' below the cave entrance. Here there is the large main cavern, over 250' tall and about 14 football fields in size. The trail does a sort of figure-8 through the main cavern. You could, and I did, spend several hours exploring. I was really impressed with the drapes and features handing off the ceiling. One feature looked like a giant chandelier. It was all pretty interesting.

Eventually it was time to head over to the elevator area to meet up with Karen and Tisha as they finished off their cave tour. If being dirty is any sign of having fun...they had a blast. Then it was back to the RV park to rest up for a second day in the caverns.

We headed back to the RV campground for the night. The sounds of chattering birds and cars waking us up in the morning. Then it was a drive back to Carlsbad Caverns NP for a second day underground.

Tisha, Karen, and I all signed up for three tours the 2nd day (Jul-22)...Left Hand Tunnel, King's Palace, and the Lower Cave tours. It was back to back to back tours with a required change of clothes between each tour. I really wanted to do King's Palace so I ended up cancelling the other two trips. Rats...it turned out there was enough time between the three tours (tight but doable) and I could have done them (no crawling). Oh well.. Tisha and Karen dashed off for the first tour of the day, Left Hand Tunnel, while I again hiked down the Natural Entrance to the main cave. No big camera the second day and with an early morning start there was only a fraction of the crowds. I had plenty of time to walk the main cave slower without constantly stepping out of the way of others.

Around noon, I headed back to the elevator area in time to meet up with Karen and Tisha for the tour of King's Palace. There are locked gates along the trail coming in from the Natural Entrance. One of these was for King's Palace. It's near the start of the main cavern. Our large group (40+) hiked through the gate and down into the cave chamber. It was really interesting to hear the NP Ranger tour guide talk about the caves...old movies shot here...they used to allow weddings in the chamber...the floors are smooth because before it was roped off tourists had a run of the area and smashed most of the cave features on the floor creating a flat bottom. It was a nice tour of the King's chamber and then off to the Queen's chamber. Lots and lots of cool drapery features here. At one point the tour guide turned the lights off and wow...it got dark...not just a little dark...it was a complete absence of light.

At the end of the tour Karen and Tisha dashed off to catch their next tour (Lower Cave) while I explored the main chamber more. At the far end of the main chamber is a huge hole/drop off and a sign indicating this was part of the Lower Cave (the tour Tisha and Karen were on). It was a couple hundred feet lower than the main chamber.

Late that evening after we regrouped, we assembled at the amphitheatre near the Natural Entrance. Time to see some bats. The ranger gave a talk telling of the millions of Mexican Free Tailed bats that roosted below. Each night, around sunset, they emerge. They have sensors of some kind set up inside the cave to indicate when the bats start to leave the cave. A set of speakers broadcast a click........click.....click....and then eventually a clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.... We could see a group bats circling around the entrance and then it was if the group was waiting for the courage to head off into the night sky. They eventually did and that made room for yet another group of bats to circle and eventually leave. This would continue through the evening as the bats headed off to their feeding grounds and then they would return by daybreak and roost again through the daylight hours. No photography allowed but it was really very amazing.

white_sands_nm_coverWhite Sands NM
Jul 23, 2013

White Sands NM Slideshow

For our third full day of the trip, we were heading for Alamogordo, NM and White Sands NM, about a 3 3/4hr drive from the RV campground in Carlsbad. We slept in a bit, pondered over a planned stop at the Living Desert (we decided to skip it) and them made a stop in Roswell. No photos of Roswell but Karen had planned this stop in detail. It's quite the setup there, kind of like crazy Twilight fascination in Forks, WA but alien oriented in NM. It was hot in Roswell and we didn't mind a stop, as long as there was AC.

Then we were off to Alamogordo. We arrived at White Sands in plenty of time. We entered the monument and then did the circular drive around the park. It's weird, the sand is gypsum sand, but almost looks like snow. The park road is "plowed" just as if it was snow. Karen has stopped at the visitor center to pick up a disc sled, then she scoped out hillsides. What looked like a good one. We saw some folks at a nice hill, a taller dune actually, and we stopped. Rats, Karen forgot the sled was in the car. Yes, when sledding on sand, you DO need sled wax.

