Travels with Tucker

Travels with Tucker

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cheyenne, Wyoming

In a bit of a change of pace for us, we had planned to spend a week near Cheyenne because we had tickets to see Keith Urban perform on the last night of Cheyenne Frontier Days.  Frontier Days is the biggest event of the year for Cheyenne (and maybe for the whole state of Wyoming) and they do a really good job of it.  The whole town really gets behind the ten days of festivities, which featured an authentic rodeo every other day, the Air Force Thunderbirds air show, a huge midway, an Indian village with performances by Wyoming dancers and musicians and a big parade.  We tried to do it all and really had fun there.  We camped about 1/2 hour out of town in a very nice state park and managed to do some hiking in addition to our trips to Cheyenne.  The Keith Urban concert was amazing as usual and the next day we headed out to one of the least-known mountain ranges in the country.  Wait 'till you see THAT place!

The whole town really did a great job on the parade
There were many antique wagons and cars...and lots of horses and mules
Cool horns!

Eating a buffalo burger at the rodeo....notice the hat
Steer wrestlers are truly crazy.  That is 700 pounds of beef he has to get on the ground!
The bucking bronco riders were only slightly less crazy
The Thunderbirds were spectacular, and we were so close

Tucker, enjoying the view of our campground
We hiked around North Crow Reservoir and had it almost to ourselves
Another view of our campground by Granite Springs Lake
Local Indian "Fancy Dancer" putting on a great show
Sunset from our campsite

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pawnee National Grasslands

Northeast of Denver, almost to the Wyoming border, is a large area of shortgrass prairie, the kind that once covered much of the midwest.  We had a few days before we were due to head up to Cheyenne, so we decided to camp out in this vast, flat area and take a break from the mountains for a while.

Not really a pristine area, the National Grasslands is a patchwork of ranches, open prairie and some oil and gas develoment.  It was really quite beautiful and in this very wet year, it was green and full of wildflowers.  We camped in a very quiet and lovely spot and took a drive over to the Pawnee Buttes for a hike.  The buttes are one of the few remnants of the prairie floor as it existed millions of years ago.  Almost all of that soft sandstone has eroded away, but a hard cap of rock protected the buttes from erosion, leaving the several-hundred-foot-high monoliths as they are today.   It was a very beautiful place and one that few people even know about, much less visit.

Our camping spot in the grasslands
A storm approaches
This creek is usually dry, but this year it is flooded
The Pawnee Butte trail

View of the buttes from a distance

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bluegrass in the Mountains

We usually try to hit at least a couple of bluegrass festivals every year and this summer in Colorado we only found one that sounded pretty good.  As it turned out the festival in Westcliffe (which is a tiny ranching community at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains) was a real winner.  The most beautiful surroundings, a great lineup of musicians and a friendly little town all made for a great four days. Photographing bluegrass musicians has not always been very rewarding for me, but there was one band, the Hillbenders, that put on a great show with mega-enthusiasm and I had fun shooting them in black and white.

The view from the festival tent was always amazing

Sangre de Cristo Mountains
The Hillbenders' Chad Graves

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Arkansas Headwaters

Having explored some of the notable places in far-western Colorado, it was time to move east. We had a date with a bluegrass festival later in July and we wanted to break the drive up, so we headed for Buena Vista, in the Arkansas River Valley. The Arkansas River runs for over 1,400 miles from central Colorado to the Mississippi. Buena Vista is only about 50 miles from the source of the river and is at the center of one of the most active whitewater areas in the country. Just south of Buena Vista the Arkansas runs through Brown’s Canyon, which was just made the country’s newest National Monument by President Obama.

We had reservations at a campground right on the river, called Railroad Bridge Campground. In additon to being a campground, it was a major put-in/take-out spot for river runners and river guide companies. We found it fun to watch the loading and unloading of rafts and kayaks, and the spot was absolutely spectacular, with views of several 14,000-foot peaks to the west and the beautiful river running through our dreams.

We did a few hikes to nearby lakes and a fabulous bike ride through the mining district of nearby Leadville. We also took a raft trip through Brown’s Canyon--SO different from the Colorado River we ran back in May, but very beautiful and fun. We loved the little town of BV and the friendly, outdoorsy people of Colorado. ANOTHER place we’d love to visit again someday (this is getting to be a recurring theme)!

Buena Vista has a whitewater park on the Arkansas River which runs right through town.  Professional kayakers have moved here because it is so great for whitewater
We watched the fireworks display in a field outside of Buena Vista

Ptarmigan Lake.  This was a nice 5-mile hike above the tree line.
Tucker likes hiking too!
This hike was in the Collegiate Range. that is Mt. Yale (14,199 ft.) in the distance

View of our campground looking down the Arkansas River. That is our trailer left center.

Hiking along twin Lakes near Leadville.  That is Mt. Elbert (14,439 ft.), the highest peak in the Rockies.
We hiked to the site of Interlaken Resort, which died back in the 1920's but many of the buildings are preserved.

Interlaken Historic Area

Lynnae riding the Mineral Belt Trail, a 12-mile bike trail around Leadville.  The trail is very fun and beautiful.
The Minerall Belt trail goes through the old mining district of Leadville.  Not sure who would even think of  swimming here!  Much of the mining area was declared a Superfund site several years ago and is much cleaned up now...but not completely
An old church outside of Leadville.  Back in the 1880's, Leadville was second in population only to  Denver and was almost made the state capital of Colorado.

Arkansas River from the old railroad bridge near our campsite
This tunnel caused us some trepidation at first, but we fit through it just fine

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Grand Mesa

Reluctantly leaving Ridgway and the San Juans, we headed up to Grand Junction, the largest city in Western Colorado, to get some RV work done (unsuccessfully), cancelling our plans to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and instead went up to Grand Mesa for a week. Little-known outside of Colroado, the Grand Mesa is the world’s largest flat-topped mountain and a major year-round playground for the locals in Western Colorado. At 10,000 feet, this 500-square-mile plateau overlooks the Colorado River and the desert of Colorado National Monument. Because it is so flat, it is dotted with over 300 lakes and covered with spruce forest and high meadows, filled this year with wildflowers.

We had a lovely campsite within a five-minute walk of a half dozen lakes. The fishing was superb and Lynnae caught her limit several days. We also did the premier hike on the Grand Mesa--a 10-mile loop that for several miles follows Crags Crest, a 1,000-foot ridge running down the middle of the mesa. The views of lakes and the surrounding mesa were spectacular, but it was about at our hiking limit for distance and vertical rise. After a week, it was time to move on, but here was another place in Colorado we vowed to return to someday.

Please visit my published adventures on The Outdoor Project for more photos and descriptions:

Blue Columbine is the Colorado state flower.  They were common on Grand Mesa

Sunset on Sunset Lake.

Sunset Lake was a five-minute walk from our campsite

Jumbo  Lake was right next to our campground.  We saw and heard beavers on this lake.

Mesa Lake was the largest of the group of lakes near our campground.

We hiked up to Lost Lake.  Nice hike, beautiful lake, no luck fishing.

From the Land's End overlook, the structure of Grand Mesa is apparent.  That is the Colorado River 5,000 feet below.

Sunset overlooking Grand Junction and Utah in the distance.

Lovely waterfalls and streams were abundant on the mesa.

Sunset from the main park road.

Sunset on Jumbo Lake.  

View from the Crags Crest trail.

Reaching the top of Crags Crest.

The meadows and wildflowers of the Grand Mesa were gorgeous.