Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Leaving Colorado


It’s been a long time since I posted something new on these pages.  It’s not that I have been inactive.  If you follow my Facebook page, you have seen fairly regular photos from outings over the past months.  Most of my outings have been to places I already wrote about in the blog and didn’t find it necessary to write about again.

I’ve also been quite busy since the last blog post.  Our Colorado home was for sale.  It finally sold in the spring.  That was a time consuming and stressful process that left less focus on my blog and a little less time for exploring new places.  A particularly snowy winter also made travel in the high country more risky. 

Selling the house, we naturally moved.  This wasn’t a regular local move.  We relocated back to the east.  We now live in the heart of New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

This post features a different style than I normally use.  Rather than writing about a specific place, this post reflects on my outdoor experiences during my five years living in Colorado.

Hiking

I have hiked all over the US prior to moving to Colorado.  Despite this, more than a decade passed since I was west of the Mississippi.  Colorado is a great place to be based for those that hike.

The Wetterhorn from Uncompaghre Peak

Living in Maine prior to Colorado, I started to grow bored of the hiking.  I repeated visits to the better destinations.  In Colorado I was faced with a different problem.  The choices where to hike were a bit overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

The Colorado Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness

Maine and New England had a fairly narrow choice of peaks to choose from when seeking an alpine experience.  In Colorado, alpine opportunities are endless.  In addition to the 50+ 14,000 foot peaks, there are 700+ 13,000 foot peaks, and more 12,000 foot peaks that rise above treeline.  Pretty much anywhere near my home in Colorado, including my house, you could look at snow-covered peaks


Lake Ann in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
As a backpacker, I could have spent many years exploring new areas.  While Maine had the AT and Grafton Loop, cobbling together longer trips was somewhat of a challenge without traveling to New Hampshire and Vermont.  Much of the land in Colorado is public, whether National Forest or BLM.  These areas are laced with thousands of miles of trails.  While some make great day hiking, many can be tied together for multiday backpacking trips.  During my five years in Colorado, I ventured out on six multiday trips ranging from 46-160+ miles.  On these trips I ventured into impressive wilderness areas including, the Collegiate Peaks, Uncompahgre, West Elk, Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Dominguez Canyons, and Weminuche Wildernesses.

Maroon Bells- Snowmass Wilderness


Mountain Biking

While great hiking opportunities seem endless in Colorado, I have found good hiking elsewhere as well.  Mountain biking in Colorado is something that I’ll really miss.  Not only were there plenty of destinations, but also a great variety.  I was lucky enough to live close to a plethora of trails. 

Alpine riding along the Monarch Crest

The variety was difficult to beat as well.  Within an hour or less from my house, I could choose between desert, alpine, and forest terrain.  Unlike other places I have lived, mountain bike advocacy groups worked aggressively to add new terrain in Colorado. As a result, there is purpose built, singletrack trails everywhere.  Best of all, I didn’t have to wait for a short window of summer weather.  Due to the dry climate, several riding areas were open nearly year round.

Clifftop riding near Cañon City

Salida was my home base for riding and just over 20 minutes from my house with a fun trail system right in town.  In the fringe season, I was just an hour from Cañon City and their ever growing trail systems that were often rideable in winter.  Pueblo Reservoir also featured riding nearly year round on 30+ miles of trails within two hours.  In summer the alpine riding opened up nearby.  The Monarch Crest was less than an hour away and a renowned destination with miles of alpine singletrack.  Crested Butte was just two hours away for endless alpine riding.  And if I needed a desert fix, Fruita was close enough to be ride on a whim.  While I have always been able to find mountain biking opportunities no matter where I lived, living in Colorado will be hard to beat.

Fruita

Skiing

While Colorado has plenty of skiing opportunities, I never quite took full advantage of it while living there.  I didn’t live close enough to the big resorts to take advantage of the season pass deals.  Otherwise, the day tickets have grown to expensive for me to visit most ski areas for a day. 

My downhill skiing was limited to Salida’s local ski area, Monarch Mountain.  I took advantage of deals and locals selling tickets.  In my experience, the snow was reliable and the terrain decent.  The mountain was fairly small though and it wasn’t too difficult to grow bored.

