July 4th Road Trip: Meeker Range Call, Independence Pass and Leadville

Shooters in Rifle

Kristy at Shooters in Rifle, CO. Note the sticker on the door.

Driving I-70 west on a holiday weekend is a daunting task, so we left promptly at 6am on Saturday to get ahead of the traffic. We had plans to spend the Independence Day weekend with family in one of our favorite Colorado destinations, Meeker, for Range Call 2014. After our 3 hour drive, we stopped in to have breakfast and to support a local restaurant, Shooters Grill in Rifle. They recently made headlines for allowing employees and patrons to “open carry” firearms. Kristy ordered a breakfast burrito the size of a football, which she barely touched, and I had Angus corned beef hash and eggs. Breakfast was excellent and up the road a ways, we arrived in Meeker just in time to catch the parade. After watching the parade in the hot sun, we welcomed the shade at the BBQ afterwards hosted by some friends of the family. We relaxed and visited with some great people and chowed down on the never-ending buffet of fresh barbequed pork and lamb and every side dish, salad and dessert you can imagine.

BBQ

BBQ

The hosts did it up right and spared nothing. From the kegs of beer and fresh lemonade and tea, to the tents and tables sitting on the freshly manicured lawn right on the White River. It was one of the better 4th of July BBQs I have been to.

Rejuvenated from the food and cold drinks, we made our way over to Main Street to watch the reenactment of the famous Meeker bank robbery that took place on October 13th, 1896. With the help of the 100 year old Meeker town historian, every year a group of locals acts out the bank robbery in front of the Hugas Building next to the Meeker Hotel.

Hugas Building

Hugas Building

Using authentic props and a little humor, this historic gunfight plays out in the same location it originally occurred almost 120 years ago. There have been a few minor changes since then; the streets are now paved, a few buildings have gone up and the three would be robbers have a permanent view of their mistake from the cemetery above town. An affirmation to this day as to why our 2nd Amendment is so important.

What would the 4th of July be without fireworks? The festivities came to a close with a great fireworks show that we were lucky enough to watch from Linda and Joe’s deck. What a perfect setting with the Grand Hogback mountains as a shadowy backdrop.

boom

Boom

We always hate to leave Meeker, but the time had come. We ate breakfast with the family and hit the road taking a different route home on Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs and then through Aspen. Leaving on a Saturday we were not in a rush to get home, but we didn’t want to push our trip into the madness heading back to Denver on Sunday. The plan was to drive over Independence Pass (on Independence weekend) and into Leadville and then on to Denver. On our way up the pass, we stopped at the ghost town of Independence. It is one of the better preserved ghost towns in the state and yes, it got its name because gold was struck there on July 4th, 1879. In its heyday it had 1,500 residents, 47 businesses and 5 saloons. After producing $190,000 worth of gold, the winters became too much for the miners and many relocated to the newly named Pitkin County seat, Aspen; and by 1912, Independence was completely deserted. The Aspen Historical Society has done a great job restoring and maintaining what is left of the ghost town. They even restored the old general store and turned it into a small museum with mining artifacts and old photos of Independence. Of course the intact buildings are boarded and locked up in winter, as the snow all but covers them.

Independence Pass

The last time we drove Independence pass was a few years ago and it was the weekend it had re-opened for the season. You could barely make out the rooftops of the mining remains at Independence, there was a lot less snow this time… (Pics below are of the exact same sign).

Spring 2011

Spring 2011

July 5, 2014

July 5, 2014

We descended the 12,095 pass into the twin lakes area and headed north to Leadville. Leadville is another mining town that was founded in 1877 and is still a very active town with about 3,000 residents. It is the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet. As Denver is known as the Mile-High City, Leadville’s nickname is the Two-Mile-High City. The Historic District boasts some awesome 19th century architecture and the detail and craftsmanship is amazing. Leadville is home to some notable historical structures such as the Tabor Opera House, the Delaware Hotel (supposedly haunted) and the Silver Dollar Saloon, where Doc Holliday is said to have had his last gunfight before his passing in Glenwood Springs, CO of tuberculosis. Leadville is a really cool town with a lot to do and it is surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest mountains (Mt Elbert and Mt Massive). After a quick bite to eat at High Mountain Pies, which we highly recommend, we headed back to the Mile-High City.

Mountain Pie

High Mountain Pie with Mt Elbert in the background.

See ya in the mountains!

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What’s Your Mountain?

