Road Trip to the Rockies: Winter Park

Road trip with Friends to Winter Park

My friends, Brian and Erin, kindly shared their condo in Winter Park with me this weekend.  I felt so fortunate to be able to head to the mountains Friday afternoon and miss the Saturday morning ski traffic.  What a luxury they afforded me!  On top of including me in their weekly winter trek to the mountains, as I don’t ski, they graciously joined me in snow shoeing on one of the biggest powder days of the lackluster snow season.

Saturday morning we geared up, stepped out of the condo, and wondered what in the heck we were doing.  Wind whipped tiny flecks of snow into our faces as we shoved our packs and shoes into the trunk of their convertible Audi complete with snow tires!  Brian drove us 45 minutes to the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park where we found the trailhead to Shadow Mountain Shore.

Continue reading “Road Trip to the Rockies: Winter Park”

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Roadtrip to the Rockies: Grey Rock Mountain

Roadtrip with Friends to Hike Near Fort Collins

Trail(s): Greyrock Meadows Trail and Greyrock Trail
Location: Greyrock Mountain
Fees: Free
Website: Protrails
Distance: 7.1 miles

Normally my “Roadtrip to the Rockies” posts entail me heading west from Denver into the Rockies.  Today, however, we headed north toward Fort Collins to climb Grey Rock Mountain.

I found a few descriptions of the trail that ranged from beginner to strenuous.  If climbing to the summit, which is optional via a spur trail, I’d say this hike was strenuous and otherwise moderate.  It is not a for a beginner.

Mike and I drove the 1.5 hours (one of my criteria for a day hike near me) to the trailhead located on the opposite side of the two-lane highway from the parking area which fortunately had pit toilet.

The first steps we took after crossing the road was across a bridge that offered spectacular views of the snow covered river.  Upon reaching the other side, we strapped on our micro-spikes as despite our late morning start the trail was still rather icy.

Continue reading “Roadtrip to the Rockies: Grey Rock Mountain”

Roadtrip to Larkspur: Hiking in Spruce Mountain Open Space

Trail(s): Spruce Mountain Trail to the Upper Loop
Location: Spruce Mountain Open Space
Fees: Free
Website: Douglas County Open Space
Distance: 5.5 miles

Yesterday we tried going to the mountains during ski traffic while I only had a 1/4 tank of gas.  This required a reverse course of action, and we ended up watching The Last Jedi which ironically a major theme in the movie was about low fuel!  Anyway, we salvaged the day, and I salvaged my weekend hike by heading a different direction, south to the Town of Larkspur.

I didn’t know much about Larkspur except a few passing mentions on the news.  I didn’t even know where it was relative to Denver.  I have to say, the town was smaller than I expected.  The main road passed through the center of town which I might have missed had there not been a slow speed limit and a blinking stop sign.  The street was lined with local businesses and government buildings including a vet, a pizzeria, a bar, a mexican food restaurant, a town hall, and a fire station.  After a few blocks, I was back in the wilderness just a few miles from Spruce Mountain Open Space.  Operated by Douglas County, Spruce Mountain is a large mesa and home to 8.5 miles of trails.

The Spruce Mountain Trail begins in the meadow before turning to the left where it leads hikers up about a mile of switchbacks through a forest of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir before reaching the summit.  Hikers may follow a 2.3 mile trail that loops around the mountain’s large, flat top loaded with rocky lookouts for views in every direction.

There is a service road connection to the upper loop that offers a few more miles of trails and a different way back to the trailhead for a longer and different hike.  I stuck with 5.5 mile lollipop loop also known as Mountain Top Loop by the posted signs.  The trailhead map as well as the one on the website doesn’t reference this loop in totality (just separate trails), so it’s a little confusing unless time is taken to add up the mileage of each section to figure out which loop to follow as there are several possibilities of loop hikes available.

The 5.5 mile loop includes hiking from the trailhead to the upper loop (also not terribly accurate on the map showing only 1.6 miles associated with the name not 2.3) and back down the same way.  Had I understood the combined map/sign posts better, I might have gone for a longer trek, but the temperature felt a lot colder than I expected.  Perhaps the snowpacked trail is what made the air feel brisk, but it hardly felt like the forecast 55 degrees, and with only three layers with me, I didn’t want to risk being outside near sundown as the mercury plummets.  After one visit, however, it is easy to understand the lay of the land.

This hike would be spectacular for sunset shots as the Greenland Overlook is only about 1.6 miles from the trailhead on Spruce Mountain Road which would likely provide enough time for hikers to get back to their cars with perhaps a little help from a headlamp.  There is another lookout that is even better at Windy Point, but this would definitely require hiking in the dark.  Had I had another jacket, I may have stayed to watch the sky turn pink, but I finished up the hike just thirty minutes too early and was feeling a bit chilled.

