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Trip Report Trip Report - Fly/Drive Florida to Denver to Crested Butte Sep 25 - Oct 3

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For a while we thought our vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park and Steamboat Springs might be in jeopardy due to the fires but little did we know that a bizarre flood would get in the way. Anyway, with RMNP closed, Estes Park under a foot of mud and both main roads projected to be impassable for "up to a year", we opted to cancel our Estes reservations and look further southwest in the Rockies.

After Avis had their way with us (FEMA had rented most all of their cars), we escaped I-70 and the beltways of Denver, heading SW into the mountains and high desert in our Subaru Legacy AWD. We spent the first night in the Collegiate Mountains at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, a funky old resort/spa with 104 degree hot springs. Our 1970ish econolodge-y room sat 500 feet above the springs and hot pools and we enjoyed the usual gorgeous mountain views which prevail throughout Colorado. Nice dinner and an hour in the three springs early the next morning before we moved on.

We decided to forego old Hwy US 50 and picked up a more direct backroad in Buena Vista through the Cottonwood Pass which included a detour with 25 miles of dirt road and some incredible 12k foot views. It would be closed to traffic in another few weeks. We picnicked on a rickety table overlooking Taylor Reservoir and spoke to the harried woman who was securing the marina for the winter. I guess the lake was a couple square miles and I asked if it would freeze over during the winter? She laughed and said to a thickness of 3-4 feet.....with winds of 50-90 mph common. "It was 22 here this morning."

We had 6 nights reservations for a two room suite at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square (elev. 9300ft) in Mt. Crested Butte, a few miles out of CB at the ski base area. Like other condos we have stayed at in CO, it was very nice with lots of room and amenities and great views. The staff, especially Toby and Erin, were great. We drove into downtown CB (pop. 1503) for dinner and the little town exceeded our expectations...basically 2-3 streets packed full of shops and over 50 restaurants. A nice, cool town with some local charm like Key West or Breckenridge have. Clean and obviously well fed with tourist cash. Lovely Rita, our waitress at Secret Stash, a nice pizza joint, told us about hiking in the "World's Largest Aspen forest" in the Elk Mountains and how to get over the Kebler and Ohio Passes on dirt roads. We had a large Caprese Pizza and tipped Rita well.

It began lightly snowing that afternoon and through the night and we were thrilled at the early snow. The locals were not so happy as they said the harsh winter will come soon enough and they would soon have their fill of it.

The next morning, we took off for Kebler Pass and the skinny road was a mess of mud and snow and dramatic cliffs. There are few guard rails in CO and I could feel the little Subaru sliding around so we kept our speed down. With the snow and aspen/cottonwood foliage it was gorgeous. Only a few other cars were on the road. We turned south to Ohio Pass and the snow was deeper. Stopped a few times to walk amongst the trees so my wife could get her "fix". She adores the aspens. Then on another 15 miles or so into Gunnison for lunch.

We discovered the Montanya rum distillery in CB that afternoon and I got the tasters tour and then had a glass of their Oro rum which was made from Hawaiian sugar cane and aged in whiskey barrels. Then they add a bit of honey. Yum!

The next few days we just drove up old dirt roads and hiked on numbered trails for people, horses and off-road bicycles. One noteworthy trail was at the "horse pulloff" trail # 803 11 miles west of CB beyond the Kebler Pass. We took the short option which was 2.2 miles one way. It was a fabulous walk "moderate" through the aspens with a couple creeks and gullies to cross, some mud but you could walk around it and even some pretty prairies which were covered with mostly dead wildflowers. Unfortunately, it was mostly all uphill but not too rugged. It ended at a beautiful rocky overlook of the higher peaks and the valley below. Very cool.

Our favorite CB restaurants were all casual and relatively inexpensive. Pitas in Paradise was our favorite; Ginger Cafe was a little more $$ and very good; The Last Steep, a local favorite (try the artichokes and cheddar soup served in a bread bowl).

Being from Florida, the altitude always takes some getting used to for us. Anything above around 8000 feet gives us headaches and a couple days of mild flu like symptoms.

We drove back to Denver in 5 hours and spent the night near the airport. We might try to return to Crested Butte for the wildflower festival in July. I think we might try for a flight from Denver to Gunnison to avoid the longish drive.

This was our third trip to Colorado in five years. We liked Crested Butte the best of all, though our Breck-Aspen-Vail trip was excellent as well.

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