Archive for December, 2019

More Mountain Peaks Please

Twin Lakes, CO (Elevation: 9700’)

We would have liked to stay in Salida longer, but the summer temps, even at 7,000’, were starting to climb into the 90’s. So we moved on the Twin Lakes Colorado at 9,700’. 

If you are familiar with the notorious Leadville 100 trail run or the Leadville 100 MTB race, then Twin Lakes will be familiar as one of the stops/aid stations runners and bikers resupply before heading over Hope Pass at 12,600’. 

Lake Creek Dispersed Pull Out

We initial boondocked at Lake Creek Dispersed camping area on the west side of Twin Lakes. This was a lovely pull out area with room for 10-12 RV’s with terrible connectivity. What we gave up in connectivity we gained back in proximity to the Willis Gulch trailhead, just 3/10ths of a mile away. 

Willis Gulch Trailhead

Willis Gulch offered access to the Colorado trail, the Continental Divide trail, Hope Pass and a 9-mile round trip hike to the restored 1880’s community of Interlaken. 

The Colorado Trail

The Interlaken Hotel complex was started in 1879 as a lakeside resort. It was considered a top destination in Colorado in its time with tavern, pool hall and a unique 6-sided outhouse.

Unfortunately Interlaken lost its attraction when Twin Lakes was dammed for irrigation purposed around the turn of the century. People considered the shallow waters of the lake a breeding ground for malaria and the hotel fell into disrepair until 1979 when the Bureau of Reclamation recorded and stabilized the community. 

The Interlaken Lodge

Today you can access Interlaken by hiking trails or boat. 

After three days at Lake Creek camping area we jumped in the truck to look for some connectivity and found the most amazing campsite of our 4-½ years on the road. 

Twin Lakes View dispersed area is on top of a mountain on the north side of Twin Lakes. There are several areas to camp on this mountain and it’s VERY popular in the summer. Sites are plentiful…if you are small and nimble or tent camping. But larger rigs will find it challenging to find a level, accessible site that isn’t occupied.

Twin Lakes, CO

The day we were doing recon we took our camping chairs to hold a site in case we found one that would work for our big girl. As luck would have it a camper was packing up in an amazing site. So we left our chairs and raced back to relocate the RV.

WHAT. A. SPOT.

Epic campsite

Not only did we have screaming fast Wi-Fi and stunning views, we were at the south trailhead for Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. 

Mt. Elbert (the second highest peak in the continental US) was on our list of peaks to bag at 14,440’. This strenuous 11-mile round-trip hike starts at 9,800’ and climbs 4,600’ to the summit. 

There is parking at the trailhead, but if you have a high clearance 4X4 vehicle you can knock off 2 miles by driving to the “Upper” trailhead.

 

Getting to the upper trailhead was nerve racking, even in our GMC 2500 diesel 4X4 truck. Especially when we accidentally passed the trailhead taking ourselves about a mile too far down a sloppy, narrow, shear drop-off forestry road. Yikes!

South Mt Elbert Trail

Hiking to Mt Elbert was much more enjoyable that Shavano. The trail was more gradual and less rocky, except for the last mile. Sections were so steep we used our hands in some areas to climb. We crossed snowfields and noticed that new trails are being cut in to make this climb a bit easier. 

Snow fields in August
Highest Peak in Colorado

While camped at Twin Lakes we were situated just across the street from Mt Elbert Forebay. There is a lovely level 3-mile trail around the entire reservoir with an eagle’s nest on the southwest shoreline. 

Forebay Reservoir

We loved everything about this location and can’t wait to get back there next summer!

Leadville, CO (Elevation 10,152’)

As the highest incorporated city in the US, Leadville has a rich past in gold, silver, lead, zinc and molybdenum. 

And if mining wasn’t enough it had its share of western characters as well. 

Leadville Mule Race (Get Your Ass Over the Pass)

Dock Holliday spent his lasts days served as a lawman in Leadville. Buffalo Bill died here of pneumonia. The Unsinkable Molly Brown moved to Leadville at the age of 18 and later survived the sinking of the Titanic. Poker Alice learned to play poker in Leadville and was a sought after dealer that liked smoking cigars while wearing pretty dresses. 

Un-like a lot of mining towns out west that experienced boom and bust in the 1,800’s, Leadville actually managed to hang on to mining up until 1983, when the Climax Mine was finally closed. 