This trail was pretty popular for an afternoon hike, and I enjoyed the lookout with a handful of other hikers, some of whom were definitely hiking up for sunset views as I was returning to the car.  This park is worth a visit.  Maybe I’ll repeat this in the summer when the wildflowers are out.  ETB

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Road Trip to the Rockies: Two Days in Ouray!

Want to know what to do for two days in Ouray during winter? Here are a few ideas for the top things to do in Ouray.

WHERE TO STAY:

Stay at The China Clipper Inn. I scored a room for $100/night just a month before this busy weekend. This spectacular Bed & Breakfast is located in town just one block off Main Street. The China Clipper Inn is wonderfully decorated. It’s living room includes a fireplace which is very nice to enjoy during the winter months. It’s breakfast is great. It includes warm items like eggs, quiche, potatoes, ham and bacon, as well as mouth watering muffins and a lovely fruit salad. Of course it also includes coffee, tea ,juice, cereals and breads too. My room had its own fireplace! It is a really great, quaint place nearby everything. Continue reading “Road Trip to the Rockies: Two Days in Ouray!”

Roadtrip to the Rockies: Ron Stewart Preserve

Trail(s): Indian Mesa Trail and Eagle Wind Trail
Location: Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain
Fees: Free
Website: Boulder County Open Space
Distance: 4 miles

The nice part about winter in Colorado is I can hike in the afternoon without the threat of a thunderstorm which is quite the opposite in the summer time.  As a result, I’ve been enjoying the fading light on my recent outings.

Today Maybel and I took a road trip to Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain which is part of Boulder, County Open Space.  The park located in the eastern most foothills of Boulder County boasts 6.2 miles of trails.

I started out following the gravel road on Indian Mesa Trail that rose to an intersection with Eagle Wind Trail.  The rocky terrain was easy to navigate as the elevation gain was minimal…around 350 feet.  The Eagle Wind Trail is a 2.5 lollipop loop that provides expansive views of the valley below and a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains beyond.

Countless hikers were out enjoying the warm weather prior to the incoming storm.  We shared the trail and eventually descended toward the parking lot as the sunset.  What a nice, peaceful outing!  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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For notecards and key chains visit My Shop on this website or Etsy.  A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP

Want to travel and learn photography.  Join my business partner Colin Hocking in Merritt Island on April 26-29, 2018

 

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Roadtrip to the Rockies: Deer Mountain Trail

Trail(s): Deer Mountain Trail
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: Review website as they are in flux
Website: National Park Service – RMNP
Distance: 6 miles

It was a cold New Year’s day, but I really wanted to start the new year by getting outside.  I checked the forecast all week, and even on New Year’s Day, it was expected to be warmer in Estes Park than in Denver.  This is unusual, but was also encouraging as I loaded up my car with my backpack, micro-spikes, and multiple layers of clothing!

The drive to Rocky Mountain National Park was a bit slow with construction and a long line at the entrance as only one ranger was working the gate and the automated park pass lane closed.  Thankfully, he moved cars along rather quickly.  Soon I reached the trailhead located on the Northeast side of park to which I don’t visit often.

The intermittent snow-packed and dirt path climbs for the first two miles, so despite the windy conditions which didn’t make it into the forecast, I only donned five layers…short sleeves, long sleeves, ski sweater, fleece vest, and windbreaker.  I left my puffy jacket in my pack.

As I climbed the trail, I turned to the west to enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding granite peaks and mountain valleys.  It didn’t take long to make another stop to shed two outer layers of clothing and strap on my micro-spikes as the path turned mostly snowy.

Soon, I was following switchbacks through the spruce and fir forests as the trail steepened.  After about two and a quarter miles, the trail levels off in the shadow of the trees.  It was time to add on the two layers I shed plus my puffy!  This portion of the hike was very quiet and peaceful.

Finally, I reached a trail junction which indicated I had 0.2 miles to reach the summit.  I was rewarded with lovely views of the valleys below and surrounding mountains.  Strong winds encouraged me to head back down the mountain as I cooled off quickly.

Generally, I hike in the morning, but today I waited until the afternoon, and I found the landscape under the falling light to be beautiful.  As I drove out of the park, I was blessed to see the setting sun and a large herd of elk.  As it turned dark, the full moon rose from the horizon through the clouds.  I can’t even describe how spectacular the giant, light orange ball looked over the farmland.  Truly amazing!

