A Trekker’s Manifesto

In this post I discuss my motivations for writing this blog.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”        

― John Muir

Some may wonder why I write this blog…

One of my favorite songs is “Noise”, by Kenny Chesney.  For me, it’s a rallying cry, of sorts, as it well expresses my growing disillusionment with the rat race that is the modern lifestyle.  I firmly believe one of the central problems with modern society is that we are constantly overstimulated with busy lives, busy minds and busy spirits.  The song demonstrates how this “noise” that continuously engulfs us makes us miserable.  It is unescapable and unending.  My personal belief is this overstimulation contributes to the anxiety so many feel.  I know, for myself, the anxious symptoms I experience peak when my life feels the most hectic. 

Some lyrics from the song state:

“…Yeah we scream, yeah we shout ’til we don’t have a voice.  In the streets, in the crowds, it ain’t nothing but noise…”

We’re constantly pulled in multiple directions at once:  relationships, chores, work and school, hobbies, attempting-to-find-some-time-to-just-relax! 

“Twenty-four hour television, gets so loud that no one listens…”

In addition, we’re persistently bombarded by 24-hour news cycles, streaming music, and video, our sources of stimulation continue on ad-nauseum…. I can feel my blood pressure rising just THINKING about all of this! 🤯  

Articles are written about the burnout people feel.  How they are striving to “unplug”, to have a better work-life balance, to take back control of their lives.  But then, they’re told to “lean in” and live “well-rounded” lives…

 “There really ain’t no conversation, ain’t nothing left to the imagination…”

From an early age, we’re exposed to so much technology that our creativity is squashed.  Children used to spend hours playing outside, now their days are filled with activities structured by others and devices that tell them what a game is and how to play it.  We don’t think for ourselves anymore or take a step back and critically examine situations.  Instead, we allow ourselves to be influenced and pressured by what our friends are “liking” on social media, or what our trusted news source is telling us is a fact. 

“…trapped in our phones and we can’t make it stop…”

We’re all adrenaline junkies running around constantly stimulated by the technology that continuously surrounds us.  This stimulation is so persistent that when we have to go more than 30 minutes without the dopamine hits it provides we get anxious and think we’re bored—even though that’s what life is supposed to normally feel like—we just aren’t used to it.  Our phones chirp mercilessly, constantly giving us the recognition we’ve come to crave as it means that someone “liked” our post or tweet, or is trying to contact us so we don’t feel so small and alone…

*This may seem contradictory for a blogger; whose job is dependent on the use of technology.  To be clear, I’m not anti-technology, I’m pro the purposeful and controlled use of it.  It’s a tool that should be used deliberately and within limits, without allowing it to control our lives.*


I write for my love of the outdoors…

“Sometimes I wonder, how did we get here?  …we didn’t turn it on, but we can’t turn it off…

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We’re constantly surrounded by all this “noise” but we haven’t yet evolved to handle it, and I don’t think we are meant to.  We weren’t designed for the modern-day lifestyle.  Evolution didn’t prepare us for this craziness, because it isn’t a natural thing.  We’re meant to be surrounded by the peace and tranquility that nature brings: the perfectly formed snowflake; the sound of chirping birds and the whistling wind; the silent clamor of snow falling in the woods; the pitter-patter of rain against the window and the “CRASH!” of thunder outside.  We’re meant to feel the sun warm our skin as the wind caresses our face and to smell the fresh, earthy aroma of wet dirt that a fresh rain brings. 

I’m an avid Nature Girl.  I enjoy pretty much any activity that gives me an excuse to be outside.  I’m also high energy (in case that isn’t obvious). 😉  I like the outdoors, active hobbies and I find walls induce claustrophobia.  I grew up as a country-girl, playing in the dirt and fresh air, so, outdoor recreation is a perfect hobby for me. 

This love of nature brings me peace by enjoying the beauty and simplicity of the environment that surrounds us.  Many people find comfort in these things and I think there’s a reason for that, it’s our intended habitat.  It’s where we’re supposed to be, so, we connect with it on a basic, transcendent level.  The most instinctual part of our being longs for it.  I feel my spirit is renewed by nature, so I want to use this blog to encourage others to enjoy this incredible experience, as well.  

For me, this peace is also spiritual, in a sense.  Not everyone agrees with this, and that’s ok, religion is a very personal journey, and everyone has to choose what’s best for them.  I feel my life is richer and I find hope in despairing situations when I embrace the spiritual side of life.  Experiencing nature aids my spiritual journey as it helps me to form a tangible connection to the Creator, by communing with the extraordinary creation.

I’ve enjoyed being out in nature since I was a kid, I especially love the mountains.  I still remember the instant I fell in love with them.  Mr. Trekker and I were enjoying our first road trip together, in 2005, shortly after we both graduated college.  We were at Mesa Verde National Park, standing at one of the lookouts on top of the mesa, with the whole of Colorado stretching before us (maybe THAT’s why I love the state so much?!) 😉  I remember thinking, “I could live here”, and feeling a connection to the mountains, on a visceral level.  At the time, the Trekkers were preparing to move to North Carolina.  Until then, I had only ever lived in Indiana, this was my first time experiencing the Rockies.  I had visited the Appalachians throughout Pennsylvania and New England on numerous family vacations and had always enjoyed the mountain scenery, but this time, something struck a chord within me… 

It would be six years before we returned to the mountain west, this time to stay.  We’d had enough of the big city, and after numerous adventures in the mountains of western North Carolina, we were hooked on our outdoor activities.  The Black Hills aren’t quite the Rockies, but the smaller towns and simpler way of life—not to mention the frequently beautiful weather—suit me just fine.


I write to describe my struggle with anxiety and (hopefully) to help others who are struggling…

When we moved to South Dakota, I started experiencing frequent symptoms of anxiety.  To make matters worse, I also began noticing depressive symptoms due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), thanks to the minimal hours of sunlight–and the resulting Vitamin D deficiency—present in the Northern Plains during the winter.  I set out on a mission to learn methods to alleviate the symptoms I was experiencing, so I began working with a therapist. 

For some, anti-anxiety medications work wonders.  For myself, I hated the woozy, detached feeling I experienced as a side-effect, so I sought out natural and behavior-based methods as an alternative. I have found that by taking a step back from the continuous “noise” of our modern lifestyle, through pursuing outdoor adventures, and by employing intentional methods such as mindfulness, I am able to effectively manage the condition. 

Besides the obvious benefit of a flood of endorphins brought on by physical exercise, I think experiencing nature helps to decrease anxiety symptoms because it has a tendency to test our resolve.  It’s an incredibly humbling–and somewhat frightening—experience when you find yourself at a different location on the trail than you originally thought, and you realize how far you still have to go as the sun sinks ever lower towards the horizon.  Your concern is heightened as the cold wind intensifies, and dark clouds close in.  You come to the very sobering realization that you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and her elements. 

This is a moment where anxiety is truly warranted!  But, it’s also an incredibly empowering moment.  You realize that you’re reliant on your own devices, that your ability to get home rests squarely on your own shoulders…and you CAN do this!  It’s liberating when you do, eventually, make it home safely.  The feat raises your confidence level as you now know that you are capable, and you can handle the challenges life throws at your feet.  It helps you to realize how powerful your inner strength really is!  

I think we often forget that anxiety can be a useful tool.  It’s a natural, beneficial response to an element in our environment that’s posing a risk to us.  But it should be reserved for situations where our safety is actually at risk. Unfortunately, these aren’t the situations that often cause anxiety in modern times.  Oftentimes, “modern” stress stems from situations that are, frequently, not threatening at all.  As I had a therapist once explain it, “your body doesn’t know the difference between being called into a meeting in your boss’ office and being chased by a saber-toothed tiger!  It responds the same.”  “Good” stress situations (such as finding yourself lost on a trail) help to keep anxious feelings in perspective.  They help us to realize that some circumstances unnecessarily induce anxiety within us.

