"Adventure asks you to more deeply explore the world you travel in, and the world that travels in you. That's what I've learned in more than twenty years as a traveler and writer, and I'm excited to pass my experience on to you."
- Cara Lopez Lee
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Hiking Mount Audubon: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Colorado
Saturday, September 22nd, 2012
To me, late September means it’s time to hit Colorado’s high country to see the Aspen turn the Rocky Mountains into shimmering gold. I love to drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway to see the show, and that makes a hike at Mount Audubon convenient. I’ve hiked this particular thirteener before (for non-Coloradans, that just means a peak over 13,000 feet). But the first time I didn’t have a video camera, so I thought I’d treat you to a brief video of my second visit.
If you want to visit Mount Audubon and throw in a good fall-foliage drive on the way, I recommend taking Coal Creek Canyon Road to Nederland, then taking the Peak-to-Peak Highway to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You’ll need to pay $9 for a pass. The hike starts at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. It’s about 8 miles round trip, but relatively easy as high-altitude hikes go, and the views of the Continental Divide are a spectacular reward for the effort. If you’d like a bit more information, check out my post on Indian Summer at Indian Peaks. But if you just want to see what makes this hike worth it, check out this video:
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE CANDY - But That’s Not the Candy Factory’s Fault
Sunday, September 9th, 2012
When my sixteen-year-old sister comes to visit, it’s a challenge figuring out what we might enjoy together without breaking my bank, because her favorite thing to do and my least favorite thing to do - is shop. This time, I was sure I had a winner: a free tour at one of America’s oldest candy factories.
In 1920 candy-making apprentice Carl T. Hammond, Sr. created his first original recipe: Honey KoKos, chocolate candies topped with coconut. With that, he founded Hammond’s Candy Company. At first, Carl did it all: developing candy recipes, making candy, and selling candy.
His business flourished in the Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. In fact, the 1930’s is when a friend of Carls’ invented Hammond’s signature candy: a bite-sized marshmallow covered in caramel. Carl named it after his friend: the Mitchell Sweet, and it’s still Hammond’s most popular sweet today. Today Hammond’s Candies is a wholesaler that sells to such retailers as Nordstrom’s, Dean & Deluca, and William Sonoma.
Miraya and I enjoyed watching candy makers pull, twist, and shape by hand the hot confections that would become candy canes and lollipops. When I saw a packager pulling chocolates off a conveyor belt, it reminded me of the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ethel worked in the candy factory and the manager yelled, “Speed it up a little!”
I was disappointed that we could only watch from afar through glass windows. But it was still entertaining, and even educational. For example, I didn’t know:
-The longer hot candy spins on a mechanized candy puller, the lighter the color.
-Hard candy is made primarily from sugar, corn syrup and water.
-Hammond’s Candies goes through 30,000 pounds of corn syrup a month.
-Candy-makers work in a kitchen that reaches up to 110 degrees.
-Hammond’s cooks train from 1 ½ to 3 years before they take charge of making candy batches, because they have to learn to roll and pull it just right.
I learned something else: there’s no such thing as a free candy factory tour. This one has an old-fashioned candy shop at the end, where Miraya finally hit on the kind of shopping I do like: buying chocolate. We bought a half-pound, plus souvenirs. How’s the candy? As Miraya put it, “It’s good, but it’s not as good as See’s.” But then See’s doesn’t have a Denver factory and doesn’t offer free tours.
So if you’re a candy lover whose looking for some lazy fun in Denver, I’d say the Hammond’s Factory Tour is an interesting, tasty way to while away an hour. You can always hike it off tomorrow.
HIKING RED ROCKS & MORRISON SLIDE LOOP - Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado
Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
The last time I hiked Red Rocks Trail, I started at the Matthews/Winters Park trailhead. But on Monday I wanted to focus more on Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the world’s coolest natural outdoor amphitheatre - except for maybe that floating movie theatre in Thailand. So this time I started from the trailhead at the Lower North Parking Lot of Red Rocks Park. I took Red Rocks Trail to the second junction with the Morrison Slide Trail, making a three-mile lollipop loop. If you do the same basic hike from the Matthews/Winters side, it’s about four miles.
