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Searching for THE Holiday Picture
Mt. Evans and Echo Lake, 103S, near Idaho Springs

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I was on a quest for the kind of scenery that makes great holiday greeting cards. It had been an unusual November, the weather forecasters declaring, "We normally get more snow than we have had this month." What was I to do? Where was I to go? I knew that the high country had plenty of snow for skiers and snowboarders but they have no place in my holiday picture.

A coworker suggested I try Mt. Evans, which is located about an hour from my home or Lake Dillon, an additional hour drive in good traffic. I steered my car onto I70 W, the main artery to Colorado ski country. I hoped my quest for snow would not take me too far into the mountains.

It was not looking good. There was no white to be seen as I turned off Hwy I70 at Idaho Springs onto state highway 103S toward Mt. Evans. As my car climbed up 103S, a sign declaring, "The Mt. Evans scenic drive is closed" greeted me. "Maybe there are some photo opportunities here after all," I thought. As the car continued to climb, I began noticing patches of snow in shady areas and then on the road.

After about fourteen miles, I saw signs for Mt. Evans and Echo Lake Park planted in the snow. On my right, there was a picnic area and a frozen lake. Just past the lake was the entrance to Mt. Evans Park. There was more than a little snow. The entrance to the scenic drive was barred, but a few cars were in the parking lot. I joined them and ate my lunch, juggling a water bottle, a knife, an apple, some crackers, and a block of cheese on the car's center console and my knee.

Later, I reached for my camera, got out of the car and then promptly dived back in. It was cold and windy! At that time, I lived at 6,200 feet where the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit when I left. At close to 10,600 feet, the temperature must have been at or below freezing. Good thing I keep cold weather gear in the trunk! Once I had regrouped, I walked over to view the lake and snapped this picture.

Echo Lake from the entrance to Mt. Evans

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Castlewood Canyon State Park
Near Castle Rock, Douglas County
2989 South Hwy 83, Franktown, Co 80116, 303-688-5242

Castlewood Canyon State Park has something for every one and every level of hiking expertise! Located southeast of Castle Rock in Franktown, Castlewood Canyon State Park is the site of the infamous Castlewood dam which breached in August 1933 flooding downtown Denver. Visitors can see the ruins and even hike up to and sit on them. There is a visitor’s center with a complimentary movie about the park and the events leading up to the dam breach at the east entrance to the park. Not far from the visitor’s center are paved trails along the rim of the canyon affording lovely canyon views and photo opportunities.

The west entrance leads to trailheads for the most of the unpaved trails. My favorite trail is the Creek Bottom trail. It is a 1.7-mile moderate trail with one or two easy climbs. The Creek Bottom trail ends at the dam ruins. Hikers can climb up to the ruins on a short trail comprised of steep steps. (You may have to stop to catch your breath.) Anyone who is not comfortable with the Creek Bottom trail can take the easy 0.35-mile Homestead trail that leads to the Lucas Homestead Historical Site.

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Maroon Bells Wilderness

A friend and I decided to explore the Aspen/Snowmass area. It is a four hour drive west from Denver, so we drove to Snowmass one Saturday this past August and spent the night. We split the cost of the double room and the gas for about $86 each. Breakfast was included and we packed a lunch, so there were only two restaurant meals. We got into Snowmass around 3:30 pm Saturday afternoon. As everything was within walking or shuttle distance, the car was parked until Sunday morning. There was an art festival that afternoon and a blue grass concert that evening. Our hotel was right on the slope. So was the concert. I sat in the hotel hot tub and listened to the music until some rain drops fell.

(photo of the Maroon Bells)

Sunday morning, we enjoyed a breakfast of French toast, orange juice, melon and coffee. Then we got into the car and drove to Aspen Highlands to get the shuttle ($6.00 round trip) to the Maroon Bells Wilderness. All told, we hiked about five miles. The shuttle driver mentioned that there was a three and a half mile hike from the lake to one of the wilderness “portals” where we could flag down a bus. What he did not tell us is the first quarter mile of that hike is across an area in which there was a rockslide. I connected with my inner mountain goat! Once we were through the rocks, it was smooth sailing. There were a couple easy climbs but it was mostly flat. Next time, we'll find another trail!

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Helpful Hints

First, remember that Colorado's elevation is much higher than most of the country. There is a reason Denver is called the mile high city. Be aware that depending on your age and state of health it can take over a year for your body to acclimate to the attitude especially if you came from an area near sea level.

Headache and dizziness are a couple of symptoms you may experience while acclimating. Breathing deeply and drinking plenty of water is important.

For the first year or two, avoid hikes that include a rise in elevation. Avoiding trails that climb is hard to do in Colorado, so if you choose physical activity, take your time. Be assured that the climb gets easier with each hike. I have found that spending the first half hour to forty-five minutes on a level trail before taking a trail that climbs makes the trip a lot easier.

Wear sunscreen all the time. The atmosphere is thinner. You will burn much more quickly than on the low lands. The air here is also very dry. You may find that you use more moisturizer than in the past. Good nutrition and again, drinking plenty of water, will help a lot.

Colorado weather can change very quickly. Be sure to wear layers, especially in the high country. Wear good hiking shoes. This may sound funny but make sure your toenails are trimmed. Long toenails will make your downhill trip a bit painful. Bring a rain jacket or poncho, too. Carry a snack such as trail mix or protein bar, a full water bottle and tissues in your daypack.

Good things to keep in your car include a change of clothes, spare mittens, an umbrella, sweatshirt, paper towels, toilet tissue, waterless hand soap, water and non-perishable snacks. Remember your camera and binoculars!

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Paint Mines Interpretive Park
29950 Paint Mines Rd., Calhan, CO 80808

An hour and a half southeast of Denver, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park is the located in El Paso County Park. Getting there is quite a drive through prairies and pines giving travelers a scenic view of El Paso County.

The park access road is dirt. The park itself is comprised of short trails (the longest being just over a mile) that wrap around an area with sand and rock formations. While the trails are short, most rise at least 20 feet. You have to walk down to the formations, then back up to the parking area.

(a formation)

Most of the formations are stark white. A few have pink vertical strips. Visitors can walk around many of the formations but only if they are sure of foot. The trails near the formations look like dry creek beds. I wouldn't want to be there in a driving rain!

Walking the trail around the area's rim, I looked at the surrounding prairie and thought of Laura Ingalls, wondering if this is what it was like at her "Little House on the Prairie". A strong smell of spearmint arose in areas where this yellow flower grows in abundance.

(the flower that smells like spearmint)

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Roxborough State Park
4751 Roxborough Dr., Littleton, CO 80125

Just a short drive from Denver, Roxborough State Park gives you opportunities to see wildlife, geology, and history. It is unfortunate that country club homes are occasionally visible from a distance but they always seem far away during my visits.

(Denver seems far away.)

(a new friend)

The altitude is about the same as Castle Rock (6,200 ft), and most trails are fairly clear of rocks, so it is a good starting place for hiking newcomers. A wide variety of wildflower, birding, and photography hikes are scheduled throughout the summer. Most are no charge. Due to the fragile nature of the park ecosystem, please leave your pets at home.

(the spring that cooled the old spring house)

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