Salvaging Summer

Old Oct 7th, 2020, 07:02 AM
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Salvaging Summer

Ah, 2020, the year of dashed travel plans.

The trouble for many of us began in March, which I will long remember as the month it all went sideways.

For me, COVID hit the fan three days after I’d arrived in Barcelona, bringing a meticulously planned 12 night girl’s trip to an abrupt halt, and necessitating a stressful rush to get out of Spain before flights were suspended.

Spain Interrupted: Our not-so-excellent adventure

Then followed the forced cancellations of a three week trip to Portugal, my spouse’s annual scuba diving trip to the Maldives and the scrapping of an anticipated, fortunately not-yet-booked autumn trip to Italy/Austria/Switzerland.

And like many others, our trips were replaced with months of mind-numbing lockdown boredom, ill-ease and uncertainty.

When our state re-opened for business in late May, it occurred to us that perhaps we could salvage the summer by taking a few short hike-centric trips within our state, thus scratching our itchy feet.

Top contenders were Durango, Crested Butte, Grand Lake, Steamboat Springs and Aspen/Snowmass.

And so we set about planning. First up – Durango June 15-19.

We’re peace-seeking hot weather wimps, so we booked four nights in a quiet Air BNB in the mountains outside of Durango, knowing we’d be comfortable without air conditioning at 8,200 feet and enabling us to distance from others.

June 15 -

It was 62 F when we left our home in the Colorado mountains and drove west on Highway 24 towards Hartsel, spotting a few buffalo, scads of antelope and considerably more traffic than expected. The Collegiate Peaks were barely visible through all the haze. Unfortunate, as this is usually a gorgeous drive.

We motored through South Park, joined 285 south near Buena Vista and eventually worked our way over Poncha Pass and towards Villa Grove through a dry, thirsty landscape.

As we approached Saguache we saw large patches of irrigated green amongst the treeless brown and sage; we’d entered the northern gateway to the San Luis Valley ‘bread basket’, the source of San Luis Valley potatoes, carrots, lettuce, barley and alfalfa, all grown here in the largest agricultural high altitude valley in the world. Neither of us could remember the last time we’d been through here.

Near Center, we turned onto 112, surprised to see a lonely cannabis shop out here in the middle of nowhere.

The trees were back as we approached Del Norte, the landscape lush along the Rio Grande River. We crossed the river and turned west on 160.

A sign for Chavolos caught our eye – we know Chavolos from Mancos and had planned to stop there for lunch, but decided to try the one in Del Norte instead.

We donned our face masks and entered the restaurant – surprised to see not a single mask amongst customers, kitchen staff or wait staff. Huh. The tables were six feet apart though, so we relaxed a bit and enjoyed a lunch of cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce chased down with margaritas. The food was good, although we’d hoped they’d offer the Monday fajita special we knew from Mancos, but no such luck.

We left windy Del Norte and forged on, the landscape becoming even prettier as we approached South Fork; the elevation 8,180 feet. We were now 100 miles from Durango.

We worked our way over Wolf Creek Pass; a bit of snow up here at 10,856 feet. The trees looked healthy…until they didn’t. The higher we went the deader the trees, heartbreaking.

The descent into Pagosa Springs was gorgeous, the trees alive; the town absolutely HEAVING, people everywhere. Pandemic, what pandemic? It was busier than we’ve ever seen it; most of Texas seemed to be here.


San Juan River, Pagosa Springs

We continued west on 160 – the drive gorgeous, out-of-state license plates everywhere, some from as far away as Pennsylvania.

Eventually Chimney Rock came into view and some 6.5 hours after leaving home, we arrived in Durango.

After getting settled in our Air BNB, and fastidiously washing down all surfaces with Lysol wipes, we headed into town for dinner at 11th Street Station. They’ve introduced a new ordering system due to COVID – guests wait to be seated, place drink order, then walk to food trucks to order and pay for meal, which is delivered to your table when ready. Masks required. We shared a decent Mesa Verde pizza from the pizza van. We were off to a good start.


