Secret Wildflower Paradise

There is a little town North of Crested Butte called Gothic. It’s a small village of scientists who come from all over the United States to do research in the Mountains of Colorado.  They call themselves: Rock Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL, pronounced rumble). Although there are a few hiking trails still public, most of the land in the area is off-limits due to research. Please follow the signage as my sister was a scientist in Gothic for a summer and she shared with me how devastating it is, when you find some tourists have trampled through your research project.

They do have a visitor’s center I’d recommend checking out, as I believe they also do tour of the community to help inform the public about what they are doing. One of my sister’s friends mentioned he was going on a hike to the most beautiful place he’s ever been, with wildflower fields that were filled with every color in the rainbow. I asked if I could join and he said yes, since I would accompany them. However it is partly cut-off from the public since there is research along the trail. So I feel very special that I was able to see something that not everyone gets a chance to see. Again, here is a perfect serendipitous moment!

The trail was about 8 miles round trip and at a constant climb. We saw so may different wildflowers it was incredible! I couldn’t stop every moment to take another photo, however I believe I was able to capture quite a variety. At the very top there was a field of all PINK flowers: pink little elephants, primrose, pink paintbrush, veronica, and clover. It was something I never could have imagined. We took an hour nap at the top, enjoying the magnificent view before heading back down to beat the thunderclouds that were roaring in. Truly a once in a lifetime experience. Hope you enjoy my pictures of the beautiful wildflowers and scenery!

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Crested Butte Summit

For as long as we have been coming to Crested Butte (5 years), we have never made it to the summit of Crested Butte. Friends of ours were in town this time and suggested hiking the summit of Crested Butte (Elevation of 12,162′). So we looked into it and found that you can hike from the base of the Silver Queen lift (4.3 miles) or surpass it by taking the Silver Queen Lift up and then hiking 0.9 miles to the summit. We decided on the scenic view of the lift, which I’d recommend. It was incredible getting the chance to see the town of Crested Butte as we climbed the mountain, not to mention it was convenient cutting off 4.3 miles of hiking!

The lift ticket costs $21 per adult and gives you a lift up and back. However you also have the option of taking the lift up and then taking the service road down to the Red Lady Express lift and riding that down to the base. Be aware the Silver Queen stops running at 2pm. Make sure you get an early start on the hike, otherwise you will be hiking down Mt. Crested Butte via the service road.

The hike, via the Silver Queen lift, is fairly steep with man made steps to help you. After passing the picnic area (0.35 miles) you climb to an overlook option. Don’t forget to stop and look around as the views are spectacular! Also you may see marmots and squirrels running around asking for food.

NOTE: PLEASE DON’T FEET THE ANIMALS. Nor go exploring off the trail. Signs are posted everywhere reminding you this, but it is vital to maintain the habitat for the delicate ecosystem up there.

The next section (0.4 miles) is a little more difficult as you are basically climbing over rocks as you ascend to the top of the summit. I personally feel this is the easy part, however I have been blessed with long legs which makes climbing a lot easier. The trail isn’t as obvious when climbing over the rocks, however there are a few hiking signs to try and keep you on the correct path. At the top, be very careful as two days before we did the summit, a lady lost her footing on some of the rocks and fell to her death. So be smart. The top will give you a 360 degree view of Gothic, Slate Road, Crested Butte, and South Crested Butte. Enjoy!

 

Hiking the Green Lake Trail

Although Green Lake (Elevation 10,613′) isn’t recommended as a hike to do when you first arrive in Crested Butte, due to the elevation gain of 1683′, it is very convenient if you are staying in Crested Butte. You don’t have to drive to get to the trailhead, but just walk down to the Nordic Center off 2nd Street and Whiterock. There you will see the trailhead and a map to give you a better idea of the trail you are about to embark on. The trail climbs (0.2 miles) until a dirt road to some private homes. Follow it for (0.3 miles) before seeing the trail to your left headed into the Aspen.

Once you are in the Aspen woods, you follow the trail for about a mile before running into an old road. This is a steep climb, however it’s only for about 0.25 miles. You then follow another paved road for 0.25 miles before finding the trail once again on your left, heading up the mountain. The rest of the hike gradually climbs but has beautiful views of the stream and wildflowers until you reach the top of Green Lake.

The Lake was slightly disappointing as there was dead debris and trees in it (as you can see from the picture above). But I am assuming this is just because I hiked it late in the season. But the views and wildflowers are well worth the hike.