Beyond personal empowerment, basking in the awesome power of nature helps to remind us that we aren’t the center of the universe. It’s humbling (and relieving) to experience that power overshadow many of our worries, and it helps us to realize that many of them aren’t as unique or catastrophic as we think they are. What is an impending root canal in comparison to the immense “ROAR!” created as millions of gallons of water pour over a waterfall every day?  Or when you observe the natural forces required to create locations such as the Grand Canyon?


I write for my quest for a more tranquil lifestyle…

“Every room, every house, every shade of noise.  All the floors, all the walls, they all shake with noise.  We can’t sleep, we can’t think, can’t escape the noise, we can’t take the noise so we just make noise!”  

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We were all dropped into this technological soup that we aren’t equipped to handle.  To mitigate the stress brought on by our modern lifestyles, we seek out more stimulation (or noise), when what we really need is rest!  We get worked up from the constant information and news, we worry about our friends and family, about the state of the world. Then, due to all this, we struggle to sleep at night which just leads to exhaustion, more stress, more anxiety and depression…WE NEED A BREAK!  We need to be able to take time to just STOP!…relax…take a breath…and enjoy the natural beauty and peace that constantly surround us.

I write this blog because I want to help people find their break.  Through my struggle with anxiety, I’ve found that one of the best ways to control the condition is to actively seek out activities and lengthy amounts of time where I remove the craziness of the modern world from my life and get back to what matters most.  The Bible says, “no man can serve two masters”, and that’s true in life as well.  We seem to know that we need to take control of our lives, but we don’t know how to do so.  This blog is about my search for a more tranquil lifestyle.  I write to help others with a similar desire. 

I find I’m able to mitigate my anxiety symptoms by employing a more tranquil existence.  I strive to maintain a purposeful mindset where I utilize deliberate techniques to control my symptoms, such as mindfulness, meditation and journaling.  Mindfulness helps us to focus on the present, not an upcoming meeting with the boss or an argument we had with our spouse that morning.  It also helps us to fully enjoy whatever we’re engaging in at that current moment and to make the most of it.  Journaling allows me to relieve the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head in a productive way.  It helps me to view my concerns objectively, and either devise solutions to them or realize they aren’t as concerning as I first thought.   

A peaceful lifestyle helps to lessen anxiety.  This is because the more stressed we become, the lower our tolerance is to handle stressful situations, which increases the likelihood that we’ll feel anxiety regarding them.  In contrast, the calmer we feel, the higher our tolerance to handle stressful situations, and the better adept we’ll be at using coping methods to alleviate any anxiety that results from them.

For myself, tranquility means not constantly feeling hyped up, not constantly dwelling about things to come or constantly replaying previous conversations in my head.  It means focusing solely on aspects of my life and the world at large that I actually have control over (such as how I respond to circumstances).  For elements of life that we can’t control, worrying about them doesn’t help anyway, so why bother? (To be clear, this is easy to say, but NEVER easy to accomplish in practice.  This is one of those skills I toil with on a daily basis.)

 These practices have lead me to a more fulfilling life, a decrease in symptoms of anxiety, and greater control over the disorder.  Writing this blog also helps me return my focus to nature and on the things I enjoy.  It helps me focus on positive things and reminds me of the empowering effect of the activities we pursue; how they stretch the bounds of my comfort zone and show me how capable I really am.  I hope by sharing these experiences with others it can be a vehicle to help lead them to a more tranquil, thoughtful, less anxious experience, as well.


I writ
e the blog as a guidebook of sorts…

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I also write this blog as a type of guidebook, to share the adventures we’ve had and to assist others who may want to follow in our footsteps (so to speak).  I truly enjoy traveling, the sites we see, the random hodgepodge of people we meet. 

Since we live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my posts primarily focus on activities in that area.  However, Mr. Trekker and I are also avid travelers, so I also outline the various journeys we embark on around the country.  The Trekkers engage in an eclectic mix of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, canoeing, exploring 4-wheel-drive roads, car camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and road trips, among others.  

I want to encourage others to try activities that are outside their comfort zone, while at the same time give them practical, useful tips to help make that experience as painless as possible. I want to spark their interest for new activities, but also give them an awareness of what hurdles may lie in their path so that they can embark on their adventures well prepared.  For those who may be unable to partake of some of these sites, I hope to bring the experience to them, in a sense, through my writing.


To Conclude:

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The techniques listed above have empowered me to take more control of my anxiety.  I don’t put my issues out there to garner pity from others.  Rather, I seek to relate my personal struggles with the disorder, as well as the methods I’ve learned to help control it.  I want this blog to be a place where others can come to acquire these tools for themselves.  I’ve accepted the fact that my anxiety is a part of me, that it’s something I will, likely, live with the rest of my life.  But, that doesn’t mean I have to allow it control over my life.  I strive, every day, to reign in those worrisome thoughts and emotions and use them to improve myself.  There will be some tough days.  Sometimes, the anxiety will win.  But that’s just one day.   Life is a marathon, not a sprint!  The sun WILL rise again tomorrow!  So, when we have a bad day, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and press on!

Part of what I love about the outdoors is that nature cuts out the BS.  It takes away our technology and gets us back to basics.  It humbles us as it forces us to acknowledge there are some things in life we can’t control.  Along with that, though, it helps us to understand that some of the things that cause us anxiety aren’t really as threatening as we might first think.  Nature gets us back to our intrinsic roots.  I find that one of the rare times I can truly put my mind and spirit at peace is when I’m engaging with and appreciating the natural world, in all its glory.  I want to share that with others. 

So, some may ask, “why do I write this blog and spend so much time outside?”  To that I answer, “to escape the noise!”

*Ya’ll, I’m telling you, this song is awesome.  If you aren’t familiar with it, I BEG you, go listen to it.  This is three-and-a-half minutes that IS worth your time (the video is pretty cool, too).  For your convenience, I’ve linked to it here.  Pay careful attention to the last couple of shots near the end, see if you notice a common theme…*

Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

In this post, I discuss a medicine wheel in the Bighorns!

In 2018, we spent ten days in the Colorado high country and didn’t see one moose.  Later that fall, we spent ten seconds in the Bighorns (literally), and TWO were waiting to greet us when we arrived at our campsite!  Bighorns for the win!  

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Our ungulate friends (this year it was Maggie and Megan)

The Trekkers have enjoyed the Island Park campground so much in the past that we decided to return there again.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m always surprised at how much this part of Wyoming reminds me of the Colorado mountains.  The scenery and critters are very similar, with the added benefit of being half as long a distance from the Black Hills and FAR less crowded than Colorado (see, I like other states too). 😉  

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel

One main goal on this trip was to visit a Medicine Wheel, which was built by the ancient ancestors of today’s American Indian tribes.  More than 80 tribes claim the wheel in their oral traditions so it can’t be attributed to any one group or culture, though it’s, obviously, a very sacred site.  This is one of the largest, stone medicine wheels in North America (there are at least 150 spread throughout the continent) and it’s been on my must-see list for some time.  It’s constructed with a center cairn with spokes emanating from it to an outer circle that connects six, smaller cairns that appear to be strategically placed.  

Archeologists aren’t sure of the wheel’s exact age, most estimates date it back at least 800 years, but it could be far older.  Archaeological evidence shows human habitation as far back as 12,000 years in this area!  

The ranger we spoke with stated the six cairns that dot the outer portion of the circle are believed to have a celestial purpose, but the exact function remains a mystery–it is thought that they may have been used during vision quests.  The last time the six cairns matched up with celestial markers was at least as far back as the 1700s.

Medicine Wheels are sacred sites

Religious ceremonies are still held at the wheel on a regular basis as many tribal members make religious pilgrimages to the site.  Some of the ceremonies involve large groups, while others include only a few individuals–two, small, private ceremonies occurred while we were there.  Anyone with American Indian heritage can participate in a ceremony.  

It’s always enthralling for me to observe religious practices that I’m not familiar with.  I’m fascinated by the emotions you see play out on the individuals’ faces, and how descriptive their movements can be.  I find their actions evoke emotions within myself as well.  You can actually feel the peace and tranquility emanating from them as they dance, pray, or worship in their own way.  