Animas River, Durango

To be continued...
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Old Oct 7th, 2020, 07:04 AM
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Oh, you are hurting me 'cause those places look like wonderful trout fishing!
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Old Oct 7th, 2020, 10:09 AM
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Not a fisherperson myself, but they certainly looked inviting Gretchen.
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Old Oct 7th, 2020, 02:10 PM
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June 16 –

Mesa Verde day. We’d ordered a National Parks Pass a few weeks prior. Although we’d not yet received the pass, our receipt was sufficient proof of purchase through the end of July.

We were out at 6:30 am into a delicious 52 F morning. We sought out Kassidy’s Kitchen for breakfast – a place we knew from a previous visit. Bill really enjoyed his Huevos Rancheros, but my burrito with green chile was a bit bland. The restaurant is small, so seating is very limited with every other table closed off for COVID compliance. People were waiting at the door when it opened at 7.

We located 160 and drove towards Mancos – quickly reminded that the roads through Durango are a bit wacky. The drive was pretty, the smoke ominous. We passed several closed roads and a fire staging area near Cherry Creek Road; I googled on my phone and learned that this was the East Canyon Fire, which had started the day before. Uh-oh.

Neither of us could recall if we’d ever been to Mesa Verde, perhaps as kids. We spoke with a Ranger watching the fire through binoculars at an overlook – he said the campgrounds weren’t filling up on weekends, which was very unusual. Meanwhile Arches and Rocky Mountain National Park were heaving. Go figure.

We took the Spruce Canyon hike – 2.5 hours. It was a pleasant 68 F when we started at 10 am, 83 F when we finished.

Tours of the cliff dwellings weren’t operating. The Balcony House parking lot was eerily empty – loads of parking spots, not a single car, save ours.


Balcony House parking lot

We also walked the Soda Canyon Trail – 1.2 miles, not a lick of shade.

All told, we spent six hours in the park, visited all the overlooks…and saw very few other people. Lovely.


Cliff dwellings from afar, Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Damage from previous fire, Mesa Verde

The La Plata Mountains could be seen when we left, they’d been completely obscured by smoke when we arrived.

We stopped in Mancos for a late lunch at an empty Chavolos - no one in the kitchen was wearing a mask; our waiter chose to wear his under his chin. Hmmmm. It was Taco Tuesday and Happy Hour, so we partook of both. Interestingly, the condiment bar was open.

The drive back to Durango was smoky; the fire was situated between Mancos and Hesperus. We later learned that there was a second fire south of Durango, near one of the hikes we’d hoped to take.

Then it was back to the Air BNB to rest up after our 10.5 hour day.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Oct 7th, 2020 at 02:12 PM.
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Old Oct 8th, 2020, 04:02 AM
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I have said a number of times on this board that I consider Mesa Verde one of the wonders of the world. It is just amazing and your picture of the dwellings brings it all back. Thanks.
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Old Oct 8th, 2020, 12:30 PM
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June 17 –

We were out by 7 am into a crisp 47 F morning, looking for a trail I’d scoped out in advance, this one located just outside Durango in the San Juan National Forest. We followed CR 205 until it dead ended at private property, left our car in the small parking area and set out in search of the Falls Creek Loop, finding a network of crisscrossing trails and no trail markers. We asked a passing cyclist where the waterfall was, and with his help, eventually found the loop, walking some 4.65 miles over the course of the next two plus hours.

This was a nice walk, especially on such a pretty morning. It had warmed up considerably and the various tracks had gotten rather busy by the time we finished at 10 am. And the smoke was moving in.


Falls Creek Loop

Falls Creek Waterfall

Then we drove to Purgatory to walk the Purgatory Creek Trail to Purgatory Flats and Cascade Creek – 2.2 miles, two hours, a nice varied hike that followed switchbacks through the forest and down to the creek.