Afterward, I rewarded myself with a short walk up to the amphitheatre. Even when no band is playing, the astonishing gathering of giant, red sandstone slabs rocks! They inspired me to buy tickets to take my teenage sister to see Gotye at Red Rocks next week. I only know a couple of Gotye’s songs, but I like them…and I can’t imagine a bad night at Red Rocks.
If you live in Denver, you probably know how to find Red Rocks. If not, you can go a few ways, but I prefer this one: Hampden/285 South, turn onto CO-470 toward I-70, take the Morrison Road exit, turn left, and follow the road through town as it changes names. When it becomes Highway 93, follow the signs to Red Rocks. You’ll need to wind through the park to hit the lower north lot. To start from the more hikerly trailhead, take 6th Avenue to I-70 to Highway 93 south, to Matthews/Winters Park. Here’s my promo for the amphitheatre trailhead: I saw a couple of deer there, which you’ll see in this video:
HIKING GEM LAKE - Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado
Monday, July 23rd, 2012
Estes Park, Colorado is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and you don’t even have to pass through the official park entrance to reach many a lovely hike. Gem Lake is an easy-ish uphill walk of about 3.4 miles round trip, with rewarding views. Boulders and trees open up to show off 14,259-foot Long’s Peak and a range of 13ers, as you hike from nearly eight-thousand to nearly nine-thousand feet. The lake at the top is really more of a pond, but it’s surrounded by stunning granite formations. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind being harassed by small gangs of thieving chipmunks. I recommend going on a weekday for peace and quiet, and a chance to see raptors. We went on Monday, July 16, and even then we passed plenty of tourists.
The Gem Lake Trail is easy to find. Take US 36 to downtown Estes Park. From there, head north on MacGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road. Go less than a mile past the gateway to MacGregor Ranch, and turn left at the sign for the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The parking lot isn’t far off Devils Gulch Road. Here’s a short video of a few things you might see along the trail, and yes, that sound at the end is a small afternoon thunderstorm:
HIKING BARR LAKE WILDLIFE REFUGE: Easy Walk to a Wealth of Animals
Friday, July 6th, 2012
If you like easier hikes, this is a good summer to watch my Colorado hiking videos. In January, I had surgery to remove part of a herniated disc that put pressure on my spine, but not before it damaged the nerves in my left foot. I expect to get my strength back, but nerves can take up to a year to re-grow. So for now, I’m discovering that flat or rolling hikes are not only easier on a weak foot, but can also be a delight to the eye. Case in point: Barr Lake WIldlife Refuge, where my husband Dale and I went on Monday, and saw more animals than we usually see on our hikes.
Barr Lake State Park is only 40 minutes from Denver, yet it’s a trip into the wild. We saw: deer, herons, egrets, pelicans, rabbits, red winged blackbirds, and many sherbet-colored birds we couldn’t identify. If you don’t go during the hottest part of the day like we did, you might also see: badgers, foxes, bald eagles, falcons, and hawks. All that and more on a flat, three-mile round-trip from the Nature Center to the Gazebo, including boardwalks and nature blinds.
To visit Barr Lake from Denver: take I-76 east 16.8 miles to Bromley Lane, turn right onto Bromley/East 152nd, go about 1 mile to Picadilly Road and turn right again. In 2 miles, you’ll see the entrance on the right. A day pass for your car is $7. Don’t forget binoculars, to get a closer look at animals like the ones in this video. Keep your eye out for the killdeer that plays dead to lure us from her nest:
TEEN MOM PROM - Is it a Reward, a Learning Opportunity, or Something More?
Sunday, January 29th, 2012
On Monday, a Denver Post columnist wrote an article about this spring’s first-ever prom at Florence Crittenton High School for teen mothers, and the article elicited negative comments that so upset me that at first I was at a loss for words. I’ve been working on a project involving the school’s first-ever leadership class, and that class has turned the prom into a hands-on leadership project. Those who complain about the prom say it’s a reward for bad behavior. What they may not know is that this prom is also a practical training program in goal-setting, planning, and execution. It’s teaching this class the very accountability the naysayers complain they don’t have.
