Tag Archives: camping

Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 2-3: Mesa Verde

For the first part of this story, read this post

After lunch with my cousin and her boys in Bayfield and a quick stop for ice in Durango, we headed toward Mesa Verde. As we drove, green hillsides and winding roads greeted us, and then we saw the Mesa projecting above us, and we knew we’d arrived.

We started at the Visitor Center, where we bought our tour tickets for the next day and lingered a while, enjoying yet another stunning vista. Then, we drove up another winding road to Morefield Campground, the only campground in Mesa Verde National Park, where we checked in, then slowly circled, searching for an available spot with a decent bit of shade.

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Once we found a shady campsite, we set up camp, built a fire, and made dinner (this recipe — so good!). After we ate, did dishes, and drowned our fire, we headed over to the two-mile (round trip) Knife Edge trail, which the ranger at the VC had told us we had to hike at sunset. He was not wrong. All along the trail, the entire southwestern corner of Colorado — and beyond — is visible. Distant mountain ranges mark the horizon, smaller hills and mesas dot the landscape below, and unique geology lines the trail and the hills beyond. As the sun sank, its brilliant, then softening, light cast a glow over the entire valley, turning the rocks yellow, then orange, then pink.

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Knife Edge was a short and easy hike, but that view made it one of our favorites of all time. Neither my words nor my iPhone pictures can really do it justice.

We could have stayed at Knife Edge until the sun disappeared entirely, but we also wanted to catch a ranger program at the campground’s amphitheater, so we headed back down the trail as the light faded. The program was focussed on storytelling. It was just okay — the ranger was new and had some kinks to work out in her presentation — but it was fun, and stargazing as we headed back to our campsite and to bed was a perfect way to end a wonderful day.

The next morning, I was woken early by birdsong outside our tent. (Okay, I was woken by a full bladder, but then I heard the birds). When I got back from the bathroom, Jordan and I lay in bed –er, sleeping bags –and chatted until about 6:00, when I rolled out of bed and went for a 20-minute walk-run around the campground. Just down the hill from our campsite, I came upon five deer — four bucks and a doe — nonchalantly munching their breakfast beside the road. They were pretty tame, as National Park deer tend to be, and this one posed nicely for a picture before I headed on my way:

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He posed nicely, but apparently I can’t hold a camera still, so he’s all blurry.

When I returned from my little jog, we ate a quick breakfast, then headed out for another day of adventure, starting with a tour of Cliff Palace, the enormous dwelling that you probably picture when you think “Mesa Verde.” The ranger leading our tour was excellent, teaching us facts and theories about the history of Cliff Palace and its inhabitants.

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Jordan doing the Cliff Palace thing

After Cliff Palace, we drove over to Balcony House, billed as the “adventurous tour.” Of course, I can’t resist anything that claims to be adventurous, so I was really excited for this tour. We again had a delightful ranger leading the tour — he was knowledgeable, interesting, and funny. Even if he hadn’t been leading the tour, Balcony House would’ve been fascinating, sparking my imagination as I tried to picture how people had worked and lived there one thousand years ago. And the “adventurous” parts — the 32-foot ladder and narrow tunnel — were pretty fun, too.

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The remnants of what gives Balcony House its name (and a bunch of other tourists)

After Balcony House, we headed over to the Chapin Museum, where we refilled our waters and ate our usual vacation lunch of PBJs, sitting in the shade overlooking Spruce Tree House. This  was as close as we’d get to Spruce Tree this trip, since it was closed due to a rockslide. Darn.

After lunch, we headed out on the Pictograph Trail (which we learned is misnamed, because it leads to petroglyphs, not pictographs). We were quite hot, since we started the 2.4-mile hike at 1:40 p.m., but we had plenty of water, and the scenery on the hike was well worth a little sweat. The trail is steep in some places, with narrow sandstone steps, which made the crowd thin out after half a mile or so, leaving the trail mostly to us.

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Squeezing through a narrow part of Pictograph Trail

The petroglyphs were interesting, and we were glad we’d picked up a trail guide at the trailhead, as it explained some interpretations of the etchings. The ‘glyphs weren’t the only interesting part of the trail, either: remnants of walls, interesting geology, and unique plants dot the trail, too.

After the hike, we took respite in the air-conditioned museum for a bit, watching the movie and reading all the displays because learning is fun. The only thing left to do on Chapin Mesa then was to drive the Mesa Loop and look at the ruins along it. We did, of course, and while the stops were interesting, they didn’t make for very interesting pictures. Use your imagination.

