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Exploring Alamosa

Sand Dunes National Park, Alamosa, CO

Sand Dunes National Park, Alamosa, CO

by Jamie Greeman,

The San Luis Valley is located in South Central Colorado on the border of New Mexico. It is one of the most scenic places in Colorado with the towering peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west. There are eight fourteen thousand foot peaks close to Alamosa, just begging for a visit from  the avid hiker or just the causal day walker.

Alamosa is most famous for being home of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a miracle of nature that is sure to take your breathe away. The dunes are the largest in North America, so big that they would completely cover Denver! People come from all over the world to camp, hike and play on the great dunes, a promising play ground for all abilities and ages. Alamosa is home to two historic passenger trains, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. There is a connection between the trains that creates the only place in North America where standard gauge passenger rail meets narrow gauge passenger rail. Both excursions offer incredible scenery, historic steam engines and comfortable passenger cars. The Nature Conservancy partners with the National Park Service to protect the entire dunes system and its biodiversity. The Conservancy manages over 1,000 bison on Conservancy-owned grasslands and wetlands within the national park.

Bison Tours are offered throughout the year, weather permitting, on Nature Conservancy lands. Led as a hayride, horseback ride, or 4WD vehicle tour, bison managers take you to parts of the park that few visitors get to see. www.zranch.org  Alamosa is in the heart of nature, with the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, Blanca Wetlands and the San Luis Lakes State Park all excellent for wildlife viewing, especially birding. Alamosa is rich in cultural heritage. The area was first settled by the Spanish, then built on the backbone of the railroad. The culture has changed very little to this day, with the heritage alive in the arts, foods and events in the area. An excellent tour of this heritage is along the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway. Cattails Golf Course has a great clubhouse, it houses an expanded pro shop, new restaurant/bar and a nice deck with fantastic views of the mountains. The golf course is a unique par 71 that winds through tall old cottonwood trees and cattail wetlands along the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River.  Alamosa is centrally located to several hot springs, including the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool with 150,000 gallons of natural hot springs. The facility also features a 24 person therapy pool, a fun kid’s water slide, and a snack bar listed in Colorado’s Best: The Essential Guide to Favorite Places by Bruce Caughey and Doug Whitehead. On-site greenhouses grow organic tomatoes and cucumbers you won’t want to miss.

More…About Great Sand Dunes National Park

Because the dunes and surrounding mountains are designated wilderness, this is a great place to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty in a variety of ways. You can play in Medano Creek, build a sand castle, slide down the dunes, go birdwatching in wetlands, or ascend a 14,000′ peak. Medano Creek, at the base of the dunes is world famous for its beach like fun at the base of 14,000 foot peaks. Visitors may do any non-motorized and non-mechanized activities in the creek, including splashing, surfing, wading, skimboarding, tubing, sand castle building, and sand sculpting.  The creek is one of the few and best places in the world to experience “surge flow”, where creek water comes in rhythmic waves. The water’s source is the deep snows that collect through the winter. Explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand. A dunes–accessible wheelchair is available for free loan at the Visitor Center. In summer months, plan to hike the dunes in morning or evening to avoid hot sand. There are forested hiking trails around the Dunes, these are gentler trails that offer outstanding views of the Dunes and towering mountain peaks. Alpine trails also originate from the Dunes, they access lush meadows and forests, alpine lakes and spectacular peak ascents.

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is powered by steam locomotives, including the newest addition, the LS&I-18, built by the American Locomotive Company at its Pittsburgh works in 1910.  This locomotive previously operated on the Grand Canyon Railroad and the Mount Hood Railroad.  The LS&I joins the SP-1744, a fully restored 2-6-0 Mogul that began service in 1901 for the Southern Pacific Railroad.The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad has added five newly-remodeled 1950s-era dome cars to its fleet in 2011, offering passengers comfortable seating and panoramic views of area wildlife, sweeping mountain meadows, cliffs and canyons not accessible from the highway.  In addition, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad includes a 1930s-era open-air observation car and 1950s-era Pullman Passenger coaches, fully restored for daily service with new windows, heating, air conditioning and other amenities. The popular High Altitude Summer Concert Series is an annual favorite with performances by Michael Martin Murphey (“America’s singing cowboy poet” and a New Mexico favorite) and other national recording acts. Alamosa is the commercial hub of the vast San Luis Valley, with 10 hotels and motels, 35 restaurants, great shopping and an eighteen hole golf course. Great lodging and dining are available at very affordable rates. Article provided by Jamie Greeman, Visitor Bureau Alamosa

The Joy of Getting Away to the Snowy Mountains

Relaxing in the High Country

Relaxing in the High Country

When it’s mid-July and the city heat rises to the upper nineties, it’s time to get away to the mountains. Whether you are going for only a day or on an overnight camping trip, the power of the mountains is cleansing. They clean out worries about finances, needed house repairs, up-coming weekend company, neighbors’ barking dogs, noisy newspaper boys delivering the daily post in a deliberately noisy new car loaded with glass-packed mufflers.