As we drove back towards Durango we noticed that the Nugget Mountain Inn was open, so we popped in for socially distanced drinks and a nice chat with Travis, the entertaining bartender. Then it was back to the Air BNB to watch the hummingbirds and snack on the patio.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Oct 8th, 2020 at 12:33 PM.
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Old Oct 8th, 2020, 06:05 PM
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Great a Mel TR! Good on ya' for scoping out little used trails. Fantastic photos. The empty parking lot is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience, but lucky you to catch it. I've been in that burned out area and have a very similar photo, or at least a mental image. It's beautiful, in a way.
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Old Oct 9th, 2020, 06:08 AM
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Nice to have you along for the ride Nelson. I too, thought the burned out area was oddly pretty; although I was unable to accurately capture the scene.
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Old Oct 9th, 2020, 06:32 AM
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June 18 –

Up and out by 7:15 am, a lovely 52 F. Our destination, the Cascade Creek Trail, located north on 550, two miles past Purgatory. We turned off the highway and followed a rough 4X4 road to one of several parking areas and then walked through a meadow filled with columbines to the trailhead. I’ve never seen so many columbines in one place and it took us close to an hour to reach the trailhead thanks to my incessant photo taking. Unfortunately, my photos don't accurately portray what we saw.


Can you spot the columbines?

Columbines, CO state flower

Cascade Creek Trail

Cascade Creek Trail

We learned from a passing hiker that the trail led to a waterfall and was about seven miles round trip.

A thoroughly enjoyable hike…until things went sideways. Three miles in I stepped on a wet rock while crossing a stream, slipped and fell, catching myself with my outstretched right hand (later learning this is known medically as a FOOSH). I knew instantly that I’d broken my wrist. Insert curse words.

Bill hauled me out of the water and made a makeshift sling from my jacket. We then backtracked the 90 minutes to the car, me walking slowly and gingerly, wondering if we’d ever get there. The 15 minute drive on the 4X4 road back to the highway almost sent me over the edge – every bounce and jostle led to whimpers from the passenger seat. Damn it hurt.

I’d noticed an Urgent Care when we passed Purgatory Resort on the way in, so we went there, but not being ski season, it was closed. So as Bill drove the 30 minutes back to Durango, I searched my phone with my good hand for the closest Urgent Care.

Once there, we called before entering (per the COVID instructions on the door), went in and eventually got x-rays and saw a doctor. Sure enough, that baby was broken, and as luck would have it, the break was angulated and would require conscious sedation to reduce, so they put on a splint and sent me to the ER.

The next few hours were spent at Durango Mercy Hospital. Bill sat in on the bone reduction (after promising the doctor he wouldn’t pass out) and later filled me in on the violent tugging and subsequent squealing and thrashing. I was there of course, but not really there thanks to some pretty wonderful drugs.

Evidently, I’d fractured my wrist in three places and the ER doctor suspected that I’d need surgery. What had begun as a beautiful day had ended with a thud…literally…and some rather spectacular bruises on my backside.

That night I gave left handed eating a go at Gazpacho. Masks required. We were asked to order and pay at the hostess stand and our meal would be brought out to us. No chips and salsa due to COVID (which was interesting, as we’d had chips and salsa at Chavolos). The food was good, the dining experience…interesting.

Once again our travel plans had been dashed; replaced with five weeks in a cast, four weeks in a brace, five rounds of x-rays, multiple orthopedic visits, six weeks of Occupational Therapy, close to $22,000 in medical bills (thank god for insurance) and much frustration with trying to teach my left hand to be useful. Our summer was shot.

But the good news…the ER doctor had done such a good job of setting the break that I didn’t need surgery! Kudos to the staff of Durango Mercy Hospital!

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Oct 9th, 2020 at 06:50 AM.
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Old Oct 9th, 2020, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8 View Post
I too, thought the burned out area was oddly pretty; although I was unable to accurately capture the scene.
Well, I think you did. I went and looked at my photo, yours captures it better, without question.

Edit: you must have had a post delayed, just showed up. Oh no!!
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Old Oct 9th, 2020, 01:54 PM
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Poor Mel! Such bad luck. So good that you have a very sympathetic husband who will look after you and pamper you in your convalescence. Such bad luck to have another holiday spoiled and weeks of inconvenience to come.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 04:10 AM
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Oh wow. That is a shame. So sorry, but glad for the good care at the ER--and that person's good advice/practice not to do more than needed. Heal fast.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 06:26 AM
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Fast forward eleven and a half weeks. Wrist healing nicely, right hand back in action, both of us still hoping to salvage a wee bit of summer.

We decide to return to the scene of the accident and book four nights in Durango – Sept 8-11, this time in a downtown hotel as all the good Air BNBs are spoken for. We also book four nights in Steamboat Springs from Sept 21-24, hoping to catch some of the fall color.