In honor of the 60th Anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mt Everest, we were selected by Post Grape-Nuts Fit to be a Summit Sampler.  On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit the world’s highest mountain at 29,028 feet.  The story goes that Hillary brought along Grape-Nuts as a snack, which provided much needed energy and protein to help him complete this historic climb.  As a Summit Sampler, we were “dispatched” by Post Grape-Nuts to celebrate this climbing anniversary by taking our own hike and sharing Grape-Nuts Fit samples.  Without hesitation, we selected Colorado’s highest peak, Mt Elbert, which stands at 14,440 feet and is the 2nd highest peak in the contiguous U.S. (Mt Whitney in California is the highest).  We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Hillary’s historic climb and Memorial Day weekend than by climbing a Colorado 14er.  This was going to be our mountain!

We made a weekend of our Mt Elbert visit, and camped with friends at Lakeview Campground.  We set up camp on Saturday, and relaxed before our early rise the next morning.  Our Summit Day began with a 5am wake up, cool morning air, and coffee and oatmeal on the camp stove.  Once we were packed, we took the Cruiser to the upper trail head of the South Elbert Trail; which was just a short drive via a 4×4 trail.  The weather was pristine and we saw a variety of wildlife – beaver, furry eared rabbit, and even ladybugs in the snow.  The trail started off clear and dry, but became snow covered and cool a short distance after passing tree line.  Being early in the day, the snow was still frozen, so we didn’t need snowshoes, but the micro spikes came in handy for the final steep walk to the peak.  At the summit, we paused for a Grape-Nuts snack and enjoyed our snow covered surroundings.  The view from the top was breathtaking.  And as if the weather couldn’t get better, the air at the summit was completely still.  Rarely, will you climb a 14er without a strong breeze greeting you at the summit.

My favorite part of hiking 14ers in the snow is the journey down the mountain.  Hiking is fun, but glissading is better!  It was exciting to use a technique for the first time that I learned in Wilderness Trekking School.  After sliding through the soft snow, the remainder of our hike became slushy and muddy, which slowed our descent time.  We finally made our way back to the trail head, exhilarated from the day’s accomplishment.  We had conquered our mountain!

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To read more about our Mt Elbert summit, check out: 

Colorado: Let’s Hike Mt. Elbert – Highest Mountain in Colorado!

and

Fun on a 14er…

Mt Elbert: Hiking/Camping CO’s Highest Peak, (attempt #1)

For the long labor day weekend, we packed the Land Cruiser and the camp trailer and headed to the San Isabel National Forest for an attempt to climb Colorado’s highest peak: Mt Elbert; and to get a way from the masses of Denver.  After driving for 2 hours, it was dark when we reached the trailhead, but we managed to find a great camp spot and set up.  We immediately climbed into our sleeping bags, as we would get up at 5am and head for the trail.  It was a refreshing 34 degrees when we woke up, very welcomed from the 90+ heat wave we have had in Denver.  We got our packs ready, ate a quick breakfast and went to the trailhead.  We were anticipating a 9+ hour day, so we wanted to get an early start to beat any weather that could show up.  It was warming up quick as the sun came up over the distant mountains about an hour into the hike.

We have had some haze the last few weeks from the wildfires in Montana and the smoke has slowly made it’s way into Colorado.  The views were not as clear as they normally are, but it was still beautiful.  As we left tree line we could see the trail winding steeply up to what looked like the top of Elbert.  This was one of two false summits on this side of the mountain.  A false summit is when you look up and think you see the summit and when you get there, the actual summit is beyond where you thought.  This can be a mind game and frustrating, but you have to keep going.  We began noticing the clouds building when we were around 12,500 ft and kept a close watch on them.  As we neared the 13,150 ft mark, we decided to call it a day and headed back down.  When you are above tree line (approx. 12,000 ft) you have no cover and you are at the complete mercy of the elements.  The weather can change in an instant in the mountains, so you better be prepared.  A week after our summit of Mt Bierstadt, there was a snowstorm, yep, in August…  Colorado also has the highest percentage of lighting strikes just after Florida, a lot of these being on the high peaks and you do not want to be at 14,000 ft when a storm comes in.  Sure, we were disappointed, but the mountain will always be there and we will be back.  As we headed down, we saw darker clouds rolling in and then it would clear, but we still didn’t want to risk it.  When we got back to tree line, we stopped for brief lunch and then just enjoyed the rest of the hike back to camp.  About a half mile from the trailhead, we found an Aspen grove near a creek, so we stopped and took some pictures.  When we got back on the trail, we ran into someone heading down and he said it had gotten pretty nasty up top with hail and sleet.  This made us feel better about our decision.

We shed our packs and took our boots off back in camp and it was time for some burgers and beer.  After we ate, the thunder began, so we packed everything up from getting wet, unhooked the trailer and took the Cruiser to do some exploring in the rain.  It was brief and didn’t last long, but we found some great trails and really liked the rest of the camping area we didn’t get to see on the way in because it was dark.  We will definitely bring the 4wheeler next time we go.  We also found the Mt Massive trailhead, which is CO’s second highest peak at 14,428 ft in the same area.  I think we will be visiting this area again and again.

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