Karen went first and didn't seem to have too much trouble moving. I went next and um...barely moved. Yeah...it was the wax. It wore off already...that's it... We aimed for some steeper slopes and finally we were moving! Lots of fun time spent sledding on the dunes and watching the approaching thunderstorms in the distance.

Eventually we packed up and headed deeper into the park wanting to find a nice vantage for sunset. I found it really hard to photograph late in the day. Sky over exposed or white sand that looked yellow or gray. I found a beetle chugging along one of the dunes. I followed it, went to take a photo. It stopped every time I got close and put it's head down and aimed it's butt toward me. Tisha later Googled that it will squirt "something" at you if it feels threatened. Good thing I didn't get "too" close.

Eventually it got dark enough and the storm close enough that it was time to head over to Oliver Lee SP for the night. We arrived in the dark and thunderbooms we heard in the distance. Well, looked like we might get a good storm this night.

We set the tents up and then it was time to head over to the showers to get cleaned up. Ah...no more sand, dirt, grit, sunscreen...caking us. Karen and I were done first. We went outside to watch the Alamogordo city lights below and the occasional lightning strike in the distance. Then...Ah girls...can someone help me? Help with what? Karen and turned the corner to the bathroom and ah...there is was...our first tarantula sighting. Karen and I on the outside...Tisha trapped inside. This guy was big (baseball size) which I hear is actually small for NM. Tisha dashed out of the bathroom leaving her stuff inside. Now what to do? The door was open...her stuff inside...the tarantula making it's way to the door. She dashed back in and closed the door behind her. Her final exit from the bathroom with all her gear...let's just same I'm glad it wasn't me.

I know I fell asleep this night wondering if there would be another big, black spider sighting. Please...don't let one crawl onto my tent at night. I knew I'd freak out if one did.

bisti_badlands_coverBisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness
Jul 24, 2013

Bisti Badlands Slideshow

The plan...drive from Oliver Lee SP outside Alamogordo to Bisti. Where is Bisti? Hmm...hard to see. I've never heard of it before but knowing Karen does her research, I knew it would be a worth visit. Bisti Badlands is about an hour due south of Farmington, in the middle of no where. It's about a 6.5 hour drive from Olive Lee SP. It was going to take the better part of the day just getting there which it did. We arrived, afternoon, in the full blazing heat of the day. We drove by the southern TH first but that didn't match up with the GPS coordinates so we headed minutes further north, but this TH didn't match the description. What to do? The southern TH had the register, the gate as described...let's head back to the other TH we decided.

We arrived and packed the day packs. Heavy camera gear to photograph the sandstone features. We all packed lots of water and applied lots of sunscreen. It wouldn't be a long day but in this heat...best be prepared.

We followed the wash in keeping it for the most part on our left. I'd marked some GPS coordinates and we headed first for Flat Top. Interesting area. It was hard at first to get inspired to take photos. It really way HOT. We all dispersed a bit but made a point of keeping each other in sight so as to not get disoriented or lost. After Flat Top we headed over to Cracked Eggs and managed to stumble over Bisti Arch along the way. Arch...it's teeny. Not an arch of the size/scale of Arches NP but an arch nonetheless. Cracked Eggs was pretty cool. I heard someone say the stones looked like whale bones. To me they looked like turtle bones. It was almost creepy. We found a nearby gully partially shaded for a lunch spot. Then, we wandered near the Rock Garden before meeting up with out route back out. It really is difficult navigating in the desert. Scale is gone. Features can look different from opposing directions. We had three sets of eyes and two GPS units making sure we didn't make any errors.

We reached the car just as a sizeable thunderstorm in the distance kicked up the winds and created a sandstorm. Good to have gotten out when we did...otherwise we may have had to hunker down and wait out the sandstorm. The blowing sand getting in our eyes and creating poor visibility.

