dogs that love snow

A Dog’s Life in the Rockies

Do you have dogs that love snow? Dogs that live in the mountains must feel like they are in paradise as they run the trails with their skiing owners. I took care of Keely for weekend and this six month old lab mix had a blast chasing snow balls, jumping into snow banks, and simply running the snow covered roads and trails.

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frosty trees at NCAR

NCAR and Its Hiking Trails

After a very snowy weekend in Denver, I talked my friend Kat into doing approximately a 4-mile hike in Boulder on Tuesday.  The trails at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) seemed like a good option as NCAR doesn’t charge for parking like the smaller surrounding lots do.  In addition, the exhibits at NCAR are sort of interesting.  Too bad this national weather research center doesn’t help out weathermen get the forecast right!

Anyway, while Denver got at least twice as much snow as expected over the weekend, Boulder was spared.  Only three inches fell in the area.  Having four days to melt, we expected we’d see little snow and a lot of mud.

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The Rockies: A Fun Time at Estabrook

It was a revolving door at Estabrook this year. I had lots of guests, both friends and family. We got to enjoy a variety of things from eating at local restaurants in town…Coney Island and Cutthroat Cafe, to visiting Apogaea (a peaceful, art festival at the top of the mountain), to taking several hikes on the property to the Bear’s Cave, Eagle Rock, and Johnson’s Gulch.

We also got to enjoy the porch without mosquitoes…a RARITY, and spotted some wildlife including deer, prairie dogs, a marmot, and some bear tracks! Of course, we can’t forget cooking on the wood burning stove, dominoes and margarita night…always fun. Estabrook…what a treasure! I’m glad so many people got to play with me this year…Marci, Mellie, Joan, Clark, nephew Clark, Charles, Caroline, Mike, Kristin, Justin, Becca, Steph, Liz, Michael, Cliff, Ron, Landon, Lyndsey, Kari, Christian, April, Madeline, and Winston…and the dogs Daisy and Petey. I got a picture of almost everyone! ETB

The Rockies: Another Hike at Abyss Lake Trail, Colorado

I went back to Abyss Lake Trail, number 602, on the way to Guanella Pass. This time I followed the trail all the way up to Abyss Lake as opposed to turning off the trail at the Rosalie Intersection. I joined Kristin and Justin in the excursion. We hiked over 14 miles in 6 hours and gained over 2,000 feet.

It wasn’t long before we met our first challenge, one of the early bridges over the creek was washed out. Logs and rocks were scattered across the creek, but none made it all the way across nor did they look stable enough to hold us. We followed the shore of the creek a bit as we contemplated our options, when I suggested that we just take off our shoes and wade. As we were preparing, another couple didn’t think that was such a good idea because the water was cold, and asked if I had ever crossed a creek. Multiple times at Estabrook, I thought.

Yes, the water was ice cold, the creek was wide, and our feet burned immediately, but we made it to the other side! After drying our feet and lacing up our shoes, we went on way, following the path beneath the aspens that we just beginning to bloom.

The rest of the bridges seemed to be hanging by a thread as the water came up to the bottom from the high runoff. We crisscrossed the creek, passed by the beaver ponds, and slowly turned up the switchbacks, many of which we blocked by fallen trees. As such, occasionally we followed the most used looking trail, crossed a little snow, and sometimes ended up on our own trail until we found our way back to the marked trail with the help of cairns.

We eventually made it above the treeline around the 11,000 feet and hiked through the tundra as the wind whipped behind us. Our lunch at the lake, tucked beneath sheer mountain peaks dotted in spring snow, was quick as the body heat we worked up on our climb plummeted while we sat unprotected from the wind.

We didn’t spot any mountain goats or sheep that like the area, but the views at the lake and along the way were lovely. It was another great hike in the Colorado Rockies! ETB

The Rockies: Shelf Lake Trail, Colorado – SUCCESS!

Shelf Lake Trail, Colorado – October 3, 2012

Two days ago I planned on hiking Shelf Lake Trail, but I was slightly challenged in finding the trailhead, so by the time I came upon, I scrapped the idea of making the 6.4 mile roundtrip.  This morning, 6.4 miles sounded appealing as that was one of the shortest options of the trails in the area and difficulty level in my hiking book was described as easy despite beginning at an elevation of 9,900 feet and gaining 2,100 feet in 3.2 miles.

