Roadtrip to the Rockies: Crater Lake

October 28, 2017

Trail:  Crater Lake
Location: East Portal Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville
Fees: Free
Elevation: 9,200-10,600-7,600 feet
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip

Another Saturday, another hike.  We have been fortunate to enjoy decent weather the last few weekends.  Today Ross and I headed toward the East Portal near Rollinsville (not far from Nederland).  Our original plan was to hike to Clayton Lake, a 5.8 mile trek noted as moderate to strenuous.  I forgot to print out the description of the hike and I couldn’t remember all the details I read.  I knew it was steep but didn’t recall the hike followed an unmarked path for a portion of the trek.

Since no signs directed us toward Clayton Lake, we altered course to hike Crater Lakes.  I had read the description of this hike too and knew it was about the same length, 6 miles to the lower lakes.  I sort of wanted to save this hike for the summer as there is a scramble to the upper lakes which adds two miles that I didn’t want to do in the snow.

Today the weather wasn’t great.  The forecast called for cloudy skies which was an understatement when we started as light (not pretty) snow was falling.  Fortunately, the weathermen got the temperature right, so we enjoyed a warm 40 degrees and shed layers quickly as we made our way through the evergreen forest.

The path at the beginning of the trail was icy.  We decided it rained and promptly froze.  As we continued alongside the creek we glided over a soft layer of fresh snow.  Soon we reached a trail junction where we turned right and followed switchbacks up the mountain.  This was a steep climb that warranted removing another layer!

With the elevation gain came deeper snow, but only a few inches which we easily handled traction devices.  This mile climb felt like it took forever, though I think most of the 1,300 feet we gained from the trailhead to the lake took place during the last mile.

Upon reaching the lake, located at 10,600 feet, we lost the wind protection from the trees and cooled down considerably.  We added hats and gloves quickly and didn’t stay too long to admire the frozen lake and surrounding frozen tundra.  Pine trees, grasses, and the remains of wildflowers were blanketed in a thin layer of ice.

Overall, the hike was very nice.  I’m trying to embrace the winter.  I think as long as the temperature hovers around forty and the wind isn’t bad, I’ll be hiking, spiking, or snowshoeing this winter!  ETB


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Nuevo Vallarta…A Pleasant Surprise!

December 14-18, 2016

I had never been to the west coast of Mexico, only the east coast, and I never thought it would be that great as I like to SCUBA dive, and the water is much warmer in the Caribbean rather than the Pacific.  Boy was I sorely mistaken!  Suman and I took a trip to Nuevo Vallarta, and it was FANTASTIC…especially for only $471!!!

I recently joined a travel club, and this was my first “DreamTrip”.  We used miles for an uneventful 3 hour flight on Southwest Airlines from Denver to Puerto Vallarta.  We were happy to trade 20 degree weather for a balmy 82 degrees as we arrived in Mexico around lunchtime.  Our all inclusive package included free transportation to our 4 diamond Marival Residences Luxury Resort, just twenty minutes north of the airport.

While the white facade and block nature of the hotel towers doesn’t look terribly appealing, the interior of this resort and the landscaping addressed every detail.  We were welcomed in the large, open air lobby with a lovely water feature before we followed our host into the Brunello Lobby Wine Bar where we were personally provided our hotel keys and wrist bands.  Next we met our DreamTrip hostess, Tania, who was super cute. She was there to answer any questions we might have about the package which not only included FREE drinks and food with our suite, but also included a free excursion.  We signed up to go to Yelapa on Saturday.

I was happy to have our bell boy drive us in a golf cart to our suite in tower 3, so we could change into poolside attire!  Our suite was bigger than the upstairs of my house.  Two full baths featured travertine and intricate designs.  Our granite covered kitchen included great appliances, and the dining/living area with attached balcony opened up to a view of the pool and ocean.  The details didn’t stop there.  Our welcome treat…chocolate covered strawberries.  Our refrigerator…stocked with water, soda, and beer.  Our bath products…from L’occitane.  And our turn down service included slippers placed by our bedside and a different treat each night.