The plan was to camp out near the TH. Thunderstorms, heat, blowing wind and sand, little to no protection from the elements, signs of flash flooding everywhere. We decided to shorten the stay at the badlands to the day and not return for sunrise the next morning. We headed into Farmington to see if we could find a campground. Nothing in Farmington but an OK former KOA campground (Desert Rose RV Park) further east and north in Bloomfield, NM. We would head further north into the San Juan Mountains of CO in the morning.

Stats: 4.6mi, 56' gain (round trip)
 
bisti_badlands_map
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ice_lks_coverIce Lakes & Island Lake
Jul 25-26, 2013

Ice Lks & Island Lk Slideshow

We were up in the morning and packed up the car...time to head to the San Juan's for some high elevation hiking. I was excited. Karen had sent a few photos of the area before the trip. It looked stunning. I was eager to see it myself.

Our original plans had us arrive the evening before which built in some time to acclimate to the higher elevation. Our altered plans had I driving from Bloomfield, NM (elevation 5450') to the Ice Lakes TH (elevation 10330') in about 2 hours. Then it was about a 2 mile hike in to Lower Ice Lake...another mile to Upper Ice Lake (elevation 12300'). We decided early on that we'd camp at the lower lake. The persistent thunderstorms we'd had since we arrived in NM had us a bit worried about camping in the upper basin with no tree cover. Lower Ice Lakes offered some protection from the storms. That I was sucking wind the whole hike in...I wasn't going to argue. It was a smart decision. It ended up being smart for more than one reason though...

We arrived in Silverton, CO, stocked up a bit, and then headed off to our trailhead (1:30pm). The road is a fine dirt road at first, then rocky...pretty rocky. It was a slow drive to the TH...Karen taking it easy on the rough road. The road "easy" by Colorado standards, was rough/primitive by ours. If you drive to some of these TH's in CO...they guide books understate the condition and difficulty of driving the roads.

Can't say I've ever started off a hike where the trailhead was above 10k. The trail isn't bad or steep by any means, gaining about 1,100' in the two mile hike to the lower lake. The elevation though...we all felt it. More than anything, it just slowed our pace down. The trail is green and the area full of flowers. Looks like we missed peak flower season by a couple of weeks but lots of flowers were still going strong. We arrived in the lower lake basin and looked for a campsite. It was mid week but just about every established site was taken. I headed off one direction to check out the possibilities, Karen and Tisha went another and they found a nice one, tucked neatly in the trees. We set up our tents, huffed and puffed and nearly passed out blowing up our air mattresses, and then headed off to the basin to filter some water (5:45pm). Then time to head back to camp, relax, and eat dinner.

Then it hit...I'd been struggling with a bit of an altitude headache since arriving at the lower lake basin. I took something for it but it didn't seem to want to help. I grabbed my water and headed off to my tent to take a nap hoping the rest, pain meds, and hydration would help. Nope...I lost what little remained of my lunch. No dinner for me tonight. Tisha was great...checking in on me once in a while. I finally fell asleep and by morning I was fine.

We packed up some day hiking gear and headed off to the upper lake (another 1.1mi and 800' gain). A beautiful basin hike, then a nice climb near a creek, and then we entered the upper basin. Wow! Fuchsia and creamy white colored paintbrush were still going strong and had the upper basin area full of color. The rock of the surrounding peaks (Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, Vermillion Peak, Fuller Peak) reached up nearly another 1500' from Upper Ice Lake (12,257'). The azure jewel tone of the water of Upper Ice Lake is stunning! We dawdled here quite a bit as the clouds overhead passed by. When a cloud was overhead, the colors were very subdued, when they lifted, the lake lit up.

