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

day 51…6.10
Jill ARRIVES!  Ive been so anxious for her to get heredropping hints for the past week to come earlier!  Jill has been coming out to meet me in CB for the past few yearsuntil last year, wed spent three of Fourth Of July Celebrations here together.  She likes to hike & see all these amazing mountains, but takes a couple of days to acclimate.  Shes the only one of my girl friends that enjoys hiking & camping & all things Crested Butte!  We usually go to the Ginger Cafe for our first meal & thats where we had lunch today, chatting & chatting & catching upso happy to have her here to share this special place with me.  We walked around town a little & then went to the Third Bowlthe very best home made ice cream EVER& just as important, has a super great selection of dairy free ice cream for Jill.  We sat out on their back porch & enjoyed our treats!

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She’d driven more than half way yesterday & the rest leaving early this morning & was tired.  So we enjoyed an early evening out at camp, having dinner, building a fire, munching on s’mores & watching evening kayakers running the river.

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day 52…6.11
Some people would call it shopping, but we refer to it as Jill’s “Acclimating” process.  We hit almost every little bitty unique store in CB, laughing, having so much fun & really enjoying being together.  She’s going to our class reunion later this summer & picked out an outfit to wear to it…that was a fun store!  Since I’m not going (I’ll be back here doing some big hiking) it’s great to see what she’s going to wear.  It’s rare when I get to shop with another woman…I’m don’t shop much back in KC…don’t love the big-box stores, but do enjoy it when I’m traveling & we have so much fun together…just like the old days.  We ate at the Secret Stash…a yummy pizza place.  One new place I discovered last year, was on my list of places to take her.  It’s called the Dogwood Cabin & they make the most unique & yummy drinks & the atmosphere is wonderful.  Jill’s not a big drinker, but was game to go to the Dogwood this evening.  She had a drink I love called the Poco Loco—habanero, pineapple, honey & vodka; I had a rum drink with cherry & something elsecant remember what it was, but it was good!  Dylan, the bartender & I met last year when he worked both at the Brick & here.  He kept giving us samples of other drinks, including a Pear infused whiskey & convinced us to come back next Tuesday night when he’d be working.  It doesn’t take much to convince me!

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It had rained a little off & on, but the temps are definitely dropping.  So far since I’ve been here this past week, the temps have been way warmer than normal, but it looks like a change might be in the air.  We finished at the Dogwood & drove back out to camp, built a fire & continued our visiting under darkening but clearing skies.

day 53…6.12
We left camp early this morning & went to the Paradise Diner for a yummy breakfast.  A quick stop at the gear shop then walked up to the Sunday Farmers Market.  We looked around, but neither made purchases.  Jill was up for a short hike so we drove up to Lake Irwin to see if we could make it very far on the road, otherwise wed hike the road.  But, to my surprise it was pretty clear of snow, all the way to the lake, with only a little mud.  We were greeted by two young deer at the parking area.  I’d hoped to see the lake totally white with snow & ice, but it was patches of ice & water….still really beautiful!

This is the lake that sits below Scarp Ridge, usually my first hike when I get here in July.  You can see the snowy ridge in the photo below.

The spillway flowing hard, with big chunks of snow & ice.

Love, Love, Love this photo….reflections.

There was a possible storm blowing in…we heard a boom of thunder as we walked.  We drove back down Kebler Pass into town & then out to Gothic Road.  Jill & I camped out here last year & I was hoping maybe the bears would make an appearance for her.  They didn’t, but we enjoyed all the waterfalls still flowing fast, that line the road.  When the bears didn’t come out on queue, we drove up the road & surprisingly the gate was unlocked & the road was opened.  Not much mud & in pretty good shape (they’d been out here blading it on the last day I was here), but I was sure it would be closed at the top, before the shelf with the snow plug.

But, when we got to the top of the road, the yellow barrier was moved over to the side & the road was clear.  This is the part of the road I refer to as ‘the scary road’…it’s narrow, with a huge drop off & you never know what condition the road is going to be in…& it’s awful to meet another car along the scary part…someone has to back up.  Jill started to attempt it, then we past an orange barrier on the side smashed to pieces.  Then she saw the super narrow part with the drop off.

I told her I wouldn’t drive it without walking it first…& I wasn’t convinced that the barriers just hadn’t been moved by someone else.  She agreed.  She slowly backed up & parked in the top camping area.  As we were getting out of the car, it began to hail.  Neither of us thought it would last long, so we waited it out then put on our rain jackets & hiked up the road.

I was soooooo excited to be here!  I didn’t think I’d get out here until when I was back in July!  It’s so amazing with all the waterfalls, snowy mountain tops & still so much green.  Colors everywhere!

We were hiking up to Emerald Lake, which is usually a magnificent green color.  After walking over a few snowfields, we came to the lake.  It was way more white & no green or even blue, but still wonderful to be up here!

The only wildlife we saw was a fast moving marmot & a young buck.