HIKING HERMAN GULCH TO THE CITADEL - A Thirteener Just Off Colorado’s I-70
Thursday, October 27th, 2011
I prefer hiking Colorado’s thirteeners (13,000-foot-peaks) to its fourteeners, because they’re less crowded with peak baggers, yet equally beautiful and often just as challenging. The Herman Gulch trail to The Citadel kicked my butt, and I loved every moment. I was surprised to discover such a wild and untamed jewel so close to I-70.
Many hikers stop at Herman Lake, below Pettingell Peak. But after that it keeps getting better, as the jagged towers of The Citadel appear. The eight-mile round-trip hike took longer than my husband Dale and I anticipated, so I only made it to a patch of high rock just below the twin summits. Even from there, I had a stunning view of the Continental Divide. I plan to return to conquer both peaks.
It’s easy to drive to the Herman Gulch Trail from the Denver area. Take I-70 West and get off at exit 218, the next exit after Bakerville. Bear right on the .1 mile service road, which dead-ends at the trailhead. Here’s what you’ll see when you hit the trail:
HIKING BRIDAL VEIL FALLS - Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado
Thursday, September 29th, 2011
Do you have a thing for waterfalls? If you’ve read my memoir, you know that my favorite hikes embrace “many waters and signs of water.” Bridal Veil Falls fits that description, and it’s as romantic a sight as the name promises. It’s more like many veils, trailing one into another. My husband and I enjoyed a picnic there last September. It was really just lunch pulled out of our backpacks, but the setting made it a picnic, a glorious feast for the eyes and ears. We needed real grub for our mouths, too - the hike is relatively easy, but it is six miles round-trip.
Bridal Veil Falls is just outside Estes Park in northeast Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay a fee. From Estes Park, head north on Devils Gulch Road for four miles, then bear left on McGraw Ranch Road for 2.1 miles to the Cow Creek Trailhead. I suggest going early, because parking is very limited and fills early. Take the Cow Creek Trail, which starts as a gravel road through the ranch’s research facility, empties into a meadow, then narrows into a single track that loosely follows the creek. Most of the hike is low and rolling, leading to a steep uphill push to the falls. When you think you’ve reached the falls, don’t stop - that’s only the beginning, as you’ll see in this video:
HIKING MOUNT SANITAS - Boulder, Colorado Open Space & Mountain Parks
Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
When I don’t have time for a long drive or stamina for an all-day hike, but I still want to get away somewhere pretty and enjoy a little workout, I almost always end up on a trail in Boulder. The three-mile Mount Sanitas Loop is close to downtown, but its lovely views encompass plains, foothills, and a glimpse of the snow-capped giants of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a pleasant, if hot and breathless, way to get up-close and personal with rock and sky, and watch civilization become far and wee.
It’s easy to find the Mount Sanitas trail: in Boulder, take Broadway to Mapleton Road and turn west. The trailhead is a few blocks up, just past the Mapleton Medical Center. You’ll pass the trailhead and roadside parking on the right. But I recommend parking in the lot at the Centennial trailhead, just a stone’s throw up the road on the left. From there, a dirt path takes you back to the Mount Sanitas trailhead, as you’ll see at the beginning of this video of the hike my husband Dale and I did this summer:
HIKING TO HEART LAKE: James Peak Wilderness, near Rollinsville, Colorado
Monday, September 5th, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, my husband Dale and I went on my favorite Colorado hike. It’s an 8.4 mile roundtrip up the South Boulder Creek Trail to the creek’s headwaters at Rogers Pass Lake, and then on over a small saddle to Heart Lake. Thanks to record snowfall this past winter, this summer’s wildflowers have been more plentiful than ever - and in the James Peak Wilderness that’s saying something. In fact, this hike has all my favorite features: lively streams and waterfalls, prolific flowers, an uphill workout that’s not a painful trudge, a combination of shady trails and sunny meadows, craggy mountains circling glacial blue lakes, and nary a view of town or road.
The trail starts at the East Portal of The Moffat Tunnel at about 9,211 feet and climbs to 11,310 feet. To reach the trailhead, take Rollins Pass Road west from highway 72 at Rollinsville. The 8.2-mile dirt road dead-ends at the tunnel. Check out this two-and-a-half-minute video to see why it’s worth the trip: