Colorado 2012 – Steamboat Springs

We left Grand Lake and traveled down through the towns of Granby and Kremmling to Steamboat Springs. Near town we crested Muddy Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass. A few years ago when we were camping here, we hiked to the rabbit ears for great views in all directions. We also stopped at Meadows Campground at the top of the pass (where we camped in 2005). Unlike a lot of the campgrounds, this one still had trees, probably Englemann spruces. But now there is a fire ban (no campfires allowed) and it is 15 miles from town, so we decided to stay on the outskirts of town at an RV park.

The Ute Indians were the first inhabitants of this area, drawn by the abundant game and the hot springs. French trappers gave it its name. Legend has it that the rhythmic chugging of the hot springs near the river from which mineral water spewed 15 feet into the air, sounded like a steamboat chugging down the river. In the immediate area there are about 150 hot springs. They also have the Yampa River that runs right through town and a 7-mile trail system that runs next to it. Unfortunately, like all of the Colorado high country, Steamboat had a dry winter, spring and summer. The river has never been this low in recorded history. The town even purchased water to flow through the river and keep the level up. We had an evening of rain on Tuesday and that has given them some relief.

Steamboat’s biggest claim to fame are their winter sports, particularly skiing. It all started in the very early 1900s and has only grown. There is an old part of town now with refurbished shops and the newer ski area part of town. The ski slopes can be seen rising prominently at the end of Main Street.

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Main Street, Steamboat Springs

There is also everything that goes along with a ski village–spectacular homes, condos, apartments–you get the picture.  You’d swear that some of the huge homes are actually lodges or good-sized B&Bs.

We spent one day driving up to Buffalo Pass about 20 miles out of town. The elevation is around 10,000 feet.

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Heading up to Buffalo Pass

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Flowers begin to pop out near the pass

At the top you can hike the Wyoming Trail for miles in either direction. There is a forest service campground at the top and a series of alpine lakes. Chris fished in Summit Lake (no luck there),and then we hiked downhill to Jonah Lake where Chris fished with some success.

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Better-late-than-never photo

Unfortunately, his photographer was off taking pictures of wildflowers.

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A meadow full of arnica.

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Indian Paintbrush, upclose

There were lots of them, but it was obvious they were past their peak. It is one of life’s pleasures to be out here on a sunny clear day in the crisp cool mountain air.

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Still following us around.

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Fish Creek Falls

After returning to town on the 11-mile rough dirt road, we went to Fish Creek Falls, just outside of town. It is a landmark of the town. This is a falls of about 250 feet. Again, the lack of water has diminished the flow dramatically. We ran into a retired veterinarian who was here year last year. He told us he couldn’t believe the difference. Last year, the water completely filled the rocky cliff. There was so much mist one couldn’t cross the bridge without getting wet. The water was overflowing the log that you should see in this photo.

The next day we headed north of town. The Elk River, a notable trout water, empties into the Yampa River. We followed the Elk River into the high country where Chris fished on the river, again with little success. He had fished here in the past when the water was so high he was afraid to wade in it. Now it is about shin high.

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Fishing the rough waters

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Still smiling despite no bites.

Nevertheless, the drive following the river upstream was pleasant.  We arrived at a high meadow after several miles only to discover the sad sight of a forest of standing sticks.  The ranger district is doing the hard work of cutting down the ones that might impact on people and campers.

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We traveled further north to Steamboat State Park, almost to the Wyoming border. Hahn’s Peak dominated the view as we drove several miles.

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The park is built around a shallow lake. We checked out the campgrounds since we had considered staying here. All of them had been attacked by the Pine Beetle and were denuded of trees. Chris fished in the lake for a bit, but it was muddy, windy and unappealing.

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Steamboat Lake

We drove up a 2-mile dirt road to Hahn’s Lake campground. It was a primitive campground, but that is fine with us. We are completely self-sufficient for at least 3 days. After that, we can get more water, empty some of our gray water and run the generator to charge the batteries. They had cut down a lot of the trees, but not all. There were huge cut log piles of firewood at each campsite. Eventually, the fire ban will be lifted and some campers are going to have a good time. The lake is clear and cool. The campground host reported that the fishing was good.

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Hahn’s Lake at 10,000 feet

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Still no luck.

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Firewood for the taking.

The views in the area are dominated by Hahn’s Peak. We were under the impression it was a 2,500 foot elevation gain to hike to the top, so we didn’t try. It turns out it is 1.5 miles to the top and about 1,500 feet in elevation. We wish we had known that at the time.

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Hahn’s Peak with flags flying at half-mast for the recent Aurora shooting.

On the homeward drive we passed what appeared to be a shepard”s wagon. On the way up, we had seen two horses tied up in front of it.

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We also encountered some cows on the road. It was open range.

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Finally we were almost run off the road by some woman from Danville, Indiana who wanted to talk to someone from home. She has lived up here for 20 years. We asked her what she did in the winter. All she could say was “plow a lot of snow.” She lives at the end of the road in Hahn’s Peak Village. (We wonder who Hahn was).  You’d have to drive 30 miles down to Steamboat Springs to get anything. A little too remote. But the real estate prices might be more manageable.

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It must take a lot of firewood to get through the winters.

Our last morning in town we had breakfast at Winona’s, a local place in the old part of town. We sat outside enjoying another Colorado morning. By that, we mean cool temperatures, blue skies (maybe some white puffy clouds) and a general feeling of well being.  After breakfast, we explored town and shopped a bit. We checked out Little’s, a local institution selling western wear. There were signs all the way over from Grand Lake advertising the place (kind of like Wall Drugs when driving through South Dakota). It was one of the only businesses in town to survive the depression. A row of cowboy boots and tons of hats, some unbelievably expensive, caught our attention.

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We’re heading up to Wyoming where it will be much more isolated and primitive. Our first stop will be the very small towns of Riverside/Encampment and then we head into the Snowy Mountains for our last stop before heading home.

As we left Steamboat, driving east over the Continental Divide, we pulled over in the foreground of Rabbit Ears Pass, the notable landmark of the area, for one final photo op.

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From the base of the ski slopes of Steamboat Springs,

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Airstream Travelers,

Chris and Melinda

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About airstreamtravelers

An Airstream Flying Cloud suits our lifestyle perfectly. The two of us are now spending several months each year on the road. We hope our posts and accompanying photos give a vivid description of where we travel, illustrating to our followers what's out there, just beyond their horizons.
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