Then on September 7th, 90 minutes before the cancellation deadline for our hotel in Durango, we check the weather one last time.

We knew about the seven inches of snow and three days of below freezing temps predicted for our hometown...but the 11 inches of snow predicted for South Fork, having to cross Wolf Creek Pass in potentially bad weather, and rain predicted for Durango the three days we’d be there were a concern. Damn, just two days ago the weather looked promising. So we hit the cancel button. 2020 strikes again.

And then…we hear about the Middle Fork Fire, which started on September 6 and is burning 10 miles north of Steamboat Springs.

Optimistically, we decide to extend the Steamboat Springs trip. We add two nights in Grand Junction and rebook that downtown hotel in Durango for four nights later in September, making a 10 night loop, September 21 – September 30. Then we wait and watch the progress of the fire.

I contact the Steamboat Springs Visitors center and keep an eye on the daily fire updates. I make a list of closed trails and areas to avoid; the outlook is good, hopefully the fire won’t thwart our plans.

To be continued...


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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 07:10 AM
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September 21 –

As autumn looms, we leave home for our ten night Colorado road trip. The aspen are changing, but thanks to our early winter storm some leaves have gone straight to dead. We head west on Highway 24; the antelope plentiful, the Collegiate Peaks invisible thanks to the copious amounts of smoke and haze from the Cameron Peak Fire, the Pine Gulch Fire and god knows what other fires burning in Utah and California.

Just past Hartsel we turn north onto CO 9; we pass dozens of buffalo grazing on brown pasture; the landscape desperate for rain.

We drive through Fairplay and then Alma, Colorado’s highest incorporated town at 10,578 feet, where a coyote trots across the highway in front of us. As we climb 11,542 foot high Hoosier Pass, a sealed bag of chips explodes in the back seat.



Hoosier Pass

Hoosier Pass

Hoosier Pass


We eventually begin our descent into Breckenridge, neither of us remembering the last time we were here. There’s quite a bit of traffic. We consider stopping for lunch, but the town is a complete and utter zoo (and this on a Monday), not our scene at all, we forge on, continuing on CO 9 north.

The GPS tells us to turn on Swan Mountain Road, which takes us along Dillon Reservoir. We make a quick pit stop at the Sapphire Point Overlook, the parking lot full, bikers and pedestrians everywhere. The sheer number of people and vehicles is overwhelming. We continue on, ogling the ostentatious houses perched on the ridge above the reservoir, massive, yet practically on top of each other.

We work our way through the high country metro bottleneck that is Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne. The hills are alive with tourists, an alarming number of them from COVID-19 ravaged Texas – yikes.

We stop in Silverthorne for a quick lunch. It’s congested and feels like a full-fledged city, although Google tells me the population is only 4,281. At this point we begin to question the wisdom of this road trip. All of the US seems to have had the same idea.

We follow the Blue River through Kremmling, leaving the chaos behind, our surroundings reminding us of Gunnison and the Blue Mesa Reservoir. We join US 40, the landscape desolate, then pretty again as we approach Rabbit Ears Pass. It’s hazy and the pass seems to go on forever. I’ve since read that unlike most mountain passes in CO that climb to a high point and quickly descend, Rabbit Ears climbs to 9,426 feet and stays there for several miles. It also has a false summit, and is one of the snowiest roads in Colorado. Back in the day we did some snowmobiling up here, but it’s been awhile.

Some 4.5 hours since leaving home, we arrive in overbuilt Steamboat Springs, a Colorado gem that like so many places in Colorado has been loved to near death.

It’s a toasty 82 F. We check into our accommodation, Homewood Suites, which I'm told has been fully booked every day since July. I overhear the check-in clerk tell another customer that summer season ends October 10 and while they’re understandably busy during ski season, this year no lift tickets are available, just ski passes, so no one knows how the winter season will play out.

Tape across the door of our room indicates it’s been completely sanitized, but I wipe things down with Lysol wipes just the same. COVID-19 has turned me into a germaphobe…and I hate it.

The town is busy, but not as crazy busy as the areas we’ve just driven through, although it’s chockablock full of out-of-staters. We discuss how nice it would be if CO could ban out-of-state visitors during the COVID pandemic.