 

Wildflowers: Beauty Beyond your Imagination

Crested Butte is by far my favorite vacationing spot. I say this with a little hesitation since I want to selfishly keep it a secret. Although it is a popular skiing and snowboarding spot, I’m not sure people are aware of how incredible it is during the summer.

First of all, July is the best time to go since the wildflowers are in full BLOOM and there is still snow sometimes in June. Although Crested Butte has a Wildflower Festival every year, it is almost best to go on a different weekend so you have the opportunity to explore without the crowds that flock for the festival. Crested Butte has many different festivals throughout the year, like a Food & Wine Festival, Musical Festivals, and more. Check out their events page here before planning your trip.

This  year we decided to go at the end of July and spend about a week there. It was nice and relaxing as we were able to hang around the town and listen to some great music while taking day hikes or mountain bike rides through 3-5 foot tall meadows of wildflowers. During the summer, Crested Butte hosts free summer concerts in the the park near the Performing Arts Center and at the Crested Butte Ski Resort. They also have a farmer’s market every Sunday 10am-2pm during the summer on Elk Ave.

If live music is your thing, you don’t have to worry!  Many of the bars will have musicians playing folk, acoustic, blues, or soft rock…the genres vary. The Princess Bar has live music practically every night, if you are in town during the weekday in the summer. It also has a beautiful garden patio with all types of flowers that is worth checking out. Overall, there is plenty for everyone in Crested Butte!

Colorado: Pagosa Springs

We have vacationed in Crested Butte during the summer for 5 years now, and every year we drive through Silverton, Ouray and then into Gunnison before reaching Crested Butte. I HIGHLY recommend this route as the Million Dollar Highway is an incredible experience.

However, this year we decided to drive through Pagosa Springs, then Wolf Creek Pass and over to Buena Vista to go White Water River Rafting along the Arkansas River. Pagosa Springs sits on a few Hot Springs. However, they haven’t commercialized them into a community pool like so many other places. Instead they kept it natural, allowing people to tube down the river and sit in the pools. They do have a few hotels that take advantage of some of the hot springs, however they aren’t the only hot springs available.

After walking along the river and exploring a few shops, we stopped into Riff Raff Brewing Company for Happy Hour. I’d highly recommend this place as it has some great happy hour prices. We had the pulled pork nachos (which are the best nachos I’ve tasted!) and a couple of mules. They make their own ginger beer and have a variety of liquor choices such as Jalapeño Tequila! Yum!

After exploring Pagosa Springs, we made our way to the Blue Spruce Ranch, where we made a tent camping reservation. The Blue Spruce Ranch was a very nice area. They have cabins, RV camping and tent camping sites. Tent camping is $30 per site (up to two people) with an additional $5 per person. It includes access to the showers and potable water, in addition to FREE firewood, you just have to chop it. They also have laundry on site for $1.25.

After settling in, we drove up Hwy 160 about a 1/4 mile to Treasure Falls. You can see the falls from the parking lot, or hike up 1/4 mile to the bottom of the falls. The trail is fairly easy, although they do have two routes; one being a primitive trail. There and back, it will take you about 45 minutes. Afterwards, we headed up to the continental divide and Lobo Overlook for an incredible view (the photo above). On our way back down we saw 4 timber bucks in velvet which was exciting.

The next morning we hiked the Rainbow Trail (also known as Wolf Creek Trail) which is 5.5 miles one way. It was a beautiful hike, however we couldn’t find the natural hot springs that were suppose to be somewhere off the trail. We did see 2 Grouses along the trail which I had never seen before and some beautiful wildflowers. About half way, there was a creek crossing where we took a lunch break and got a chance to cool off in the ice-cold, but refreshing water. Overall the trail was gorgeous but we were definitely exhausted afterwards from a full day of hiking. If you are interested in the trail and hot springs, check in with the forest services in town for more instructions on the trail.

Arkansas River: White Water Rafting

For those of you who know me, you won’t be surprised when I tell you I went white water river rafting. You all know I am an adrenaline junkie! I love all things outdoors and that require a little risk and adventure!

So on our family vacation to Crested Butte, we stopped in Buena Vista to go White Water River Rafting along the Arkansas River. It is definitely something I’d recommend everyone try!

There is something for all levels of experience. There are many different rafting companies along the river, however we went with Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA). They provide rides via Browns Canyon for beginner and intermediate rafters. The Browns Canyon trip consists of Class I, II, & III Rapids. If you are more daring and want a little more action, they also offer trips down Pine Creek & Numbers or just the Numbers. The Numbers consists of Class I, II, III, & IV Rapids while Pine Creek includes I-IV and a Class V Rapid!