The excitement began as soon as I reached the Burning Bear Campground on Guanella Pass Road.  I was only a mile from the turn off to the three-mile stretch of dirt road when I caught a glimpse of a mountain lion!  I had my eyes peeled for big horn sheep and mountain goats, so I was surprised to see the large tan animal turn from the edge up the road and leap up the hill two beats at a time like a cat versus the three beat canter of a coyote or a dog.  This movement is what made me think it was a mountain lion as I never got a good look at its face.  It took about five leaps before it vanished in front of my eyes.  It’s amazing how animals slink behind a tree and seem to disappear into a mountainside.  I know it was sitting there watching my car…so eerie…but I was glad to be in a vehicle!

The 0.75 miles or so of the trail steadily follows switchbacks up the mountain through the pines, firs and spruce until it reaches the first of five creek crossings.  Shortly thereafter, its helpful to have goat-like abilities to traverse a very steep portion of the trail on the edge of the mountain that offers a magnificent view of the valley below.

After scrambling up this area, the trail levels out and wends its way through forest and a rock quarry covered in fluorescent green lichen.  Sometimes I wonder how the rocks end up in certain locations.  Mountains protruded all around and trails seemed to skirt out in all directions.  My guide booked advised to maintain elevation if in doubt of which trail to follow, so I did.  I wandered through the maze and followed the most traveled trail until I came into an open meadow of tundra and willows.

I felt like I should be a sheep herder in Iceland.  I was out in the open wilderness….nothing around but beaver ponds, tundra, and craggy cliffs that a mountain goat had to be climbing on somewhere.  I just couldn’t see them in the expansiveness.  I felt so alone and free at the same time.  The description of the easy hike kept rolling around in my head as I was leaning at a 45 degree angle against the constant twenty-five miles per hour wind that gusted up to forty miles per hour.  I wondered, is this hike easy when it isn’t windy because it doesn’t feel easy now!

After about a mile of walking through the open space against the wind, the final 3/4 mile stretch was a series of steep switchbacks that continued above the treeline and ended at Shelf Lake tucked in a high mountain cirque.  The lake, which is usually frozen until mid-June, is rated good for cutthroat trout.  I clambered around the rocky terrain looking for a protected area where I could eat a quick lunch when I saw something reflecting by the shore.  I walked a little further and found someone’s backpack.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was in the middle of nowhere….didn’t see a soul on the trail…felt like I was a pioneer…or an icelandic sheep herder…and then there were two of us at the lake!

He was fishing.  I bounced from rock to rock all the while looking for mountain goats until I reached the angler.  They had to be here.  Rocks and a water source…where were they!?!  Perhaps they were hiding from all the wind.  Personally I don’t know why goats and bighorn sheep would want to live in areas like this, except for the view and perhaps to stay away from predators.

The fisherman hadn’t had too much luck.  Only a few trout had shown, but I don’t know how he could fly fish in this wind which was virtually circular at the lake.  It was his first time on the hike, and he thought it was magnificent as well.  The lake, a deep sapphire blue, was gorgeous and tranquil despite the small wind produced white caps on its shoreline today.

Mr. Angler took one look at my camera and said pointing behind him, “There are some mountain goats up on that ridge.”

“Really”, I responded, “I’ve been looking all over for them and haven’t seen them.”

“I wouldn’t have seen them”, he said, “but they caused a huge rock slide.  I counted six.”

So I left the fisherman at his task of catching cutthroat while I scoured the ridge for mountain goats.  I finally caught sight of three sunning themselves.  They looked like specs in my 270 zoom lens which then really made me feel small in the world’s surroundings.  Nature is just so grand!  After a short lunch, with the wind at my back, I got blown down the mountain…Another amazing hike.  I look forward to taking the Shelf Lake Trail in the summer because my guide-book claims there are several cascading waterfalls and spectacular wildflowers, both of which were gone for the fall.


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The Rockies: Ben Tyler Trail

Ben Tyler Trail, October 2, 2012

I packed up my gear and headed out to my car this morning to find frost on the windshield and side windows…it was going to be a cold morning for a hike on the Ben Tyler Trail, #606 in Pike National Forest.  The locals seem to have an affinity for this hike.  The tiny parking area is always full and meetup groups tend to pick this hiking trail often.

Having driven by it countless times, I never could figure out why it was so popular.  The trailhead abuts 285, a relatively busy highway and then the trail proceeds straight up the mountain via multiple switchbacks through trees with no water or views in sight.  This type of trail tends to be my least favorite type.  But since I was simply judging it from a car as I drove by, I thought it would be best to see it for myself.