Eventually, time to head off to Island Lake, about .75mi and 210' from Upper Ice Lake. There is a nice trail heading over there with just one minor steep-ish (short) and loose section but it wasn't too much trouble. We had a nice lunch at the shore of Island Lake with US Grant Peak looming overhead. Island Lake as an emerald green shade to the water compared to Upper Ice Lake.

We headed back to the upper basin. I decided to stay here and photograph the area more. Tisha and Karen headed off to Fuller Lake. I felt fine but didn't want to push the day since I'd been sick the night before. I should have gone though since it does have really nice viewed down into the basin. I told Tisha and Karen I would wait for their return. If they didn't see me around the main junction, I'd head back to camp. Thunderstorms and big black clouds rolled in right about on schedule (2pm-ish). I waited but didn't see them. Waited more...then the thunderbooms started and got closer...then a lot closer. So finally, I headed back down to camp. Turns out Tisha and Karen weren't that far behind me. I found a nice shortcut back to our campsite and when the girls returned, we started packing up camp.

We hiked out and then tossed our stuff into an overstuffed SUV (Explorer) and headed down to South Mineral CG hoping to find a spot for the night. No luck. Mid week and the place was packed. So many people, that some were using the more primitive sites along the road. We finally found a place, parked the car...hauled our gear to the flat spot in the trees next to the creek, and set up camp.

Stats: 8.6mi, 2178' gain (round trip)
 
ice_island_lks_map
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mesa_verde_coverMesa Verde NP
Jul 27, 2013

Mesa Verde NP Slideshow

We woke in the morning heading over to the car to pack up for the trip up and over to Ouray, for a hike up to Columbine Lk. What we say of the car...not good...near flat tire. Shoot. Now what? We drove the short bit into Silverton...it was still early, and dark. Unloaded the Explorer, finding out a nice car like this only has a mini spare...really? Can't figure out how to assemble the jack. I made a call to AAA to get some help. It became clear that the day ahead of schedule we were was going to be lost to flat tire logistics. AAA said a two hour wait for help. Two nice gents came to our rescue. While they generously helped with changing the spare out, I called AAA back and cancelled the service call. We had a side wall flat in the tire. Karen was careful driving the car up to the Ice Lks TH. Did we get the damage on that road? Was it right there where we parked the car by our campsite? Who knows... We decided to drive back to Durango (shorter than driving up to Ouray or Montrose) to try to find a full size replacement tire. We weren't going to make it up many of the difficult CO roads with a mini spare. After several visits to tire stores in Durango and lots of calls...no tires available. We were driving what the locals called a "city car" (large rims) and no tire store stocked that specific tire size. It would be three days to get a replacement. Someone, suggested calling Alamo and trying to switch out the cars. That seemed the only reasonable plan. Off to the Durango airport, swapped out the cars without too much trouble...not to find a suitable replacement... First option offered was a truck (no extended cab and no cargo cover) which wasn't going to work. The only car they had in the same class was a GMC Terrain. Ugh...this was going to be difficult. The Terrain is about 20% smaller than the Explorer and we were already tight on space. We managed to get everything in the car but not without a lot of pushing, cramming and the loss of all visibility out the back of the car. Time to head out, the question was what to do with what was left of the day. Columbine was out. We settled on Mesa Verde NP which is about a 45 minute drive out of Durango. So off we went...it would be a long day though...

We went back to the hot desert scrub of the southwest quickly after we left the lush green of Durango. Mesa Verde is a pretty interesting place. It's not only the premier archeological park in the National Park system, it's also a world heritage site. I've wanted to visit for years. The green ("verde") mesa rises high above the surrounding countryside. Ancestral Puebloans built the communities which were occupied the Colorado plateau for about 1,300 years and moved to Mesa Verde about 550AD and occupied it for about 700 years. It's an amazing place...over 4,800 known archeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings which date from the late 1100's to about 1300AD. A tour guide had mentioned that the climate of the area now is about what it was when Mesa Verde was occupied. Originally the habituated sites were on the mesa, then the ancient peoples moved the dwellings into the cliffs. It's not known why, it could be defensive, could be that they were closer to water sources (top layer of the mesas are sandstone...water percolates through he sandstone and then hits a layer of clay a few hundred feet down...the water they moves horizontal and exits the cliff sides in springs many of which are sites of the cliff dwellings). Speculation is that the ancients likely deforested what few trees did live and when exhausted...they moved on. I think I recall the tour guide saying there may have been about 3,000 people living in the area at that time, primarily in cliff dwelling sites that were family based communities. The cliff dwelling sites are everywhere. Just driving the Chapin Mesa road to our tours, we'd stop at an overlook, look down into the canyons below, and you could see dwelling after dwelling after dwelling. The site really is worth a visit if you are in the area.

