Tag Archives: Favorite Locations
If you are thinking about slot canyons and hiking in Southern Utah, check out Favorite Hikes In & Around Zion National Park by Tanya Milligan and Bo Beck. It’s loaded with great photos and easy to understand directions and maps. They also cover hikes for every age and ability level. Perfect for planning your next adventure no matter what age kids you have. We picked up our copy at REI.
While Colorado is most often associated with her beautiful mountains, there is a small section in southern Colorado that has enormous sand dunes. Formed millions of years ago, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range where blowing sand against the mountain has created the largest sand dunes in North America. The tallest, Star Dune rises 750 feet from the creek bed. Looking from the distance, Great Sand Dunes offers an amazing juxtaposition of sand dunes landscape next to the majestic Rocky Mountains.
While Alex and I had an adventure here some 10 years earlier when we took a first place ribbon at the annual sand building competition, our purpose for this adventure was much different. We were here to get in some vertical climbing in preparation for our June trip to Mt. Rainier. As such, we decide to go with full packs on. Our course was to climb the High Dune on the east side and then walk right through the middle of the dunes over to Star Dune. We could then easily descend down to the valley floor and follow the creek bed back to our starting point.
If you’ve ever walked through dry sand, you know how much it gives way underneath you. What makes this hike so challenging is that you are sinking in while doing some major vertical climbing. Many a time it felt like one step up and two steps back. To make matters more difficult, the wind howls constantly and the higher you get the more ferocious the sand storms become. After reaching the top of High Dune, and enjoying watching the many sand boarders who ride down the dune), we headed out across the middle. After descending the back side of High, we were treated to an awe inspiring scene of nothing but sand. Every direction we looked, nothing but sand and the blue sky above. To feel like you could get lost in here is an understatement. While hundreds of tourists were at play just a quarter-mile away, it felt like Alex and I were the only two people on earth.
The climb across the dunes was extremely enjoyable. The climb up Star Dune however was a huge challenge. Between the loose footing, the steep slope, and brutal wind gusts, I was down to counting 20 steps before needing to take a rest break. When getting to the top, you quickly get to the back side of the ridge to avoid being sand blasted by the wind. Inspired at the top, we decided to go back the same way rather than going to the creek bed. While a much more difficult traverse, we couldn’t resist the temptation to play in the sand again. For me, having trained in the pool for the past three months, I finally felt I had reached a level of fitness that made it fun to pack and I was encouraged about our upcoming climb up Mt. Rainier. This memorable hike stayed with us for days as we continued to wash sand out of our hair and ears!
Fruita, CO is located in the western region of the state, bordering the Colorado River and Uncompahgre Plateau. It is minutes outside of Grand Junction but has a culture all its own. The hot desert climate beckons tourism in the spring and early summer, and May is the best time to visit, without a doubt. Not only is the snow gone but the weather is perfect for outdoors activities.
The city’s nickname is “Home of Mike the Headless Chicken,” and in may you can find out why. The Mike the Headless Chicken festival takes place in late May annually and celebrates the life of Mike, the headless chicken. The concept is self-explanatory: there was a chicken, Mike, and his head was chopped off yet he lived. To find out why, how, and how long, as well as for information on the festival, visit www.miketheheadlesschicken.org. The festival takes place on the streets of Fruita; this is not an event to be missed.
A year-round attraction in Fruita is the Dinosaur Journey museum. This region of Western Colorado is renowned for its excellent paleontology, including the discovery of the Fruitaden, the smallest plant eating dinosaur. The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is an excellent way to see what lies within the hills of the Western Slope. If driving is out of the question, stick to the indoor museum; www.museumofwesternco.com/visit/dinosaur-journey.
On the outdoorsy beat, visit the Colorado National Monument. Located just west of Fruita, the mountain escape offers a beautiful geologic view of Colorado. Run by the National Park Service, the monument has all of the amenities of another park or preserve. Vacationers can camp, hike, backpack, or simply drive. For more information visit the NPS web page; www.nps.gov/colm. This park is truly one of Colorado’s hidden gems that many miss due to its off-the-beaten-path location and seemingly mundane setting.
By no means is Hooper, CO a large ‘happening’ town, but it is quite unique. Home to about 120 people and only .2 square miles in area, Hooper is not much more than a few houses on the side of Colorado Highway 17. Its location is what makes it appealing. State Highway 17 is a common route through the San Luis Valley and if you too happen to be driving by, take an afternoon to stop and poke around. Hooper has a quaint town park that is perfect for a picnic lunch while looking at either the San Juan Mountain Range or the Sangre De Cristo range.
