15. National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

day 43…6.2
Just about 20 minutes east of Montrose is the Black Canyon National Parknumber 16 on this trip.  Im here during their Astronomy FestivalI wasnt sure what that was, but thought Id check it out & do some hiking.  I’ve been here a few times before, but really only hiked one super adventurous hike with Danny down in their ‘backcountry” (It was a 2,000’’ hike down to the river which included an 80’ chain you had to climb down…we got lost on the way back up, but Danny being Danny was never concerned…he just said, we’re not lost, we just have to go up!  It was a memorable hike!)  I was going to buy a campsite so I went to the campground first.

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I was super tired from the night before, so I ate something then sat in my wonderful hammock for about 2 hours & read.  Then I went up to the Visitors Center.  This park has about 14 viewpoints & just a few trails that aren’t in the backcountry.  I set out to do almost all of them today, leaving one for tomorrow morning.  None of them are long & all are fairly easy & low mileage.  Here are some pics from the whole day!

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I went back to camp in the evening hot & tired.  I pulled out my stove, ramen noodles, pbutter & some cashews & threw it all in the pot & when cooked, called it dinner.  I looked up to find I had a guest for dinner…he was munching leaves while I was munching “thai noodles”.  Then along came two more...

I sat really still, until one of them looked like he was going to eat my hammock.  I shooed him away like a fly & they all moseyed over to an empty site next me.

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About 8:45pm I walked out of camp & up to the little amphitheatre in the campground to hear a Ranger speak about the solar system.  It was pretty interesting, but the really cool thing we got to do was look through some telescopes.  There were three set up with super-geek astronomers standing by to tell you in crazy detail what’s going on in their telescope. Black Canyon is one of the designated “Dark Sky” parks…making it easy to see a gazillion things in the sky on a clear night. I got to see something about a nebulous (never got that…he was speaking in astronomy-techno-jargon), a double star which was very cool & Saturn….which was amazing!  When I was finished, I put on my headlamp & strolled back to my campsite, tucked myself in & went to sleep. (Below is the pic I took of the sky…since either me or my camera can’t ever capture anything shiny at night, here’s what I got!  It’s truly a dark sky!)

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day 44…6.3
I hiked one last short trail this morning, but it truly wasnt that interestingmostly in the brush that led you to an overlook Id seen the day before.  I broke down camp mid morning & headed east.towards Gunnison.  I made a quick stop there: gas, a few food items, two bundles of firewood & checked out one of my fav consignment shops.  Then I pointed the 4Runner towards Crested ButteI was so looking forward to being back!  I drove out the valley road I like to camp on, Slate River to try & score my favorite campsite.  There werent too many campers here.its way early in the season, but Id be happy to camping without many around. I scored my best spot, set up the tent, looked around to see what winter remains in these magnificent mountains, pulled out my camp chair & just stared…so very, very, very grateful to be here!

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I drove into town to my favorite bar…The Brick Oven…a pizza & burger place with 30 beers on tap.  They get the BEST stuff from all over the country & Danny & I both enjoy coming here, chatting with the staff, talking all things beer with owners Dan & Brian & of course, drinking such good beer!

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I walked around town for awhile, seeing what businesses had left or moved to another location.  Then I headed back out to camp early, to spend the evening by the fire, look for wildlife & just BE IN MY MOUNTAINS!  I LOVE IT HERE!

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day 45…6.4
I think this about the third or fourth time Ive been here in early June on the back end of long road trips.  Its a little strange because I cant do any of my big hiking with beautiful wildflowers that I usually do.  The snow is still covering the trails & even some of the roads are still buried in snow & the rivers & stream crossings are rapid & violent.  But, like any other off season trip, you dont have the crowds.  And, much to my sadness, there are getting to be too many people here during July.  The past two years, camping & sometimes hiking has been difficult with too many people that dont have a clue about camping, hiking, wilderness ethics or much common sense!  But, Im happy to be here & will take whatever I can get!  The temps are warmer here than theyve ever been before in Junemid 70s & low 40s at night; the sun feels so much hotter here, so 75 feels like 85 to me.  I took my time this morning making coffee in camp & just relishing in the morning wonderfulness of this place.  Heres a waterfall next to the road Im camped on.  (Theres water flowing everywhere from all the snowmelt!)

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My first stop in town was at the library.  I am doing so much more reading (since I can’t hike so much) & have been more so on this whole trip, that I’ve gone through all my books & had to purchase more for my Kindle.  I’ve been in the Old Rock Library a couple of times before & it’s quaint & nice.  The nice guy librarian asked me a few questions to see if I qualified for a temporary or permanent card…I GOT THE PERMANENT ONE!  I can’t tell you how happy this makes me!  I went straight to the “local’ section & checked out books on CB history & one fiction book that takes place in CB.

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I wasn’t sure what I was doing today…I started out on Kebler Pass to one trailhead, only to get out there & change my mind.  But, it’s a pretty drive for sure!