A tour of the wheel may be delayed if a ceremony is occurring, though they usually don’t last longer than 30 minutes, so please be patient and respectful during this time of worship.  Numerous religious offerings are tied to the fence that rings the site (or are placed within the wheel itself).  Please do not touch or photograph these items directly as they are sacred.  It is also requested that people not take photos or videos of the ceremonies, as they are occurring, to respect the privacy of the participants.  

How do you get to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel?

The parking lot is a mile-and-a-half walk from the wheel on a graded, dirt road.  The hike isn’t bad, though it is uphill both ways (seriously 😝) and the altitude is over 9,000 feet, so take your time.  The site is also above tree-line so bring water, sunscreen, and be prepared for the ever-present, Wyoming wind.  It usually takes an hour or so to complete the entire route.  The site is free to visit, though donations are appreciated.  Because this is a sacred site, pets are not permitted and must be left in the parking area.

Related posts:  Hiking in the BighornsWest Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, WyomingCamping in the Bighorns

The wheel is located on Forest Road 12, off of US 14A, in the northern part of the Bighorns.  It’s about 20 miles from Burgess Junction (where 14A branches off from US 14 to the east) and about 30 miles from Lovell, Wyoming, to the west.

The only thing that marred the experience was the large, FAA radar placed on the adjoining peak (because none of the numerous, other peaks in the surrounding area, that were a little farther away, wouldn’t have worked?  REALLY?!)  Federal Government, do better! 😤      

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The incredible view of the Bighorns from the Medicine Wheel site (to the right is the road you hike to reach the wheel)
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The Medicine Wheel (you can see one of the cairns in the foreground to the left)

The Backroads of Wyoming

I’ve suggested before, to always take the scenic route, when time permits.  We enjoyed a good bit of that on this trip!  We started by taking Route 24, west, from where it branches off near the Island Park campground.  We then took Forest Road 408, to BLM Road 1117, on to Hyattville.  

This route is listed in the gazetteer as being Hyattville Road, but we saw NO signs reflecting this.  Similar to what we found in Colorado this summer, even though a road may be listed as a “major connector”, especially in the gazetteer, this could easily mean the road is actually dirt (sometimes wide and graded, other times little more than a narrow, two-track, high-clearance road that I wouldn’t be comfortable taking my Outback on). 😝 

We used three separate maps–the gazetteer, a Bighorns map we picked up at a local outdoor store and a road atlas–to gather a, somewhat accurate, estimate of the roads’ actual conditions.  Part of the difficulty was the roads traversed National Forest and BLM land in this area, and each department names and maintains their roads differently.  

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The drive was very manageable with the Tacoma (any high-clearance, 4WD vehicle could handle it).  There were no steep drop-offs and no, real, technical obstacles like what we’ve encountered on some of the roads in Colorado.  It was also beautiful, ranging from alpine, spruce forests and aspen groves, to dun-colored high prairies dotted with tan and red clay mounds, adorned with the varying greens of the diverse foliage.  Rock-rimmed canyons with their gaping mouths open onto prairie grasses far below, while rocky cliffs of various colors traverse throughout, all with the imposing Bighorns as a backdrop.  

Here is a video I made that showcases the beauty that is eastern Wyoming.  I think I’m getting a bit better at this, you don’t need to take a Dramamine before watching this one!  😂  

At this point we were worried we were running short on time, and, not knowing the condition of the backroads in front of us, we chose to bug out to the highway.  After leaving the Medicine Wheel, we decided we were game to try a few more back roads.  We took another scenic trip, east, on US 14A to Burgess Junction, where we picked up US 14 and took it west.  We took that road to Route 17, another “major connector”, that we then took to Alkali Road/BLM Road 1111/Route 228, back to Hyattville (this is the back way we had, originally, intended to take up to the Medicine Wheel).  

Again, these road numbers and names were listed on the gazetteer and one of the maps–some of these roads didn’t even appear on the Atlas–but were NOT shown on the actual road.  We just trusted the signs that directed us back to Hyattville.  You always need to be flexible when taking back roads, as you never know what kind of obstacles or conditions may cross your path.  I should also note, there was no cell coverage in this remote location (and GPS can often be inaccurate), so maps are often times your only option–time to go “old school” folks!  

Another road we could have driven was labeled in the Gazetteer as the “Red Gulch, Alkali National Back Country Byway”.  We didn’t actually drive it this time–though we hope to return as it leads to a site with fossilized dinosaur footprints 😳.  From what we saw of the road as it intersected the route we were driving, it appeared to be more of a two-track, high-clearance path, at least in spots.  I certainly wouldn’t call it a “main road”.  Funnily enough, the roads we took back to Hyattville ended up being in better shape than the back road we brought out from the campground.  They were graded, gravel roads that one could expect to travel 30 – 40 mph on (if the rancher in front of us hadn’t decided a slower speed was better.  Unfortunately, on those roads, that are only about 1.5 lanes wide, passing really isn’t an option unless the person in front of you is feeling charitable and pulls over.  This man didn’t. 😜)  So, we enjoyed a leisurely, scenic stroll through the beautiful Wyoming countryside.  😁  

After reaching Hyattville we took Route R54 (another graded, well-maintained, gravel road) to Ten Sleep and then got to enjoy the, INCREDIBLY beautiful, US 16 east through Ten Sleep Canyon, back to our campground.  (Did I mention, almost all of these roads, despite their varying conditions–with the exception of the highways–had the EXACT SAME indicators on the map? 😜)

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The topography of Wyoming is very unique.  It’s characterized by the towering Bighorns, Tetons, and the Rockies that criss-cross Yellowstone, in the north and to the east and west.  Then, you traverse a drier, large, bluff-filled basin between Yellowstone and the Bighorns.  Some parts are prettier than others–while the dry, scrubland that surrounds the mountains can be pretty and green in spring, it usually turns rather drab in the later months.  This area that is dotted with oil fields and sketchy-looking, government sites with warning signs plastered on the fences, can be rather intimidating. 😳

Below are some more pics of our scenic drive:

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If you’re looking for a relatively close location to the Black Hills for your next long-weekend excursion, try out the Bighorns! 

Did you enjoy reading this post?  Pin it!

Are you looking for a REALLY unique place to visit? Check out this prehistoric Medicine Wheel, in the northern Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!

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The Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

Our trip to Marble, CO, the renowned Crystal Mill and the Crystal ghost town via a thrilling trek over a 4×4 road.

Palms are damp, heart is racing, stomach is churning as I grab the truck’s “Jesus handle” and see my life flash before my eyes while Mr. Trekker slowly inches the vehicle ever closer to the drop-off….

Let’s back up and start this story at the beginning…

Crystal Mill

The Crystal Mill is one of the most photographed sites in all of Colorado and a key reason we embarked on this road trip to begin with.  First off, let’s just get the technicalities out of the way.  This isn’t actually the mill (even though that’s the common name for it), it’s actually the powerhouse for the mill.  This is all that remains of the abandoned site.  The actual mill lost its battle with nature many years ago.  I just wanted to get that out of the way for all the “sticklers-for-detail” out there, now for the fun stuff!  😁

After several days at Grand Mesa, and a wonderful breakfast at Connie’s in Cedaredge, we traversed a beautiful gorge dotted with coal mines and then a spectacular canyon on Route 133.  The drive into Marble (the departure point for our adventure) was a sight to behold in itself!  This was the first real alpine view we’d had on our trip to date, and the drive over McClure Pass and down the switchbacks into town was incredible.  Before reaching the pass we could already see the dichotomy between opposing ecosystems; the drier scrubland on the western slopes and the wetter, alpine peaks on the eastern slopes of the pass.  As we rounded the first curves and began our descent down the eastern side of the pass, the yawning chasm of the valley opened up in front of us, edged by the towering peaks of the nearby mountains.

Colorado’s Alpine Beauty

THIS is why I love the mountains so much!  That first glimpse of the majestic, alpine peaks is what keeps me coming back time and again, never tiring of their pristine beauty.  It’s a humbling experience, feeling so small next to those gigantic monoliths that continue on, one after another, for miles on end, standing the test of time eternal.  How many eons has the rock that forms them been in existence?  How many more will it continue existing, affected only by the passage of time?  It makes our puny, maybe-a-century-long, human existence on the planet seem paltry in comparison. 