No, to remain in the city all day stewing over problems in ninety-degree heat verges on insanity. What we do is load up our faithful 1996 Rav with backpacks containing food and water and drive uphill to Rocky Mountain National Park just an hour and a half from downtown Denver. Once in the Park, we proceed on up to Trail Ridge Road above 12,000 feet to breathe in fresh and cool air and look across at the roof of the world with the very snowy Never Summer Mountains looming to the west.

We descend a bit to Fall River Pass, park our car, shoulder our packs and pick up the trail just across the road that heads off into the tundra (see above photo). We’re in no hurry to get to a given destination like some jet headed for Islamabad. No, we just amble along the trail and look across at Specimen Mountain rising a thousand feet higher. Once we’re about a mile away, we take a breather and stretch out along the trail to relax and enjoy the view while sipping on some water and looking through binoculars.

When the mountain air has begun to seep through our nervous system, we get up and amble along until we have descended to the upper limits of tree line. Here it is fun to observe marmots hopping from rock to rock and rosy finches flicking through the air. We love to get down on our hands and knees to smell the delicate scent of patches of alpine forget-me-not flowers,so delicate and light sky-blue. We then pick a route up through the miniature windblown trees to a higher tundra mound overlooking Forest Canyon far below. We might see red-tailed hawks or even a golden eagle circling in the sky. We can smell the fragrance of the spruce forests rising up to us in thermal bands of warmth.

Time for lunch perhaps three miles from the nearest human being. We could go farther, but this spot has much to offer. Here we try to concenterate on the grasses of the tundra, on the elk sedges and tiny Parry primroses at our feet. We can see in the distance a herd of elk grazing on meadow grasses five hundred feet below. Ravens squawk above us as a few thunderheads begin to develop over Mount Ida that rises to almost 13,000 feet. As thunder rumbles, we get up to hoof back to Fall River Pass where it has begun to sleet. There’s a distinct chill in the air. Lightning forks the sky as we descend to our city that we can once again enjoy.

Once or twice or thrice during the hot summer months, we throw our thirty-five pound backpacks loaded with pup tents, sleeping bags, food and water and head for the hills. There’s one spot in the Jefferson County Park system that we nearly always choose. It has a parking lot that overlooks the entire metro-Denver area 2000 feet below. Here is where we shoulder our packs and begin walking along a trail. Even though we are weighted down like turtles, we enjoy the bracing evening air. The campground is only a mile away, but very few people take the trouble to backpack in because the campground has no water and has only a primitive privy.

We usually choose a night that will have a rising full moon. After we arrive, set up our tents and light a wood fire under a grill, we get out Italian sausages, peppers, onions, and squash and fry up a nice dinner. But before having our dinner graced with a half-litre of wine, we slice some fresh tomatoes, scoop out an avacado, add a squirt of terriyaki sauce onto our salads. With full stomacks, we are ready to walk out into the meadow in darkening skies to set up our cameras on tripods for the chalky-orange moon that is about to rise over the prairies beyond Denver. Talk about putting a city in perspective! What a job the full moon does. We are ready for a good night’s rest in our tents below a sky full of stars.

Steamboat Ski Rentals- A Fascinating Experience

Skiing in Steamboat Spgs

Skiing in Steamboat Spgs

Western Colorado’s most fascinating skiing town, Steamboat has been in existence for the past 100 yrs which offers a historic appeal as well as modern facilities. Steamboat has been branded as the ‘Skiing town’ because of its long history of ski roots and breed of Olympic sportsmen who have grown there. The sport has been a very popular activity during the winter Olympics since ages and been a favorite winter hobby for the athletes. Unlike other adventurous destinations, Steamboat provides fun experience to people of all age. While the kids and youngsters enjoy the ski games, the adult family members would be mesmerized by the heavy snowfall and tree ski experience. Tourists can choose from varied terrains- the beginners as well as experts, the entire family can be indulged in the fun-filled ski experience. With innumerable villa rental options and reasonable diners, Steamboat provides the best skiing experience in Colorado.

One of the biggest problems travelers face during renting out ski equipments is that of standing in long queues before the rental stores. Especially if it is the peak season time, one has to wait for the crowd to reduce before he gets his desired ski equipments. A lot of time and energy is wasted in that, so the best option is to book ski rentals steamboat online. This will not only give you attractive discounts but also quick pick-up upon arrival and delivery at your doorstep.

Generally skiing involves major risk of injuries and sometimes death too. Considering this, one has to book the equipments from the certified rental shops as they would provide resilient stuff. Helmets and goggles are the most important equipment for protection from the cold cutting wind and harsh wind. The ski rent blues can easily be eliminated on prior online booking.