What classifies the different rapid classifications? According to American White Water:

Class I Rapids

Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Class II Rapids: Novice

Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers.

Class III: Intermediate

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers.

Class IV: Advanced

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards.

Class V: Expert

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain** large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined.

Class VI: Extreme and Exploratory Rapids

These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions.

We did the Pine Creek & Numbers full day trip; leaving at 9am and returning a little before 2pm. I recommend sitting in the front where you will get the full experience of the river (drenched). Check out the video we took along the Granite Rapids (Class V Rapids) along the Arkansas River.

NOTE: The Class V Granite Rapids start at 2:09

Mexico: Puerto Peñasco

Hola desde Mexico! Puerto Peñasco is the perfect getaway spot for Phoenicians (people of Phoenix) since it’s only a 4 hour drive! For my grandma’s 80th birthday, we decided to drive to Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point, to celebrate!

We woke up at 5am to pack the car and left about 6am to head down towards Puerto Peñasco. The drive is quite boring until you pass through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument right before crossing the border. You will see numerous Saguaro cacti, which also produces Arizona’s state flower.

Fun Fact: The Saguaro can live up to 200 years old and grow as tall as 70 feet and 2 feet in diameter! Their shallow root system only goes 4-6 inches deep. The Saguaro flower only blooms at night and after the Saguaro is 35 years old.

The border didn’t take too long to get through, going from Arizona to Mexico (the return is a different story, taking up to 3 hours to cross sometimes). We stayed at Las Palomas Resort in Sandy Beach where a family friend let us use her condo. The resort has an infinite pool, lazy river, and swim up bar, in addition to 2 spas and a kiddie pool for infants (shallow). After arriving, we decided to get our sun tan on by laying by the pool.

Note: lounge chairs under the umbrellas on the sand, are first come first serve and usually are taken by 7 or 8am. So try to get up early and throw your stuff on a couple chairs so you get a chance to people water and enjoy the sand and bay.

Las Palomas has added a rope between the bay and the cabanas, which provides privacy for you from the vendors walking up and down the beach trying to sell their “treasures”. They will sell anything from henna tattoos, bracelets, hats and jewelry, to mangoes, breakfast burritos, or pineapple umbrella drinks. Just know you can bargain with them. I’d recommend having a price in mind before trying to bargain. It makes it easier to walk away or really barter. Make sure you start low as they will want to keep it as close to the original price as possible.

Note: Rodeo Drive (where all the vendors are selling their stuff in town) will have cheaper prices than those on the beach.

There are a lot of fun activities to do while in Puerto Peñasco such as taking a ride on a banana boat, jet skiing, parasailing, swimming, or even playing sand volleyball (Las Palmas has a small volleyball net up in front of the property). If you want to explore the town, you can go to downtown, Cholla Bay, watch the sunset with Del Mar Charters, drive ATVs along the dunes (locals rent them downtown on every corner), go bar hoping, shopping at Rodeo Drive…the list goes on. There is something for everyone.

If you want to go grab a drink, JJ’s Cantina is a fun place to explore and walk along the rocks and possibly even get in the water. Sometimes they even have some live music. Wrecked at the Reef is also a fun place, although a bit of a party scene where everyone goes to hang out. They have live music, a dance floor, and an outside patio that leads out to the water. Grab some friends and play corn hole or sit around a fire pit and enjoy the music. If you want a great view of the Shrimp Market, Downtown, Pelican Point or Sandy Beach, check out La Casa del Capitan. It’s the yellow and blue restaurant at the top of Whale Hill (photo below). Lastly, check out Banditos, a fun smaller venue, which also has live music and loft seating. Ask for a shot of Mexican Moonshine, also known as their tequila!

As for places to eat, if you want to adventure outside the resort I’d highly recommend going to Combo Taco which has the best fish tacos (no beef) in town! It’s an outdoor restaurant with shade, where they make your tacos fresh right in front of you. The fish and shrimp combo taco is amazing! If you are looking to eat while shopping on Rodeo Drive, go into Mariachis y Tequila. They make incredible homemade guacamole and salsa that are to die for! It’s a great spot to get out of the heat while shopping and grab a drink and appetizer. If you are looking for more of a meal, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. I’ve tried the enchiladas, tacos, and fajitas.