In an attempt to save the town, the Leadville 100 trail run was started in 1983 to boost tourism. 

The LT100 or “Race Across the Sky” has a cult following with thousands of irrational runners applying for 1600-ish slots to run a course with 15,600 feet of elevation change, at elevations ranging from 9,200-12,620 feet. 

In most years, fewer than half who start the race actually complete it within the 30-hour time limit.

A LT100 MTB mountain bike race was added in 1994.

We showed up a week before the LT100 with the hopes of pacing our friend and “Leadville Legend”, Marge Hickman. Marge holds the woman’s record for number of Leadville finishes of fourteen. 

The Leadville Legend, Marge Hickman

Since being in Colorado this summer Jeff ran the entire Leadville 100 course in sections to train for his responsibilities as a pacer. But after Marge published a book about the start of this iconic race that differed from the current race director’s recollection, Marge was dismissed from the race. 

Not to be deterred, Jeff jumped into the final 25 miles of the race to pace some random strangers and got a small taste of this iconic race. 

Mile 20 for Jeff with 5 miles to the finish

We absolutely loved the little town of Leadville and it’s sporty vibe. It’s another place we would like to return to in the future.

Lake Tahoe (Elevation: 6,225’)

After Leadville we allowed ourselves 6 weeks to meander to Southern California for our camp host position at Doheny State Beach at Dana Point, CA. 

We raced across western Colorado into Utah in the heat of summer, so we opted to stay at RV parks in order to run the air conditioner. 

We made a quick stop in Reno to pick up some new Battle Born lithium batteries on our way to northern California to camp for 2 weeks at Jeff’s sisters house. Our plan was to accomplish two things. Install the new batteries and have the fifth wheels axels aligned at All Wheel in Redding CA. 

Charlie “helping” us install new batteries

It’s always a joy to stay at Jeff’s sisters, especially since they have plentiful tools, 50amp service, fresh eggs, blueberries and two Airedales. 

Once we had our projects done we headed to the South end of Lake Tahoe for the Tahoe 100k.

Tahoe 100k

Last year Jeff competed in this race and missed a cut off, giving him a DNF for the race. He redeemed himself this year completing this race in 17hours. 

Mt Whitney (14,505’)

Two years ago I had a failed attempted of summiting Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 and the highest peak in California.

It was a painful lesson in preparation, especially when I had to turn around within 1 ½ mile of the summit. 

Since we were passing through the Alabama hills on our way to SoCal I decided to give this beast another shot…pending my ability to snag a permit. 

We had left Tahoe early the next morning after Jeff’s race and put in a long day of driving to Lone Pine, CA. Planning a 4-day stay, I had hoped for a couple days rest in preparation to attempt to summit. 

Plan A

I had borrowed a tent from a friend and planned to hike the 22-mile round trip with 6,100’ of elevation gain in two days. The first day start a leisure morning and hike 6-miles to Trail Camp, relax, eat and sleep, then head for the summit early the next morning, turn around and hike all the way back down. 

Painful lesson #2 in preparation to summit Mt. Whitney…check your equipment well in advance of said hike!

The awesome lightweight tent I had borrowed only included the rain flap… but no tent. YEP! No tent.

Plan B

Forget the tent and camp out and leave on the hike at 3am to summit in one day. Once I got my brain wrapped around a 13-14hr hike I was all in. 

But after checking on-line for a permit our first day in Lone Pine there was only one permit available…as long as I could start my hike by midnight…that night.

Plan C

Drive up to Whitney Portal after dinner, sleep in the truck for a few hours then start my hike at 11:59pm and summit in one day. 

Next post…Mt. Whitney. Why do you hate me so?

Moonset over Mt. Whitney

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Life Elevated

We’ve been bouncing around above 6000’ since May. The warmer the temps the higher we go.

That’s the beauty of living mobile. Too warm, move north or to a higher elevation. Too cold, time to head south and back to sea level.

Las Vegas, NV (Elevation: 2,001’)

We started our spring in Las Vegas for the Mt Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon. Our running group from NW Arkansas was bringing around 100 folks to the event. Since we needed to be in Vegas for the National Hardware Show about that time it only made sense to join in on the fun!