The first part of the trail was just as I had seen from the car.  The first 0.4 miles climbed steeply in a series of eleven switchbacks.  The trail, named for Ben Tyler who operated a lumber mill during the gold rush days, begins to level for a bit and offers views of the farmland across the highway before it drops down to a creek where the golden aspen were plentiful.  This part, I loved.

The trail gradient then becomes quite steep again, rising 1,800 feet in three miles.  I felt as though I was climbing up a waterfall as I high-stepped over dark stones the jutted up through the layers of chocolate-brown, aspen leaves.  At the higher elevation, the wind whipped through the bare aspen branches.

I can only imagine what the mountainside looked like just a few weeks prior and now understand why the locals love this hike, at least for the fall colors.  Not only does the path led the hiker beneath an aspen grove, the entire western and northern view is of a continuous aspen grove.  I’m sick I missed the glorious color this year, but I will be sure to see the sea of yellow next year!

I continued on to the Craig Park Trail Junction via another mile of long switchbacks…this is the five-mile mark.  I was expecting the junction to be at the saddle, but I believe I was going to have to travel another mile, so I decided to turn around, as Petey was patiently waiting for me back at the cabin (and at a 2 mph pace, that was already going to be a five-hour hike).

On my way up, I basically had the trail to myself and in the first half mile found myself stripping down to shorts and a T-shirt despite the cool temperatures as my heart rate spiked while making the climb.  But on my way down, I found myself zipping back into my wind breaker as I ran across several people.  One girl, walked ten feet off the trail to go around me.  I’ve never had that happen.  Did I smell that bad or did she have tuberculosis or something?  Odd.

Then, which I have found to be pretty common in Colorado, I got greeted by off-leash dogs.  While I love dogs, I find this to be frustrating at times, because not all people love dogs, and when I have mine with me, he isn’t dog friendly which makes things rather challenging.  These dogs, first growled at me!  And then, they were wet and they shook by me and jumped up and hit my camera!!!  They weren’t trained well enough to be off-leash!!!  UGH!

Anyway, at the end of the hike I picked up two geocaches and called it a day.  It was a great hike and I can’t wait the try the Ben Tyler Trail next fall and perhaps go a bit further on some of the connecting trails.


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The Rockies: Shelf Lake Trail, Colorodo

Shelf Lake Trail, October 1, 2012

The sky was overcast and the morning fog was lifting as I loaded my front seat with my backpack, hiking pole, and camera preparing for my hike to Shelf Lake today.  Just as I turned the keys to start the engine, a few sprinkles hit the windshield.  Dressed in light pants, long sleeves beneath a fleece vest, gloves, and a knit cap; I thought to myself, I hope the sun comes out at some point or 12,000 feet might be nippy as it was currently in the low 40’s at 8,500 feet.

I had never been to Shelf Lake Trail, #634, so I followed the directions provided in my hiking guide.  I turned off Highway 285 at Grant onto Park County Road 62 (also known as Guanella Pass Road).  I caught up to a pickup truck that had pulled in front of me who promptly yielded and waved me by.  As I rounded the bend 100 yards farther up, I came upon two bighorn sheep; a mama and her baby.  They trotted off to side where I pulled into one of the few dirt parking areas that happened to be across from the Burning Bear Trailhead.  They couldn’t have been more than ten feet away!

I scrambled for my camera and rolled down my window as the pickup came around the bend which caused them to scamper over a few rocks, but they still remained nearby.  The pickup idled, so I thought the guy saw them, but while I was busy clicking on what I figured out was a camera with a dead battery, he was getting out of the truck and aiming his camera at the view the opposite way.  I wanted to turn around and scream at him to stop moving while I was changing my camera battery, which I luckily grabbed “just in case”, but the sheep were skipping further down the bend and additional noise would have only frightened them more.

I proved to be an expert multi-tasker: cursing under my breath and changing my battery at lightning speed while keeping the sheep in my peripheral vision.  The pickup driver hopped back in his vehicle and drove off sending the ewe and its lamb across the road and clipping over a few more rocks, but thankfully they still stayed in sight.  Then I got to enjoy the sheep in the serenity of the fall morning on the mountain top all by myself.  It was spectacular!

After snapping a few photos of the uncooperative pair (one always looking up while the other was looking down or turning its butt toward me), I continued on for the described 6.6 miles; though, I didn’t reach a turnoff for a Campground.  Shortly thereafter, I saw a dirt road to my left where I turned off into an open field which was marked by a government, recreational sign.  I followed this road through the meadow to a horse corral and a camping area, but the mileage described in the hiking book didn’t coincide with the road I was following, so I turned around.  I thought maybe I had missed the turnoff, so I back-tracked a short distance to no avail, and decided I’d just see what other trails were by the Abyss Lake Trailhead, as I had seen several trails nearby the main parking area.  All of them claimed to go to the Abyss Lake which I had hiked last week, so as I looked closer at the map, I noticed there were two turnoffs by the Geneva Park Campground, and I thought to myself, perhaps I didn’t go far enough despite going 6.6 miles according to my odometer.  It turns out, I hadn’t.  Just a fifty feet further, there was another turnoff, that was clearly marked Geneva Park Campground and Duck Creek Picnic Ground.  I certainly had made it too hard…blame it on a faint headache.

According to the directions, I was to follow the turnoff 0.3 miles to the entrance sign at Geneva Park Campground and then continue on FDR 119 2.8 miles to the trailhead.  The road, while not designated at a 4-wheel drive road, has several rocky patches so we (me and my car) bounced at an extremely slow pace dodging a few dips and the most pointed rocks as I didn’t want to end up with a flat tire in an area without cell coverage.  I’m not sure what gave me the hardest time, negotiating the road while looking for the trailhead and keeping an eye on the odometer or simply if I had marked the odometer from the wrong sign at the entrance because I could not find the trailhead!!!  My multi-tasking had gone to crap!

I saw a blue diamond on a tree, so I was convinced this was a trail, but I couldn’t find a trailhead anywhere.  So, I drove up a little further thinking it had to be close by.  I found a path that was about the width of a logging road that looked to have some mountain bike tracks, but the area just didn’t seem right and there weren’t any signs.  According to the map and description, the creek should have been very near the road I had been crashing along and the trail should have followed the Smelter Gulch drainage.

Maybe I was just willing the trailhead to continuously be around the next bend because I was tired of my jarring journey!  I felt like I had been driving for hours.  In fact, I probably had.  I certainly wasn’t going at rocket speed for the last 3 miles.  I looked at the map again (not a pinpoint accurate driving map, just a grayscale picture of roads and trails in the area) and continued a bit further, when a head popped up from behind the willows.  At first glance of the large brown body, I thought, oh an elk.  I had missed a few good pictures when I stumbled across some elk two weeks ago, so naturally this time I was racing for camera in my passenger seat and maneuvering my car for a view between the bushes to get some shots of the enormous cow and her calf.  I captured a few moments as they meandered off toward the beaver pond, but each shot seemed to have a leaf or branch in the way.

So, I pulled to the right side of the road as they continued off to the left.  I slowly got out of my car and crept down behind the willows to start shooting some unobstructed shots when I thought to myself, those elk didn’t have a triangular face, it was more rectangular.  And their withers protruded high above their backs.  Then I realized and am embarrassed to admit they were MOOSE!  Don’t say BLONDE to me!!!  They would have had to come a long way across a beaver pond to stomp me, but I must say I’m not sure what world I was in for a couple of minutes.  Talk about distracted…I’ll blame it on the headache again!  It was so exciting though.  I was just not expecting to see a moose.  I know they are in Colorado, but they are elusive none the less!

By this point, I didn’t know whether to sit there and watch the moose the rest of the morning, continue to look for the trailhead, or to round up the few campers I saw and shout: moose, moose!  I still couldn’t believe my eyes, so I opted out of telling anyone else and decided to continue my search for the trailhead.  I finally came upon the creek that actually crossed the road!  Now I knew I was at the right spot, but I still didn’t find a trailhead sign, and all the trails I’ve hiked in the area have included a map and a sign.  The book even described the trail as established the entire distance, so it had to be obvious, though the markings for another trail in this area weren’t fantastic.

At this point I was quite certain I was in the general area of the trail which was supposed to follow the creek.  As a kid, whenever we followed a creek, we were told if we ever got lost, follow the creek back the opposite way.  With this in mind, knowing there were five creek crossings, and my gps claiming we were 9,900 feet which is was the beginning elevation according to my book, I thought I’d walk up along the creek for a while and hopefully stumble across the trail.  Given the amount of shotgun shells lying around, I figured someone had fun shooting the sign.

I followed a narrow path beneath the pines that led to a wider one, but the path continued up steeply.  The description of the hike was easy and the first mile and a half the trail was to climb steadily.  So far, I didn’t have the greatest feeling, but knew I could find my way down and continuously turned around taking in views and even snapped photos.  I hardly hiked much at all when I decided, this was for the birds; the wider trail leveled out to a light path that was hardly distinguishable, thus I turned around and ten minutes later was back in my car and throwing in the towel for the day.

