After driving through a snow blizzard our road descended into a wide valley and the sky cleared to reveal one of Colorado’s greatest views of the ‘fourteeners’. It’s the highest concentration of mountains over fourteen thousand feet in the lower 48 and made quite the spectacular backdrop to the small town of Buena Vista.
Further north was Twin Lakes where we planned to camp and relax for a few days. The two lakes were surrounded by the high mountains but the best view was from up high so we took a steep road and searched for a place to camp. We lucked out and found a national forest area with fire pits and the most incredible view – and best of all it was free!
The weather had taken a turn for the worse again and a cold front was rolling in. We watched storm after storm swoop through the valley, covering all the mountains in low clouds and dropping fluffy snow on its way. It was quite amazing to see how quickly the weather changed. The temperature dropped below zero at night but the wind calmed down enough to have a fire. Craig loves fires, and I do too but only for short periods as I hate how my calves burn and feel like their melting in the heat yet my backside is numb and cold so I always struggle to get warm afterwards which is a problem when you live in a van without heating.
The following day had the same weather system floating through, but we decided to do a walk up a dirt road for a better vantage point. A group of mule deer made a brief appearance and soon after we reached the lake at the top. It snowed quite a bit though so we had to wait under a tree before we could enjoy our pack lunch. As we did a curious little fox walked across the snow towards us. He was looking right at us and then he stopped, spread his legs and lifted his big bushy tail as if letting out a long wee. I was frantically snapping photos of him when he suddenly ran away at lightning speed. It was so bizarre, I don’t know why he felt confident enough to even walk towards us but also what scared him off? Was there a wolf or another predator we couldn’t see?
After a couple of lovely days relaxing (and freezing our butts off) it was time to hit the road again with a brief stop in the mining town of Leadville. We didn’t like it as much as the ones to the west, I don’t know why but it just felt run down but not in a funky ghost town kind of way so we continued towards Rocky Mountain National Park which we’ve never been to before. Just as we joined the main highway 70 we heard on the radio that a severe spring storm was coming and it was focused right around the national park. We pulled over at a town to get a more detailed forecast and it didn’t look good with weather warnings predicting 8 – 18 inches of snow. It was due to last about three days and the idea of waiting that out in below zero weather didn’t sound appealing. Warning signs on the 70 said the main highway would be affected and to avoid driving where possible. We had to make a decision and in the end we opted to escape the storm and miss the national park. I was pretty sad but it turned out to be a good decision as snow ended up setting in the valleys so snow chains were required and there was even a landslide on the highway 70 which shut it down for miles.
The weather perked up as we headed west away from the storm. There wasn’t much to do along the main highway which passed the ugly ski town of Vail, legendary to most but just a cluster of condos beside a highway to us. We stopped at Glenwood Springs for the popular hike to Hanging Lake though, which has become so popular that they’ve had to close the highway exit to it and instead provide a paid shuttle service to the trailhead so they can limit numbers.
The bus we caught was only a quarter full but maybe it’s because the rain caught up with us. I felt like it was a foolish decision to do the hike in rain but it broke up our long drive west. The trail headed uphill alongside a crystal clear creek which gushed down the mountainside and rolled over boulders. We were getting pretty hot and uncomfortable with our rain coats on but as we approached the top the sky cleared and the sun shone. The hanging lake was filled with some of the purest water in the world, straight from an underground spring. It was suspended in the cliffs of the Glenwood Canyon where the valley floor once collapsed and created the base of the lake. Waterfalls spilt over the edge into the blue pool and then it went under our boardwalk and down the mountainside.
The trail continued behind the pool to a huge waterfall pouring down a cliff. Craig walked behind it and looked so tiny compared to the mighty falls. Then we took it in turns standing on a rock right beside the falls, it was pretty exciting looking up at all the water coming straight towards me.
After the hike we decided to look for a hot spring we’d heard about in the area. Glenwood Springs has hot spring resorts but we hate the manmade places full of screaming kids so we like to search out free, natural ones. I actually read some pretty bad reviews about the one we visited, saying some real rough people with guns came to the hot springs and that it was contaminated with shit. Well, there was a biohazard sign about some faecal hazard in a stream below the hot springs but considering we were in a quiet area of the countryside we put it down to locals wanting to keep tourists away with scare tactics. The pool was a good size but totally murky and had it not been for another couple in the pool I probably wouldn’t have gone into the unknown. We started conversation with them by asking if there was any faeces in the pool and then we all laughed. They lived in Colorado and said they stop at the springs whenever they’re in the area so that made me feel more comfortable and I sunk into the murky depths. We chatted for about an hour and found out they’d actually just hiked up a mountain and skied back down (in late May!) which gives you an idea of how crazy the spring has been in the States this year.
The following day we made it to our final destination in Colorado, the Colorado National Monument. It was a desert landscape and one we hadn’t expected to see in such a mountainous state. A scenic road led through the park but storms loomed on the horizon and followed our journey. We picked a nice location to enjoy the sunset but the weather had different plans and the storm finally arrived. As we had dinner in our van the wind began rocking us sideways. Then the rain gushed down and it actually blew horizontally through the sky from the strong wind. We felt so concerned that the wind would push our van over that Craig rushed into the front and drove along the quiet one way road while I sat on the floor in the back holding onto the pots and pans containing our half cooked dinner. It was definitely time for us to say goodbye to Colorado and reenter Utah for some desert sun.