Once I Stood At The Foot Of A Great High Mountain
“That I wanted so much to climb.” I imagine Ralph Stanley had the Appalachian Mountains in mind when he sang Great High Mountain but he would have been just as moved standing at the foot of a Colorado 14-er. Colorado boast 53 (or 58, depending on who you ask) mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. Lindsay and I love hiking, but hiking a 14-er would take a bit of training for us. Thankfully Mount Evans is drivable, as it is the highest paved road in North America with a final altitude of 14,130. It’s a white knuckle drive with no guard rails and Big Horn sheep roaming the road, but the views are worth the scare. When you’ve spent the majority of your life at sea level as Lindsay and I have, being 14,000 feet higher is the equivalent of being on the moon. Everything looks and feels different, from the ground and plants, to the air and animals.
After the drive up Mount Evan’s, with a stop off at Summit Lake for a short hike accompanied by flurries of snow (in August!) and a few female Big Horns, we headed back down to a more breathable altitude. On the suggestion of a few people we decided to stop off at Breckenridge and take the BreckConnect Gondola ride. I felt like a trip to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a ski ridge and a gondola ride, even though there was no snow on the ground. I’m glad we picked Breckinridge as it’s much more low key compared with places like Vail. We enjoyed the ride to the top where we enjoyed a beer and then rode back down.
I have to tell you, the drive across Colorado's I70 is one of the most spectacular drives I've taken. It's canyons and rivers surrounded by backdrops of spectacular mountains is a sight to behold. The drive itself is as good as the destinations, our next destination being Ami's Acres Campground in Glenwood Springs. We chose this for it's close proximity to Iron Mountain Hot Springs. We were able to get to camp, set up the tent, and head off to soak in the hot springs for a few hours. Talk about relaxation!
The next morning we woke early, and while I was absolutely prepared to eat a breakfast of tea and re-hydrated eggs again, Lindsay was not having it. Her pleas for "a real breakfast" led us to Daily Bread in downtown Glenwood Springs. We enjoyed a hot breakfast of real eggs and wonderfully perfect hot black coffee. The meal was perfect fuel for our next adventure; hiking to Hanging Lake. Several people had suggested hiking the Hanging Lake Trail. I'm thankful we picked a Friday morning for this hike because I can only imagine how busy this hike gets on a summer weekend. It's a short but strenuous trail, and there was never a moment that we were not in ear shot of other hikers. If you are looking for a peaceful stroll through nature, this might not be your hike. But it does offer up a view of an amazingly beautiful blue lake, and if you go up past the lake, a lovely waterfall. By the time we got back to the car, the parking lot for Hanging Lake was packed full.
While hanging lake was beautiful, it was definitely over shadowed by our next stop; Maroon Bells. Maroon Bells are 2 peaks of the Elk Mountains and both are 14-ers. The view of the peaks from the Maroon Creek Valley is one of the most photographed views in Colorado. To get there you can either drive up for a $10 before 8am and after 5pm, or you can park your car at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area and take the RFTA bus. We opted for the bus ride, and it was nice to have someone else do the driving for a bit and get some local history from the driver. Once we got to the valley, it became crystal clear why Maroon Bells is such a popular spot. The views left both Lindsay and I speechless, which doesn't happen often. If you visit Maroon Bells, you can hike on any of the trails around the lake. We decided to simply sit by the water and listen to the creek with the sun shining on our faces before taking the bus back down to our car.
Now this was about the time that arrives during pretty much every road trip ever; the point where everyone gets a little bit tired and kinda cranky. We had planned to drive from Aspen down to Buena Vista and camp at the Cottonwood Lake campground in the foothills of Mounts Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, but we all know what they say about the best laid plans. After a bumpy ride down a dirt road while the sun was starting to set we arrived at the campsite to find every site occupied. Since we were tired and starving at this point, we ended up staying at the first place we came to which was the Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn and Spa. The name makes it sound nicer than it is. The staff was lovely. The hotel was a bit run down and overpriced for what it was. But the hot springs were nice to soak in after we enjoyed a MRE for dinner because the Inn didn't have a restaurant. We ate, soaked, slept, and left early the next day for Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Who knew that Colorado had a desert in the sky? Not these girls...
Stay wander-full, Adventurers.