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern ColoradoThe Backroads of Colorado7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost Towns

Viewing vast expanses like this, for me, is a transcendent experience.  My spirit is refreshed more by a day in the mountains than a week in a church pew.  Being allowed the privilege of experiencing creation on this visceral level; as you breathe in the damp loam of the forest floor, and feel the competing elements of heat from the sun and the cool, mountain breeze that simultaneously caress your skin.  For me, these experiences leave no doubt of the presence of a Creator.  What better way to appreciate said Creator than by encountering its creation?       

The tiny village of Marble, Colorado

Marble, a tiny town with a permanent population of little more than 100 people, is nestled into the Rocky Mountains along the Crystal River.  Its claim to fame is the marble–hence the name–in its quarries that has been used for a few well-known places.  These include portions of the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington DC!  

The Road to Crystal Mill

The road to Crystal Mill, Forest Road 314, is listed as “moderate” in the 4×4 book I mentioned in this post.  It’s about a 10-mile, round-trip excursion from Marble to the mill, and then the ghost town of Crystal, beyond.  So, be prepared for a several-hour adventure, especially depending on your mode of transportation.  The road is open for hiking, biking, and vehicles, so all should proceed cautiously and be ready to encounter others on the path.  

I approached this route with a bit of trepidation.  This road connects with Schofield Pass to the east, via the sometime’s-deadly Devil’s Punchbowl.  (As I mentioned previously, we chose not to attempt that adventure on this trip, maybe someday, though!)  We knew this would be one of our more challenging 4×4 adventures to date, so, with sweaty palms and a pounding heart, we passed Beaver Lake and headed for the unknown.  

As it turned out, the technical difficulty of the road was completely manageable, our earlier drive on Montgomery Pass Road, as outlined hereactually proved more challenging.  The road was rocky, for sure, with a water crossing or two in places, but any high-clearance, 4WD vehicle could manage it in fair weather conditions.  The difficulty arose when you met people coming the other way on this one-lane, two-way, shelf road!  😳  The smashed cab of the ancient truck I saw lying at the bottom of one of the ravines didn’t help to quell my nerves any!  😕

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The road to Crystal

There was only one, truly nerve-wracking moment when we were forced to hug the edge of a cliff as we waited for an ATV to pass us.  Fortunately, this was an area with a bit of a turn-off where the road “widened” to about 1 1/2-lane width, so it was actually the perfect place to meet an oncoming vehicle.  As we hovered on the rim of the canyon, several hundred feet in the air, my acrophobic tendencies spiked as Mr. Trekker had to inch towards the drop-off to make room for the other car.  These conditions are a normal part of driving back roads in the mountains so, while manageable, these roads are not for the faint of heart!  (Did I mention this was the “safe” and “easy” portion of this road?)  😜   

We did arrive safely at Crystal Mill, and it is, truly, all it’s lauded to be.  There’s a reason why this is one of the most photographed sites in all of Colorado.  The mountains provide a picturesque backdrop and aspens frame the Crystal River as it courses down a small waterfall and edges the side of the mill before continuing on to Marble, farther down the valley.  The water roars as it rushes past, caring naught for anyone or anything that gets in it’s path.  It presses on with one purpose, to obey the demand of it’s master, to continue on to where the call of gravity slackens.

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The iconic Crystal Mill (powerhouse) 😉

Crystal “Ghost Town”

The ghost town of Crystal is located only a few hundred feet beyond the site of the mill and is not, truly, abandoned–at least in the summer months–as many of the old buildings have been restored and are now privately owned as small, mountain getaways.  The town itself makes for a good turn-around point on the road for those of us who are less brave (wiser?), and are not willing to take on the Devil’s Punchbowl.  We returned to Marble, the way we had come, without further incident.       

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Crystal ghost town

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Just Groovin’!

After that adventure, we decided we had earned a celebratory meal (also, we were hungry!)  There is a cool BBQ restaurant, in Marble, called Slow Groovin BBQ.  The food was wonderful and was just what our appetites had ordered!  You can visit their website here, they also have a location that is open year-round in Snowmass.  I liked the message they had printed on the bottom of their menu (see the pic below).  I took the message to mean we should focus on the present, appreciating the potential joy that every experience has to offer us.  So, we adopted this attitude for the rest of our trip.  

Now that we’ve returned home, this is something I’m trying to implement into my everyday life as well.  (I always try to garner insight from our trips, and I always come away inspired when we visit Colorado–have I mentioned I LOVE this state? 😉)  It’s a struggle for me, particularly with my anxiety, but I’m always trying to be more Present…not rushing from task to task, not constantly being worried about how the next item on the list is going to get accomplished (or even what it is); just “groovin'” through the current moment.   

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This is the message that is printed at the bottom of the Slow Groovin menu that I found so inspiring (reprinted with permission).

We had planned to camp at an RV park we located on the map in town.  Unfortunately, it was full for the night.  Since there is no cell service to speak of in the valley, and we were fresh off our life lesson to “just groove”, we decided to press on to see what camping options awaited us in the Gunnison National Forest.  We were SO glad we did!  It turned out, merely 20 minutes down the road, we came upon a National Forest campground that was nestled against the Crystal River and found, what ended up being, one of our favorite campsites of the entire trip (have I mentioned National Forest campgrounds are AWESOME?) 😉  We happened to arrive shortly after the most scenic campsite in the entire campground became available, early.  So, we snatched it up!  Sometimes, “winging it” works out for the best!  It was located mere feet from the river itself!  Due to the Stage 2 fire ban, no campfires were allowed, so we enjoyed a relaxing evening riverside, dangling our feet into the cool water, reading the books we brought along while enjoying the sounds of the bubbling river.  

This trek to the Crystal Mill was definitely one for the Bucket List. If you’re even in the central Colorado High Country, I’d encourage you to visit it as well.  You’ll be glad you did!

Have you visited this incredible, Colorado landmark?  Tell me about your experience getting there in the comments!

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Have you always wanted to visit the iconic Crystal Mill, near Marble, Colorado? Read on as I review our trip there via a thrilling trek over a 4x4 road.

 

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The Backroads of Colorado

This post outlines our adventures on several Colorado backroads, including some at State Forest State Park and around the Crested Butte area.

One of the main agenda items on the Trekkers’ road trip itinerary for 2018 was to improve our 4×4 driving (and navigation) skills.  

One series of books we found to be incredibly helpful is A Guide to Colorado Backroads.  It’s actually a series of books covering the northern, central and southern regions of the state that provide helpful information on the roads and trails including their difficulty level, equipment needed to successfully complete them, and details on each of the routes’ conditions.  

Below is a listing of the new roads we enjoyed:

Montgomery Pass Road, State Forest State Park

The first road we mastered, the Montgomery Pass Road at State Forest State Park, ended up being the most technical route we attempted on the trip. This out-and-back trek is listed as “moderate” in the guidebook.  It was fun, though, definitely, challenging.  A high clearance, 4WD vehicle is required and skid plates are an added benefit–we were VERY glad for them as we scraped across one particular rock.  Several spots even required me to exit the vehicle and play “spotter” for Mr. Trekker to assist him in navigating the obstacles…it was fun!  😁  The road was wide, with room to pass in most spots, and mostly traversed the forest, so, it lacked the stomach-churning shelf roads we experienced on much of the rest of the trip.  

The road ends before it reaches the top of the pass, and the final half-mile or so must be completed on foot.  It’s an easy hike (minus the altitude) as the trail is an abandoned forest road.  It was windy at over 11,000 feet, but the incredible views of the Never Summer Mountains and promise of the 360-degree vista at the top provide motivation despite beleaguered lungs.  The wildflowers had begun to carpet the surrounding meadows while snow still blanketed portions of the nearby peaks (in early July!)   Another quality of this wilderness area is that we felt like we had the entire mountain to ourselves on a Monday morning, seeing only two other groups for the duration of the excursion.  You can also hike the entire way to the peak from the other side of the mountain.  The trailhead is off of Route 14 on the eastern edge of the park.   