Steamboat experience

Steamboat experience

Skiing during winters is the best form of recreation there. Tourists can choose from a variety of steamboat ski rentals which are easily accessible once you reach the town. The biggest advantage of such rentals is that it eliminates the need for the travelers to carry their personal heavy equipments for ski.Rentals steamboat is the keyword to use while searching for it online prior to the vacation.

 A thorough research will be an added advantage for travelers who would want a hassle-free trip. Skiing in the modern era is generally of two types. One is the Nordic types which entails cross country & ski jumping’s. The other form is the Alpine type which include skiing on down hills. Generally the two types need the same kind of ski equipments and skills. The diversity of the equipment depends on three main factors, the terrain, the ability and the size or weight of the person. They come in different types like the powder ski, the mountain ski, racing ski and skis for kids and women. The size depends on the weight, height, shape and ability of the performer. If you follow these tips, your vacation at the steamboat terrain would be a perfect adventure holiday.

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison : A Place of Wonder

Peering Down the Black Canyon Source: National Park Service/Lisa Lynch

Peering Down the Black Canyon
Source: National Park Service/Lisa Lynch

Maura and I drove for two hours east of Grand Junction, Colorado through pinyon pine, juniper and sagebrush country ever upward to the rim. Suddenly out of nowhere the astounding Black Canyon appeared before us. The gently rolling sagebrush slopes came right up to a knife edge rim at 8,000 feet and dropped 2,000 to 3,000 feet straight down to the Gunnison River slithering in hidden depths below.

Here at Tomichi Point, the first of eleven overlooks along the Park Service road, I had for the second time in my life totally lost my sense of perception–the first time being at the Grand Canyon of Arizona. The dull roar of the milky green Gunnison River below us, blending with the chirping chickadees and squawking jays, created a surrealistic atmosphere. Were we on the same planet? Only the distant West Elk Mountains made it seem more earthly.

This canyon is the deepest canyon to be so narrow (at one point it is only 1,300 feet wide) on our entire continent. Because it is so inconceivably narrow, the tiny green ribbon of the Gunnison River appears to be nothing more than a trickling rivulet when it is actually forty feet wide. What appears to be foaming rapids are actually waterfalls over thirty feet high. What appears to be a stony river bed is actually strewn boulders the size of box cars. The human eye becomes totally inadequate in reporting to the brain what it perceives. If one goes to every lookout along the winding road for ten miles, I will guarantee him that he will be baffled mentally and physically for the rest of the day.

There are several geological periods responsible for the formation of this enigmatic canyon. The hardest of rocks (gneiss, schist and granite) were formed scores of millions of years ago (the Pre-Cambian Period) by tremendous heat and pressure accounting for their crystalline texture (see image). Later great quantities of sand and mud were deposited to form sandstone and shale over the older rocky surface. Eventually the entire region was uplifted and the ancient Gunnison River carved deeper and deeper (on its way to the Colorado River) into the softer shales and sandstones exposing the hard core of gneiss, granite and schist.

After camping under the stars, Maura and I got up early the next day and walked along the trail out to Devil’s Overlook. The West Elk Mountains glowed pink in the rising sun while the pine and juniper trees strongly scented the morning air. Somehow I could no longer believe that I was in a place called Colorado, especially after ambling along for a half mile or so when we approached the railing to look down into a pale blue abyss echoing the thunder of rapids far below. The scene called to mind Edgar Allan Poe’s description of the “hideous crags” of the stormy Norwegian coast in his story “A Descent into the Maelstrom.”

The overwhelming amount of jagged, pinnacled rock dropping straight off into dizzy depths slowly evolved as the sun climbed in the sky into a chiaroscuro of light and shade in the brilliant morning light. Across the canyon, we could see a winding dirt road that led straight to the canyon’s edge. I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Thelma and Louise.”

We continued trekking onward to the highest point on the south rim–High Point Overlook at 8,400 feet. From here we peered down into the many side gorges that formed tributaries of the canyon. These gorges must have been previously composed of less resistant rock. Down toward the base of the canyon we saw huge pinnacles jutting up out of the dizzy depths below. They were created by millions of years of erosion that eventually isolated big segments of rock here and there. Sturdy Douglas fir trees kept their foothold by growing inside grooves at a precarious tilt. Almost every rock along the rim was covered with green, yellow and orange lichens as though the canyon were not wondrous enough!

Revisiting Rocky Mountain National Park 50 Years Later

    Rocky Mountain National park

Rocky Mountain National park

Mount Chapin in Rocky Mountain National Park

I cannot believe that it has been fifty years now since I served as a park ranger naturalist (now known as “interpreter”). I was one of twenty-two, to guide and entertain people on all-day wilderness hikes, nature walks, museum tours, and evening campfire programs at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Back in 1959 and 1960, 1.4 million visitors came to this national park, less than half today’s anticipated figure of a touch over 3 million.

Is it still possible to experience the joys of the wild in Rocky Mountain National Park, the joys of Enos Mills (father of the park) back in 1915 or even the joys of 50 years ago? Let me share some of my experiences. Earlier in the summer I experimented by hiking on a Wild Basin trail to Ouzel Lake, camping in popular Longs Peak Campground, and attending a Moraine Park campfire program. The results of my experiment may have been lucky, but perhaps not. From the trailhead at the Wild Basin ranger station up to Ciopeland Falls, a distance of less than a half mile, I passed perhaps two dozen people, including some Germans commenting on the clarity of the stream water. Hummingbirds buzzed like crickets among a colorful array of golden banner, rosy paintbrush, and yellow heart-leafed arnica. The gushing rapids of a nearby stream more than drowned out the sounds of shouting children and even snorting trail horses.

Between Copeland and Calypso Falls (another mile), I encountered two horseback riders and scores of hikers, some of whom stopped to photograph or simply to admire clusters of blue Colorado columbines and purple chiming bells. Practically everybody seemed to be friendly and enthusiastic in their enjoyment of their company and of the sights along the trail.

The crowd thinned out considerably between Calypso Falls and Ouzel Falls (two miles farther). Each quarter mile I encountered only two or three hikers. For the first time I began to get that old feeling back–the feeling one gets when he listens to the plaintive notes of a Swainson’s thrush echoing through aisles of spruce and fir.

I stopped to chat with several others in the midst of a 1050-acre burn between Calypso and Ouzel Falls. We remarked on how scarred the forest still seemed since the blaze of August 9, 1978. Since the fire burned along a ridgetop, much of the topsoil has been washed away by rains, leaving a band of charred earth punctuated every now and then with bright clusters of golden banner and young saplings. This swath of dead trees gave me an eery feeling as though I stood in a fire-bombed Dresden or Tokyo back in the mid-1940’s.

Between Ouzel Falls and Ouzel Lake (about one mile) I saw only four other hikers. At a set of falls just before Ouzel Lake, I stopped to watch a water ouzel or “dipper,” John Muir’s favorite bird. Muir put it well–one experiences the ultimate joy of the wild by simply watching the ouzel dive under water for insects and the like. Muir surmised that even on Judgment Day this little bird would sing its heart out in the mountainous solitudes.

Yes, the mountainous solitudes of the Wild Basin remain serene despite the crowds of people in the lower vales. There’s nothing for the soul quite like naked granite flanked with jagged streaks of snow. But I had yet to face Longs Peak Campground. Children ran in and out of my campsite at first, but once I set up my tent and lit a campfire, they remained with their parents. I had a friendly chat with two or three campers about their hikes up Twin Sisters Mountain and about what they intended to do or see the next day.Some noisy teenagers cruised into a nearby site and played their stereo full blast, but soon obliged others by turning their music completely off! So far, so good. I had a great night’s sleep and cheerful breakfast of hot coffee and cereal.bars.

After a short hike to the site of an old gold mine and a nice lunch in Estes Park and a brief ramble nearby, I found that time passed quickly for the next evening’s campfire program in Moraine Park. The ranger handled a crowd of fifty or so very well despite crying babies and over-talkative children. As he showed a color slide of an alpine sunflower and explained that it takes seventy-five years to bloom only once for two short weeks, coyotes began to yelp and howl across the moonlit meadow.

He stopped talking and said, “What they have to say is far more interesting. Let’s remain silent and listen.” And listen we did. Even babies quieted down. It was a great coup for the ranger; hardly could he have done anything more appropriate.

Back at my silent Moraine Park camp, I quickly dozed off dreaming that fifty years had never passed and that I was climbing Longs Peak again with other rangers. From atop Longs Peak we could see the whole Front Range caught in the golden glow of a sunrise as real in my mind as the dawn I was about to experience. And at 5:30 a.m., I awakened to the howling of coyotes, howling from some mountainside not too far away.

Colorado Facts & Figures


Colorado, cr flicker

Colorado, cr flicker

Capital:  Denver

Nick Name: Centennial State/ Colorful Colorado

Year Colorado became a state: 1876

Travel Zone: Mountain standard

State motto: “ Nil Sine Numine” – Nothing  Without Providence

Highest Point: 14.433 ft – Mount Elbert

Lowest elevation: span> 3.315 ft – the Arikaree River.

Average altitude:  6.800 ft

Average days of sunshine per year : 300

State Flag: Designed by Andrew C Johnson in 1911. the top and bottom stripes are blue, and the middle stripe white. On top of these stripes sits a circular red “C”, filled with a golden disk. The blue represent the skies, the gold is for the sunshine enjoyed by the state, the white represents the snowcapped mountains and the red represents the red colored earth.

State Seal:

Population: (2011) 5,116,796Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Ski Resorts: 26

Fourteeneers: 54

National Parks: 4–  Mesa Verde, Rocky mountain National Park, The Black Canyons of the Gunnison  National park,Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve.

State Parks: 42

Scenic and Historic Byways: 25

Microbreweries: 140

Area:  104.100 Sq Miles-  8th Biggest State.