We returned to the campground sweaty, dirty, and tired — the best way to end a day of vacation. Although it may not really seem “camping-ish” to have showers at a campground, we were pretty grateful for them that day. We ate dinner, showered, and collapsed into our sleeping bags, ready to get a good night’s sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Have you been to Mesa Verde? 

What’s your favorite National Park?

 

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Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 1-2: Pagosa Springs and Chimney Rock

If you’ve followed my blog for a few years (or if you know us in real life), you know that Jordan and I try to take a vacation every year. We usually try to go for about a week, someplace that we’ve never been before, and our favorite destinations are national parks. We didn’t take a trip in 2016 because we were starting new jobs and buying a house and moving. We’d talked about not taking one this year, either, since buying the house and a car and new windows for the house left us feeling less than flush. But our trips are important, so we decided on a budget-friendly, mostly camping Colorado-cation this year.

Our adventure started bright and early on a Sunday morning. We’d packed all we could the night before, so I went for a quick 2-mile walk-run (I’m still pretty restricted, thanks to this injury), and we packed the cooler, loaded up our bikes, and were on the road around 7 a.m.

Our ultimate destination was Mesa Verde, but since I’m not a good road-tripper, we’d decided to break the drive into two days, spending Sunday night in Pagosa Springs. The drive was beautiful, and we arrived in Pagosa around 12:30 p.m. We parked at the Visitor Center and ate our PBJs by the river, watching children splash and rafters and kayakers paddle past. After lunch, we  explored the town. Turns out, there’s not much to the town of Pagosa, and most of what’s there is closed on Sundays. We popped into the few shops that were open, then decided  to try out the hot springs.

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This coffee shop in Pagosa Springs gets me. 

Pagosa boasts three options for hot springs dippin’, all for different prices. We chose Overlook Hot Springs, the mid-priced choice. Overlook has three levels of pools: indoor, courtyard, and rooftop. The rooftop pools offer a view of downtown Pagosa, the riverwalk, and the mountains. The courtyard pools are one-person tubs — we joked that we felt like that weird commercial with the people in separate bathtubs — and the indoor pools are nice, but nothing spectacular. Overlook was surprisingly quiet: we shared the rooftop pools with another couple for a few minutes, but otherwise had the place to ourselves. The soak was a nice way to loosen up after a long morning of driving, and we appreciated that they had showers to (try to) wash the sulfur smell out of our bodies when we were done.

We rounded out the afternoon with beers and a snack at local brewery Riff Raff Brewing. The beer was good and the chips and salsa even better; definitely stop at Riff Raff if you’re ever in Pagosa.

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We relaxed on the patio for a bit, then headed out to our campground. Our campsite was lovely, right on the river, but a little crowded. Kids were noisily playing ball, riding bikes, and splashing in the river near us, but we didn’t mind; we were glad that they were outside and enjoying nature instead of glued to whatever screen was handy. Plus, they cleared out and quieted down early, so we had a glorious night of sleep listening to the river flowing behind our tent.

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Monday morning, we ate some riverside oatmeal, packed up camp, and headed to Chimney Rock National Monument, between Pagosa Springs and the little town of Bayfield. Chimney Rock offers two-hour guided tours, the first starting at 9:30 a.m. We were glad we’d chosen that first tour, as even at 9:30, the sun was pretty warm on those exposed trails.

Although Chimney Rock is a National Monument, it’s run by the Forest Service, not the National Park Service, which means its tours are run by volunteers, not rangers. The volunteers bussed us up from the parking area to the ruins, and our tour started with the lower loop, The Great Kiva Trail, where we saw the remains of pit houses and, of course, a Great Kiva. The view was beautiful — mesas, hills, valleys, and mountains as far as we could see.

Once we finished the lower loop, we headed up The Pueblo Trail — the part of Chimney Rock that visitors can see only on a guided tour — to a Great House atop a hill and aligned with Chimney and Companion Rocks (that alignment is important: it’s how the Ancestral Puebloans kept track of the summer and winter solstices and therefore knew when to plant).

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Chimney and Companion Rocks (and the very edge of the trail)

The climb was short but steep, narrow, and rocky in places, and some in our group had to quit halfway up and head back down. The view from the top was well worth the climb, with views of the entire valley below. At the top, we explored the enormous Great House, learning from our guide and trying to eavesdrop on the three archeologists who had passed us on the way up.

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After our tour concluded and we headed back down, we wanted to visit the little cabin/museum at the base, but since we were meeting my cousin in Bayfield for lunch, we didn’t have time. I guess that means we’ll just have to go back!