We arrived in Vegas about a week before the event and made a trip out to Red Rock Canyon for a training run. We’ve never been fans of Las Vegas, but the Red Rock Canyon could certainly change our minds. Spectacular red canyon views, safe roads for cycling and tons of trails to hike or run. It is certainly a special place!

Red Rock Canyon

The Mt Charleston race was a fun but very hot race. What made this event enjoyable was the route was completely downhill.

Busses transported us up to Mt Charleston in the wee hours of the morning. Temps were cold when we started. But by the time we crossed the finish line people were dropping like flies from the heat. So many people needed medical help that the race has now been moved a week or two earlier to try to avoid another disaster.

Mt Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon

Williams, AZ (Elevation: 6,700’)

As the temperatures were already getting into the 90’s in Vegas we moved to Williams, AZ. We had a week until we needed to be in Flagstaff for Overland West Expo, so we picked a new BLM site to kill some time.

Big open meadows to camp and plenty of trails for running, all within a few miles of the quaint little town of Williams.

Another trip down into the Big Ditch

Williams is on Historic Route 66 and is considered the Gateway to The Grand Canyon and houses the southernmost terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Williams was considered the last holdout for Hwy 40 to bypass Route 66.

We made a quick trip to the Grand Canyon for Easter Sunday sunrise service and stuck around for breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge. The Grand Canyon is always special no matter how many times we have been there.

Farmington, NM (Elevation: 5,393’)

After Williams and Flagstaff, we decided to move on to New Mexico. We haven’t spent time here, except to get from Arkansas to Arizona. We kept hearing about a BLM campground in Farmington, NM that just opened.

We thought we were beyond frigid temperatures, but the closer we got to Farmington the more unsettled the weather. Rain turned to sleet and snow and when we turned onto the dirt road for our final 3 miles to the campground, we were not sure we could make it. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive, because without it we never would have made it to the muddy dirt road to Brown Springs OHV Recreation Area.

As we pulled in we were greeted by 4 of our fellow Xscapers RV Club members. Not knowing they were there, it was a nice surprise to see them! One thing we have learned after 4 years of full-timing, we usually run into someone we know.

We had a cold and rainy start to our stay, but the clouds moved out and the temperature rose over our 14-day stay.

Snowy start to our stay

This first come first serve campground is completely free with 11 designated campsites and pit toilet, but no hookups or dump station. Each site was beautifully landscaped with fire pit and covered picnic tables. The grand opening of the campground was the week before and only filled up over the weekends.

Beautiful large campsite

There are OHV trails all over this place and we enjoyed trail running to our heart’s content. One downside was the OHV activity, especially over the weekends, which brought in a ton of loud folks who didn’t feel it necessary to pick up their trash. Every trail run we went on we picked up as much trash as we could carry. Mostly alcohol bottles and cans littered the trails. Occasionally responsible adults threw out the kid’s juice bottles too. You want to start them young, right?

Tons of hiking right from the campsite

If you make it to Farmington be sure to plan a trip to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area 50 miles south, also known as the Bisti Badlands.

The unique landscape looks alien in nature, and is like nothing we have ever seen. We saw fossils, hoodoos, petrified wood, dried lake beds and the famous “cracked eggs”. It’s definitely worth a day trip to explore this expansive area accessible only on foot!

Cracked Eggs

Taos, NM (Elevation: 6,969’)

After Farmington, we moved on to Taos, NM. Taos is a charming little town with a rich history of conquests, revolts, raids, treaties, and wars. Finally becoming a US territory in 1850 and a state in 1912 it is now home to a booming art community.

We took a trip to the Rio Grand River Gorge that carves an amazing canyon into its flat landscape just west of town. Little specks of rafters could be seen from the top.

Rio Grand River Gorge

Crossing over the Gorge we also toured the eco/self-sustaining community called The Earthship Biotecture. They specialize in solar, water catchment and recycling and walls made of dirt-filled tires and glass bottles.  Water was first captured from rain and snowmelt to be used from showers and washing dishes. This wastewater was then used to flush toilets then filtered to provide water for drip irrigation systems in greenhouses to water plants and vegetables.

It was an impressive, completely sustainable community.

The Earthship community

While in Taos we planned on hiking the highest peak in NM, Wheeler Peak at 13,159’. But inquiring at the local Outdoor store, we learned the Wheeler Peak was still covered in late season snow. Instead, we opted for the more elevation friendly Devisadero Loop Tail just on the edge of town. It was an easy 5.7-mile loop and had beautiful views of Taos.