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On my way back, I stopped at another trailhead that’s very popular & starts off near several secluded houses…it’s called the Woods Walk…which leads into Lower Loop & that takes you down by the river.

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Looking towards Mt. Crested Butte…the towns’ namesake.

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After my walk, I drove back into town & went to the Brick for a beer.  I was sitting at the outdoor bar, when I looked up & saw a friend from Lawrence.  Jeff & I are both part of Bike & Beer Wednesday…a quirky fun-loving beer drinking bike riding group.  Jeff’s been here before, he’s a bad-ass mountain biker, but I didn’t know he was coming here now.  He had a friend with him, so the three of us started chatting about their bike/hike of the day & all things CB, Gunnison, Buena Vista & Salida.  They were just here for the day & headed to the other two towns tomorrow.  It was a fun meet up.  It was time for me to move on…I had a party to go to!

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I first heard of Talie Morrison last year when I was here in July & immediately was fascinated by her story.  A lifelong lover of the outdoors & hiking & much of it solo, she was getting ready to hike the 580 mile Colorado trail alone.  I remembered my first day back from Crested Butte last year, & always feel a little sad to be leaving, I read Talie’s Blog…the entire thing in a 24 hour period, never getting out of my pi’s!  (a decent way to perform re-entry from months of travel).  Then I took the opportunity to come back to CB last fall, & just as awesome karma would have it, she was speaking one night about her adventure & philanthropy in Nepal during the earthquake.  About 30 minutes before her talk, we were both crossing the street, I looked up at her like I was in the presence of a famous celebrity & she looked at me & said “you look familiar”.  I had made a comment (or a few paragraphs of adornment) on her blog, which also includes my picture…that must have been where she’d seen me before.  We visited for a few minutes right in the middle of the street & she suggested we get together for coffee the next day….I was on cloud nine! I tell you the truth when I write this…there is not another personality on this planet, I would have rather spent time hearing about their life, than Talie.  Her talk that night was amazing…truly fantastic what one person can do to motivate a lot of others & make a huge difference in those affected by the earthquake.  We became fast friends, & I have so very much enjoyed following her travels to New Zealand & then back into the US & all over the west & then back to CB…she is always hiking, lives out of her truck a lot & is truly living a unique & wonderful life.  She’d posted in her last blog, she would be celebrating her 70th birthday in the park in CB on Saturday night & all were welcome.  That was all the invite I’d needed, so now it’s Saturday night & I was on my way to the birthday potluck with a bag of chips & package of oreos (it’s not like you can cook a fantastic dish while on the road!).  I figured I wouldn’t know anyone there but Talie, but she greeted me with a big smile & a hug &  quickly introduced me to a whole bunch of people.  I met her two sons that had flown in from California for the celebrations….what neat guys!  I spent most of the evening talking to one guy in particular…he’s traveled, backpacked & hiked solo for the past 25 years.  He drives a motorcycle & only owns what he can fit on it.  He works from time to time, but doesn’t need much & loves the freedom he has.  He was in town because he’d spoken to a group about his lifestyle in Gunnison a couple of nights before.  He was so interesting…as were many of the people I met.  One lady gave me her phone number & wants me to call her to hike with her when I come back in July…during the wildflower & hiking season.  I will definitely do that!  The food was good, the company fantastic & Talie was so very, very happy!  I took a quick photo….not a great one as she is in shadow, but her smile was big…as is her unique & magnificent life!

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I left the party & was feeling so grateful to have been so welcomed & to have met new friends.  Everything always feels so right when I’m here….& tonight was no exception!

day 46…6.5
I needed a shower today so I left camp with full intentions of soap, shampoo & hot water in my future.  I drove to the hostel (in what I sleep inblack long underwear—that look like yoga pants & a thermal shirt).  There was a big sign on the door that the hostel would not be selling showers until June 11th!  They had a private group, so no showers.  I guess they just dont want to staff the place, because when theyre full they still sell showers.  I called the one RV park, but got a recording & they never called back (guess they dont deal with anyone but RV campers).  I know the rec center in Gunnison, 23 miles south sells showers, but they didnt open until noon today.  I decided to go eat breakfast at Paradise & think it over.  After some wonderful food & a visit with the server behind the bar, I went into the gear store then the Visitors Center to see if anyone else sold showers…no one.  It was still early but the farmers markets opening day was happening, so I strolled down there.  I saw some  ‘costumed’ people & asked what was happening…there was going to be a Beltane Celebration …mayday for mountain people.  It’s the same folks who participate in Vinotok…a festival I took part in last September…wild & crazy.  So, I went back to the 4Runner, changed into clean clothes & called off the shower….at least for a little while.  Soon the parade came down to the end of town & the celebration began.  Along with a Maypole, was a handfasting ceremony.  It was cool to see last fall’s Harvest Mother (a pregnant woman) with her beautiful little baby, Lucille.