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Made it to the top of Montgomery Pass!
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The view from the summit

Bockman Road, State Forest State Park

We supplemented that adventure with a side trip down Bockman Road which intersects the Montgomery Pass Road farther down the mountain.  This road was easy, I think my Outback may have been able to handle it if you were careful on a few of the bumpy sections.  It was dirt, but wide enough for two vehicles and mostly graded.  It made for a fun, relaxing afternoon as a bubbling creek accompanied us for much of the trip, as well as countless more wildflowers (have I mentioned the wildflowers are beautiful in Colorado this time of year?) 😉  

Gothic Road near Crested Butte

Probably the most nerve-wracking drive we completed was Gothic Road, from Gothic ghost town to Schofield Pass–I discuss Gothic in this post.  The road is in good condition–a sedan could probably negotiate it.  The problem we ran into was that it is a 1 1/2-lane shelf road with a significant drop-off at one side and no barrier–a frequent condition we encountered on Colorado back roads.  When we were there it was also INCREDIBLY busy; filled with 2-way traffic in addition to hikers and mountain bikers.  Part of the trouble was that we were there on a weekend in July (our fault, it was just the way the trip itinerary worked out).  But the horde of visitors combined with people who are unaccustomed to driving in those white-knuckle conditions made for what felt like a genuinely unsafe situation from time to time.  

From the top of the pass, a dangerous 4×4 road continues on through the acclaimed “Devil’s Punchbowl” to Crystal Mill–one of the worst 4×4 accidents in Colorado history occurred on this road.  We chose NOT to take that route, 😝 but stay tuned next week for the 4×4 adventure we had on Forest Road 314 from Marble to Crystal Mill!

Schofield Pass and Slate River Road

Once we reached Schofield Pass, we completed the loop via Slate River Road (Forest Road 734) through Paradise Divide.  This section was not only FAR quieter and more relaxing, it was also one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever been on (it made the other half of the loop worth the gray hairs). 😉  Showcasing towering mountains donning green meadows, grass-covered avalanche chutes, and streaming rivers fueled by snowmelt, this drive is incredible!  We were fortunate enough to grab one of the last remaining dispersed campsites in this area that was nestled right next to a small canyon.  We fell asleep listening to the water coursing through it that night!

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Waterfall along Paradise Divide
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Our campsite
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View from the campsite

Below is a video I took of the Divide.  Be patient with me, I have NO videographer experience, and the road was bumpy, and this was taken on an iPhone.  But…this valley was so INCREDIBLY beautiful, I had to share this with you!  You can see why they gave it the name they did! 😎

The drive from Rifle to Grand Mesa Colorado

Even when not looking for a 4×4 adventure, we learned that travel on Colorado back roads can be an interesting experience.  We drove the back route from Rifle to Grand Mesa National Forest, taking Dry Hollow Road from Silt.  Then we continued via Route 270 into Colbran and then took Route 121 to enter Grand Mesa the back way.  The drive was lovely!  The eclectic scenery transitioned from desert-like scrubland in the Rifle area to aspen forest in the higher elevations, then to rolling farmland in the valleys–that reminded us of Pennsylvania–before ending in the spruce forests that comprise Grand Mesa.  

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern Colorado, 7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost TownsThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

I mentioned earlier that the gazetteer didn’t always differentiate road surfaces well.  We found the regular road atlas (and the 4×4 book mentioned above) gave far better indications of what to expect for the actual conditions of the roads.  In this situation, these routes were indicated to be “major connectors” (and I’m sure they were for that, extremely rural, area). However, this indication included roads that varied from paved and painted to those that are dirt/gravel, with some being extremely rough due to a washboard surface.  They were, often, also, narrow and winding (where two, full-size vehicles may struggle to pass).  Many also hugged the sides of cliffs on shelf roads.  They offered incredible views but may be alarming to people who aren’t accustomed to those conditions.  We had a great time, but I note this so people are aware these conditions can make travel more difficult and may require you to budget additional time to complete the drive.     

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Viewpoint on the road to Grand Mesa from Silt

These portions of our trip were thrilling, nerve-wracking and challenging.  However you manage to do it, whether it be machine-powered by a 4×4 vehicle or using your own two feet, I’d encourage you to venture out onto these lesser-traveled routes (as you are comfortable, of course).  You’ll see sites and experience adventures that the average person misses on the more well-traveled highways.  It will give you a whole different appreciation for the nature that surrounds us.

Stay tuned next week for an in-depth look at our trek to Crystal Mill!

Have you ever tried out any of these Colorado backroads?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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Looking to explore some backroads in Colorado's High Country? Read on for some around State Forest State Park and Crested Butte that you won't want to miss!
 

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The Best Hidden Gems of Northern Colorado

This post outlines our 2018 road trip adventure around the Colorado high country.

Last year we enjoyed the Colorado portion of our road trip so much, we thought we’d return for our summer trip this year!  This vacation turned out far better.  No projectile vomiting, no rivulets of blood running down a certain blogger’s leg, almost no injuries at all actually…just many, MANY, mosquito bites.  😜

For the last 6 months, we’d been planning to complete a grand loop of Colorado’s Hidden Gems; visiting ghost towns, furthering our 4×4 skills and enjoying the awesome scenery that is, Colorado.  Unfortunately, a winter with unusually low snowfall, and a dry spring, yielded a predictable result, wildfires.  One entire National Forest was placed under a Stage 3 fire ban and closed to all visitors for a time, while many others were under Stage 2 bans (no fires of any kind with the exception of gas cooking stoves).  

At first, we considered changing the trip entirely as it seemed likely that the beautiful vistas we were anticipating would be marred with heavy smoke, we also didn’t want to be an additional burden to those dealing with the fires on a daily basis.  After briefly considering the southwestern Montana backcountry, and deciding we’d like to leave grizzly encounters to another trip, 😳 we decided to stick with Colorado.  Fortunately, about that time the monsoon season kicked in and the fires began to slacken.  We were SO glad we made the choice we did!

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book Review, 7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost TownsThe Backroads of ColoradoThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

In an effort to avoid the worst-hit areas, we altered our trip a bit and returned to the northern portion of the state to both State Forest State Park and Grand Mesa National Forest, two locations we had enjoyed so much last year.  We again had a great time at both locations.  We experienced disperse camping for the first time at State Forest, and at Grand Mesa, we enjoyed a lovely campsite within site of the–albeit low–lake.  We got to explore new places like Montgomery Pass (discussed in this post), as well as Lake Agnes, the Crags, the Flattop Wilderness area and the Land’s End Road at Grand Mesa.

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Our home for the week!
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View from our first dispersed campsite, near the Never Summer Mountains 

We also enjoyed COUNTLESS wildflowers throughout the trip.  We’d heard stories about the beautiful flora that carpets the Colorado mountains during summertime, but had never been there late enough in the year to experience it.  Their colors consisted primarily of red, yellow, purple and white variations.  Their beauty was worth the mosquitoes!  

This brings me to another point…if you visit these areas in the summer…buy stock in mosquito repellant first!  We’d experienced the little buggers (no pun intended 😇) a little bit last year, but not during prime season.  Those things can, almost, carry you away!  And they’re tenacious! They latch on until physically removed and are undeterred by vigorous hand-shaking or other, less forceful methods (which is problematic when you’re using both hands to complete other tasks).  I’m all about respecting Nature, but mosquitoes may be the one critter where I draw the line.  I just don’t see where they have ANY redeeming value.  They’re annoying, they spread–potentially deadly–disease, they do act as a food source for other animals, but aren’t there enough other creepy crawlies for those critters to live on?  I mean, COME ON!  Is it possible Mother Nature made a mistake with this one?  🤔

Public Service Announcement:  While I don’t enjoy smearing poison laden with Deet across my body, as someone who reacts STRONGLY to bug bites–to the point of being woken up by the itching in the middle of the night–I’ll defer to the poison on this one.  😝  There are more natural bug repellants available, but I’d encourage you to be VERY careful with your choices in bear country (especially grizzly country).  Anything, with any smell, should be avoided.  They claim bears can even be attracted to hand lotion or chapstick that’s been left in someone’s pocket inside a tent.  One perk to the drier areas we ventured through later in the trip was the lack of mosquitoes! 🤭

Wildflowers in the Colorado High Country!

