From Kansas Heat to Mountain Cool!
July 23 – 31
Monday morning I break camp at the Thomas County Fairgrounds in Colby to drive back to Colorado. It’s overcast with a forecast for thunderstorms in the afternoon on the eastern Colorado plains. I have been caught in some pretty severe weather on the plains and am not interested in having that experience again! I get on the road early and head west on I-70. Hit Denver around noon with good weather so far. Make a fuel stop and get back on I-70 West. I want to get through town before traffic gets heavy, it is already starting to build up. As I start up into the mountains, I run into some pretty heavy rain. There are no rest areas or much of any place to stop along this stretch. I know of a 12 hour parking area in Idaho Springs. Pull off there, but no room. I find a place to park on the street in a commercial area. It’s nearly dark, so hopefully I can stay here through the night.
I was able to sleep through the night and started driving about 5:30am. I exit onto US 40 off the interstate and drive to Berthoud Pass, which is on the Continental Divide at 11,307 ft. The pass is very popular for winter sports – backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. There is a large parking area and a warming hut. I stop here to make coffee and breakfast.
I am headed to Idlewild Campground in Winter Park. This is a national forest campground that doesn’t take reservations. My plan is to arrive around 8am and see if there is a site opening up. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast, I drive down the other side of the pass to the campground. I park at the entrance and walk down the hill to the sites on the river to see what is available. Most forest service campsites don’t work well for me as they are too shady to get enough sun to charge my solar panels. And many sites are too small. I particularly like site 20. It gets good sun and is long enough. The tag on the post shows the occupants are leaving today. Yippee! Checkout isn’t until 1pm though. There are a few more sites up by the road so I walk up and take a look at those. There is a pull through that would work, but I don’t want to be right on the highway. So hoping site 20 opens up. The camp host couple is sitting outside their motorhome and I stop to chat with them. They have two orange Maine Coon Cats, so we were comparing similar behaviors of my Misty and their two kitties. As we’re talking the site 20 occupants drive by and wave, saying they are checking out. Hooray! I jump in the truck and drive down there before someone else comes along.
The Fraser River Trail runs through the campground. This is a paved trail that goes along the river from the town of Winter Park south to the resort area and is about three miles long. I take a few walks along the trail but don’t get my bike out to ride. It was pretty rainy while I was here.
On Friday, I do manage to get in a hike on the Butler Gulch Trail. This trail is back on the south side of Berthoud Pass and up Jones Pass Road next to the Henderson Mine. It is a popular trail in summer and winter. It’s a nice trail to snowshoe, which I have done before. Also, it is known for its wildflower displays. This is the first time I have hiked it in the summer. Hopefully the flowers are still nice.
The trail follows along an old mining road that is fairly wide at the start but gets narrower as you go. The trail is well maintained. It is about 2.5 miles up to the old mine with 1,480ft total ascent. So it is an easy to moderate hike.
There are a couple wide crossings of Butler Gulch Creek with logs in place so you don’t get your feet wet.
There are a few places where water flows in the trail and it gets muddy. The worst places have corduroy logs to help prevent erosion, as this trail gets a good amount of traffic.
At about 1.5 miles there is a lovely waterfall off to the right of the trail. There were lots of flowers along the creek banks.
The forest begins to open up as the trail nears tree line, and there are fields of flowers.
As you leave the trees behind, the trail enters a large open basin.
The flowers were a little past peak, but they were still plentiful with nice blooms.
I really like the elephant heads.
As you continue across the basin, there are a couple rock hop crossings of a now much smaller Butler Gulch Creek.
On the western side of the basin is the defunct Jean Mine. This mine was developed in the 1920s but no ore was ever removed from it. Present are iron, copper and silver. I didn’t find any information on why it shut down. So someone went to a lot of work for nothing. There is lots of old machinery, rail tracks, etc. on the site.
Even an old rusted out car. I looked but didn’t find any markings that told what make it was. How would you like to ride on that seat!
The clouds were beginning to build up, so after looking around the mine area, I start back down the trail. It was a pleasant hike and I really enjoyed the wildflowers.
Saturday evening, right at dusk I had a visitor to my campsite. I heard some commotion outside. When I looked out the side window, this guy was standing right next to my truck.
Boy was I surprised! But not nearly as much as a couple bike riders who came along and couldn’t see him until they were right in front of my truck. The moose didn’t pay any attention to them, he was only interested in munching on the willows.
After about 15 minutes he ambled on across the road and up the hillside. I’m glad I wasn’t tent camping!
When I was in Westcliffe, I noticed that one of the tires on the Nash is badly worn on the outside edge.
From what I’ve learned, this unfortunately may indicate a bent axle. I’ve been mulling over how to get this taken care of. I’ve decided to go to Denver for repairs, and have located a shop to go to. So Monday morning I’ll be leaving this camp and making the drive back to Denver, much to my chagrin.