I ask the woman manning the front desk if she can recommend a place for alfresco drinks. I’m handed a glossy brochure with restaurant and bar listings. While Steamboat Springs only has a population of 13,212, it has 130 restaurants! Our town of 8,000 has about 20, none of them particularly good.

We head up toward the ski area looking for a bar with a terrace. Pickings are slim, but we stumble upon the Steamboat Brau Haus and settle in for a drink. We’re two of a handful of customers; it's easy to social distance and quite peaceful. Bill is chuffed to find Einstock white ale which he hasn’t had on draft since our visit to Iceland in 2017.

Downed trees are seemingly everywhere, tree services busy with chainsaws and chippers. We ask the bartender what’s going on. He tells us about the fierce storm of September 8, the same day the early winter storm blew through our area and caused the cancellation of our encore trip to Durango.

I Google and find this from the local paper:

The first snow storm of the season toppled trees, destroyed several structures and shut down power for numerous neighborhoods in and around Steamboat. Rabbit Ears Pass closed for more than an hour due to safety concerns amid blowing snow and icy conditions that contributed to multiple accidents.

“This is unlike anything we’ve seen,” Steamboat Public Works Director Jon Snyder said in the release. “As fast as we’re opening roadways, new trees are coming down from the ongoing winds and gusts.”

We next seek out Taco Cabo, a place we fell in love with on our last visit to Steamboat. They’ve moved from their previous location to a riverside spot downtown and now have a bar.

Parking is near impossible. It’s Happy Hour and the place is hopping. The food is still good - Pollo Tinga bowl for me, Carnitas bowl for Bill – the margaritas nice and tart - but there’s no enforcement of the state mask mandate, no effort at social distancing, the outdoor area is entirely too full. We eat and get the heck out of there; we won’t be back.


Sign at downtown Steamboat business

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Oct 10th, 2020 at 07:22 AM.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 07:38 AM
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Your 2020 trip reports are reading like cliff hangers! That September 8 storm was crazy, a 70 degree F drop in 36 hours here in Fort Collins. Coupled with that mid-April storm that wiped out much of the peach crop, it's surprising the aspen look as good as they do. Great photos.

We cancelled a late September Wyoming trip, partially for some of the reasons you are describing. Regretful, but I'm still thinking that was a good choice this year.

Thanks for posting.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 07:46 AM
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Nelson - Yep, 2020 has been quite the year. And it's not over yet.

Sorry to hear you had to cancel Wyoming. We'd considered a CO-WY-MT-ID road trip, but I just couldn't get my head around all the driving.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 07:53 AM
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Melnq8....I am amazed you were able to continue traveling after breaking your wrist. You had quite a few adventures and managed to survive them all.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 09:18 AM
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schmerl - there was a three month gap between when I broke my wrist in June and when we made the 10 night road trip in September. I was able to do very little the five weeks I was in a cast, as the cast went up over my elbow.

On the bright side, I learned how to use a mouse with my left hand and Bill learned his way around the kitchen...and we both learned how lucky we are to have each other

Up next - three days in Steamboat Springs, two nights in Grand Junction and four nights in Durango.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 02:15 PM
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Melnq, I can totally sympathize with the wrist adventure, I smashed mine last year and needed the surgery,plate,screws, etc. to put it back together. The good thing is we did not break our hip, which would put the hiking on hold for a longer while. I hated brushing my teeth lefty, and just try getting a bra on.

Do continue to let us travel along with you while we are bound to home. The list of places we can not visit then return home without quarantining for 14 days or finding a place to get a COVID test within72 hours changes every week. I think there are 30 something states we can not go to right now.

Thank you so much for posting the tr and the photos to let us travel vicariously.
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Old Oct 10th, 2020, 02:56 PM
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Oh the bra....that was impossible. I had to resort to a stretchy camisole and even that was a struggle. I didn't fare well with the left handed tooth brushing either. Forget flossing. I had use Plackers, which worked in a pinch.

But you're so right oldemalloy, it could have been much worse - a leg, a hip or my head! At least I was able to hike back out - it wasn't pleasant, but I could do it.

I hope your wrist has fully recovered; I've heard horror stories about wrist surgeries that went awry.
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