After lunch and a quick stop for ice in Durango, we headed toward Mesa Verde. Since this post is getting long, I’ll save our Mesa Verde adventures for next time. Stay tuned!

Have you been to Pagosa Springs and/or Chimney Rock? 

Your favorite vacation type: camping or hotelling?

 

Turning 30 Like a Boss

Saturday was my 30th birthday. I’ve never been a big birthday celebrator, but I wanted to do something special this year. I’m not exactly the partying/go-to-Vegas type, so a weekend of outdoor adventures was much more my style.

My birthday weekend kicked off Friday night with the Chase the Moon 12-hour relay. A group of blogger friends and I did the race last year (recap here), and three of us, along with two new team members, returned this year to try to defend our title as champions of the five-person relay.Though winning would be a nice bonus, my main goal was to run 30 miles over the course of the race, because running enough miles to equal your age is a totally normal way to celebrate.

I’ll post a full race recap once the official race pictures are available, but here’s the Cliff Notes version: we thought we won but took second, due to some miscommunication and a teammate getting lost;

Cereal Killers, take 2: Aimee, Mary, me, Brooke, Malia. I'm pretty sure Mary and Malia don't blog, but they have really cool Instagram pictures, so that's where clicking on their names will take you.
Cereal Killers, take 2: Aimee, Mary, me, Brooke, Malia. I’m pretty sure Mary and Malia don’t blog, but they have really cool Instagrams, so that’s where clicking on their names will take you.

I ran my 30 miles;FullSizeRender

and the course was beautiful, especially at sunrise!
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Even though we didn’t win like we thought we did, running 30 miles and hanging out all night with four awesome women was a pretty darn fantastic way to kick off my 30s… especially because Mary bought me cupcakes. I had cupcakes and pancakes for my birthday breakfast. Hashtag noregrets.

To continue the weekend of me-celebrating, Jordan and I originally planned to head straight from the race to the mountains for a night of camping, Earlier in the week, though, I found out that my bridesmaid dress for my brother’s wedding was in, so I had to schedule a fitting for Saturday afternoon. Instead of heading right to the high country, we went to my brother’s house to borrow his shower and then ran a few errands.

By mid-afternoon, still running on zero hours of sleep, I was getting a little (ok, a lot) loopy, but a 30-minute catnap as we drove to the mountains left me feeling remarkably more alert. We camped just outside Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which was beautiful. Campfire + camp stove cooking = perfect birthday dinner. IMG_1934

Naturally, the refreshing effect of my car nap wore off fairly quickly, so we crashed pretty early. A quickly-deflating air mattress had never felt so good.

We hadn’t planned much for Sunday, as I wasn’t sure how tired and sore I’d be after running 30 miles. To my pleasant surprise, I wasn’t very sore at all, probably because I’d taken my sweet time and run slow and easy each lap and had breaks in between. We were both pretty sleepy, though (Jordan had crashed in the back of the car Friday night while I ran), and we lingered over our coffee at camp, so we didn’t get a very early start on our hike, but we were okay with it. IMG_1935

Once we’d packed up camp, we drove back into the park and went for a five-mile hike (Horseshoe Trail to Mule Deer Trail to Black Bear Trail and back to Horseshoe. I definitely recommend this loop if you go to Golden Gate Canyon). Enjoy this photo dump from the hike.

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Greenfield Meadow. I won that top in a giveaway on Brooke’s blog. Thanks, Brooke!
Frazier Meadow.
Frazier Meadow.
Hiking up Black Bear Trail required a bit of bouldering.
Black Bear Trail.
Amazing views from Black bear Trail!
Amazing views from Black Bear Trail!

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Not long after we took those pictures, some sinister clouds started moving in, so we picked up the pace a bit and didn’t stop for more pictures on the way back to the car. Our timing was perfect: we had just enough time to get off the trail and eat our PBJs before the rain started. Win.

The best birthday weekend ever ended with a drive back to Denver, where we returned that deflating air mattress and stopped at my best friend’s house to meet her new baby, then headed back home.

If the first weekend of it is any indication, 30 is going to be a pretty darn good year.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate a birthday? 

Exploring Our Own State: Camping in Leadville

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a mountain lover at heart. Sure, I live on the plains now, but if I don’t get my mountain fix, I get antsy. Ever since we moved here, my mountain fixes haven’t come often enough. After all, we’re busy (like everyone else), and going to the mountains meant spending money (that we didn’t have) on hotel rooms. Last summer, though, I had a little breakdown, during which I told J that I desperately needed more mountains in my life.photo 2 (23)Who doesn’t need more of this?