Devisadero Loop Tail

While in Taos we stayed at the quaint Hotel Luna Mystica. Hotel Luna is actually a vintage RV rental “hotel” with a dirt parking lot in back for dry RV and tent camping. There is room for a good 100+ RV’s so they do not take reservations. Reservations are required for vintage RV rentals.

Be sure to check out the brewery next-door at the “mothership” where they serve up great food!

Hotel Luna Mystica vintage rentals

Mosca, CO (Elevation: 7,559’)

Mosca contains the highest sand dunes in North America, The Great Sand Dunes. The Great Sand Dunes became a National Park in 2004.

The dune is a fascinating ecosystem of recycled sand that gets kicked up by high southwesterly winds that push sand up east against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During storms, the wind shifts in the opposite direction pushing the sand back west. This back and forth forces the sand upward, creating the dunes. It’s suggested that there really isn’t any “new” sand, just the same old sand being pushed around by the wind.

Medano Creek runs at the base of the dunes and is used as a “beach” by the locals. While there, we saw hundreds of families set up beach toys and pop-up tents to spend the day at the creek. It’s very shallow but can run strong and cold. You can rent sandboards and sleds at the visitor center for sand surfing and sledding.

The Beach

Another worthwhile side hike is to Zapata Falls. This 30′ waterfall flows into a narrow crevasse south of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Depending on where you park it’s either a short .4-mile up to 4-mile hike to the falls with the last 400′ through freezing cold water. Take a hiking pole for stability in the water and prepare for the biggest brain freeze you’ve ever experienced!

Brain freeze!

We could only see a small portion of the falls

The falls are not completely visible from…well anywhere. Even after hiking through the creeks to the base of the falls we could only see the small bottom portion. A bit disappointing but still glad we did it.

Buena Vista, CO (Elevation: 7,965’)

We made a stopover in Buena Vista CO on our way to Denver for the Outdoor Retail Show. From the moment we rolled into “BV” (as the locals say) we were in L.O.V.E. Getting its start from rich agriculture and mining, BV is a flourishing summer tourist destination on the Arkansas River Headwaters.

The Arkansas River in Colorado

The Midland Trail along the Midland Railroad rails to trails

Many of the downtown buildings date back to the 1880-1890s, giving this town an amazing sense of history and resilience. Right from downtown, you have miles of mountain biking and hiking trails along the Arkansas River.  And the river offers kayaking, white water rafting, and paddleboarding.

After running the Midland Trail, the old Midland Railroad line, we had an amazing lunch at the Simple Café downtown.

Adorable Buena Vista from the Midland Trail

After studying the very expensive house market we decided that we might plan to spend 3 months here next summer at one of the local RV parks. Monthly RV Park rates average about $500-700/month, much cheaper than rent or mortgage payment in this pricey little mountain town.

Salida, CO (Elevation: 7,083’)

After a week’s stay at Bear Creek County Park in Denver, we headed back through BV on our way to Salida. We were attending the Xscapers 4thof July Convergence. Salida is another neat little Colorado mountain town with all the charm that comes with the wild west of the 1880s.

Xscaper shenanigans in the Salida 4th of July parade

Downtown Salida

After the convergence at the Chaffee Fairgrounds, we moved 5 miles down the road to the Shavano BLM area. Once relocated we used this location to bag our first two Colorado 14’ers…Mt. Shavano (14,231’) and Tabeguache Peak (14,162’).

Our beautiful forestry campsite

This was a brutal Class 2, 12-mile round trip with 5,600 feet elevation gain that took us 9 hours to complete. Tabeguache Peak is only accessible via Mt. Shavano, so if you are going to do one you might as well do both.

The trail to these two peaks is a relentless steep uphill battle that gets no reprieve what so ever. No flat strolls through pretty little meadows. No rollers for a bit of recovery. No switchbacks to easy the steep grade. Just straight uphill…for 5 long hours. The final approach to both mountains are scrambling over bolder fields with no definitive trail and patches of snow.

But as tough as the uphill slog was, the downhill was just as painful, slow and rocky. It was a long day and I’m glad to be in enough shape to decide on any given day to hike a 14’er!

Next up, Mt Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.

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