Colorado – What a Difference 2000′ Make!
While gradually driving up a rocky, full-of-potholes, gravel road with tight switchback curves complete with ‘drop off’ views of the valley, we reached our destination, or so we thought, at a campground called White Owl in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Yup, you guessed it… still in Colorado. In most cases, we would check out various areas to find a good spot to set up camp.The only reason we shot for the campground this time was because it took us 1 hour 45 minutes to get there. It was 6pm, raining with hail and wind gusts that made the trees dance a whirling jig! We lucked upon a site that was at the end of the road with the most beautiful view of the lake even in the greyest of days. It wasn’t the first time we would have to set up in the rain so we grabbed our tarp to start the process. Lo and behold, the rain stopped and the clouds skittered off to let the sun shine with all its glory and warmth. What a good omen. Guess we’ll stay awhile, no?
Part of its charm was the cliffs of snow not so far from our site. It was a hefty climb but relatively short and we had some photo fun as a couple of Floridians playing in the snow in August!
The extra 2000’ in altitude made a definite difference in my energy level. However, Alfredo, who has lungs like a killer whale, was able to take a long mountainous bike ride to explore on his own. What he found was “Heart Lake” featuring islands, remote camp sites, and gorgeous scenery. We drove out there the next day, caught sight of an interesting road nearby with a smaller lake and found… guess what? Another awesome campsite that was even more remote perched on top of a cliff overlooking a crystal clear glacier pristine lake. Loved it so much that we went back to White Owl camp, packed up and set up our new haven within a couple of hours.
After a couple of days, I finally adjusted to the higher altitude and we walked around our new surroundings and soaked up the fragrance of the trees and wild flowers.
So here is the real difference that 2000’ up the mountains make. Flat Tops Wilderness is literally flat mesas, as its name suggests. These high flat tops are in between rolling hills, lakes and canyons. I took a ‘slow’ walk (was still recuperating/adjusting) to a couple of these more accessible ’flat tops’. This, of course, is much to the annoyance of Alfredo since he knows I will be scouring the fields for more interesting rocks. Upon reaching the edge, I looked down to a sharp descent that may not have been more than 50’ but impressive just the same. The biggest difference is the winds and rains since apparently we are here during the rainy season. Who knew?! We’re showing some beautiful photos here but what you don’t see is that I’m wearing 3 layers of clothing, thick socks, scarf, gloves, knit cap covered with my hoodie! The temperature was in the upper 30’s during the night and would maybe warm up to the 50’s, depending on the wind squalls coming across the lake and high mesas.
Needless to say, through our chattering teeth (more so from me), it was time to relocate after 7 days. It was a chilling experience but we have become heartier and more resistant to the cold and brusque changes of the Colorado weather. Folks here say, “If you don’t like the weather at any given moment… just wait 5 minutes”
Rather than going north, we headed east to the White River National Forest just south of Vail, Colorado where we will be spending our final camping days un till we visit with Alfredo’s sister in Boulder. We found an enchanting site close to the river and it’s only in the mid 40’s in the early morning and warms up the low 70’s.
Recently we hiked the Missouri Lakes Trailhead which has become the most awesome trail we’ve hiked so far! It was total of 9 miles to 2 mountaintop lakes that follow a river intermittently mingled with refreshing waterfalls through several canyons, lush forests and meadows including stony paths that at times were steep stairs.
When we reached a plateau just below the highest snow painted mountain peaks, ours jaws about dropped at the sight of two sparkling and transparent glacier lakes. These two lakes separated by a ridge were “Holy Cow – Wow Beautiful”! It’s moments like these that make the oftentimes painful miles of climbing well worth the agony to get there.
Getting up there and back took “US” every bit of 7 hours. What I should mention is that along the first mile or so we were searching out little treasures along the forest floor… mushrooms. This is the season for them here and we were checking out the many specimens and making sure, via some books we have on mushrooms, that they are the edible ones.
Alfredo has become totally enamored with the idea of eating wild greens from these wild woods. He brought some back to camp and prepared a mushroom stew so delectable that it was very hard to resist. And resist, I did. I waited until the next day to indulge in this delicious forest stew making sure that Alfredo had no ill effects. No sense in having both of us sick! Good news, we are both healthy and enriched with all the yummy vitamins and minerals that these mysterious fungi possess.
On a final note, we’ve been lucky enough to come across a small herd of Bighorn Sheep running across the road and up a steep mountain side with the alpha male looking down on us in defiance. On the domestic side we came across a herd of sheep recently relocated to a hillside pond. We witnessed a long dive of an eagle into a lake for his evening meal and see a falcon in the wild take off from a nearby wood post. All these moments have created memories which we shall cherish as time goes by .