For breakfast, I recommend trying a breakfast burrito from the beach. There is a young girl who sells them along the beach (typically around 9-11am). They are delicious. The next day check out Kaffee Haus. It’s a popular breakfast place in town. We dropped by just for some coffee and pastries, unfortunately their espresso machine was not working and they only had fresh apple strudels (which were delicious). The place was packed and busy, and although I didn’t eat there I would definitely go back and try them out. It appeared to be the local spot.

I’m a foodie and love trying new places to eat. If you enjoy food as much as me, follow me on Yelp at: Kari’s Yelp Page

Yosemite: Rainbows & Waterfalls

After packing up early again (by the way, I’m still waking up with the sunrise at 5:30am) we headed to see the Giant Sequoias via the Tuolumne Grove hike, which is right before Big Oak Flat Rd. The hike is 2.5 miles round trip, along a paved road and downhill. So note that you will be hiking up a steep road on the way back to the parking lot. It was beautiful and interesting to read all about the giant sequoia trees. Note: Giant Sequoias need moisture in order to thrive so there was a lot of water and moisture which attracted thousands of mosquitos! Luckily my sister and I were covered head to toe, but just beware!

After walking through the famous dead giant sequoia tree we made our way back to the parking lot and decided to hike Vernal and Nevada Falls for the rest of the day via the Mist Trail. We parked in the visitor parking in Yosemite Valley and walked across the street to shuttle stop #10. It was very convenient to take the shuttle service since parking is a nightmare during peak season. We got off stop #16 at Happy Isles and walked up the road over the bridge to the beginning of the hike, on your right side.

The initial part of the hike is a BEAST! It is at a very steep incline, but a paved road. It’s a workout let me tell you. We made several rest stops to catch our breath. After reaching the bridge which leads up to the Mist Trail, we walked along side the raging stream before ascending on the famous “Mist Trail“…more like “get drenched trail!” The waterfall is so powerful that it “mists” you as you hike up to the top. When you finally reach the top, you are completely wet. Be careful as you hike up the steps as it is slippery and you can easily hurt yourself if you aren’t paying attention.

After reaching the top of the Mist Trail and taking a short break to catch our breath and refuel with some snacks, we began our hike to Vernal Falls. This hike was still steep with stair like steps, until you come to a narrow fenced off path along the side of the mountain. It’s very safe, however there is only enough space for one direction to pass through. Once you get to the other side you are at the top of Vernal Falls with an incredible view of the raging water. Please observe to the signs and don’t go into the water as it is very strong and has been know to swipe people over the edge on the falls and to their deaths! Don’t let that be you!

After taking another break to refuel and hydrate, we decided to make our way towards Nevada Falls. On our way there was a fork in the trail. To the left is a 1.3 mile hike (more strenuous with more of an incline and steep steps) and to the right is a 1.6 mile hike (more flat and gradual incline). We took the shorter more difficult path as it was less traveled and we wanted a challenge. Funny thing is, two thirds of the way in we had wished we took the more gradual path! After finally reaching the top we had lunch and enjoyed our rest before making our way down.

For the hike down, we decided to take the more “gradual” hike back to Vernal Falls. As we hiked down there was another fork in the road. I assumed it was the previous fork we saw on our way up so we stayed to the left and kept going. Eventually we discovered we had taken the John Muir Trail instead. Luckily the John Muir Trail led back to the Happy Isles beginning point. Thank goodness! Moral of the story…always read signs!! The John Muir Trail gave us a beautiful view of Nevada Falls. The trail was basically just switchbacks the entire time down.

Yosemite: Tioga Pass

Early Friday morning I made my way from Glass Creek Campground towards Yosemite National Park via 120 W (Tioga Pass). I woke up early to drive the hour and a half through Tioga Pass to meet my sister at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley to try and get a campsite.

Yosemite National Park entrance fee is $30 for 7 days, or what I recommend is purchasing the annual national park pass for $80 which lasts an entire 12 months. What a steal! If you go to 3 different National Parks in a year, you pay for the pass. Although not all National Parks have the same entrance fee, most of them average $20-$30.

After arriving to Camp 4 a little before 8am (my sister got there at 5:30am), and not receiving one of the 40 camping spots, we decided to begin exploring Yosemite National Park. Note: Camp 4 is THE MOST POPULAR campsite, as it’s the only non-reservation in Yosemite Valley; not to mention it’s where all the rock climbers and boulderers like to camp. Other non-reservation camps include: Wawona campground (Wawona), Bridalveil campground (Glacier Point), Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek, White Wolf, Porcupine Flat, and Tuolumne Meadows (all on Tioga Pass Rd).