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I am SO PROUD of this picture.  This was a “end-of-the-day-I-was-tired-so-I-jumped-out-of-the-car-and-snapped-a-quick-pic-that-ended-up-being-awesome” picture.  😁

This trip did reiterate for us, again, how spoiled we are living in the Black Hills.  In South Dakota, even during high-traffic times, you can enjoy a weekend in the backcountry without encountering nary another human (unless you bring them along).  In Colorado, we were–somewhat unpleasantly–surprised by the number of human companions we encountered.  It wasn’t just busy weekends either.  While we were in a heavy-use area, I was shocked that we had trouble finding a National Forest campsite on a Monday.   I was rather disappointed by the lack of wildlife we encountered on this trip and I wondered if it was at all due to the higher percentage of people in the vicinity?  We spent 2.5 days in the “moose capital of Colorado” and didn’t see one moose (actually, we didn’t see any the entire trip!)  😫  We saw LOTS of marmots, but I was hoping, with intentionally spending time in the backcountry, we would have a higher likelihood of encountering more wildlife.  I don’t think the heat was a problem as it wasn’t that hot, and we spent the majority of our trip at-or-above 9000 feet.  There weren’t THAT many higher locations for the critters to roam!  

We DID see countless bovine–which I dubbed “Colorado Bears” by the end of the trip.  🙄  I’m all about everyone having equal access to our National Forest land; however, the cows got a little annoying.  They smell, you have to avoid getting their “remnants” on your shoes, and when you’re looking for exciting wildlife–like actual bears, or moose–and all you see are cows, you get a little discouraged.  Maybe some “city folk” find our steak-producing cohabiters interesting, but this farm girl from Indiana was not impressed.  😜

We also learned on this trip that no matter where you go in Colorado, and no matter how remote you think your location may be, you will likely always be in the flight path of some airport.  You’d settle down in your tent at night, being lulled to sleep by the, surprisingly, deafening silence of the forest (apparently it’s too cold for crickets at 10,000 feet, even in the summer?), and your reverie is suddenly disrupted by the roar of jet engines flying overhead!*  🤫  

*I really don’t mean to complain, we honestly had a SPECTACULAR time on this trip and we’re already looking forward to and planning our next excursion to the Rocky Mountain State (I’ve mentioned before my unbounded love for vacationing there).   These are just the things you contemplate after 10 days of suffering from altitude-induced hypoxia and the venom of countless insect bites.  😳😉

We were also, again, reminded of our love of National Forests on this trip. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you can make do with more primitive facilities at their campgrounds (which usually means no flush toilets, though potable water is often available in the summer months), National Forests are a must-see.  They are at least as scenic as National Parks, with far cheaper fees and FAR fewer people.  We’ve enjoyed campsites where we fall asleep to the sound of the nearby babbling river, and ones where the moose almost walk through your campsite multiple times per day!  

A new “device” we acquired for this trip was a Luggable Loo and Double Doodie Bags (seriously, one of the greatest inventions EVER) and **sun shower, which made the disperse camping experience far more tolerable. 

**A sun shower is simply a reusable, robust, vinyl bag and tube with a spout, with black backing that you fill with water and leave out in the sun.  When you return to camp later in the day, you have warm water (it also works well to make sure your fire is out at the end of the evening).  

State Forest State Park and Lake Agnes:  

As the snow had receded, we were able to complete the Lake Agnes trail and enjoy the Crags at State Forest State Park this year.  It’s a fairly short trail, well-graded and not-overly-strenuous.  I should caution you, though through many switchbacks you are carried up a fairly decent elevation gain, at 10,000+ feet mind you. 😀  The entire trail is only about two miles round-trip and the lovely wildflowers that accompany you on your hike, as well as the SPECTACULAR view at the trail’s midpoint, are absolutely worth the effort required to complete the trek.  While it’s still on our list to visit, it reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of Avalanche Lake at Glacier National Park, complete with the turquoise-colored water.  This was comforting to me as I was under the impression this water was mostly seen near glaciers, and if glaciers continue to recede, it would be a shame if future generations are unable to enjoy this spectacular view.  

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Lake Agnes

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The Crags

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Flattop Wilderness:  

We also traversed the Flattop Wilderness Area, a destination that hadn’t even been on my radar until earlier this year (thank you Facebook!). 😉  It was gorgeous as well! We were surprised by one element of it.  The majority of the “highway” that traversed the wilderness area, also known as a Scenic Byway, was a dirt road comprised of a rutted, washboard surface.  It wasn’t a difficult drive, we saw plenty of sedans traversing it.  The surface choice is understandable as the road is completely closed throughout the winter months, so maintenance during the rest of the year is probably more easily completed on a gravel road.  We were just surprised, as our experience with “scenic byways” has consisted of two-lane blacktop roads winding through the countryside.  The area was spectacular though, full of sweeping vistas of far-off peaks and valley floors dotted with lakes perfect for fishing and picnicking.  

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You can see where the area got it’s name

Grand Mesa National Forest:  

At Grand Mesa, we had hoped to hike more, but the impending thunderstorms and extreme exposure on our intended trail encouraged us to seek out other recreational options.  

Those storms actually produced a small, short-lived, funnel cloud! Accidental storm chasing, on a mesa, with only two escape routes (one a potentially muddy dirt road), what could possibly go wrong?  😳😉  Fortunately, I had a meteorologist with me who determined the risk to us was slight.  

We were able to complete the Land’s End Road–also, primarily, gravel, but in much better condition than the previously mentioned Byway.  This route takes you to a, now closed, Observatory.  It also proffered an incredible vista of the valley far below and granted a birds-eye-view of the interchanging ecosystems that encompass so much of western Colorado.  Here, lush forests in the highest elevations transition into scrubland and nearly-desert as the altitude decreases.  

We saw some of the friendliest (pushiest?) chipmunks we’d ever encountered on top of the Mesa.  The Trekkers believe in keeping wildlife wild so we did NOT feed them.  But, evidenced by the mounds of sunflower shells we saw scattered about (and that we watched the critters literally take food from other peoples’ hands), they have been habituated to human contact.  The greedy little buggers come at your with cheeks full, begging for more!  

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The view from the top of the Mesa at the terminus of Land’s End Road

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The overly-friendly (and difficult to photograph) chipmunks at the top of the Mesa

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Funnel cloud at 10,500 feet!
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Island Lake with the Crags Crest off to the left (note: these are different crags than those at State Forest State Park)
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The San Juan mountains provide a lovely backdrop to the views at Grand Mesa

If you’re looking for some hidden gems to visit in Northern Colorado, make sure you check out State Forest State Park, Grand Mesa National Forest, and the Flattop Wilderness!  

Have you experienced the chipmunks at Grand Mesa, or seen any moose at State Forest?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Tired of the crowds on Colorado's Front Range? Check out the Hidden Gems of State Forest State Park, Grand Mesa, and the Flattop Wilderness!

 

 

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Poet’s Table, Black Hills of South Dakota

I discuss our various attempts to discover this “secret” Black Hills landmark.

It only took two tries, but we were finally able to locate Poet’s Table!  (As it turned out, we almost reached it the first time, and probably would have, had it not been for the mist blanketing everything and the fog hiding the site from view).  If you’re looking for specific instructions on finding this awesome spot…keep looking.  I won’t give any details that can’t already be found on Google.  Part of the fun is in the search! (I will say this much if you think you’re close…make sure you look up!)

Where is Poet’s Table

Our first attempt was in early June on a particularly misty, foggy day–which can be a really cool time to hike in this area.  Our second was a few years later, also in June, and we were actually able to help some visitors from Illinois locate the spot.  They were grateful for our assistance as they were eager to ferret out this iconic, Black Hills location.

