Other October 2020 Adventures

October 16-18

Wildfires around Estes Park were still burning, so we spent more time in Summit County this extended fire season. The Cameron Peak Fire to the north was already uncomfortably visible from our backyard. 

View to the north from our house on Oct 16, 2020; Cameron Peak Fire

Looking down at Estes Park on October 16th, with fires to the north
(photo courtesy of Arthur Messal)

The situation would worsen in a few days when Grand County’s East Troublesome fire spotted over the Continental Divide, threatening Estes Park in earnest. The East Troublesome fire became Colorado's 2nd largest fire at over 198,000 acres. It wasn't contained until Nov 30th, killed two people, and destroyed 580 structures. 

Map of East Troublesome Fire, Oct 23, 2020.
The red shaded area at upper right was only a few miles from Estes Park.

Estes Valley residents were under a mandatory evacuation for several days, but we left town a week earlier, after doing some fire mitigation work in our yard. This was the first time the entire Estes Valley had ever been totally evacuated.

Aerial view of the East Troublesome Fire (photo from reddit\Denver)

Just in case, on October 18th, we drove both our vehicles and brought important documents with us to Dillon. The day we headed south on the Peak to Peak Highway, yet another fire -- the Calwood Fire --  sprung up west of Boulder causing low visibility. Boy, were we glad to find blue skies when we got to Dillon!

October 20

Earlier this year we did a lot of new off-roading routes in Summit County, but hadn’t yet been up to Williams Peak Road near Heeney (FunTreks Trail #51). The most interesting part of the trip this time was seeing the distant fires burning. At first we believed we were seeing the Williams Fork fire, but later realized that it was actually the explosion of the East Troublesome fire.

Mike opening the gate to the Williams Peak trail, just off Colorado Highway 9

Looking back down the Williams Peak trail

Looking down on Green Mountain Reservoir from the Williams Peak trail (FS 200)

East Troublesome Fire, viewed from below Williams Peak

October 21

The next day we popped over to Loveland Pass and hiked around Loveland Pass Lake. We’ll have to go back in the winter and enjoy the easy access to high alpine terrain on our snowshoes.

Loveland Pass Lakes

Loveland Pass Lakes, looking mostly south; Arapahoe Basin Ski Area at far right

The off-roading season would soon be over, so afterward we took advantage of the warmish weather and drove back up to Webster Pass, one of our favorite routes from the previous summer. Several really fun off-road trails start near Montezuma, a small village a little east of Keystone. 

The main "street" in Montezuma, on the way to Webster Pass

View from Webster Pass of the valley we came up; East Troublesome Fire in the distance

Webster Pass is right on the Continental Divide. We hiked up from the car a little ways up along the Divide. Rather than drive over the Pass and down Handcart Gulch, we went back to Montezuma the way we came up. 

Webster Pass, looking at trail coming down from Red Cone

Looking southeast from Webster Pass

November 1

Sure enough, we had snow a few days later, closing the off-road trails for the season. But we squeezed in one more bike ride by driving to Glenwood Springs and biking the Rio Grande Trail south to a little past Carbondale. Our ride was a bit over 26 beautiful miles round trip. 

Mike on the Rio Grande bike trail, just south of Glenwood Springs along the Roaring Fork River

Utah & Grand Canyon North Rim - Part IV (Oct 5 - 9, 2020)

Continued from Part III...

After a very full week of hiking and driving, we took the entire day off on October 5 to rest and plan for a leisurely and scenic "take the long way" home.

Tuesday morning we left Kanab early and headed toward Page. We made it to Horseshoe Bend while the morning light was still decent. We had been there while staying in Page a few years before the area was developed and admission was charged, but the facilities were most welcome! 

Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Arizona

We stayed in Cortez so that Wednesday morning we could run Ophir Pass again. This is one of our favorite 4WD roads with tons of bang for the buck. We came up through Dolores and Rico on scenic Highway 145 and turned off onto D65 and went through the tiny village of Ophir before switching Moby into 4x4 low range and driving up through the still-colorful aspen. 

The views open up as we started to get above treeline

Looking back down on the village of Ophir from near the top of Ophir Pass

A jeep heads down the narrow shelf road we just came up

We spent a little extra time near the top of the pass visiting with the local Pika.

An American Pika (ochotona princeps) busily gathers plants for his haypile

Our 4Runner "Moby" about to head down the east side of Ophir Pass

Running Ophir pass from west to east brings us out on Highway 550 aka the Million Dollar Highway, where we turned north towards Ouray. 

Town of Ouray

Driving past Ouray where we would spend the night, we went on to explore the area around Owl Creek Pass in the Uncompahgre Mountains. This is a fabulous spot in the fall and we can’t wait to go back and do more. 