Lunch at Lemmon Grass, casual cuisine, outside by the pool was good.  The most memorable dish was the tuna tartar.  I think we may have ordered it daily.  Fair warning, the serrano chili shrimp were HOT!  We spent the rest of the afternoon in the terrific pool area.  We had the choice of the main pool surrounded by lounge chairs with consistent drink and towel service, the hot tub with a waterfall backdrop, or the long, narrow quiet pool hidden behind a line of palm trees.  The drink cart sounded like a good idea to us.

For the evening, we decided to visit the residences’ sister hotel, Marival Resort & Suites.  We took the free shuttle to go just a short distance down the road to an enormous resort!  Signs pointed us everywhere as we searched for Las Palomas, a fancy Mexican fusion restaurant.  The food was good and nicely presented, though not memorable.  The resort seemed like a ghost town Wednesday evening, but when we returned a few days later to walk along the beach, the pools were packed!!  While the beach was lovely, I highly recommend the Residences over the Resort & Suites…there is a big difference.

For the next two days, admittedly, I was quite lazy.  While I could have found a variety of excursions, like a tour of Puerto Vallarta, parasailing, ziplining, a free round of golf, tennis at the hotel, water sports at the beach and more, I chose to utilize the nice gym and spa in the morning and lounge by the pool in the afternoon.  Suman had to work, so I generally joined her poolside for lunch and then up at Insu Sky Lounge for Happy Hour.  The Insu Sky Lounge was located on the rooftop with a view of the pool and ocean.  We loved how quiet it was in the late afternoon.  We usually had the shallow, infinity pool to ourselves or were joined by Ed and his family.  By sunset, around 6pm, the bar turned vibrant with lots of guests enjoying this super location.  Insu offered an ecclectic menu…essentially tapas from many regions of the world.  We had some tasty bites, but I still think the tuna tartar was the best dish thus far, even after trying Omaggio and fajita night.

Saturday, we took advantage of our free excursion to Yelapa.  We only had to pay $1/person for a taxi to Vallarta Adventure Tours.  The company offers all sorts of outings.  We boarded boat #4 for the start of our six hour day.  Just as soon as we left the harbor, we were blessed to spot some humpback whales breaching in the distance!  The season had just begun with the first sighting being the day prior.  We slowly approached the whales and spent twenty minutes watching them fin slap, dive, and breach.  What fun!

We continued on to our snorkel destination which also provided guests the opportunity to paddle board or kayak.  I almost didn’t snorkel because I read the water temperature was 61 degrees which is too cold, but it felt more like it was in the seventies, so I jumped in and swam over to the rocks.  I loved seeing the King Angelfish, as these are not in the Caribbean.  I also saw my first Zebra Moray Eel…totally cool.  I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of fish in this small area.  It would have been nicer if there was some coral, but that is not the type of diving on this coast.

After snorkeling, we enjoyed a quality lunch and then continued on to Yelapa where our guide led us along the winding, stone sidewalks up to a wonderful waterfall.  From the waterfall, we wandered through the town while admiring the marvelous murals and while getting a taste of the local life.  Eventually, we made our way down to the beach where we lounged on chairs in front of a beachside restaurant and were very entertained with people watching.   Vendors consistently asked us if we’d like to buy their wares or if we’d like a picture with a giant iguana.

Soon it was time to make the long boat-trip back to Nuevo Vallarta.  Fortunately, our crew doubled as lip synchers who loved to dance!  We watched performances by Pitbull, Vanilla Ice, and Neil Diamond just to name a few impersonations.  Even “Sweet Caroline” joined Neil on stage.  It made the time pass very quickly, as it was quite funny!!

Unfortunately, we had to bid farewell to super service, posh accommodations, and warm weather on Sunday around noon and mostly missed out on the amazing looking brunch.  What made it worse was to come home to weather colder than it was when we left, though at least we missed the below 0 temperatures.  We took United for our return as the fare was ridiculously cheap.  The airline succeeded at getting us to Denver on time, but then everything fell apart.  I think it may have taken longer to get from the airport to our houses than it did to get from Mexico to Denver!  To start, the airport didn’t have a gate for us.  After an hour wait, we moved to another gate where the escalator didn’t work thus many passengers struggled to carry their bags up the stairs.  Eventually, we made it to the train station, only to find the train wasn’t working.