We decided to drive Tioga Pass for our first day since it was suppose to be the warmest day of the weekend. We decided to hike Mary Lake first, which was a great warm up hike, taking us only an hour and a half for the 2.5 mile round trip hike. The hike was along a steep paved road. It was a pretty hike as there was snow covering the ground and little streams of melted snow running off.

After hiking to Mary Lake we stopped at Olmsted Point for lunch and to enjoy the beautiful view of half dome and the valley. My sister and I sat on some boulders as we watched the beauty before us. There also was a boulderer down below trying to dominate the rock formations before him, which was fun to watch.

After lunch we drove up to Tenaya Lake and played some cards by the lake as we let our feet soak in the ice cold, refreshing water. Tenaya Lake was a beautiful site. We watched people kayak, paddle board and just picnic along the lake. After relaxing by the lake we headed to the Visitor Center to inquire about top hikes to see at sunset. The worker there said Lembert Dome would have a great sunset view. We didn’t make it back for the sunset there, however I’d like to see it next time.

Instead we decided to figure out where we were going to be sleeping that night! The camp sites along Tioga Pass were mostly closed due to snow still being on the ground, so we decided to look for a campsite outside the park. There were three campsites outside the park at these lakes: Tioga Lake, Ellery Lake, and Saddlebag Lake. However due to the elevation and snow, these campsites were closed as well. Saddlebag Lake had an incredible view and we saw people cross-country skiing along the mountainside.

In the end we decided to make our way back to Glass Creek Campground and we watched the sunset at Mono Lake again (first time for my sister). It was nice to see a different sunset at Mono Lake, since there were more clouds in the sky this time, making it a completely different spectacle.

Mono Lake: South Tufa

After spending a fabulous morning exploring June and Parker Lake, I made my way to Mono Lake, in the town of Lee Vining which is just North of June Lake and right outside Yosemite National Park (Tioga Pass).

I found a fun coffee shop called Latte Da Coffee where I enjoyed an iced tea to cool down before setting out on another hike. They have FREE Wifi with a purchase.The coffee shop is conjoined with the El Mono Motel, a quaint country-like motel.

After my iced tea, I walked next door to the Lee Vining Visitor Center where I learned more about Mono Lake and local hikes. The helpful visitor center worker mentioned the Parker Lake hike, which I already did that morning, and an easy 1.5 miles (each way) Lee Vining Creek Trail which lead to the Mono Lake Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center I learned more about the “tufa” formations and the history of Mono Lake.

Interesting Fact: A “tufa” formation is the unusual spires and knobs that are formed on top of each other from calcium-bearing freshwater springs, which are welled up through alkaline lake water. The calcium and carbonate combine, precipitating out as limestone.

The Lee Vining Creek Trail follows the creek before making its way to the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, with an incredible view of Mono Lake and the islands. The trail is south of the city and Lakeview Lodge. I took the trail to the Visitor’s Center and then walked back through the town instead of back tracking.

That evening I decided to watch the sunset at the Mono Lake South Tufa. I exited the 395 at the 120 E towards Mono Lake South Tufa. Note: the 120 W and E are not directly linear. They are about 5 miles apart (why, I do not know). During the summer, there are naturalist guided tours at 10:00am, 1:00pm, and 6:00pm daily. The tours last about an hour and explore the South Tufa. The entrance fee is a$3 for adults and Free for kids under 16 years of age.

Before making my way to the “tufa,” I stopped to hike around the Panum Crater, which is 3 miles East of the 395. The Panum Crater is a young volcano in which you can hike into the center and see some incredible geological formations. I’m no science expert so it was a bit anti-climatic for me. The shiny black rocks were fascinating to see (I’m assuming from the eruption), however I believe taking the hike with someone with geological background would make it more valuable 🙂

Watching the sunset was beautiful at Mono Lake South Tufa. The ‘hike’ takes you to the water via a boardwalk and then along the sand as you explore the tufa formations. It is a very popular place for photographers, as people come from all around the world to photograph the sunset, stars, and birds. You will not be the only one there enjoying the beautiful scenery.

TIP: as it was summer, the sun did not set until 8:15pm. I was tempted to leave shortly afterwards however learned the later you stay, you begin to see more beautiful colors that appear in the sky. Stay at least until 9pm for the various change in the sky.