The solution was a simple one: start camping. As a kid, I camped with my family, but I hadn’t camped since college. Jordan hadn’t camped much at all, so we knew this new experiment would be an adventure. Our Christmas lists consisted exclusively of camping gear, and all winter and spring, we kept a sharp lookout for good deals. Our biggest purchase was a tent and sleeping bags. A few months ago, Cabela’s ran an amazing deal: a tent and two sleeping bags for $200. We couldn’t pass that up… even though the tent was a 6-person and WAY bigger than we needed.

Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.
Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.

Finally, last weekend, we were ready to test out what we’d acquired. It was also our seventh wedding anniversary — perfect timing for a weekend escape. We chose Leadville as our destination, mainly because neither of us had ever been up there. This was a good choice.

We left late Friday morning, stopped and had a quick picnic lunch at the visitor center in Georgetown, and enjoyed a gorgeous drive up to Leadville, arriving mid-afternoon. We checked into Sugar Loafin’ campground (we figured a commercial campground would be a gentle intro to camping), set up our tent, and then spent a few hours wandering around Leadville. Unbeknownst to us beforehand, Leadville was hosting a BBQ and beer festival/competition, so we snagged what Jordan calls a “walkin’ around beer,” then explored the stores. We stopped at the Leadville Race Series store and asked them to recommend a good hiking/running trail (more on that in a second). Then, we headed back to the campground, built a fire and cooked some dinner on the camp stove, and spent the evening just relaxing.

Yeah. Campfire.
Yeah. Campfire.

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The next morning, we woke up early, ate some eggs and tortillas, and drove a couple of miles up the road to Turquoise Lake. Since I wanted to trail run  for a bit (because #operationbecomeatrailrunner) and J wanted a shorter hike, the Leadville Race Series store folks suggested that he drop me at one end of Turquoise Lake, where I’d run a six-mile trail, then meet him at the trailhead to Timberline Lake. So that’s what we did, and I’m so grateful to them for that suggestion. This was one of my top-three runs of all time. See if you can guess why. photo 2 (25) photo 3 (19) photo 4 (11) photo 3 (20)

Yeah. Beautiful. Plus it was completely runnable, even for my trail-newbie legs. It’s also part of the Leadville 100 course (probably the flattest, least technical part), so it was kinda cool to see part of the storied race course.

The trail ended at a campground at the other side of the lake. I misunderstood the guy at the store (and the map…) and thought that the Timberline Lake trailhead was at that campground, so I ran to the far end of it. No trailhead. I thought I was just dumb and missed it, so I turned around and ran back. Nope. Finally, on my way back to the far end, I saw a guy running who looked like he knew what was up. I asked where the trailhead was, and he told me I actually had to run up the road a little way. I felt silly, but at least now I knew where I was going.

I easily found the trailhead (after adding 1.5 miles of back-and-forth at the campground…) and started running up. Not far up the trail, I saw some cute guy.
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Wheet whew. (That’s a catcall whistle). I ran just enough farther to make my watch say 8.5 miles (because heaven forbid I stop at 8.4), then came back to hike with J.

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We intended to hike up to Timberline Lake (obviously), but about 1.5 miles in, the trail was covered by the river. We didn’t really want to wade and get our feet wet and cold, since we’d barely started hiking, so we headed back down to where the Timberline Lake Trail intersected the Colorado Trail, and instead hiked on the Colorado Trail for a while. There was no lake, but it was still gorgeous!photo 5 (9)

We hiked the Colorado Trail until we got hungry (we’re really serious hikers), and then we headed back down to Turquoise Lake, where we ate our PBJs and dipped our sweaty toes in the chilly mountain water. photo 1 (27)

We dallied at the lake for quite some time, then eventually cruised back down to town, because ice cream. By then, it was too late to start another hike, but too early to just go hang out at camp. We decided to drive over to Twin Lakes (about 20 minutes away). We’d talked about camping there, so since we were so close, we figured we’d go check it out. It was pretty, but we were glad we’d chosen Leadville.

We spent another delightful evening chilling by the fire, and the next morning, took our time about making breakfast and packing up camp. photo 1 (28) photo 3 (21)

We still left reasonably early, because we wanted to beat the nightmare that is Sunday afternoon on I-70. So we said goodbye to this view and headed back down to where it was 95 degrees. Lame. photo 4 (12)

To best sum up this weekend, I’d have to say (in my best Joey from Friends voice), “Camping? Good. Marriage? Good. Trail running? Good.” I can’t wait to go back!

This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.
This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.

Have you ever been to Leadville? 

Where do you camp: commercial campground, rustic campground, dispersed, or backcountry? (Or in a hotel. Ha.)