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It was cool to be there during the ceremony & when they invited to the community to join in…of course I did!  I got a couple of hugs from some people I’d met during Vinotok last fall welcoming me back to CB.  I decided to blow off the shower & head up Kebler Pass to a trail I’ve never done that the guy at the Visitors Center told me about.  But once I got there, the road wasn’t even open…about 6’ off the pass road the road was covered in snow.  Don’t know why the guy at the VC thought it was a ready-hike.  I turned the 4Runner around & slowly made my way back up the road.  As I was coming around a corner …OMG!  It was huge bear standing on the side of the road.  I stopped the car & just watched it run off back down the steep hill.  I drove on by, turned around & drove back to a pullout to see if I could see it running off in the distance…I couldn’t.  WOW!  That’s only the second bear I’ve ever seen in all the eleven years I’ve been coming here…the first was at a campsite but up in a tree…didn’t look intimidating, but this one on the side of the road looked huge!

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I was meeting a friend at the Dogwood Cabin at 5…it’s a really awesome bar that creates unique drinks, but when I got there, it was closed (contrary to their website info, but that’s how it goes around here sometimes…I’m still in CB’s “off season”).  I sent Kate a text & we met at the Brick instead where I enjoyed a super amazing Firestone Walker Parambola..a Russian Imperial Stout, which I nursed for a long, long time (it’s a 14% beer).  Kate brought a friend, Tara, who I’ve met before, but soon our party of three was a party of 7 or 8 & I’d met some new friends!  It was an fun night & I always enjoy getting to know new friends!

I eventually said good night, drove back out to camp, avoiding all the deer that like to jump in front of your car & soon tucked myself into my bag with a new book & read until after midnight.

day 47…6.6
I stayed in camp this morning, drinking coffee & eating a granola-blueberry freeze dried mealamazing that it tastes pretty good!  I was going to drive out to Gothic Roadone of my favorite valley roads & one I used to camp off of the first few years I came to CB.  Also, there are many trailheads along this road…the adventures I’ve had here have been many… I love the amazing views off this road.  But, it’s also had it’s share of problems….the road is always in horrid shape, the end of the road usually doesn’t open until mid July…sometimes never depending on the amount of snow; there is always a spot that’s fallen in & difficult to drive over/around.  Last year, with too many people here, there were a boatload of problems.  They have decided to close this road for camping, indefinitely, which will just push everyone to the two other valley roads…it’s going to be a mess.  

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But for today, I was only one of a few other people that were driving this road, currently only open a few miles.  I think most of the others out here are the researchers from RMBL located just up the valley.  Soon I was the only one out here, & I pulled into the large pullout next to the river.  I’d thought about hiking the road, which I’ve done a bunch, but the skies were growing darker & I really didn’t want to hike in the rain. I made myself some lunch, took some photos, & got out my book…glancing up into the mountains across the river every couple of pages to see if I could see any wildlife.  In only a few glances,  & could see 4 spots up on the mountain.

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It was a Mama bear with three cubs…probably born last year.  I first pulled out the binoculars, then went for Danny’s spotting scope I’d brought…I could see them so well.  For over an hour I watched them eat, the Mama scratch her backside on a tree, the cubs running around playing…it was so cool!  No one else even drove along the road the entire time I watched them.  These pics are zoomed.  They eventually made their way into the trees & I could see them no more.  I stayed for about another hour & drove back down the road one more time.  What wonderful trip magic!  And frankly, I was glad to have seen them from my car.  When I first spotted the Mama near a tree, she looked more like a buffalo until I saw her through the binoculars.  So freakin’ big!

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I ended up back in town & drove south to the East River trail…or ditch road.  It’s an easy hike down an old jeep road that has wonderful views of the valley!  Mountain weather is fickle & it had been today. Skies growing from dark, to sunny, to sprinkling, back to dark.

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In a few weeks this trail will be lined with Lupine, but today I only saw one in bloom.  The only other colorful site on the trail, were dandelionseven they look beautiful among the mountains.  The Aspen trees have leafed out, but they are still tiny little leaves….pretty sweet!

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I was hungry & decided to treat myself to dinner at the Slogar restaurant tonight.  They serve a family style (which is always interesting when you’re a ‘family’ of one) such good fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, cottage cheese, slaw, a relish plate with awesome pears & pickles, homemade biscuits & ice cream.  It’s a ton of food but oh—soooo-good!  As I was walking to the restaurant, I heard my name shouted from down the street….It was Talie & a couple of friends.  She introduced me & we all visited for about 20 minutes.  Love it!  I was soon surrounded by plates of food & slowly, slowly dug my way through.  Everytime I eat here, I always leave with a bag of chicken & a bag of biscuits…& look forward to eating it all the next day!

I was super stuffed when I left, heading back to camp to build a fire & watch the mountains.  As usual the deer were out, but also one big elk on top of the ridge behind my camp.  Another wonderful day in a paradise!

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