This trail is perfect for a winter hike, and I’m glad I was able ring in 2018 out on a trail.  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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Shop

For notecards and key chains visit My Shop on this website or Etsy.  A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

Road Trip: Denver to Dallas (and Back)

I’ve made the trip to and fro Texas to Colorado many times.  Having said that, I haven’t made too many stops along the way.  Usually, I’m destination bound.  This year, I decided to make the road trip more interesting and found a variety of places to stop along the way.

These are some of the best luxury and nature places to visit between Denver and Dallas:

PLACES TO VISIT IN COLORADO

THE BROADMOOR

Fortunately, my friend Nancy is self-employed and has a flexible schedule like me.  As such, she was able to join me for dinner and a festive night at The Broadmoor.  The luxury resort is always adorned in Christmas lights during the holidays and it is fun to see the exquisite resort decked out in decorations.

Getting to the resort Tuesday afternoon was a bit rough given an accident on I-25 that held up traffic for 45 minutes, but I suppose our day was better than those involved in the crash.  We eventually arrived around five, got a room with a lovely view in the west tower, and strolled past the lake to Happy Hour where we enjoyed a drink and snacks at The Hotel Bar before enjoying a fancy dinner at The Summit.

Nancy order the “Angry Trout”, the Summit’s signature dish.  The fish is cooked with its tail pulled through its mouth, so it looks “Angry”.  I went with two appetizers: a mushroom, truffle bisque which was very rich and tasty as well as a magnificent bowl of mussels.  We ended the night enjoying the lights around the lake.

PALMER TRAIL (SECTION 16)

The Palmer Trail is located in Bear Creek Cañon Park which is owned by Colorado Springs.  The trailhead was only a 15 minute drive from the Broadmoor into the foothills very near the Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

The Palmer Trail (section 16) was a bit of a misnomer at first.  We couldn’t find any trail signs that mentioned it.  We knew we were completing a loop however, so we followed the directions to Red Rock Loop which was also the most heavily traveled trail.

After about 1/2 mile we reached a trail junction with a detailed map and a post directing us up a steep slope which turned into several switchbacks.  We climbed for most of the next two miles or so before reaching a summit which afforded excellent views!

The trail, mostly a soft red dirt, led us through the forest down to High Drive, a dirt road blanketed in a thin layer of icy snow.  We took short careful steps along road before reaching the paved surface where we climbed to the car.  I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about having to walk on a paved road, but it wasn’t for very long, and otherwise the 5.2 mile hike was quite nice.

PLACES TO VISIT IN NEW MEXICO

CAPULIN VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Capulin Volcano National Monument is home to an extinct volcano which erupted 60,000 years.  The national monument offers five trails which are all very short in length with the longest being two miles.  As such, the whole park may visited in an afternoon.

The most popular trails appeared to be the Crater Rim Trail and the Crater Vent Trail both located at the parking area by the cinder cone after driving the spiral road to the top.  For those who don’t like ledges like me, this was not the most exciting drive!

I hiked the Crater Rim Trail first which was the hardest in the sense of steepness.  The one-mile loop is paved, which was disappointing to me, but I can understand why as it circle the rim of the cone which rises over 1,300 feet above the plains and provides spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Next I followed the 0.2 mile Crater Vent Trail 105 feet down to the bottom of the crater and its plugged vent.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in the bottom of a volcano.

Finally, I drove back down toward the visitor’s center and stopped at the parking area for both Boca Trail and Lava Flow Trail.  Boca Trail is two miles while the Lava Flow Trail is only one mile.  I only felt like hiking one of the two paths, so I picked the longer one.  The path led me through dormant prairie grasses, scrub oak, junipers, pine trees, and chokecherry bushes for which the volcano is named.  Capulin is the Spanish word for chokecherry.

The information listed this two-mile hike as strenuous.  I didn’t find it to be difficult with the exception of stepping on small pieces of lava rock which seemed to roll on the hard surface making me slip a handful of times.

Overall, it was nice break to take from driving, though I don’t think this National Monument requires more than one visit.

PLACES TO VISIT IN TEXAS (NEAR AMARILLO)

PALO DURO CANYON STATE PARK

I have visited this state park once before, but it was a gloomy day and I only completed a short hike.  This time, upon arrival, I asked the ranger, “How far into the park is the Lighthouse Trail?”

She answered, but then asked, “Are you an avid hiker? Because I think the Lighthouse Trail is flat and somewhat boring, whereas the Givens, Spice, Lowry Trail undulates past a variety of scenery and connects to the Lighthouse Trail.”