Major Rivers:  Colorado river, Rio Grande river, Arkansas river, South Platte river

Major lakes: Grand lake, Blue mesa reservoir, John martin reservoir

State Bird: lark bunting

State Animal:
Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

State Insect: Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly

State Fish:  Greenback Cutthroat trout

State Fossil: Stegosaurus

State Flower: Rocky mountain Columbine

State Tree: Colorado Blue Spruce

State Grass: strong Blue Gramma grass

State Gemstone: Aquamarine

State Soil: Seitz

Colorado Fun Facts
Highest, Tallest, Longest, Largest, Oldest

  • The world’s largest flat-top mountain is in Grand Mesa.
  • Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous U.S. highway, leaves Rocky Mountain National Park on the east and soars to 12,183 feet as it crosses the Continental Divide to the Western Slope.
  • The highest paved road in North America is the road to Mt. Evans off of I-70 from Idaho Springs. The road climbs up to 14,258 feet above sea level.
  • Colorado has more microbreweries per capita than any other state.
  • The Dwight Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel between Clear Creek and Summit counties is the highest auto tunnel in the world. Bored at an elevation of 11,000 feet under the Continental Divide, it is 8,960 feet long.
  • Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,430 feet elevation. Because there were many “silver” named towns at the time, the founding fathers suggested Leadville.
  • The tallest sand dunes in America are in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve outside of Alamosa in south-central Colorado. This 149,512-acre landscape of 8,000-foot sand peaks was created by ocean waters and wind more than one million years ago.
  • Colorado is home to 54 14,000-feet mountain peaks, more than any other state in the United States.
  • Colorado has the highest mean altitude of all the states.
  • The Kit Carson County Carousel in Burlington dates back to 1905, making it the oldest wooden merry-go-round in the United States. It is the only wooden carousel in America that still has its original paint.
  • One of the highest suspension bridgees in the world is over the Royal Gorge near Canon City. The Royal Gorge Bridge spans the Arkansas River at a height of 1,053 feet.
  • The world’s largest natural hot springs pool is located in Glenwood Springs. The two-block long pool is across the street from the historic Hotel Colorado, a favorite stop of former president Teddy Roosevelt.
  • The highest point in Colorado is Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet.
  • The oldest existing Colorado town, San Luis (in south central Colorado), was founded in 1851.
  • A golf ball flies on average ten percent farther in Colorado than other states because of the altitude. It flies even farther at higher altitudes (above 7,000 feet).
  • There are canyons deeper and narrower than the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but no other canyon in North America combines this gorge’s depth with its width.
  • Grand Lake, on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, is the largest natural lake in the state.


  • Deep in the mountains of southwestern Colorado, Ouray is home to the world’s first park devoted exclusively to the sport of ice climbing. The park opened in 1995.
  • The World’s First Rodeo was held on July 4th, 1869 in Deer Trail.

Mile High Trivia

  • The 13th step of the state capital building in Denver is one mile above sea level.
  • “Beulah red” is the name of the red marble that gives the Colorado State Capitol its distinctive splendor. Cutting, polishing, and installing the marble in the Capitol took six years, from 1894 to 1900. All of the “Beulah red” marble in the world went into the Capitol.
  • Colfax Avenue in Denver is the longest continuous street in America.
  • Denver has the largest city park system in the nation with 205 parks in city limits and 20,000 acres of parkland in the nearby mountains.

Historic Hot Spots

  • Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike explored the southwest portion of the Louisiana Territory in 1806, and though he never climbed the peak that bears his name, he did publish a report that attracted a lot of interest to the area. In fact, a trip to the top of Pikes Peak in 1893 inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the ballad “America the Beautiful.”
  • In Fruita, the town folk celebrate ‘Mike the Headless Chicken Day.’ Seems that a farmer named L.A. Olsen cut off Mike’s head on September 10, 1945 in anticipation of a chicken dinner – and Mike lived for another 4 years without a head.
  • The Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, has a long list of celebrities and heads of state that have stayed at the luxurious 1909 hostelry, which was also said to be the inspiration behind author Stephen King’s novel The Shining.
  • Greeley is home to the internationally acclaimed Greeley Independence Stampede, which dates back to the 1800s and features national rodeo events, live music performances from national headliners, carnivals and more.
  • For 16 years. Bent’s Old Fort was the lifeblood of trade trappers and hunters along the Santa Fe Trail. The fort was created by two brothers, both of whom were known as good brokers
    of peace with Indian nations in the area.Around 550 A.D, a basketmaker culture developed in south-western Colorado. Known as
  • Ancestral Puebloans: this native tribe formed and built villages in rock canyons.  Today parts of their intricate structures still stand at Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, which was the first national park created solely to preserve the work of humans.




