Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Colorado Expedition

Confounded, my family faced two separate weeks for spring breaks -- one for my son Jay (and exchange student Abdul) and one for moi at Ohio University.  I feared: I cannot sit on my butt for this one, so I will embark into the great wilderness and ski resorts either just above or far below Route 70 (where I get my "kicks").  "Drive, me said."

I had a great rig: Our Toyota Hybrid Highlander.  Enough room with back seats down to place a cooler, skis, gear, and even enough space to lay down a therma-rest and down sleeping bag (rated for below zero somewhere).  True car camping possibilities.  Of which there were many, including a first night spent somewhere in Missouri, with snow falling out of the sky and pulled into a RV spot chunked with ice and packed snow (this after frantically searching a "conservation area" that promised free camping but was so snowed over such a thing did not exist for my finding).  The second night I made it to my first destination, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south east/central Colorado.  When I stepped out of vehicle and looked up at the sky, I thought: Yes, this is one of many reasons I'm here.  I hadn't seen stars like that for some time.  It was cold but the rig kept me warm.

Time to backpack into the Dunes: The next day I did precisely that, probably covering about ten miles.  Anyone who tells you that Dunes are easy to hike into is lying, especially these babies that often require 400-500 foot climbs.  The evening was cold, and it felt like something was moving in.

I was right: Something was moving in.  Perhaps the best -- just because it was insanely wrong -- was to listen to a woman on NPR who sounded as though she knew not of what she spoke tell listeners there was the possibility of "four feet of snow" in the mountains.  I gunned the gas, figuring that I had enough time to make it to those mountains for a half day of skiing (I had arisen at 6am and made it out to the vehicle by 9).

I made it to Wolf Creek (my family's and my favorite place).  Nice day of skiing and then scurrying around to find out if I could still camp out in the parking lot the way the crazy Mattsons did a few years back.  I got the go ahead and then faced the storm.  Cooked dinner in the back of the rig, partook in beer consumption, and prepped for an evening of cold.  We got about seven inches, and that made for my first powder day of the trip.  Glory gee...

From Wolf Creek, it was into the mountain town of Durango for a much needed hotel and shower, plus good grub at Steamworks Brewery.  Had a Mole Imperial Stout, a fine idea and good beer.  Boatloads of food.  Loaded up with some fresh groceries and then the next day drove one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on -- from Durango to Telluride, via Silverton and Ouray.  Mountains fulls of snow.  But also roads full of snow, sometimes sliding down passes more than driving.  But I safely arrived in Telluride for a full half day of skiing.  The town doesn't make it easy to figure out how to get to the hill, even though it's right to your right when you drive into this over-boutiqued town.  I got some assistance, pulled into a free parking area (which seemed something people got very excited about), and then embarked for skiing.  My wife being the smarter of us on such topics warned me that this is steep skiing.  "Double blues?" I said to myself as I embarked.  It was a wonderful ski time -- some of the best views of the mountain west you can have and huge amounts of skiing.  I rode a chairlift with two Michigan'ers, and they kept shouting out, "Look at how far the runs go!  Oh my god!"  Fun for all.

And then brushing all of the snow off my skis, I headed to explore the Pallisades Wilderness Study area.  I considered a backpack through this trail-less BLM land.  As I drove the main access road, I was hit but what I've found many times -- a patch work of public and private lands, with no sense of which was what.  It was getting to be about six pm, I had cooked dinner alongside the Dolores River, and I decided to go for safer terrain up north.  I made it to the Colorado National Monument's campsite at around 8:30.  I was the only one there.

The next day, I had some conversations with rangers and decided to head for the Rattlesnake Arch area that was part of the Black Ridge Conservation Area that also bordered some wilderness was just east of the Monument.  Hitched my pack and headed out for a fifteen miler.  To the second largest concentration of Arches outside of Arches National Park, which is just down the road so to speak.

From here I could also see where my wife Vicky used to be a whitewater rafting guide, Westwater Canyon:
A marvelous hike, although BLM trails leave a bit to be desired.  Got out the next day and headed for the Little Book Cliffs Wilderness Study Area.  Oh, yes, there are wild horses here.  I hitched up my pack, parked alongside horse trailers and headed out into Main Canyon, not that far from Route 70.  Hiking the Horseshit Highway, as I call it.  Ran into a typically taciturn horseman who told me he had seen a band of wild horses just up canyon but that they'd probably go up a side canyon by the time I got there.  He was right and wrong: They were there, but I also got there in time.
Hiked up a side canyon and made camp.  Looked at the sky and thought: More snow's coming...

The next day I drove to Dillon, Colorado, where I knew there were affordable hotels that were close to the A-Basin ski resort, a place my wife and I had always wanted to ski.  And yes, there was to be snow: A huge winter warning hit the area.  I wound up skiing another "freshy" day at A-Basin.  Awesome.  A great hill, even when I flipped on a black diamond, bumped-up chute area.  Almost lost my pants.  But really, really great.
And then "Drive back," I said.  Easier said than done, since I found Route 70 was shut down from eastern Denver all the god damn way to Kansas.  So I took I-25 South, only to witness jack-knifed trailer trucks, about forty cars flown off the highway, and portions of that road detoured through the town of Colorado Springs.  Made it to southeast Colorado that night and then headed across Kansas on secondary roads through one of the worst wind storms I have ever witnessed.  More snow, huge sections of 70 (once I got back there) covered with snow....  But I made it to Terre Haute, Indiana, boyhood home of Theodore Dreiser.  The next day, it was back to Athens and the much-needed hugs of my family.

A good trip indeed.

1 comment:

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