The signs instructed us to wait for the bus which would take us to a different station.  After waiting for the bus in 14 degree weather for about ten minutes, it finally arrived and shuttled us to the closest station.  Of course, the bus didn’t time its arrival to the station with the train, so we were then stranded in 14 degree weather for the next 25 minutes waiting for a train while three trains passed the other way.  In the meantime, we heard an announcement that the train had been fixed…really?  I had hardly been waiting on the platform for a minute before Suman turned to me and said, “Your nose is dripping.”

As a reached toward my face, I asked doubtfully, “Really?”

“Yes, I thought you’d want to know,” Suman replied.

Laughing, I remarked, “Well I can’t feel it!”

By the end of our wait, despite having gloves, a hat, and a puffy jacket, I couldn’t feel my hands or toes as I tried doing jumping jacks. To add salt to the wound, once we made it to the train station by our house, we had trounce through six inches of snow and scrape the white powder off my car.  I have to give kudos to Suman for doing this while I sat convulsing in the car on my heated seat. It took over an hour for my toes to thaw and that was after a hot shower!   Denver has to get it together!!!  But if that was the worst thing to happen to us, then I’ll take it as five days of luxury was worth it.  In fact, while I don’t generally prefer to go back to the same place, I may have to make an exception for Marival Residences Luxury Resort, especially for the $471 price for four nights!  ETB

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From Turkey to Trails

November 22-26, 2016

What a lovely Thanksgiving Week. It was so nice! It started on Tuesday with pre-Thanksgiving at my sister Christian’s house. We sat outside by her firepit which kept us warm on a nippy night and enjoyed a fantastic dinner which included beef tenderloin, salad, potatoes, brussel sprouts and squash souffle. And who can forget the truffles. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I did capture a few folks watching a funny Thanksgiving video from Jimmy Kimmel.

Thanksgiving Day was packed full! I started the morning running a 5K that supported research for Prader-Willi Syndrome. While I wasn’t familiar with Prader-Willi Syndrome, the Denver Turkey Trot was farther away, slightly longer and supported United Way which according to the charity chart I saw, doesn’t give out as much money as I’d prefer, so the 5k in Stapleton won my participation. I later found out Prader-Willi Syndrome is a genetic disorder. While I was taking cover from the ice-cold wind behind a building near the start, I met a nice lady from Castle Rock whose grand-daughter suffered from the disorder. It felt good to help out, even if it was just a little. For more on Prader-Willi, click here:

The start of the race began at 10:15 beneath clear blue skies. Those who know me, know I’m not fond of cold weather, so admittedly I checked the forecast before I signed up! I can’t say I would have run if it were snowing. The only challenge was the wind, but once I got started, it kept me at a moderate temperature the whole way which was very nice. I enjoyed the course as well, as I hadn’t run around the park system in this area, and there were several encouraging signs along the way. The race was staffed with great volunteers that pointed us in the proper direction and handed out water near the half-way point. There was also unofficial volunteer stand that gave out Wild Turkey Shots!


I finished up in a respectable time given I hardly ever run, and headed back to the house to finish up a few side dishes for Thanksgiving at Moria’s. I whipped up a sweet potato casserole and frozen chocolate pie to add to her yummy meal which included turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, pecan pie and pumpkin pie. We ate while watching the Cowboy game, which was quite good in my eyes! I’m thankful for awesome friends.

After hanging out with friends, I headed up to Breckenridge to take advantage of this unseasonably warm weather. While I’m certain skiers are disappointed, I was happy to be able to hike on only a thin layer of snow without spikes or snowshoes! I took my first hike on opt-outside black Friday. When I awoke it was 12 degrees…BRRR. I didn’t expect it to be that cold. Fortunately, with only a 5.6 mile hike planned to Sallie Barber Mine, then down to Sallie Barber Road, and back, I had the luxury to wait until late morning when the temperature made it above freezing!

I can’t say that the trail was terribly exciting. The service road crosses a creek and then ascends around 400 feet through a forest to the mine over 1.45 miles. I’m glad I hiked this trail in the winter with a light layer of snow rather than climbing a dirt road in the summer as I think the snow made it prettier. Skiers seemed to enjoy their morning exercise and the dogs were in heaven as the raced through the snow.