Losing a Thousand Years at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Taking a Thousand-Year Transit at Mesa Verde

Maura and I, in quest of primal times, left our home one summer morning for Mesa Verde National Park, the ancient home of the Anasazis. The green table lands of southwestern Colorado helped set the mood. As we drove up a long and angular road to the entrance station, Mancos Valley spread below us shimmering in heat waves that contrasted with the distant misty and gray San Juan Mountains blanketed with bands of brilliant snow.

Bright blue pinyon jays fluttered from branch to branch of scrub oak trees along a cliff side, and pinyon pines and junipers scented the dry and cool air. We began to sense the presence of primal times a thousand years ago, especially when a delicate blue and black Colorado Hairstreak butterfly landed on the hood of our slow moving car.

We quickly set up camp under large white cliffs along with scores of other campers. After a light supper and coffee, we began our early evening exploration. Stopping at Montezuma Pass, we gained sweeping views of the four-corner region with Sleeping Ute Mountain to our west and Shiprock rising in the distance to the southwest. Thunderheads built up in a blazing sunset and the distant rumbles put to mind Willa Cather’s description of Mesa Verde in The Professor’s House:

“I’ve never heard thunder so loud as it was there. The cliffs threw it back at us, and we thought the mesa itself, though it seemed so solid, must be full of deep canyons and caverns, to account for the prolonged growl and rumble that followed every crash of thunder. After the burst in the sky was over, the mesa went on sounding like a drum.”

Yes, Maura and I had begun to lose at least a thousand years. Sleeping Ute Mountain on the Arizona border weathered sheets of stinging rain with crooked bolts of lightning as it gathered clouds around its slopes. As the storm approached closer and closer, we drove back to our tent for a night’s sleep hoping we would have a dry day after sunrise. We quickly fell into a deep sleep as rain pelted our tent.

Sure enough, nary a cloud in the sky the next morning. On our way to the major attraction–Cliff Palace–we passed by Far View Ruins excavated in 1916 by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes who did much archeological work all through Mesa Verde. These 800 year adobe row houses had been built before the Anasazis descended into cliff dwellings that are cooler and safer against possible enemy attacks. Far View Ruins has up to 100 living spaces and five ceremonial kivas or circular pits each with a sacred sipapu or spiritual entrance into Mother Earth. This entrance way is both for those being born and those dying. The Hopi Indians say that the original sipapu is an ancient volcanic cone in the canyon of the Little Colorado River seen from eastern end of the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Each kiva’s sipapu is in a sense replicating the great sipapu. Canyon wrens chattered to partially bring us back to modern times.

We drove on in our mechanical contraption to the stairway leading us down, down through time and space to the Cliff Palace amid high white sandstone cliffs and bright blue skies. There it stood for seven centuries fusing time and the atoms of our being. We stared at this city as though it were of another planet. The square and round towers, circular kivas and hundreds of passageways all built within the hollow of an immense cliff erased our century. Within minutes we stood before its beautifully regular slabs of sandstone cemented with red clay mortar. Juniper logs jutted out of the walls above us glaring in a southwestern sun.

We could readily see with our mind’s eye ancient ones carrying freshly gathered corn from above the cliffs down toe and hand hold-trails. We could see deer carcasses drying in the sun, and little children gathering turkey eggs from the turkey pens. The Anasazi made use of water seeps to irrigate corn, squash and melon crops on the mesa tops. They must have given thanks to the Great Spirit for something like the green-sharp-pointed yucca that provided banana-like fruit pods, fibrous roots for sandals and even soap. Domesticated turkeys not only provided eggs but also feathers for sleeping mats. White and red clays served the Anasazi women for the making of beautifully designed storage pots.

But Fear, constant fear of some unknown enemy lured in the back of their minds; otherwise, why would they have descended down into the cliffs to build fortress-like cliff dwellings? We descended to another Anasazi site called The Balcony House overlooking Soda Canyon. Once we got down to a lower ledge of Soda Canyon, Maura and I with other modern ones climbed a thirty-foot rope ladder and then crawled through a very narrow passage way into a little courtyard lined with a wall above three feet high above 700 feet of canyon space! We gingerly entered sandstone rooms in the back of the cliff, their roofs touching the ceiling of the cliff-cave. In the very back of the Balcony House, we entered a smoke house where meats of wild game had been smoked for centuries. Next to the smoke house lay an ice cold spring still trickling with water

As we left this fortress, we took note of three triangular designs carved into a wall. Perhaps they represented some sort of constant prayer to their Great Spirit for protection and security.But one other constant Fear was the worry about climate. Would it continually provide enough rain for their crops? If not, what would they do? Thanks to tree-ring analysis of ancient juniper trees that abound on the upper slopes, modern ones like us have determined that a severe drought did come to the Mesa Verde area in the late thirteenth century forcing the residents of all the cliff dwellings to leave.

Where have all the Anasazi gone? Apparently many left for Chaco Canyon, New Mexico only to again leave within several generations to Bandelier, New Mexico. Where are they now?? Their descendants are known as the Pueblo people who live today up and down the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. And yes, there are still underground kivas with sipapus. Many of you have heard of Santa Clara Pueblo made famous by Maria the Potter whose pottery today is highly valued and is in the collection of many museums.