I four-wheeled back across the creek and decided that I would at least explore the side of the creek I had just come to as well.  I wandered around the remnants of old campgrounds, found what looked like an old mine shaft and then realized why this was called Smelter Gulch drainage when I was looking at a pile of mined rocks.  I climbed up the hill a hundred yards or so and bounced to the right a couple of times, and low and behold, I found an established trail!  I followed the trail down to the road and found a small 6×12 inch sign tucked in the trees and out of sight from anyone who is driving in from Park County Road 62, which I believe is the only way to reach FDR 119.  My head needed to be on a swivel!  Now that I know where the trailhead is, I might try hiking to Shelf Lake tomorrow.  On my way out, I checked my odometer, and the trailhead was 3.1 miles from the campground entrance sign, not 2.8 miles which doesn’t seem like much unless you are driving 5 mph.  Despite missing out on the hike at Shelf Lake Trail, I had a wonderful day enjoying the wildlife and just exploring the area and enjoying the views and falls colors.  While some aspens are bare, many are still holding their golden leaves.  ETB

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The Rockies: Abyss Lake Trail, Colorado

Abyss Lake Trail, 9/14/12

Today I drove up toward Guanella Pass to join a Meetup Hiking Group at Abyss Lake Trail, also known as Scott Gomer Trail, to enjoy the Colorado fall colors which a peaking early this year due to the dry weather.  I was already up in the area, and the group was coming from Denver, so I planned on meeting them at the trailhead at 8:45.

I ended up being fifteen minutes late, so with two cars in the parking area, I thought I missed them a jumped on the trail quickly.  I started up the path on the brisk morning and met Karen, a lady from Boulder, who also planned on meeting the group from Denver.  It turns out, we must have been ahead of them, so we hiked together.

Karen was retired from Sun Micro Systems and a strong Democrat.  It was interesting to hear her political views.  In fact, just living in a swing state has been somewhat eye opening with the barrage of political ads…it’s insane.  I saw a state the other day that people over 40 or 50 in Colorado will vote Democrat and people under will vote Republican: opposite of norm.  Hmmm.  Well, my blog isn’t about politics…it’s about travel, and all my travel has been to the mountains before the cold comes…then I’ll go some place else!

The Abyss Lake Trail, Number 602 winds 8 miles through the Mount Evans Wilderness to the Abyss Lake, located high in the mountains between two fourteeners, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt.  The trail is rated difficult, begins at an elevation of 9,620 feet, and gains 3,030.  The group only planned a 7 mile hike, so I was curious to see where the turn around point was going to be.


Karen and I climbed path upward that followed along the Scott Gomer Creek and that got prettier and prettier as we passed through multiple groves of golden aspen trees.  The aspens lined both sides of trail that was also dotted with yellow leaves that had already fall to the ground.

We crossed the creek three times as Mt. Bierstadt, rock cliffs, and the multi-colored mountainside came into view.  Eventually we reached a large meadow skirted by beaver ponds on one side where we sat to enjoy a quick lunch.  This seemed to be the half-way point where the Abyss Lake Trail crossed the Rosalie Trail, number 603.

Instead of turning around or following the Abyss Lake Trail up multiple switchbacks, we followed the Rosalie Trail toward Guanella Pass until it took us into an expansive open space.  At this time, I turned around, as I had already hiked a few miles farther than I had planned and Karen continued on.  Another beautiful hike, another 4 miles longer and couple hours longer than planned! ETB

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The Rockies: Buck Gulch Trail, Colorado

Buck Gulch Trail, 9/13/12

On my way to Buck Gulch Trail, number 772 in Pike National Forest of Colorado’s front range, I came across a sign “Shooters:  Be Considerate.  We Live Here.  & Been Shot”.  Hmmm…and I’m going on a hike 2 miles from here!?!  My drive continued past a homemade shooting range in a burn area from the High Meadow Fire that raged out of control in 2000.

The Buck Gulch trail weaves through the pines and through open burn area down to Pine Valley, 2.25 miles away.  It connects with a park of trail systems that hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders all use.  The park, which the Platte, cuts through, also includes picnic areas, a lake, and an observatory.

I followed Buck Gulch Trail to a few others, but stayed mostly up above the park and look down on the river that was roaring after 12 hours of relentless rain the previous day.  I turned back to hobby I haven’t done in while: geocaching.  I found two caches hidden slightly off the trail while I enjoyed the view of distant mountains.

Once again, instead of doing 2.25 miles out and 2.25 miles back…curiosity got the best of me and I wandered around for at least an hour more checking out the sights and sounds of the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

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