I found myself relieved to reach the mine. Starting the hike above 10,000 feet was little rough on my oxygen intake. Anyway, for some reason, mines intrigue me. The Sallie Barber Mine was a small, but relatively long-time producer of zinc and other minerals. It opened in the early 1880’s and was abandoned in 1911 and reopened for a short time during World War I. I love inspecting all the mining equipment and the old structures.

After wandering around the mine for a bit, I considered turning around and shortening my hike to only three miles. Then I thought, don’t be ridiculous, it is beautiful outside! So I continued on as originally planned. I strolled down the hill to Sallie Barber Road and then turned around to climb back up and over to get back to my car. What I didn’t know about the trail, is that it connects to several other trails in the area. It appears it would be easy to make a variety of loops. I’ll have to look into those options next time. But for now, I enjoyed opting outside and planned another hike for Saturday.

On Saturday, I drove from Breckenridge to Silverthorne to hike to Lily Pad Lake. There are several trails that lead to Lily Pad Lake, so it is important not to trust Google Maps unless input the GPS coordinates! I eventually found the trailhead just past the Buffalo Cabins Trailhead.

The Lily Pad Lake Trail started out like the Sallie Barber trail, a wide ascending road. This road provided a fantastic view of Dillon Reservoir below. Soon the trail entered a vast lodge pole pine forest that I really loved. While it is difficult to see so many fallen trees that have succumbed to the pine beetle, they are quite remarkable covered in snow.

As I followed the path through the forest, I took careful steps across a few creeks that were frozen over yet I could hear water running beneath. The stroll was so tranquil and only interrupted occasionally by a squirrel chirping or a fellow hiker enjoying nature. Soon I reached the desitination. It should really be named Lily Pad Lakes, as there are two, the first one being much smaller than the second. I chose to have lunch at the second one as it was much prettier to me. What a peaceful place. I think I will return on summer trek via a different trail. A great week! ETB

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On and Off the Vegas Strip

November 12-13, 2016

Well I think most people would talk about gambling and clubbing after they visit Vegas.  I, on the otherhand, prefer the dining and shows in Vegas, though I think the food may be more expensive in Vegas than New York.

Ann, my tennis partner, and I traveled to Vegas to run the Rock’n Roll 10K.  Given neither of us had trained much at all, we were trying our hardest to rest up for the event on Sunday night, but the casinos are so big, we still managed to talk nearly 6 miles a day!  And that was with the help of a taxi and the monorail.

Aside from lounging poolside at Bellagio, we ate and went to see Carrot Top.  Our first meal of our trip came at lunchtime on Saturday.  We stopped at Morels French Steak House and Bistro on our way back from the expo at the convention center where we picked up our race packet.

Morels is located in the Venetian and has a lovely second story patio.  We thought it would be a great place for people watching and the menu was appealing.  I picked the mussels which came with fantastic fries and Ann opted for a shrimp salad with a side of fries.  The portions were enormous and we loaded up since we’d be burning countless calories tomorrow.

After a relaxing, yet somewhat cool afternoon at the Bellagio pool and a stroll through the atrium to admire the Thanksgiving decorations, we dressed up for dinner at Julian Serrano Tapas at the Aria.  We were a bit more discerning about dinner, and spent a short time researching restaurants on Yelp.  This one got high ratings and Spanish food sounded good to me, so we reserved a table.  Little did I know Julian Serrano is an award-winning chef who recently guided a team on the popular Top Chef TV show to victory.  Apparently he is going viral…but I wasn’t following the trend.

The restaurants in Vegas are giant!  We opted to sit at the bar to enjoy the atmosphere.  The service at Julian Serrano was impeccable.  The bartender could rattle off every detail of each dish on the extensive menu.  Our tapas were served extremely quickly.  We were shocked at the speed.  The cheese stuff peppers were excellent.  Ann loved the tuna cones so much we got a second order, and I loved the shrimp black rice.  The tenderloin was extremely tender as well.  The paella looked out of this world, but we had plans for Carrot Top later, and paella required planning (60 minute preparation).  While we probably had enough time, we chose to eat at a leisurely pace rather than wait and then rush.