We arrived early afternoon, stopped at the Visitor Center and checked into available tours. I booked a tour of Cliff Palace which is the largest of the cliff dwellings in the park. Karen and Tisha headed over to Balcony House. Both tours were about an hour long and were really educational and interesting. The tour guides are great knowing many of the questions that would be asked and were prepared with answers. One was why has so much of Cliff Palace been rebuilt...the answer was that for the long time it sat in ruins it was slowly sliding off the face of the cliff. The Park Service normally doesn't reconstruct (thy just preserve) but in order to preserve what was left they had to reconstruct the lower portion of the cliff dwelling to prevent it all from eventually falling down.

Cliff Palace is really beautiful, I couldn't help but hear the chatter of the ancestral Puebloans and the laughter of their children as you walk the site. Their engineering work and ingenuity needed to live in such a harsh environment is mind boggling.

All three of us met up after our tours and then headed back over to Silverton and then all they way up and over to Ouray where we had a campsite reserved on the edge of town for a couple of nights. The drive was let's just say...interesting. Driving rain...hard, hard rain...wind, hail, thunder and lightning. Karen all I can say is...thanks for driving...

We had all of the next day, the 28th, in town (Ouray). A good chance to get some chores, mainly laundry done.

yankee_boy_basin_coverYankee Boy Basin
Jul 29, 2013

Yankee Boy Basin Slideshow

Time for some more hiking. We were done with the wet...we thought. We headed up the road which was quite the "interesting" drive. Let's just say that the guidebooks really underestimate the roughness of the roads in CO. We made it to the lower trailhead, but just barely.

The weather started out fine early in the day and we had a bit of a break in the rain so we hopeful we could get up the basin a ways. The "trail" follows a jeep track. Rough, steep, rocky and in a couple of places, a bit muddy. We stopped first at Twin Falls. Apparently this is the Twin Falls of Coors beer fame. I was a bit underwhelmed by the falls. I've been better but we snapped off a few photos and then went further up the basin. We found a nice old outhouse at one of the upper TH's. Yuck....the place was the smelliest outhouse EVER! We didn't linger...in fact we almost ran away from the smell. Further up the basin the flowers started.

We reached the un-named tarn at the base of the moraine. A bit of interesting color here. We started up the trail a bit higher. Maybe we could make Blue Lake Pass before more weather moved in. We were wrong. We reached a green bump above the tarn and the clouds moved in fast. Without too much talk we were in full retreat from the basin. First it was clouds and strong winds...then rain...then hail and the occasional thunderclap. All of us we moving as fast as we could back down the trail to the safety of the car. Thankfully we didn't have too far to go but still, even with Gore-Tex, we all got soaked. Soaked clothing, soaked boots, soaked backpacks...

Back at the car we quickly stuffed gear into the back of the car and then headed back into town...Silverton. The revised plan was to try to fit Columbine Lake in as a day hike the following day. Where to camp though... Problem was everything was soaked from the weather the past few days. Tents were dripping wet from the previous night, more rain expected again this night. We stopped at an RV campground at the edge of town. They had a cabin available. We all agreed this was the best plan. It gave us a chance to really sort the sopping wet gear our and give it a chance to dry. Besides, it wasn't going to be fun to pretty much hang out insides tents all evening. We had a bit of a lull in the weather giving us a chance to spread all the gear out over the picnic table. railings, fence, etc. Finally, stuff was drying out. Then, time to pack it all up just as more thunderstorms rolled through in the evening. It was quite the boomfest that evening.

