Our last stop of our desert road trip was to visit the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado. We toured the Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling there, with more than 150 rooms. The cliff dwellings were built around the year 1200 A.D. by the Ancestral Puebloans, who farmed on the mesa above the dwellings.
Excited by forecasts of a brief but intense snowstorm, on Friday I headed up into Ice Lakes Basin for a couple nights of camping with hopes of catching some photos of the fresh snowfall around the not-yet-frozen lakes once the storm broke. I set up camp amongst the trees in the lower basin, since I could see that the weather was hellish up in the upper basin, with big plumes of snow swirling around the tundra. Turns out the first night of camping was fairly pointless, since the storm was howling all night Friday and all day Saturday. I spent most of my time those days either reading in the tent, or wandering around aimlessly in the windy weather, bundled up in all my down clothes.
On Sunday morning I awoke to calm wind and starry skies, and eagerly hiked in the dark up to the lakes in the upper basin, where I watched the dawn grow brighter and brighter, finally painting the peaks in brilliant orange sunlight. After two cold, dreary, stormy days in the mountains, the storm had vanished completely and the crystal clear bluebird skies had me feeling ecstatic!
Yesterday we hiked up to Columbine Lake, a relatively seldom visited lake north of the famous Ice Lakes. I’ve gotta say, of any lake I’ve ever seen, this one has the most incredible colors! There are so many luminescent shades of blue and turquoise… and no, the color is not photoshopped!
I’ve camped up here a couple times before; you can see previous photos from Columbine Lake here and here.
On Saturday I was feeling antsy for an adventure, so we went out camping up on the “Bridge of Hayden”, a high ridgeline overlooking Ouray and the Sneffels Range. Early in the night we were laying in the tent when we heard some booming sounds echoing in the valley below. Was it mining operations up valley? No. A plane crash? No, it’s fireworks!!! We quickly scrambled out of the tent and ran to the overlook.
Stupid me, I had no idea of the Octoberfest party happening down in Ouray! I felt like the Grinch up on the mountain, looking down on Whoville. Apparently Ouray still had fireworks left over from 4th of July show, which was cancelled due to the drought conditions, and so they set them off for Octoberfest instead. It’s so funny that we just happened to be camping on one of the highest Ouray overlooks on the night of a fireworks show below!
I love watching fireworks in Ouray more than anywhere else – the booms echoing through the deep mountain valleys are as impressive as the fireworks themselves! And it was pretty cool to see them from almost 4,000 feet above!
Here’s a photo of Ouray, as seen from our new favorite “wine and cheese” spot. “Wine and cheese” you ask? Yes, one of Claudia and I’s favorite ways to unwind is to haul a bottle of wine and our plastic wine glasses up to a viewpoint and relax for the evening. Especially after a day stuck inside in front of the computer, fresh air and a fresh perspective works wonders to clear the head. Not to mention that wine is good for you, and so is hiking… a win-win situation!
Claudia and I have gone on wine hikes in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Switzerland. Someday we will co-author a guidebook to the world’s best wine and cheese spots. The only problem with that plan is that I know next to nothing about wine, and definitely nothing about writing about it! So maybe it will be a picture book instead, with scratch-and-sniff stickers. Lest you think I’m just joking around about all this, I officially own the domain name WineHiking.com. Yes, that was a spontaneous purchase, but hey… you never know!
Here’s my first attempt at the photos I’ll need to be taking for our wine hiking encyclopedia. Here we have a tasty Malbec from Mendoza, along with some kind of Swiss cheese. It was good. I liked it a lot.
Yeah, I guess I need to work on my writing skills…
Yesterday I witnessed a spectacular sunset from a high perch in the Cimarrons, the rugged mountain range east of the town of Ridgway. This range gets fantastic sunset light, since there are no peaks to the west to block the last rays of the setting sun.
During a previous hike up Precipice Peak earlier this summer (visible on the left side of the photo above), I had scoped out this possible overlook point, and I finally took the opportunity yesterday to bushwhack up there. Well, the view was even better than I expected, and the sunset was too!
This is one of those photos that just has to be viewed large; I would love to make an enormous print of this… and huge prints are certainly a possibility with this multi-shot stitched panorama.
With the autumn colors at their peak and fresh snow dusting the mountains, we spent the last two days driving around and camping out in the Telluride area. This is a great autumn for the aspens this year – the colors are brilliant and there are lots of oranges and reds mixed in. The cloudy/stormy/misty skies provided the perfect atmosphere and light for geeking out with the camera all day long, from dawn till dusk!
The aspens up on Red Mountain Pass are going off right now! Today we went on a fantastic loop hike almost entirely through these golden cathedral forests.
We were surprised when it started snowing – the first snow of the year! Claudia was a bit dismayed… I was delighted! We sat under a pine tree for a while, mesmerized by the fat flakes drifting down.
The snowstorm passed quickly and the sun came out, melting the new snow within about 15 minutes. We continued on our way and eventually after a bit of easy bushwhacking found an old overgrown mining trail that offered a nice loop down through a different aspen-filled ridge.
This last weekend we did a little road trip up to Marble to spend the weekend with my friends in their cabin there. On the way over McClure Pass on Friday evening, I had to slam on the brakes and pull over to shoot this awesome sunset light shining through the aspen forest.
On Saturday Ann led us on a wonderful hike up a lesser known basin on Treasure Mountain, with ever-present views of Snowmass Mountain towering across the valley.
We were planning on doing some other kind of car-camping/backpacking adventure in the West Elk Mountains after that, but with the aspens on Kebler Pass still mostly green, along with a sudden bout of indecisiveness and lack of motivation to go backpacking, we ended up just driving back home to the San Juans! Not a bad option either.