Carrot Top plays at the Luxor, so after dinner, we headed south on the strip, but not before we admired the semi-circle of Lamborghini’s parked outside of the Aria.  According to the license plates, most of them seemed to be owned by “Gia Lai”.  For car enthusiasts, this was so cool!


Carrot Top is a character.  He uses props for most of his act, and I have to say he had us in stitches!  I wish I could even remember even one of his jokes, but he talks SUPER fast, and many wouldn’t be appropriate for the content on this blog anyway!  From the Luxor, we took a taxi back to the Bellagio and called it a night.  We didn’t even gamble!  I brought $100 to waste on the slots, but I managed to save it.

Our eating continued the next day at Palio for breakfast.  The berries were outstanding and the pastries looked divine.  I mean the nutella pocket and almond croissant were huge.  I really wanted one, but behaved.

We ended up back at the Venetian around lunch time.  Ann wanted to do a little shopping at a favorite store.  We ended up at Il Fornaio (a chain) for a carbo-load.  Our pasta was quite tasty and our server was even more interesting.  She used to ride horses with the Canadian Olympic team and her husband was the chef at One-O-One, the best fish restaurant in London.  He has also been a chef for President Elect Trump and might have a chance to cook at the White House!

With lunch over, we prepared for our race.  We pinned our bib number to our running shirts and attached the tracker to our shoe.  We walked over to the monorail at the Flamingo which took us to the SLS, the last stop on the train and the start of the 10K.  I learned a lot about the public transportation at this time.  There is a tram that goes around the City Center and it is reachable while weaving through the Bellagio.  The monorail, however, is different an operates on the opposite side of the street.

The station at the Flamingo was packed.  We could hardly squeeze off the escalator.  45,000 runners were going in different directions.  Those running the 10K headed north to the start line, while those running the half and full marathon headed south.  It was a little confusing!

We reached the start line about 45 minutes before the 4pm start time and milled around the area on the clear sunny afternoon.  We began the race with a view of the Stratosphere.  I must say the roller coasters on the top of that building are terrifying!

One of the fun parts of this race, was the fact we left the Las Vegas strip and got to see other places.  We ran by the famous A Little White Chapel where Michael Jordan and Joan Collins were married.  We passed by more chapels as well as the famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where the TV show Pawn Stars is filmed.

Soon we turned down the old Las Vegas Strip and eventually we ended up on the current Las Vegas Strip.  I’ve never run a race in the afternoon/evening.  They usually start at the crack of dawn.  This was fun to run by all the lights with the street closed to traffic!  We celebrated our finish with a beer before we treated ourselves to sushi at Yellowtail in Bellagio.

I ate here two years ago, and generally don’t return to the same places because I like to try different options, but this restaurant was so good, I wanted to return.  I hoped that the food was just as good and met my expectations.  It didn’t disappoint.  While they change the menu regularly, the tuna pizza always stays under the appetizers.  Yes, it sounds terrible, but two years ago the waitress recommended it to us when we wanted one last dish and we had wished we’d ordered it first as we might have gotten two!  This time we got it first, and I’m happy to say it was decadent.  So was my “protein” roll…solid sushi…no rice.  Perfect!

Not only is the food great at Yellowtail, so is the view.  We got to see the Bellagio fountain show every 15 minutes.  It was a perfect way to end a short weekend in Vegas.  ETB

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A Day at Devil’s Backbone

November 10, 2016

I took the nicest hike with Ellie today.  I take care of her Mondays-Thursdays, so she sort feels like mine.  She loves humans, but isn’t quite as fond of other dogs.  Ellie is a Plott Hound, a breed of which I have never heard.  She is an extremely well behaved dog.

Unfortunately, my friends couldn’t join me this week.  They were headed out of town, have friends in town, renovating their house, and training a new puppy.  But it was good, because it gave me a chance to play around with my DSLR.  I haven’t used my good camera for over six months, as I don’t want to slow people down on hikes, though I have recently been inspired to practice as a friend asked me if I would photograph their wedding in Montana!

I feel so flattered and nervous at the same time.  I’ve never shot a wedding, nor do I spend too much time with people as my subjects.  Nature is my bread and butter.  Anyway, I’m very excited about it.

On to the hike…today I decided to visit Devil’s Backbone Open Space.  It is located near Loveland, just south of Fort Collins.  We don’t generally travel north for hiking unless we head a little west as well toward Rocky Mountain National Park.  I definitely was not familiar with the area.  The forecast called for a windy day.  As such, Ellie and I waited until 9am to drive the hour north to give the air temperature a chance to warm up.

Upon arrival at the open space, I studied the posted map.  There were a variety of trails that connected to one another.  I opted for a combination of three loops, Wild Loop, Hunter Loop, and Laughing Horse Loop.  The total mileage added up to 4.9 miles.

We started out on the red, sandstone path on the interpretive Wild Loop Trail.  Generally I’m not that fond of interpretive trails because they feel commercialized, but this trail felt different.  The uneven, rocky path along with a simple numbered posts and brochures available at the trailhead were very well done by Larimer County Open Lands Program.

The Devil’s Backbone is composed of gray-brown to tan Dakota Sandstones of the Lytle Formation which is between 100-115 years old.  It is home to a variety of nesting birds, including red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, swallows, a pair of ravens, and a great horned owl.  Apparently, it is rare to find a pair of nesting ravens in this area.  Today, I saw hawks soaring in the cool breeze over the rock formation.

In fact, the cool breeze was most welcome.  It turned out to be very warm for a November day beneath clear, blue skies.  I made several water stops for Ellie, who seemed to always have her tongue swinging in the wind as she trotted along with me.

The rocks that create the Devil’s Backbone sure look like they would be fun to climb, though climbing isn’t allowed.  I was happy to find that the trail did lead us quite close to the keyhole so we could get a better look at the formation and the views to the west that include Long’s Peak, a 14er.  I can’ only imagine how pretty the view would have been if there was a bit more snow in the mountains, but as a non-skier, I’m not complaining about the unseasonably warm weather.The keyhole was formed by erosion of coarse-grained rocks that were weaker than the rocks around the hole.

From the key hole and rock formation, we continued on to Hunter Loop and then to Laughing Horse Loop over rolling prairie peppered with dormant bushes, golden praire grass, and cacti that had finished blooming.  I bet during the right season, the flowers and color along the trail would be lovely.  Since we were quietly strolling along the trail, we were blessed to spot a few deer!

I really enjoyed going at my own pace and testing out different settings on my camera. It has been a while since I hiked alone.  I think I did a substantially good job of wearing out Ellie as well.  It was quite a peaceful day!  ETB


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Beautiful Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop

October 20, 2016

Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail
Fees: None
Website: 8,605-10,744 feet (below treeline)
Distance: 3.9 miles
Elevation: 6,552 to 7,641ft

Today Tanya and I went for a hike in Genessee Park. What I love most about Genessee Park is how close it is to Denver, yet all the views are of the mountains and none are of the City. I feel like I have driven a few hours into the mountains instead of 30 minutes.

We opted for a short hike this week and tried out the 3.9 mile Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop. I had read that the Chavez Trail was marked with braille signs for the blind, so I made the poor assumption that the path would relatively flat. It was not! I had brought along Toby, a beautiful Great Dane/Lab mix, and with his steady pull on the leash, I didn’t feel that safe climbing down the steep, rocky terrain, so I let him off the leash.

He went wild! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog go so bonkers on a trail. Generally, if they need to get some energy out, they run back and forth on the trail. Toby, however, ran in loops while going up and down the mountain (way off the trail). He leapt over fallen trees like a deer and splashed through the creek. Most of the time I could hear or see him, but sometimes I wondered if was coming back! Fortunately, there wasn’t in the parking lot on this chilly morning, so he had the freedom to run.

Speaking of chilly, when we driving up to the trail, my outside thermometer suggested it was 36 degrees outside. What?!? We didn’t gain that much altitude. Both of us were in denial thinking something was wrong with my car, but we didn’t even make it to the trailhead before we added layers, a hat, and gloves! It was our first cold morning of fall I think.

Our hike was absolutely lovely. We followed the path all the way down through the conifer forest to a quaint creek. We were happy to be hiking this trail at the end of the season as several places required creek crossings without a bridge. The water was low enough that we could walk across beaver dams and rocks without getting our feet wet.

Not long after we made it to the bottom of the canyon, we had to climb back up. This was good because I could finally put Toby on the leash (and get a little help ascending). It was warming up a bit, so we expected to see fellow hikers soon, and we did. We also saw a nice waterfall and enjoyed expansive views through the trees.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop. For place to go near Denver, this hike might be one of the prettiest. I highly recommend it! ETB

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Beautiful Hike to Upper Cataract Lake

October 16, 2016

Surprise Trailhead
Fees: None
Elevation: 8,605-10,744 feet (below treeline)
Distance: 10.9 miles
Hours: Any…Careful for hunting season

I had such a great weekend! On Saturday, I went up to Schussbaumer, a ski chalet in Breckenridge, for a work party. There was hardly any work to do, so I just got to enjoy a relaxing day in the mountains and got to catch up with my friend Cat. I love that its just a short roadtrip for me to enjoy the Rocky Mountains…no flying across the USA.

I stayed the night at the chalet, and met up with Cat the next morning. We started out with a great breakfast at Clint’s. We were good and got eggs, but the muffins and cinnamon rolls sure looked delicious!! It was probably better to load up on protein since we planned on a 10.9 mile hike to Upper Cataract Lake.

Uniquely, just a month ago, a few of my fellow hikers and I aimed to hike Lower Cataract Lake, but accidentally ended up on the Upper Cataract trail (Surprise Trailhead), but we were limited on time and weren’t able to get to any of the lakes on the route. The last time I hiked the trail, we stopped at the trail intersection at mile 2.7 for a 5.4 mile jaunt as we admired the colorful aspens. This time, we climbed up the steep trail peppered with aspen leaves as they had already fallen. Then we entered the conifer forest laden with fallen trees.

The sun was out and the sky was clear on this 65 degree day. We worked up a sweat as we tackled the sharp grade. At the trail intersection, we turned right and continued climbing, though the terrain began to level out. As we were walking along, it was about time for a bathroom break. We scanned to our left and were surprised to see a lake concealed by thick timber! The name of the lake was appropriate…Surprise Lake.

We didn’t expect to reach it so soon, nor did the landscape seem to suggest we’d stumble across a lake here. Lily covered, it was quite different than the alpine lakes we generally strive to reach. We stopped for a short while, but the sweat on our backs coupled with the cool breeze encouraged us to continue.

It wasn’t long before my stomach started to grumble. Of course, we wanted to reach a lake but we stopped for a snack. We originally thought Surprise Lake was just a random pond, so we thought we would be at another body of water within the hour. Not so. We kept going and going while crossing a few streams. We even descended over the ridge toward a talus field.

On this side of the ridge, the wind was relentless. We gave into the elements and stopped for our hat, gloves, and puffy jacket. We also decided on a snack because we weren’t certain when we’d see the lake. Then Cat pointed to the right as she looked through the trees below and questioned, “Wait, is that a lake?”

Sure enough, it was! We threw our packs on and headed down the trail as we admired Eagles Nest Peak lightly dusted in snow. Soon we turned the corner and enjoyed a remarkable view of Cat Lake. At the time, we thought this was Upper Cataract Lake, but when we reached another trail junction, the sign suggested otherwise.

We were pretty cold at this time and weren’t willing to hike much farther, so we figured we’d actually read the description of the trail that we had on our phones! We warmed up a bit at the trail junction as we stood in the sun with some protection from the wind. This new warmth coupled with the good news that Upper Cataract Lake was only a tenth of a mile up the trail rejuvenated our spirits.

First we found a small pond and then a large lake tucked beneath the towering mountains. As much as we would have liked to sit by the lake for lunch, the wind was brutal! We climbed over a small, rocky ridge to find shelter and enjoyed a lovely view while we soaked in the sun. It’s amazing how cold 65 can feel with 40 mile per hour winds!

On our way back, we opted not to explore Cat Lake though the shore sure looked beautiful. We climbed back up the trail past the talus field and soon descended to the other side where we began shedding layers and enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the parking lot. It was a great day and gorgeous hike. We were pleasantly surprised by all the lakes! I’d highly recommend this trail especially during the fall color change. ETB

Need a hostess gift for Halloween or Thanksgiving…how about some notecards? or

fall colors website copy