Stats: 3.85mi, 1114' gain (round trip)
 
yankee_boy_basin_map
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black_canyon_np_coverBlack Canyon of the Gunnison NP
Jul 30, 2013

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Slideshow

This was a short diversion. It was more or less, along the way. Less of a diversion than the trip to Mesa Verde. It was also a chance to Tisha and I to get our stamps :)

We just did a short driving tour. We arrived at the main overlook, the Visitor Center, and walked out to the overlook. It's pretty impressive. It's quite the drop off.

No hiking on this trip. The nice treat was that on the drive out, we say a mama deer and her fawn right on the side of the road.

american_basin_coverAmerican Basin & Sloan Lake
Jul 31, 2013

American Basin & Sloan Lake Slideshow

This trip was quite the adventure. Well...the drive to the TH was. We are getting in late. Really late. It was a race against the sunset and we were loosing. This is a long drive up a bad, very, bad....very, very bad road. Whatever the guide books tell you about the ability of regular cars to get to the TH...they are LYING! This road is horrible. It's OK until the last few miles (beyond the lower TH for Handies Peak) but after this parking area...it's rough, rutted, cliffy (yes there are cliffs right in the middle of the road) and just downright nasty. We hoped to make it to the lower TH by night. We lost. It was late, it was dark and we hit the last obstacle in the road that even the crappy GMC Terrain we were driving couldn't get by. And worse yet...all of us were tired.

The big question is where in the heck we were going to camp? It was impossible to think of turning around on this road in the dark and yet we couldn't go further up the road. We knew we were close though. Karen pulled the Terrain off the road at a "wide" spot and then she and Tisha scouted downhill for a "flat" spot which they found...sort of. We set up the tents and then ate a very late dinner next to the car on the side of the road. The site was OK but let's just say that I was sliding downhill all night. I don't know that anyone got much sleep that night.

Soon enough, the alarms went off...wait...it was still dark when that happened. I'm not much of a morning person but it was chin up time. I knew it could only get better. We packed up the tents and gear, stuffed it all into the back of the jam packed Terrain and walked the 1/2 mile or so up the road to the junction (the lower trailhead). We headed left, continuing to walk up the road to the middle and then upper trailheads. I don't know how some of those cars got up there. Careful driving yet. High clearance definitely. Any other GMC Terrains??? No but Karen did see one try to take it's front end off while driving the road. It was dark the whole hike up the road to the upper trailhead, we were hiking by headlamp. It was going to be a long day so we needed to get the early start.

Sunrise started just after we left the upper trailhead. Slowly the golden light lit up the surrounding peaks and then bathed the basin in the soft morning light. This was another high elevation TH (about 10k) and we could all still feel the effects even after spending the last week higher up. Some late flowers here...asters, some blue columbines, yellow flowers that looked like they could be in the balsamroot family... We continued up the basin on easy switchbacks. The yellow bellied marmots were out early...likely making fun of us (me) as we huffed and puffed uphill.

Eventually we reached Sloan Lake. The lake was a strange, almost sterile shade of turquoise. Nothing seemed to alive in the lake...weird pond scum hung around the edges. The far side of the lake was bordered by huge piles of gravel/scree. I later read these are "rock glaciers". There is ice underneath the covering of rock.

We took a short break before Karen and Tisha headed off to hike up Handies Peak. They disappeared quickly around a bend but I could hear them for a while, their voices bouncing off the surrounding basin. Eventually I say their profiles high up on Handies...they looked to be very close to the top.

I hung around Sloan Lake taking photos, napping, mainly just interested in the different types of flowers here. Karen and Tisha returned and then we hiked out. It was warm, almost hot. Thankfully today we weren't chased out by thunderstorms.