The only major clue I’ll give you is that this “secret” spot is within Custer State Park.  There are no signs or trail markers so you’re going to have to put your sleuthing hat on to find Poet’s Table.  The trail is unmarked and is located about a half-mile from the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead which is about half a mile from Sylvan Lake on Route 87.  It is also not far from the scenic Cathedral Spires Trail.  

After about a 1/2 mile hike down the trail and crossing a footbridge, you will see a fallen log on your right.  On your left is a rather large, well-trodden path going off to your left, heading uphill, traversing a bit of a canyon.  Take this path.  As you trek the unmarked trail, within a few minutes you’ll see another, smaller, also well-trodden trail heading off to the left, toward more towering granite summits.  Take this left…this is where my directions end, the rest is up to you!

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Poet’s Table Can be Hard to Find

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the site on your first attempt (or even your 3rd!)  Just enjoy the hike, the views and the beautiful nature that surrounds you.  We found some pretty nifty spots in the area even when we failed to find the actual Poet’s Table.  Good luck, have fun and happy hunting!

Note:  There are several other unmarked trails traversing gulleys and canyons in this area.  They don’t “go anywhere” per se, but I encourage you to investigate them.  This is a pretty amazing area that you’ll have largely to yourself most any time of year (though summer is the busiest time).  There are lovely canyons, picturesque granite outcroppings and the occasional small waterfall to hunt if you’re there during a wetter period of the year.  Trails in this area aren’t overly long but they can get rather steep so watch your footing, especially in wet, muddy, or snowy and icy conditions.  Being in the Harney Range, this is also one of the higher elevations in the Black Hills (over 6000 ft), so flat-landers should take heed. 😉  Another nice thing about the trails being relatively short, most are half-day hikes or less (though you can, obviously, spend as much time in this area as your heart desires.)  You won’t get bored!

Thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for this great shot of Poet’s Table!

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A few months after our trip, this iconic landmark was vandalized. Fortunately, it has been reset. You can read my feelings about that event here.

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Do you enjoy searching for hidden places? Read on for some tips to discover the "secret" Black Hills landmark, Poet's Table.

 

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11 “Don’t Miss” Sites in Colorado

Our adventures in Colorado on our 2017 road trip.

We spent the second week of our 2017 Road Trip traversing various parts of Colorado.  That state is, by far, one of my favorite locations in the entire country to visit (and we’ve seen a fair amount of the country).  Its beauty is indescribable and pictures don’t truly do it justice. 

The small town of Trinidad, Colorado

The first night we stayed in Trinidad, an old-school Western town in far Southwest Colorado, only about 15 miles from the New Mexico border.  It’s a cute little town that’s been well maintained and is in the process of getting a trendy facelift.

Can we talk about the elephant in the room?  You know, the stores with the green leaves on them that you can’t help but point at and giggle (or is that just me?)  😇  I know, I know, it’s legal there.  I’m just still struggling a little with its recreational legalization (though I FULLY support it for medicinal purposes).  It’s not my fault, I was a DARE child of the ’90s, I grew up being taught that it was bad (of course this was by the same people who also taught us that Pluto was a planet–and people wonder why I have a skeptical nature!)  Then there’s the issue where it’s legal in the state but not in National Parks within that state because that’s Federal land and it’s still illegal Federally (*sigh*, does this make anyone else’s brain hurt?)  Like every good Libertarian, I’m willing to tolerate it, but, Colorado, do you have to shout it from the rooftops?  Trinidad was the first town we came to in this “leaf-friendly” state, and with a population of only around 10,000, I thought the four separate shops I saw on our drive through town that night were a little much!  But I digress, you do you, Colorado!

 The next day, we headed West from Trinidad on Route 160, bound for Mesa Verde National Park!  12 years ago we visited the park and parts of Western Colorado on our very first road trip, so it was cool going back.  Some of it we remembered, but it had been so long there was plenty that we were seeing again “for the first time”. 

Related Posts:  10 “Don’t Miss” Places for your Great Plains Road TripLessons Learned on a Road Trip; 5 “Don’t Miss” Places for Your New Mexico Road Trip 

Having just recently survived a bout with an aggressive flu, I was still not my best self at this point, though, as we were entering some beautiful country we wanted to do a little sightseeing.  The first pass we arrived at (and the first overlook) we stopped to take some pictures.  I stepped out of the car, took one step on the unsteady gravel in my flip flops, and skidded to my knees.  The fall left a lovely road rash in its wake (because this trip just hadn’t been adventurous enough!)  At first, I figured it was nothing, till I looked down and saw red rivulets running down my leg *sigh*.  So, back to the car, we went, with Mr. Trekker coming at me with the first aid kit.   Unfortunately, it only had alcohol swabs in it and we were FAR from any modern bathroom with water and soap.  Needless to say, Mr. Trekker was NOT my favorite person that day!  But, kudos to him, he bandaged me up well (albeit painfully) and several months out, I’ve got only a minor scar to show for my misfortune.

The following is a rundown of the highlights of our tour around the state.  Thanks again to Mr. Trekker for letting me use some of the pictures!

Mesa Verde National Park: 

This unique park showcases cliff dwellings from the civilizations who lived there thousands of years ago.  Some you can view from overlooks, some you can actually tour (self-guided and ranger-led).  They’ve also got a great campground with spectacular star-gazing opportunities.  Our first trip to the park was one of my first camping experiences out West where there’s far less light pollution.  I remember being astounded at the light show the night sky put on (and that’s coming from a girl who grew up on an Indiana farm).  Unlike many of the national parks (such as Rocky), the campgrounds have modern bathrooms—read, flush toilets, and showers.  I’d recommend at minimum a 2-day stay to really get the most out of the park.

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Cliff dwelling
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Navajo Canyon

Route 550, the Million Dollar Highway: 

On our first trip to this area, we stumbled upon this highway accidentally, completely unprepared for what we were about to experience (it was just the most accessible option to get us where we wanted to go).  The 2nd time around we knew what we were in for…and were still awed.  If you’ve never traveled this route, I STRONGLY recommend it, though I’d suggest traveling it from south to north starting in Durango.  This ensures your car is on the inside of the sharp turns the majority of the time rather than perched along the cliff edge with nothing between you and the gaping maw of the canyon below than some thin oxygen (there are no guardrails the majority of the drive as the snowplow drivers need space to push the snow off the cliffs in the winter months). 

If you can handle the drop-offs, this drive is a must!  This area is referred to as the “Switzerland of America” due to the incredible mountain vistas.  I can testify the views here rival those we saw in Glacier National Park on the Going to the Sun Road last summer (though these are more accessible, depending on your location).  The most popular portion of the drive (from Durango to Ouray) is less than 70 miles, but plan for it to take several hours (that was our big mistake the first go-around).  It’s a slow drive, in some areas the suggested speed limit on the curves is only 10 – 15 mph (and trust me, they aren’t joking).  It can be slower if you find yourself traveling behind larger, slower-moving vehicles.  The most intense (and most beautiful) portion runs the 25 miles between Silverton and Ouray.  Stops are frequently caused by construction in the summer months as workers are constantly fighting the ongoing battle with natural erosion.  Rockslides are also common (as well as avalanches in the winter months).  This drive can be frightening for us acrophobics but the immensely beautiful views are worth it!  There’s plenty of skiing, 4×4 trails, hiking, camping, rafting, and a slew of other activities available in this corner of Colorado, so be sure to put it on your “must-see” list.

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Telluride, Colorado: 

Telluride was about what I would expect from a ski town (the Trekkers are uncoordinated and therefore not downhill skiers).  It was lovely, though we were a little early for the summer season so the upper roads weren’t clear of snow or open yet.  We walked down the road to view a staple of the town, Bridal Veil Falls.  The road up to it was open for hiking, but as I still wasn’t at my best we decided to skip that option this trip.  Instead, we opted for lunch at Brown Dog Pizza, a local joint where I can honestly say I had the best cheese calzone I have ever eaten, hands down.  The ricotta cheese seemed as though it had been whipped into an airy froth.  I’m no food connoisseur, but it was incredible.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Ouray, Colorado: 

The drive into town from the south is one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.  THIS I remembered from 12 years ago.  You descend from the harrowing Million Dollar Highway and this small oasis of civilization opens up before you in the valley, beckoning you down from the peaks (if you’ve seen the show “The Ranch” on Netflix, this town is the one used in the opening credits).