Above treeline terrain along the Continental Divide at Monarch

I also cross country ski.  Close to my house, the cross country skiing wasn’t too reliable.  I occasionally traveled to the high country for cross country skiing.  Unfortunately, most of that skiing involved breaking deep snow.  A few times I managed to hit groomed areas away from resorts and always enjoyed it.  After living in Maine, I was spoiled with many opportunities close to home.

Cross country skiing out the door from our house

Wildlife

Another big difference between Colorado and the East is the wildlife.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, the wildlife was fairly boring.  Occasionally I would see bear, but that was the rare excitement.  Moving to Maine, the wildlife opportunities improved.  A moose sighting was a fairly common occurrence along with the occasional bear and plentiful bald eagles. 

A pronghorn posing at the right moment

In Colorado, the wildlife is much more spectacular.  Mule deer, although that not exciting were thoroughly abundant.  It was more rare to not see one than actually see one on a given day.  Anywhere I traveled required driving through Bighorn Sheep Canyon.  Let’s just say, the canyon went by that name for a reason.  After deer, bighorn sheep were the most common wildlife I would see.  On occasion, I would see elk during my daily run from my house.  In the fall, you could hear the elk bugling from our house.  Large herds were not unusual along the road or in the mountains.  Another fairly common sight was pronghorn. Although not wild, semi-free range bison lived on large parcels of private land and could be seen from the road.

Bighorn Sheep in the Sangre de Cristos

In the mountains, more western wildlife could be seen.  Although quite abundant, I never grew tired of watching marmots in alpine terrain.  Not quite as abundant as the marmot, are the smaller pika.  On several occasions, I was lucky enough to see mountain goats in the high country.  On a climb of 14er Mt Antero, I came within a few feet of a large herd that included 21 goats.

Just a few of the 21 mountain goats I saw on Antero this day

A few of the east’s big game also live in Colorado.  I occasionally spotted a moose in Colorado.  On at least two occasions, I spotted black bear on my own property.  Just as elusive in the west as the east, I crossed paths with martens.  Bald Eagles were a common sight along the Arkansas River.

A nice bull moose in the Weminuche Wilderness

Other western creatures lived in my vicinity, but I never had a definite sighting.  Badgers were fairly common in some areas.  Mountain lion roamed our neighborhood.  They could be heard screaming on occasion from the house and their tracks were visible, but I never saw one.  Ringtails are another elusive animal that was occasionally spotted nearby, that I never was lucky enough to see.
 
A family of marmots


Neighboring Areas

Another aspect of Colorado that I will miss is its proximity to other great destinations.  I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I would have liked.  While living there however, I did travel to the mountains of New Mexico to backpack.  I mountain biked and hiked in Moab, Utah.  I hiked in the Tetons of Wyoming.  These are all a reasonable day’s drive. 

Classic scenery while riding slickrock at Navajo Rocks in Moab,UT

I also visited the mountains of Idaho and Montana to mountain bike and hike as part of a road trip within a day’s drive from my Colorado home.  I didn’t take advantage of it but I could have driven to Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and Yellowstone National Parks as well as all points in between from my home if I wanted to.  There aren’t that many A List destinations for an outdoor enthusiast within a reasonable drive from anywhere I lived in the east

Closeup view of the Grand Teton 

I’ll certainly miss Colorado’s outdoor playground, however, living in the Adirondacks is a great opportunity.  I have explored, to some extent, most of the bigger mountainous areas of the eastern US.  The Adirondacks are new to me however.  Except for a day skiing at Gore Mountain, this is all new terrain for me.  The Adirondacks encompass some 6 million acres, about the size of Vermont.  I have 2000 miles of trail, hundreds of mountains, thousands of bodies of water, and thousands of miles of streams and river to explore that is entirely new to me, and I live near the middle of it.  I live within sight of a large lake and can hear loons from my house- a sound I have missed.  At night I have listened to the chorus of peepers in the surrounding woods, another sound not heard in the west.. 

While not Colorado, the Adirondacks aren’t the worst place to be to experience nature and the outdoors.  Living in Colorado had been a great experience that I will never forget and will definitely return to explore again.

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