That evening Maura and I attended a Navajo Yeibechei Dance performance in an open air, wooden-seated theater.. Their high pitched voices and jangling bells penetrated our beings and echoed back and forth from cliff to cliff. The primal essence of humanity can surely cross centuries of time like pinyon jays hopping from branch to branch.

Climbing MT Princeton- Colorado


Mt-Princeton, Colorado

Most Symmetric Peak of Colorado’s Fourteen Thousand-Foot Peaks. The Mount Princeton trail rises over 5,000 feet in seven miles to an elevation of 14,197 feet, the southernmost summit of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks.

The seven-mile long trail to the summit of Mount Princeton begins at the Mount Princeton trail head on the Mount Princeton Road (CR 322) about eleven miles southwest of Buena Vista, Colorado where the climber has the choice of beginning his hike at 8,900 feet or of continuing on the Mount Princeton Road to park at tree line around 11,000 feet to reduce the length of the trail to four miles to the summit. There is no other way to get here but by private car where there is ample parking for over fifty cars (at the 8,900 foot-parking lot – only several cars at various turns near tree line). Hikers should sign in at the trail register just beyond the larger parking lot.

The Best Times to Climb MT Princeton are Limited

The best times to climb Mount Princeton (so named by William Libby, a Princeton graduate and first ascender in 1877) are from late June through early September. Be aware that freak snowstorms can occur any time during the summer months. Strong winds can develop within minutes of a build-up of summer thunderstorms. It is best to summit by no later than noon. The worst times to climb this peak would be from early September through mid-June. There are no man-made hazards on the trail but the hiker should be wary of altitude sickness and spend a few days acclimating at the Mount Princeton hot springs resort or at the Mount Princeton Campground.

The Hiker Should Get an Early Start From the Trail Head No Later Than 6 A.M.

In order to avoid afternoon thunderstorms at the summit of Mount Princeton, the hiker should get under way no later than six o’clock in the morning. Once she has begun her hike, she will enter a dense lodgepole pine forest with a rich fragrance scenting the air. The gravel road is steep and winding until it reaches tree line at 11,500 feet. The hiker will notice a number of cars parked at switchbacks along the way. A sign marks the tundra trail that breaks away from the gravel road and enters lush green tundra. Enjoy the rich beds of alpine flowers on either side of the trail including bright yellow alpine avens and alpine gentians (related to arctic gentians) along with clusters of bright blue chiming bells. At around 13,000 feet, there is a deep cave where the hiker can rest and have his lunch. Should it be raining, this place serves as a nice shelter.

Just beyond the cave the trail suddenly steepens with switchbacks through loose slabs of rock. The hiker should watch his step as he proceeds upward toward a high saddle on the flanks of the summit. Almost all of the rocky slabs are coated with bright orange and green lichens. As the hiker gains elevation to the fourteen thousand foot-level, she will notice many alpine birds fluttering above the rocks such as pipits and rosy finches and even much larger golden eagles up in the sky. Once the hiker arrives at the saddle, she will perceive the beautiful symmetry of Mount Princeton with a high false summit to the north and to the south with pyramid-shaped Mount Princeton rising in-between.

Views From the Summit of Mount Princeton are Sweeping and Incomparable

Hopefully the hiker will arrive at the summit of 14,197 feet before noon. Take a deep breath and enjoy the incomparable beauty of alpine terrain spreading far and wide all around. To the southwest rises Mount Antero some hundred feet higher than Mount Princeton. Due south looms La Plata Peak heavily scored by ancient glaciers. To the north rise the many other Collegiate Peaks including Mount Yale and Mount Harvard. To the east the hiker can see in the distance Pikes Peak of the Front Range.

The hike takes up to a full day (depending on which elevation was the climber’s starting point) with a vertical gain of over 5,000 feet. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources along the trail, nor are there any rest room facilities. You can pick up a trail map at U.S. Forest Service Headquarters in Leadville (north of Buena Vista) or download one from USGS website Mount Princeton Quad.

Climbing Mount Bierstadt, Colorado

Mt Bierstad

Mt Bierstad

A trek up Mount Bierstadt (named after the artist Bierstadt) provides the climber with challenges up to the summit through willows and tundra to grand views.

The three-mile long trail to the summit of Mount Bierstadt begins at Guanella Pass ten miles south of Georgetown, Colorado at the trailhead on the northeast side of the mountain pass in a dense willow grove. There is no other way to get here but by private car where there is ample parking for over fifty cars at Guanella Pass at an elevation of 11,669 feet above sea level. Hikers should sign the trail register just beyond the parking lot.