The weather has been all over the place today….sun, warm, rain, hail, wet, cold…we’ve been popping rain coats, fleece, down jackets, etc. on & off all day.  We stopped at the park & both cleaned out our cars a bit, then drove back to camp.  The skies had cleared so I built a fire.  Jill was pretty tired so she turned in early.

day 54…6.13
The weather was supposed to be stormy today, but super in nice the days following.  We drove south to Gunnison.  We like a couple of consignment/used clothing stores there, a gear store, a clothing store that sells our fav outdoor brands, & I love a little kids toy & clothing store (its all about Claire!).   We shopped around & then ate lunch at a little Mexican restaurant.  The highlight of today was getting to meet Jessa young woman we visited with in the local artist gallery.  She commented on a necklace Jill was wearing & knew the guy that makes them in CB. She told us she was a prospectorworking a couple of days a week at the gallery & digging in the summer in Colorado & also the rest of the year in California, Arizona & Utah.  We had tons of questions & she followed with oodles of answers.  She kept calling herself crazy, but she was fascinating.  Definitely following her passion, but doing it in a male dominated field.  She drove out to Colorado after graduating with a business degree at 21, wanting to learn everything about prospecting….& she’s been doing it for 11 years now.  She has a couple of claims in Colorado & gave us the info on how all that works.  It was so great to learn something new & visit with this young, driven girl…crazy about what she does!

We headed back up to CB & stopped at Third Bowl for some ice cream as the skies grew darker.  Many times just after a storm you can see rainbows & often double rainbows…this is paradise after all.  None showed up today, so I had to settle for a pic of the rainbow sprinkle-filled table at the ice cream shop!

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Jill was starting to feel worse…it seems that while her acclimating to high altitude was going well, her allergies were reacting to all the early pollen exploding in this mountain air.  It was hitting her hard, so we called it a done day & drove out to camp in the late afternoon.  She tucked into her car & I into mine just as the rain started to pour again.  A couple of hours of rain & then the skies cleared a little, but the temps were dropping.  No sign of life from Jill’s car, so I hoped she was getting some zzzz’s or at least chilling out those allergies.  I took a walk along the road.  I hadn’t planned on starting a fire tonight…everything is wet & I was out of kindling.  But as I walked back to camp, I picked up wet sticks & old grass.  It was a tough go, but I got a good one going…enough to keep me warm as the skies grew dark & the chill of the mountain night descended.  

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Once all the wood was mostly burnt, I grabbed some water just to make sure & tucked myself in the 4Runner with a book.  After a couple of hours, I finished the book & was just shutting off my headlamp when it began to rain again.  

day 55…6.14
It was definitely cold last night.  At my 5:30am pee call, I do what I always do.put on my shoes & jacket, grabbed my headlamp & headed outside…only my door wouldnt open.  A couple of hard shoves & then it didit had frozen shut this morning!  It didnt seem all that cold outside, but there was ice all over the cars & the tent.

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I crept out of the car once the sun hit camp. She was awake, but not feeling much better.  My excitement of the morning was seeing Elk along the mountain in front of camp (teenie tiny brown spot in photo below).


We decided to go to Paradise Cafe for breakfast & get Jill out of the cold morning air.  The sun was out, but so was the chill.  Before that, we stopped at the Hostel & took a shower.   The food at Paradise is always wonderful & so is their staff.  We hung out a bit in CB…getting some internet access at Rumors & Townie Books & making a few phone calls.  Jill’s allergies were getting worse & she was feeling bad.  We decided we’d go back out to camp & just give her the day to feel better.  I’d sat & read all day, mixed with looking for absent wildlife.  It’s so nice to have camp to ourselves.  Jill read & rested in her car-bed all day & into the night.  I drove back into town in the late afternoon & had a drink at the Dogwood Cabin, then over to the Brick for a beer & a slice of pizza.  No fire tonightI walked around a bit, looked at the sky & listened to the sounds of night.  Then I crawled in my home-away-from-home, read & went to sleep.

day 56…6.15
Jill was feeling a tiny bit better, although now she has a horrid cough.  We stayed in camp & made coffee & tea, she bundled in covers with her door open & me in hat & gloves.  Once the sun hits camp, it warms up fast.  Three elk, including one baby, made an appearance right in front of camp…YIPPEE!  


We decided hiking wasn’t going to work, so we drove up the third valley road…one we’d yet to be up this year.  Washington Gulch goes up to two popular trailheads, & is filled with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains & long lake!  




It was evident, this valley road had NOT been graded or bladed or anything.  It was in rough condition…lots of rocks & places in the road that had washed out.  On the way back down the road, we both heard a clunking noise on my car we hadn’t heard before…uh-oh.  We were about 9 long slow miles from town.  But before we got very far, I pulled the 4Runner over to see if something was dangling from the bottom…I couldn’t see anything, but something wasn’t right.  But, since I was off the road, I decided it was a good day to cut my hair (there was a little breeze).  I pulled out my scissors & started methodically cutting (or crazy whacking as Jill thought) all the parts that were driving me crazy.  She was afraid I was going to cut my ear off, so offered to cut it for me!