Ridgeway State Park and True Grit film sites: 

This was one of my favorite campgrounds we visited on the entire trip  (part of the reason we spent three days there!)  It’s located just north of Ridgeway on Route 550 (north of Ouray, so out of the peaks).  They have a lovely, shaded, tent-camping area that’s back off the road, complete with level, graded tent sites, modern restrooms (and showers!), and surrounded by cedar trees. 

This brings me to another point.  Apparently, it’s perfectly legal to smoke pot in Colorado State Parks, but don’t you dare hang a hammock from a cedar tree!  I’m sure there is a good reason for this due to a risk of damage to the trees, and I’m all about protecting nature, but this just seemed to be a bit of a misalignment of priorities to me!

The park surrounds a picturesque reservoir set against a backdrop of snow-capped Rockies to the east.  Its location makes it an ideal base camp for numerous day trips and activities.  It also happens to be near the filming location of the original western, True Grit (the one with John Wayne, not the new version).  If you’re a good enough detective there are numerous filming sites you can locate in this area (though please be aware, many of these areas are located on private land and you are trespassing if you travel on it without the owner’s permission.  Please be respectful of private property.) 

We were able to view Maddie Ross’ Ranch, Courthouse Mountain, Chimney Peak, and the meadow where the shootout scene was filmed, without difficulty.  The last three can be located off of Route 8 (to reach this travel east from Route 550).  You’ll reach The Meadow about ½ mile before the summit of Owl Creek Pass.  Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak are visible from The Meadow and Sleeping Rock is located at the summit of the pass.  Maddie Ross’ Ranch is located off of Last Dollar Road which is off of Highway 62 (the road from Ridgeway to Telluride).

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Sleeping Rock (the rock Mattie Ross slept on in the 1969 version of True Grit)
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Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak
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Mattie Ross’ ranch
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Deb’s Meadow (where the final shootout scene was filmed)
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Ridgeway State Park
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It was so strange to look to the east and see the Rockies

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Grand Mesa National Forest: 

This is another “must-see” location in the mountains east of Grand Junction.  It’s primarily used for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter months.  It’s got some great campground/fishing/hiking opportunities as well, but we were, unfortunately, too early in the season to really take advantage of these options.  The hiking trails weren’t yet open as there was still feet of snow drifted on them in some places.  During the peak of summer, this would be a prime place to escape the heat though, the day we were there it was near 90 in the closest town on the valley floor and it was in the ’40s and raining/snowing large glops on us at the summit.

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Snow on the summit, this was June 6th ya’ll!

Rifle/Rifle Falls, Colorado: 

We spent our final hotel stay of the trip in the small town of Rifle, Colorado.  The Shooters steakhouse (located in Rifle) was on our bucket list for this trip as I had read a news story on this restaurant (namely, the pistol-packing servers!)  The food was good, unfortunately, this steakhouse was out of steak the night we visited (another bummer to add to the count for this trip!)  We then walked around the corner to Moo’s Place for dessert (an ice cream shop built in an old gas station).  The staff were INCREDIBLY friendly. 

The next day we visited Rifle Falls State Park, which was beautiful.  It was the only place I’ve ever been where you can traverse walkways that stick out over the TOP of the falls!  The caves at the bottom were picturesque as well (and provided a cool respite from the summer heat).

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State Forest State Park: 

$20/night for a campsite; going several days with no indoor plumbing (or showering); a DISGUSTING pit toilet (seriously, it was an upside-down pail sitting over a stinky hole in the ground); BUT…eating dinner while a cow moose and two calves eat theirs, in a field, a few thousand yards away with the Rockies as a backdrop…PRICELESS!!! 

We spent the last three nights of our trip at this park which is renowned for its moose sightings (many were re-introduced here back in the 90’s.). The park actually claims to be the “Moose Viewing Capital of the World!”  It definitely offered the best moose sightings we had ever experienced…until our Labor Day camping trip in the Big Horns (you can read about that here!)

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This view reminded us of the Garden Wall at Glacier NP.
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Alpenglow over the Western Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Mountains are basically due east from here)
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Ranger Lakes
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Moose from the campsite

CLOSE ENCOUNTER of the Mountain Lion Kind!!!

The final night of our trip I had a true close encounter (at least I think I did, it was dark and it was over fast!)  It was late and we were the only people still up in the half-full campground.  Our campsite was perched on a hill backed by the forest and fronted by a lake.  The first night we spied a moose family skirting the campground using a gully to get to the lake for their evening drink, so we knew it was a popular thoroughfare for the local wildlife.  We were waiting for the fire to burn down and out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement in the empty campsite across the road (maybe 30 yards away and downhill from our site).  At first, I thought it was a deer I had seen meandering around earlier that evening…and then I realized the “deer” had a long tail.  Then I thought it was a dog from one of the neighboring campsites, but I was pretty sure he was in the tent with his family…and the creature I spotted didn’t move like a dog.  Its movements were stealthy, fluid, and sleek; beautiful actually.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  It almost glided across the ground.  It reminded me of watching a cat jumping onto a high shelf when you’re sure any minute it will send objects flailing into space but instead it glides gracefully around them.  It was visible for only a few seconds, once it saw me it hightailed it out of there, and I wasn’t able to get Mr. Trekker’s attention quickly enough for him to see it.  We looked for tracks the next morning and didn’t find any but the ground was very dry and hard so this wasn’t a surprise.  I can’t prove it but…I think I saw my first mountain lion that night (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

Oregon Trail Wheel Ruts, Guernsey, Wyoming: 

The last day of our trek we stopped for lunch in Guernsey, Wyoming and viewed ruts left forever engraved on the landscape by the wagon wheels of the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail.  You could almost hear the lowing of oxen, the clanking of household items, the creaking of the wagons as they slowly made their way across the prairie.  You could almost smell the rank odor of animal and human sweat mixed with the constant cling of dust stirred up by the plodding of the animals’ hooves. 

It was humbling to think that we traveled almost 3500 miles on our two-week road trip, crisscrossing across eight states and visiting countless places in our air-conditioned, all-wheel-drive Outback, with a suspension that gently glides across any bumps in our path (on the paved or graded gravel roads we drove on).  Whereas these people traveled thousands of miles in a wagon train, a trip that took MONTHS as they slowly crept their way across the bumpy, muddy, rutted, rock-strewn ground, and lived under constant threat of death by exposure, disease, or attack.  When I became ill we drove five minutes to the local Urgent Care, it took maybe an hour to get seen, we then went to the Walgreen’s across the street for medicine and I was back in the hotel room on the road to recovery 20 minutes later.  Back in the days of the wagon trains the same ailment likely would have meant DAYS of misery as the best of potential outcomes.

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A few final pictures from our jaunt around Colorado.  If you haven’t been there, I STRONGLY encourage you to put it on your bucket list.  You won’t regret it!

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The Rockies
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Rifle Gap Reservoir
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Odometer reading as we pulled into the driveway (No!  We didn’t drive around the block an extra time to get it to 3500, I don’t know what you’re talking about!) 🙂

Have you visited any of these places?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

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Looking for some incredible places to visit in western Colorado? Click here for 11 "don't miss" places to put on your road trip list!

 

Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Intro

Welcome to my blog!

I am a 30-something wife and doggy momma who loves being outside, loves to travel and loves the freedom nature provides.  I feel spiritually renewed when I’m out in the natural world and find that it’s a calming balm to offset hectic, everyday life.  I also struggle with anxiety and find that my love of nature helps to mitigate those symptoms.  This blog is meant to share experiences, provide opportunities to discover new adventures and to help others find peace in the natural world that surrounds us.

Enjoy!