After lunch, give the UFO Watchtower a try. A quirky attraction at that, the UFO watchtower is a museum of sorts that lends information on UFOs. The owner, Judy, Messoline, has taken her passion for the extraterrestrial and put it to good use, building the first UFO Watchtower in the heart of the San Luis Valley where there is no light pollution, and alien encounters may be more likely. The destination makes for a great family photo shoot and a fun memory. For more information: www.ufowatchtower.com
In for another surprising adventure? Try Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Yes, that is correct; there are alligators in the heart of Colorado! Erwin Young, owner, has grown his attraction over the years into a first rate point of interest. Along with the over 300 alligators, reptiles and fish galore are on display including the Rocky Mountain White Tilapia. Get a gator tooth as a souvenir or snap a picture with a slightly less harmful baby; the memory will last a lifetime, especially if you never believed there was such a thing as a gator hole in Colorado. Visit Colorado Gators Reptile Park’s website at www.gatorfarm.com.
On a more outdoorsy note, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is less than an hour dive away. One of Colorado’s hidden gems, the park offers camping, tours, and sand castle building! Get additional information from the park service: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
Photo courtesy of nps.gov.
Creed, CO is a small town, one of the smallest in the state, that lies in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It is literally sandwiched in a dead-end canyon. Spend the night at #1 Old Firehouse Bed & Breakfast and Restaurant one night and catch a ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad the next day. The town lies almost on top of the Rio Grande River, so if the season is right rafting and fishing are also options. Info at: www.theoldfirehouse.com, and www.coloradotrain.com.
For the 4-wheelers of the bunch, this is a prime destination. Forest roads wind off in all directions and offer plenty of adventure and surprise. The Bachelor’s Loop is a popular sightseeing drive for mine enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Right outside of town, the access is easy, but the path is more difficult often requiring a strong 4×4 vehicle capable of handling steep slopes and rough terrain. For directions: www.sangres.com
Creede is the only municipality in the aptly named mineral county. The geology of the area is nothing short of spectacular; fragile capstones, needles and spires cover the landscape. Rockhounding is a hobby from the past, but is still well alive in Creede. Bring a sledge hammer to the Wheeler Geologic Area to search for some pale Colorado amethyst. The Wolf Creek ski area offers some stunning powder as well. Historically one of the hardest hit ski areas (with snow that is), wolf creek is the place to go for fresh powder and great views.
Like many early mining settlements in Colorado, the town of Gothic is nothing more than a few cabins, a research laboratory, and a local convenience store anymore. The ghost town is full of history though, and not to be overlooked. It is nestled near the base of Mt. Crested Butte and just a few miles out of the town of Crested Butte, a quaint Colorado mountain retreat for the locals only. Its positioning in the heart of the mountains gives views of many peaks including the Maroon Bells and Capital and Conundrum peaks.
The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory currently calls Gothic its home and engages scientists and students in researching rare alpine species. Its location at nearly 10,000’ above sea level makes it a unique location for biodiversity.
Off-roading is highly popular in the area given the close proximity to Pearl and Schofield passes and many other 4×4 roads. The views are absolutely unbeatable and the valley facilitates many other activities. Fly fishing in the pristine streams or in the nearby Taylor River is not only popular but very profitable. A number of private ranches also offer horseback rides that get off the beaten path and take you into the forest and separate the cowboys and cowgirls from the city slickers. Fantasy Ranch Outfitters provides a great experience for a fair price. Their guides are friendly and engaging and their horses are well taken care of. For more information, visit their site at www.fantasyranchoutfitters.com.
Just outside of Gothic is the ghost town of Crystal. While the town is a unique site, it is famous for one of Colorado’s most photographed locations: Crystal Mill. Anyone that is willing to hike a short distance can experience this historic site for themselves.
Located in Western Colorado’s West Elk Mountains, Paonia is your typical small town America. It is a friendly and beautiful place that is great for living and vacationing. Founded in the 1800s, Paonia is a farming town dedicated to organics and coal mining. The art scene is picking up to include many alternative professions and forms of entertainment. The city also has a substantial residency of developers of alternative energy; fitting for the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Paonia is set beneath the 11,400 foot Mount Lamborn, a spectacular scene at all times of the year and a great outlet for outdoor activities. The town also nearly borders the West Elk Wilderness area, which offers amazing hiking, biking and horseback riding as well as camping and backpacking. Permits are required and the area is subject to special regulations, so check with the forest service before your trip. On the other side of Paonia are the sprawling and stunning cherry orchards, vineyards, wineries, cattle ranches and other fruit farms. These offer a great chance for tourism and visitation (plus free samples). The local products are excellent and are worth the trip.