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With that done, I carefully drove into town, dropped her at her car, & took off the Auto repair shop.  I’ve had these guys fix multiple flat tires for me.  They drove it, put it up on the lift, drove it some more & when they lifted her the second time, they found one end of a shock un-attached.  They checked & were able to get the parts & work me in…I told them I was supposed to leave town this afternoon.  I walked downtown, found Jill & we went to lunch…then to the Brick.  They were going to call me by 5, so about 2:30 we went our separate ways…she to the park to lay in her car & rest & me sitting downtown reading on my phone, just hoping & waiting to see that everything went well with my wonderful 4Runner.  At 3:30 I got the call to come get her.  With so my gratefulness for the repair & how fast they were able to do it, I thanked them again & we drove off to find Jill.  

Leaving CB is always hard, even though I’d been here almost two weeks & not much hiking was available.  I love visiting with all the friends I’ve made here & always looking at these amazing views.  I’ll be back in about a month though, & big hikes HERE I COME!  I can’t wait to come back & see all the wildflowers in bloom, the mountains more green than white, & the rivers calmer & cross-able.

We drove south to Gunnison, gassed up the cars & then headed over Monarch pass.  It was a beautiful day & not too many cars on the highway.  Once over the pass, Jill followed me to Elevation Brewing..a small beer company just north of Salida but one of me & Danny—especially Danny’s favorites.  I tried four beers then bought a bunch to take home.  Danny & I will visit them again in late July when he joins me in Colorado…but for the weeks in between, he’d get to drink one of his favorite beers!

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It was getting late in evening & our campsite was north & east of Buena Vista a few miles.  A nice area with lots of free camping right along the Arkansas River.


Jill was maybe getting incrementally better…I felt so bad for her.  It’s awful to be sick on a trip.  Night fell not too long after we stopped.  The river is pretty loud here; running high & crazy right now.  In spite of that, we were both ready for a good nights sleep!

day 57…6.16
We drove into Buena Vista to the Brown Dog Cafe.  I wanted a Cambrica fav drink of mine they make hereEarl Grey tea, hot milk & honeyyummy.  We got into my car with our hot drinks & drove up to Cottonwood Pass.  Jill couldnt remember is shed ever been up there before & its a really pretty 20 mile drive.  She had been there before, but it was still wonderful with all the snow still on the top of the mountains.




We checked out the tiny downtown of Buena Vista…two gear shops & a consignment store.  Jill was excited when she found a super yummy orange sherbet soft serve that was gluten & dairy free & it felt super good on her sore throat.  We both got some & called it breakfast. 

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We decided we’d go to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs on the way to Salida.  They’re pretty cool creek-side springs…look natural right along the frigid river, but they’re warm & toasty.  It’s didn’t dawn on me until we were nearly in the parking lot & when I had NO VIEW of any of the creek side pools…they were under water.  The river, still in it’s raging snow melt stage, covers the springs this early in the year.  I confirmed this with an employee…so bummer…no hot springs today.

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We drove back to the highway & southward to Salida.  More than a couple of years we’ve ended our adventures together in Salida; home to several used clothing/consignment stores.  Last year we had an adventure as we stayed at a B&B at a goat farm & were there to ALMOST watch a baby goat & mother die, only to sort of worry about them all night & then to find in the morning the drama ended with a new healthy baby & a happy mama.  This year, we’re going to hear one of my fav bands play—March Fourth!  We didn’t realize that it’s also the biggest festival in Salida all year…called FIBArk.  It’s a whitewater festival…kayaks, SUP’s, running races, carnival rides…all sorts of stuff.  We decided to stay in a 100 year old hotel downtown right across the street from the park where the party’s happening.  The first task was finding the hidden hotel parking lot among the street closures, carnival & vendor vans.  We had lunch at Amica’s pizza, then shopped at the consignment stores & a few other little places downtown.  We checked into our rooms early & showered.  Jill is napping (in a bed) as I type, feeling much better & I’m so excited for the party tonight!

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When we emerged from the hotel, there was a race going on.  “S” Hill, which is the mountain that sits behind downtown with a giant “S” on it…which is viewable from practically everywhere in Salida, is the focus of this event.  Contestants run up & then back down the hill as fast as they can.  I don’t know the mileage or the elevation, but the winners were fast…around 11 minutes!

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We strolled around the carnival, vendor & food booths.  Jill decided on Texas Fries (I’d never heard of them before…wonder what Kansas fries would be?)  & I chose a beer (the local beer) battered avocado over crispy noodles, with tomato, onion, mango & jalapeno cream sauce.

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We grabbed a seat near the front of the stage & soon it was time for March Fourth!  This is a huge band & this is probably the 6th or 7th time I’ve seen them.  Of the 16 or so band members, only 4 were ones I’d seen before.  Let the dancing & whooping & hollering begin!

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People were soon up on their feet, then the acrobatics & stilt walker!

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Jill left a little before nine feeling pretty exhausted.  I stayed until the end of the second encore, talked to Danny, & watched the warm summer night sky fall over this quirky fun colorful lit downtown party.  Then walked across the street to the hotel, looking forward to a bed & a pillow!

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