Having heard that, I decided to follow the trail named after runners who helped build it rather than the most popular trail in the park which is also responsible for the most heat related injuries and deaths to people and pets.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to worry about warm temperatures.  It was hardly 40 degrees when I started and the sun was struggling to peak out from the thin layer of clouds.  While I hoped the fiery ball in the sky would brightly shine on the myriad of colors in the rock striations, at the same time, I didn’t want to get too hot on the eight mile hike.

I skipped along the trail fairly quickly as I only had three hours to complete which was barely enough time to truly enjoy the hike, but I still managed to stop and snap photos of cacti, hoodoos, and canyon walls peppered in shades of purples, browns, and oranges just to name of few.

Eventually, I reached “the end” of the lighthouse trail, but I recalled the ranger mentioned I could climb up to the rock formation.  In addition, I saw some people scrambling on the rocks.  The climb was steep, but not too difficult, and completely worth the effort!

I walked out on a plateau “book-ended” by two towering formations which provided fantastic views of the expansive canyon below.  I noticed the couple I had spotted earlier continued up a steep path to the top of one of the formations…so cool!  I’m so glad I followed them up.

I didn’t spot any wild life while hiking, but passed a deer on my drive in and flushed a bevy of dove hidden in the thick brush as I turned the corner.  That made me jump!  I suspect the desert topography would be quite pretty in the spring when the cacti are blooming.  I’ll definitely have to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park again.

CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK

I was pleasantly surprised by this park.  With Palo Duro Canyon State Park being only an 1.5 hours away and being the second largest canyon in the United States, I believe Caprock Canyons State Park might get overlooked.  In addition, it is a little out of the way.

I arrived at this park on a very cold, overcast day, maybe 23 degrees.  While the weather muted the lovely colors of the canyon, I certainly kept cool while hiking and had the trail to myself!

The park offers a variety of trails.  I wanted to see the natural spring at Fern Cave, as such I connected three trails (Canyon Loop Trail, Upper Canyon Trail, and Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail) for an approximate 6.5 mile loop.  The trails are also named Trail D, C, and B, respectively that was helpful to know while following the trail markers.

This hike was fantastic!  At the beginning, I was lulled into a false sense of security while following a wide, smooth red trail past a variety of rock formations.  The information had suggested this was a strenuous hike, but at first this was not the case.  Soon, the wide trail turned into a single track which led me through a variety of vegetation.  All I could think was I’m glad I’m not here in the summer heat and bugs!

Soon I was following a wash and then I found myself climbing.  The climb was gradual up until I reached Fern Cave.  A small amount of water trickled over the rocks as I admired the ferns and ice-cycles at the same time!  From Fern Cave, the trail became a little confusing.  At a trail junction, a marker pointed with a large arrow to the left and a small arrow to the right but it didn’t indicate a trail letter.

As I climbed up, I remembered a split in the trail, and deduced the large arrow to the left that I was now seeing is just pointing to a return way back on the same trail C.  This turned out to be right, but I was certain until after referencing the map which suggested I needed to climb 0.2 miles to the highest point of the park before connecting to the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.  Fortunately, I had my Fitbit on and watched the mileage as I bounded to the top and found several trail signs.

This trail offered fantastic views and if it weren’t so cold, I likely would have meandered rather slowly.  Having finished the climb and being exposed to the wind, I fought off a chill by running portions of this flat section while stopping occasionally to admire the multi-colored cliffs.

Soon I reached the descent which seemed much steeper than the climb.  I followed several rock stairs down to the trail from which I began.  This would be a very challenging hike in the Texas heat.  While I wasn’t enthusiastic about the cold weather, only having to carry a couple bottles of water was far better than what would be needed in the summer as indicated by the countless signs warning hikers to turn around if they didn’t have water.  I really enjoyed the landscape changes and variety on this path.

I would definitely come back to see other trails, the bison and the bats which are all part of this park.

THE MANSION BAR

The Mansion is a famous, luxury hotel in Dallas where many of the stars stay.  Its dark, traditionally decorated bar serves of course serves pricey cocktails, and I couldn’t imagine how my friend, Phil Pritchett’s rock band would fit in, but it did.  He put on show, dancing, playing the guitar, and belting out English cover songs along with his bass and drum players.  The British Are Coming plays there about twice a month where several regulars come to see them.  In fact, the people watching is worth the price of admission!

AT&T STADIUM AND THE COWBOYS

Well, most people say the stadium itself is worth visiting, and I believe a tour may be arranged, but we went to see the Cowboys.  Unfortunately, they did not have a very good Christmas Eve.  Regardless, it’s fun to go to a game!

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here: http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

SHOP

For notecards and key chains visit My Shop on this website or Etsy.  A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.