Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm coming back, Colorado

DH and I spent a magical weekend in Colorado visiting my brother. This was my third visit to Colorado, and each time, my heart grows fonder of the place. Every time, it's been more magnificient than the last. And no matter how fit I imagined I was, the elevation kicked my butt every single time.

My brother, having climbed all the 14ers, most of them in winter, has now taken up rock climbing, ice climbing, white water kayaking, mountain biking and skiing. When in Colorado, he describes the place with passion, and when he is away, he speaks of it with longing. The majestic mountains, the rugged, untouched landscape and the friendly people are just a few of the things that make this state a heaven on earth. You can go about with a smile etched all over your face the entire time you are there, and have no doubt that it will be enthusiastically returned by every single person you come across. Of course they'll look at you pityingly when you tell them you're from NJ or just about anywhere else in the world...but you'll let it slide when you realize they are genuinely sorry that you are wasting your life living anywhere else.

My brother had planned a beautiful getaway. We landed in Denver Thursday night, after a little in-flight hassle made me decide never to fly Continental Airlines again, if I can help it (no need to go into detail), spent the night at my brother's pad in Boulder, and left early Friday morning on the long drive
to a scenic, out-of-the-way town Crystal, via Independence Passand Aspen. At Aspen, we saw a strapping big bear casually lounging in a tree, unaware that he was creating quite a stir.

We were supposed to be back-country camping, but my brother had a surprise for us. He had booked a cabin in the little town of Crystal. 'Little' is an overstatement...Crystal (supposedly a ghost town), 6 miles away from the nearest town Marble and surrounded by mountains, is home to exactly 2 families. There are a couple of ancient but well-maintained cabins that are rented out to visitors who come to get their fill of fresh mountain air. The town is deserted 8 months in the year, when snow covers the precipitous off-road path, cutting off the town from civilization. Even in summer, only vehicles with 4-wheel drive can make it across the rocky road.
To a plain-dweller like me, every encounter with another vehicle on this narrow path was hair-raising.
The fact that my brother was whistling as he maneuvred his jeep over boulders didn't do much to steady the nerves, nor did it help seeing a capsized truck at the bottom of the ravine.
Though rough, the entire 6 miles (a 45-minute drive) were beautiful beyond description.
We passed Beaver Lake at the foot of the mountain

and Lizard Lake about halfway up.
There is something about Colorado that takes your breath away. It is just as much in the rugged, untamed nature... in the breathtaking beauty of the place.
Right outside Crystal, we stopped to admire the old, abandoned mining building
sitting atop the pristine Crystal Creek. The cabin was perfect,
with mountains on all sides
and a creek in our backyard.
The cabin was more than a century old and very well-preserved. No electricity or indoor plumbing, but we had beds, a gas range powered by propane and even a little refrigerator. We were told there were bats in the attic...we just hoped they were accommodating to human roommates.
Once settled, we fired up the grill...and soon realized that at an elevation of 9000 feet, charcoal is not the most effective way to cook. We met the owners of the cabin (who lived in California, but were visiting for a week)...Dail, Hanucha and their son Jason, who were very friendly and invited us to share their dinner. We took our smoky, semi-cooked chicken and stove-sauteed tomato and peppers (we were relieved we also had a bottle of wine!). As we were enjoying dinner (crepes, fresh fruit and hot tea) in their warm and cozy cabin, a friend of theirs, Allison and her dog Pepper dropped in for a visit. Allison and Pepper had hiked up the narrow road in the dark, with only the moon lighting the path...not out of the ordinary at all for someone from Colorado.