Access to Paonia is easiest from Grand Junction, CO or Glenwood Springs, CO. From each city the drive is between one and a half to two hours through beautiful country. Denver is a longer drive at about four hours. The town is also home to a handful of restaurants, a movie theater, an airport and a town park with a gazebo stage that serves as a beautiful venue for festivals and weddings.
The town is known for its annual Cherry Days festival in celebration of the local orchards. For information on the get together, visit the Paonia chamber of commerce. http://www.paoniachamber.com/
Another great attraction is the nearby Paonia State Park which attracts nature photographers from around the country to shoot beautiful wildflowers. The aspen forests and wildlife don’t hurt either. The park’s crystalline reservoir is another great escape for fisherman and canoers alike. Camping is available in the park as well as a multitude of hiking and biking trails. http://www.parks.state.co.us/parks/paonia/Pages/PaoniaStateParkHome.aspx
When visiting, Staying at the Bross Hotel bed and breakfast is a must. It opened in 1906 and retains much of the original elegance and culture as it was built with. The hotel provides ten guest rooms each with private baths and beautiful views. Outside of the building are perennial gardens and a deck with a hot tub, perfect for relaxing on any day! The hotel is only one block from the downtown area and is just another addition to make your trip to Paonia that much better. For more information and to make reservations, visit their website: http://www.paonia-inn.com/.
St. Elmo, CO:
Founded in 1880, St. Elmo, CO is no longer an official municipality of the state but rather a so-called “ghost town;” in 1922 when the narrow-gauge rail road stopped running and the gold and silver ran out, the population of St. Elmo seemingly disappeared over night. The town was initially founded during the heat of the Colorado gold and silver rush. The surrounding hills are home to nearly 150 mining claims including the famous Iron Chest mine.
St. Elmo is a wonderful winter destination for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snow showing, as well as some beautiful photography. Three hours from Denver and four and a half from Grand Junction, St. Elmo is located in the center of Colorado in Chaffee County. The town is only a few miles west of the Arkansas valley and settled at the base of Mt. Antero, Colorado’s richest aquamarine deposit.
Cabin rentals are available in St. Elmo; for more information visit http://www.st-elmo.com/townhistory.html. ATV rentals are also available, but only in the summer months. From the ghost town, one can travel to Tin cup pass, the mining towns of the past Hancock and Pomeroy, visit the historic Alpine Tunnel, or simply enjoy St. Elmo itself. Camping is available in the area, as well as is lodging in nearby Buena Vista or Salida.
Mt. Princeton, CO:
Nestled at the base of fourteen thousand peaks, Mt. Princeton is one of the most scenic and secluded destinations in Colorado. Although not officially a town, Mt. Princeton is neighborhood of privately owned cabins and a hot springs resort. The resort offers room rentals at its lodge, or more remote cabins that take a bit more effort to access. The mineral-water pools bubble alongside chalk creek, aptly named for its proximity to the famous chalk cliffs on the south side of Mt. Princeton itself. The 103 degree hot spring waters flow from the ground into a large, lap-style pool which is accompanied by a cool-down pool. Smaller soaking pools are available, but the traditional way to bathe is to make your own pool of rocks in the chalk creek where the hot water runs into the melt water. Information on the resort including rental rates, services, and special event offerings can be found at www.mtprinceton.com.
Mt. Princeton is nearest the towns of Buena Vista and Salida, about a two hour drive from Denver or four hours from Grand Junction. Chaffee County is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, containing the majestic Sawach range.
If luxury travel is not your cup of tea, or rather hot chocolate, then try camping! Yes, it may be January but that is no reason to give in to the snow fall. Only a few miles west of the hot springs are three forest service campgrounds that are accessible year-round. Information on the San Isabel National Forest is available from the U.S. Forest Service; www.fs.usda.gov/psicc. Backpacking is also a great outlet for taking advantage of what the area has to offer. The Colorado trail runs through the area and is the perfect excuse for taking a day hike. Being located in a National Forest, Mt. Princeton is an area suitable for snowmobiling, but many locals prefer snow shoes or cross country skis. For a more touristy approach to vacation, Monarch Mountain ski resort is a short drive to the south.
Here in Colorado, we are fortunate to have several recreational areas with rentable yurts (a tent like structure which is canvas over a deck and wooden frame). While not as luxurious as a cabin or the well-known 10th Mountain Hut System near Vail, the advantage of the smaller yurts is that you can rent them just for your own family or group. While sharing a large cabin with strangers can be very fun, it’s not always the best when traveling with younger children who need to go to bed at a reasonable hour or who may disturb the group with preschool mood swings. They are also great structures for having outdoor experiences while still enjoying the comfort of a mattress. We hope you enjoy.