The drive up to Owl Creek Pass is gorgeous, even if the aspen was a little past prime

We stopped in several places to walk around in the aspen groves, scoping out trails we might want to hike next time. 

We took a short 4x4 trail to Rowdy Lake, too. And we found so much to explore on the other side of Owl Creek Pass: Silver Jack Reservoir, East, Middle, and West Forks of the Cimarron River, Courthouse Rock, and much more!

Rowdy Lake

Chimney Rock

After Owl Creek Pass, we checked into our hotel in Ouray, and ate our "dinner" out of the ice chest, and turned in early. 

On Thursday morning, even though we were an easy day’s drive back to Dillon, we decided to take another day to explore Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, so we planned to stay overnight in Gunnison. 

We walked down to the Morrow Point Dam, then hiked the canyon west along a sweet path loaded with colorful Gambel Oak. 

Susan below the Morrow Point Dam on the Gunnison River

We hike on the Mesa Creek Trail, below the dam

Mike, near the end of the short hike down the river

On our way out we checked out the very nicely done Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit.

Locomotive and cars from the Denver & Rio Grande Western on display near Morrow Point

After stopping at Morrow Point, we went on down the road towards Blue Mesa Reservoir. Our plan was to hike out to the Dillon Pinnacles, but it was just a little too hot for us that day so we’ll have to go back. We did hike out a mile or two for a nice leg stretch.

Looking over Blue Mesa Reservoir with the Pinnacles in the distance

The trail out to the Pinnacles

The Pinnacles

After an easy day, we stopped in Gunnison for the night. We went into town to get dinner to bring back to the hotel, and found that one of our favorite brewpubs, High Alpine Brewing Co., had a large open garage door open to the street. So, for the first time since March, we ate at a restaurant, instead of doing takeout. 

Ready to eat!

The next morning we drove up toward Crested Butte, and turned off to take scenic Cottonwood Pass. We stopped along the pass to hike up to Lost Lake. Very pretty hike, and only a bit over 3 miles with only 400 ft of gain. A bonus for us was seeing pika its habitat right at the edge of the lake. 

Along the trail to Lost Lake

An unnamed tarn we detoured to on the way up

Pano of Lost Lake

Lost Lake -- the talus field at center left is where we observed the pika

Last look at Lost Lake before we headed back down the trail to the car

After the hike, we drove on to Dillon via Buena Vista, Fairplay, and Breckenridge. What a fun trip!

Southern Utah & Grand Canyon North Rim - Part III (Oct 3 - Oct 4, 2020)

Saturday we learned about another slot canyon very close to Kanab. Confusingly, Red Canyon is also known as Peek-a-Boo Canyon. The 4 mile “road” to Red Canyon was a deep red sand wash that was a blast to drive through after airing down the tires on the 4Runner. 

The Canyon itself was a short and easy but beautiful little hike.

Near the entrance to Red Canyon, before it began to narrow

Susan in Red Canyon aka Peekaboo

Have we mentioned how much we enjoy hiking in slot canyons? :-) 

Afterward we drove back along the Johnson Canyon loop where many westerns were filmed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Along the way we ran across some ranchers moving a small herd of cattle along the road.

The Saddle Mountain viewpoint of the North Rim was our goal Sunday morning. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of smoke in the air, but the haze made for some interesting photography.

We had excellent fall color on the drive to the Saddle Mountain Overlook

We took a small detour off the road to Saddle Mountain to another overlook

The aspen along the road was pretty much at its peak

The view from the Saddle Mountain Overlook

The smoky view treated in black and white :-) 

There wasn’t much open space to explore at this viewpoint, so we decided to do the off-road trek to Point Sublime. This is about a 20 mile drive on a moderately difficult 4x4 trail, so we stopped at the North Rim Backcountry Office to check on trail conditions. We learned the trail was open and in good shape, though the ranger told us when they go to Point Sublime they often take the longer way in from the north, as the trail we would take is so rough. We were not deterred. We also picked up some food for a picnic lunch later in the day. 

The road to Point Sublime passed through many open areas and also forested areas, with a few places to pull off and walk to the rocky canyon rim for stunning views. 

One of the pullouts near the canyon rim

Susan at the rocky canyon rim

Red point on map showing location of the pullout and views to the south

View from the unnamed pullout

After arriving at Point Sublime, we parked Moby, and walked around the rim, marveling at the views. Surprisingly, there were 3 or 4 other parties with 4x4 vehicles who came and went while we were there. 

Of course, we discovered why Point Sublime has its name -- the views from there are truly stunning, and we lingered for awhile, taking in the views and eating our lunch. 

The view from our shady picnic table lunch spot

We hit the trail again, heading north with another 20 miles of off-pavement driving, and another 3 hours back to Kanab. It was a very fun day! But the next day, we took a break...