The agenda was to spend a relaxing weekend in the mountains, so no strenuous hikes were planned. I would have enjoyed climbing, but my foot was still tender and DH had a weak knee. We did do a short hike up to Lead King Basin, a mile and a half above Crystal. My brother pointed out SnowMass and Hagerman peaks, which he had climbed. As we were enjoying the views, we heard gunshots and hoped we were well out of range of hunters. We learned later that the "hunter" was white-bearded Lead King Paul, who had lived in the area almost all his life (even when snowed in, in winter) and took potshots at anyone who dared come anywhere near his property (he considered all of Lead King Basin as his property, apparently). We spent the rest of the afternoon in the cabin, watching the rain beat down on the mountains. Rain was forecasted for the entire weekend, so we didn't mind dealing with just a couple of hours of it. Instead of a shower, we took a very quick dip in Crystal Creek (the water was freezing, but so refreshing).

Next morning, we drove down to Redstone, about an hour away. After pottering about at an art exhibition that was in progress, we rented mountain bikes and puffed a mile or 2 up the steep road in White River National Forest, which led to the trails. My brother and I intended to bike up the trails, but I chickened out after covering a few 100 yards of rugged, steep trail. The rest of the day was spent driving back, lazing around and chatting with Ginger, the elderly caretaker at Crystal, who had been an avid rock-climber when she was younger. She said that every year, she thought of was getting tough to spend 4 months of every year in the isolated town of Crystal. But when spring came around, the pull of the mountains was too hard to resist. We spent part of the night narrating ghost stories, in keeping with the spirit of the town.

All too soon, it was time to head back. We did the touristy thing on the way back...took the tour bus from Aspen to the much-photographed Maroon Bells,

getting educated on local flora and fauna along the way. We didn't have time to hit the trails, but we stayed long enough for DH to capture the scenery at different angles with his new Nikon D90.

The only cardio last week was swimming...1250 yards on Monday and 2250 yards on Wednesday, apart from the half-hearted attempts at hiking and mountain biking. And my brother assures me I burned a lot of calories just downing beer at 9000 feet.
My foot feels rested after our vacation and didn't hurt during or after a slow 3-mile run this morning. Hope it stays this way.
Finally, check out the Lift Your Soul giveaway on Mel - Tall Mom on the Run. Very cool stuff.


Erica said...

WOW! What an incredible trip! The area is gorgeous and the cabin is adorable! Every time I hear someone talk about that place, they always discuss how much they LOVE it. I have never been- must visit!

Tammy said...

Beautiful pictures.

I lived in Colorado for a couple of years when I was younger, but I was pregnant for most of it. I'd love to get back there now.

Mica said...

Wow, what awesome views! I've never been to Colorado, but the scenery looks amazing.

That cottage is epic!

J said...

Those pictures are beautiful! I so want to go to Colorado and see the mountains!

Roisin said...

Gosh...those are pretty wonderful pictures. And what a great trip! I've only been to CO once, and that was when I was really young, so I've been trying to get back sometime. Your post has been inspiring me to do so!

Marlene said...

WOW. What an incredible place. I hope to see it one day. I am seriously in awe of the photos.

Glad you had such a good time!

The Happy Runner said...

Love your photos! Everything looks amazing -- I hope to go to CO some day. Sounds like a great trip!

lindsay said...

sounds like a wonderful trip!! love the pics and descriptions of everything. hopping on a plane now! :)

Heather said...

Looks like an amazing weekend - great pictures!

Ali said...

You should publish a travel photo book. Your pictures make me want to go! I love that old mill.

X-Country2 said...

Wow! I wouldn't last 5 minutes in a cabin like that, but the views are amazing. Beautiful pictures too.

IzzyBubbles said...

Beautiful pictures! Makes me want to take a trip to Colorado sometime soon.

Mel-2nd Chances said...

You've been to some amazing places lately! Great pics :)

aron said...

wow amazing pics!!! looks like such a beautiful place :)

Scheri said...

Sounds like the perfect weekend :-) I'm glad you understand why we love Colorado!

Cindy said...

the pictures are beautiful. looks like quite an adventure! taking a dip in that creek sounds cool.

Beth said...

What a beautiful weekend. We went to Colorado for three summers in a row and just love it. We ventured to British Columbia this year, but I think we will head back to Colorado next summer. It is my favorite place to be!