The Best Times to Climb Mount Bierstadt are Limited

The best times to climb Mount Bierstadt that rises up to 14, 060 feet in the Front Range of Colorado are from late June through early September. Be aware that it snows at this elevation on any day of the year including July and August. The worst times to climb this peak would be from early to mid-September through late June. There are no man-made hazards on the trail, but the hiker must be careful picking his way through a half mile of dense alpine willows growing out of mucky ground. In order to reach the summit before afternoon thundershowers develop, the hiker should begin climbing at Guanella Pass no later than 8 a.m. Once under way, the hiker will encounter thick branches of willow and mucky wetlands on either side of the trail. But, after a half mile or so, she will emerge into clear landscapes of rocks and tundra laced with alpine flowers.

The Remaining Two Miles of Trail are Very Steep

Once the hiker is out in the clear, he will realize that he is not on a tourist trail. There are very few switchbacks as the trail climbs straight up nearly two thousand feet to the summit. While climbing, the hiker should pause to enjoy the view to the south of Greys and Torreys Peaks and to the north, the Indian Peaks leading toward Rocky Mountain National Park.

The hiker should realize that this peak was named after the German-born artist Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) who visited the American West beginning in 1858. He painted scenes of Wyoming and Colorado that hang in museums throughout the world. His paintings reveal sudden thunder storms thrashing out lightning in valleys between peaks. The hiker should watch real the horizon for any developing storms. A variety of wildlife from flowers to birds to mammals can be enjoyed during the climb including ravens, bighorn sheep, marmots and deep-yellow sunflowers.

Views From the Summit are Unforgettable

Hopefully the climber will arrive at the rocky summit (see accompanying image) at or before noon. She should take a well-deserved rest up here above fourteen thousand feet to enjoy the views of Mount Evans directly east and Long Peak to the far north and the ocean-like prairies of Colorado to the east. The round-trip hike takes up to a full day with a vertical gain to 2,300 feet. Bring sufficient water and energy snacks as there are no water sources along the trail, nor are there any rest room facilities. The hiker can pick up a map in Denver at any sporting goods store or download one from USGS website Mount Evans Quad.

Climbing Mount Democrat-Colorado

This two-mile trek to the summit takes the climber past ruins of old silver mines and rusty equipment as well as fields of alpine flowers and sweeping views.The two-mile long trail to the summit of Mount Democrat (14,148 feet) begins at Kite Lake some fourteen miles northwest of Fairplay, Colorado via the town of Alma and a rugged jeep road. There is no there way to get here other than a four-wheel drive SUV where there is ample parking for over sixty vehicles. The starting point of the Mount Democrat Trail is at 12,000 feet above sea level. Acclimated hikers should sign the trail register just beyond Kite Lake.

The Best Times to Climb Mount Democrat are Limited

Mount Democrat, Cr-peakware.com

Mount Democrat, Cr-peakware.com

The best times to climb Mount Democrat are from late June through very early September. Be aware that at elevations this high, it can snow any day of the year. The worst times to climb this mountain would be from mid-September through most of June. There are no man-made hazards on this trail, but the hiker should be wary of getting altitude sickness and headaches, so it is best to spend several days in Fairplay to acclimate. In order to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, the climber should begin his hike no later than seven o’clock in the morning. Once he is under way, the hiker will soon become aware that this terrain was heavily mined back in the 1860s through the early twentieth century. High above tree line, the ruins of mining shafts and rusty old equipment can easily be seen.

Southern Miners Named Mount Democrat

After the Civil War many southerners came up to Colorado in search of gold and silver. The Mosquito Range with Mount Democrat became quite a haven for these miners. They chose the name “Democrat” to show their opposition to President Abraham Lincoln. The climber should take time to gain a close view of trail-side ruins of cabins, mining shafts and old boilers and separators. Once beyond the mining area, the climber will begin going up a very steep trail that switches back and forth through a profusion of alpine flowers including king’s crown, paintbrush, phlox, and bright yellow alpine avens. Jet-black ravens usually circle above the climber with loud squawks echoing through the mountains.

From Cameron-Democrat Saddle the Trail Climbs a Sheer Angles to Summit at 14,148 Feet

It is best to take a rest at the saddle separating Mounts Democrat and Cameron where there are magnificent views back down to Kite Lake (shaped like a kite) and to the higher peaks above. If the climber is ambitious, she may elect to climb Cameron Peak one mile on the trail to the right before or after climbing Democrat. From here the hiker has about a mile of trail to the left of the saddle before she stands on the summit. The trail becomes quite rocky and seems to stretch on forever with a false summit and a broad snowfield to cross before the climber ascends a rocky knob to stand on the very summit of Democrat.

From here the climber can see westward to the Sawatch Range with the snowy peaks of Princeton, Yale and Harvard. To the east in the distance looms Pikes Peak. The hike takes up the better part of the day with a vertical gain of 2,148 feet or slightly over a thousand vertical feet per mile. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources on the trail nor are there any rest room facilities. A map can be obtained at U.S. Forest Service Headquarters in Fairplay or downloaded from USGS website Alma/Climax Quad.