It was a tedious drive back out made a bit easier because it was daylight out. Once back out to Ouray, we headed north for a long drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park for our last hike.

Stats: 5.82mi, 1942' gain (round trip to the lake).
 
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chasm_lk_coverChasm Lake (RMNP)
Aug 1, 2013

Chasm Lake Slideshow

The was one more hike before leaving CO. The good thing was that it was in another national park...so another stamp :) The bad thing...another loooooong drive. We knew we'd get in late this time. Really late. In hindsight, I think we underestimated the popularity of this area and over estimated our ability to find marginal camping. Lesson learned.

It was dark by the time we got to Estes Park, after 9pm. First try...trailhead camping. We drove the loop and it was full. Now what...we had beta of marginal camping back along FS roads in the area. Wrong. It doesn't exist. We drove in circles for at least an hour looking for a site to camp, then looked again...there just wasn't anything. We had two options...sleep in the car at the Longs Peak TH (wasn't an appealing option for anyone) or drive all the way back down to Estes Park in the hopes we'd find something...anything. Well we did find some camping but lets just say...it stunk. Literally. It was a KOA campground that was smack dab next to a horse corral. The odor wafting off that corral all night had me on the verge of retching all night. I tried not to breathe deep.

We were up in the morning, packed up the car for the last time, and headed off to the Longs Peak TH. We were there early enough that we didn't have to park way, way, way down the road (as we'd see that others had to do when we returned later that day). Tisha had hiked up the trail before on a hike up Longs Peak so she warned us of the interminable steps we'd see on the trail. It didn't see bad on the way up, it was mind numbing on the way down. The trail starts out in the trees, nice...even early in the day the shade helped. Eventually the trail popped out in the open but not before we say the sign warning hikers of the Lightning Hazard in the area. I wondered to myself, why should I avoid a horse during an electrical storm? I'm not sure I have that figured out.

Once out of the trees it was sunny and warm. Strange frasera type flowers blooming high up around here. They looked similar to the giant fraseras I'd seen outside Yakima, WA but they are different...yellow instead of blue/green. We could see Longs Peak in the distance but given the lack of perspective up here, the peak seemed squished. The trail continued up to a small notch on Mills Moraine. We stopped her for a bit to eat and hydrate and we were treated to a brief visit by Davey Crockett. Seriously...was this guy hiking in authentic gear? He had the whole getup...coonskin hat, leather fringed pants...it was a bit weird. We dropped over the south side of the moraine and were treated to the first jaw dropping views of the day...the basin below Chasm Lake (still out of view) with a waterfall (Columbine Falls) dropping down into Peacock Pool. Stunning. the trail dropped down a bit as it approached the basin, lots of blue columbine flowers lining the trail here.

Once in the basin (below Chasm) is was wet and green. It's quite a nice spot. There is a short stretch of easy scrambling up a dry gully to reach Chasm Lake. A decent boot path is pretty easy to follow.

Chasm Lake is in a basin just below Longs Peak. Near vertical rock walls surround it. We found a nice big and flat rock to rest and have a proper lunch. We could see the typical afternoon thunderheads moving in so we started our hike out just after 11am. Dark clouds moving in. I'd hate to be up here in a storm. It was an easy hike our except for the non-stop steps in the trail on the way down. We arrived at the car just in time for...rain and thunder. Perfect timing.

After this last hike we headed up to Denver for a stay in a hotel near the airport. Easy enough to get up in the morning for our return flight home to Seattle. The hotel room that night looked like a thrift store gone wrong. Gear everywhere. Three people tying to sort out gear, get everything as dry as possible (tents were still wet) and somehow pack two weeks worth of STUFF back into our duffels. After packing, we headed off to the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Denver. Tisha found it on line and all I can say was dinner was fantastic. If I was ever in the area, I'd go out of my way to return here for dinner. The strawberry and basil margaritas were....awesome...

Stats: 9.02mi, 2564' gain (round trip).
 
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