Road Trip



I have snowboarded and cross-country skied Eldora but never hiked it. Today was a spectacular day of fall colors, cool mist, springy, light hail, and solid friendship along the Lost Lake Trail near Nederland, Colorado.

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Day 1 of spring break meant waking up in the fair city of Grand Junction, affectionately located along the Western Slope. For outdoor enthusiasts, Grand Junction offers easy access to snowboarding, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and road and mountain biking. I find myself stopping in Grand Junction whenever I’m on my way to a mountain bike tryst in Moab or Fruita, when I’m road biking at Colorado National Monument, or when I’m riding the locals’ favorite, Lunch Loop Trails.

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Because of the timing of my trip (the last week of March) and because of the lackluster snow season this winter, I pared down my available sports to four instead of the usual six or eight. This trip would be centered around mountain biking first, hiking second, golf third, and I brought along the snowshoes, just in case. I thoroughly researched the trails along the 50 most western miles in Colorado, which quite closely resemble Utah. I had planned for rides from the most southwesterly town in Colorado, Cortez, which also has some killer mountain biking, especially east of town at a little shooting range called Phil’s World.

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As before all solo road trips, I studied my maps carefully, and this time I was including some serious BLM time on my trip. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management, and BLM land is characterized by primitive camping that is usually free. BLM land would be less populated by bipeds this time of year, I surmised, and I was right. The tricky part would be finding appropriate and accessible camping sites for a low clearance 4WD vehicle.

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The BLM office in Grand Junction is staffed by friendly folks who know their land and can talk to hunters, mountain bikers, and miners with equal ease. This BLM office has realized the need to educate folks on the proper ways to enjoy the natural beauty contained within its boundaries that it has produced quality maps for each of its areas, including highlighted hiking and biking trails. It was at the BLM office that I discovered the Uncompaghre Plateau was still snow-covered and/or muddy, and that recreating or even camping there at this time of year was not going to be fun. So I picked up a few brochures, one on camping sites in BLM land, and a much-coveted map of the Y-11 Fiasco trail, a mere 45 miles to the south of Grand Junction in a tiny little town called Gateway.

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The road from Grand Junction to Gateway takes about an hour and a half. I had been on this road only once or twice before, but I remember the scenery quite well. In fact, when I have pleasant dreams I imaging myself driving alongside topography that looks just like that which abuts the Unaweep-Tabaguache Byway. Tabaguache is pronounced TAB-uh-watch.

The butte that abuts Gateway Canyons Resort

Gateway is a town with no services save for the Gateway Canyons Resort, a new spa-gold course-hideaway whose scenery is incomparable. The following day I would ride the aptly named Y-11 Fiasco Trail. But I first had a date with the stars and scenery and solitude of John Brown Canyon.  


Longer posts will follow but I just wanted to share my newfound love affair with BLM lands. I toyed with the idea of Moab again but all I
could hear was the obnoxious errr errr of dirt bikes and 4 x 4s. For spring break I needed something a little more serene and pristine. So I did my homework, located some killer mountain biking trails on the verge of Moab but still in Colorado. I spent a couple days luxuriating in the solitude, hitting wiffle golf balls with my 7 iron, and riding the Y-11 Fiasco trail in Gateway.

More pix to follow, but here’s a late afternoon easterly look into John Brown canyon, a staple of the hut-to-hut trips of the summer.

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Two months since my last post. Damn. I got a new job, and although it’s awesome, it’s taking up some serious time.

Spring Break is next week, and I’ve got a solid 12 days off. Three to four of those days will be spent on schoolwork, and the other either finding some R & R relaxing and pounding my body back into shape. I’ve been watching weather patterns all season even though we’ve had an anemic snowseason here in Colorado, there are other awesome snowboarding destinations less than 10 hours away. To wit: Utah, New Mexico and yes, even northern Arizona. (OK, a little more than 10 hours away.)

I opened my season at Wolf Creek in October, and I very may well end my season there. On Wednesday, March 28, Wolf Creek is running its Local Appreciation Day and selling lift tickets for $33. If there’s new snow, I’m beelining my way down there. I’ll be watching powdermeister Joel Gratz’s OpenSnow for accurate forecasts.

If snow is not forthcoming to Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, or Wyoming (hello, Grand Targhee!), then I’m off to the Four Corners area for some mountain biking, hiking, and sleeping among the snakes and scorpions.

Read about SheSpoke’s surfing adventure in Sayulita from spring break four years ago.


At last count, I have been to the emergency room six times in the last eight years. Friends and colleagues and family members hear this number and think, “Well, of course, you’re always going on those crazy adventures, you’re bound to hurt yourself.” But readers, tis not the adventures that land me in the hospital (well, except for the turning-point bike accident back in 2007). Usually, in fact, I land there because some drunk dude is careless. It’s totally awful but it’s totally how things have been these past eight years.

Well, this time I landed in the ER just because I’d been running out of steam and the immune system was down and one can ignore abdominal pain for only so long. I tell you this not to elicit pity, but to introduce my latest blog posting about how to prepare yourself for mindless and anxiety-filled hours in the ER. Cuz I’m an expert by now.

My latest for Trail’sEdge on being prepared for the emergency room.

And yes, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving alone (by choice, readers) at the Sand Creek Massacre site. To fully understand what I’m talking about, read about my adventure to Chaco Canyon when I decided to just say no to Thanksgiving over a decade ago.


A groomed run at Wolf Creek

Road trips rock. Even Hollywood knows that. Pile all the hot folks into the classic convertible, have them eat gas station food, camp out in the desert (even though they didn’t pack sleeping bags), and run into all sorts of trouble on their way to their destination. For Hollywood, it’s about depicting the journey as the destination.

For snowboarding powder days in October, it’s about the destination.

It was Friday, October 7 and I was all packed for Moab. I had neat piles of boxes and bags in my kitchen. I had slept four hours a night for two nights, going over maps, cooking food, double-checking my toiletry bag. I hadn’t been to Moab since Thanksgiving 2008, and I had been missing it sorely. I was psyched to go. Mountain biking is my first love, after all.

Colorado fall colors: green, gold, brown, and...white?

But somewhere around Thursday night I had heard it was dumping at Wolf Creek, my favorite ski area. The knot-nag in my stomach was telling me I had committed to Moab and needed to push powder pipe dreams out of my head. I was going mountain biking, not snowboarding that weekend. 

But then plans fell through. At 7pm on Friday, I was no longer going to Moab for the three-day weekend. I was free to go to Wolf Creek. I went to bed at 8pm (not hard, as I was working on maybe 10 hours of sleep for two days) and set my alarm for 4am. Two hours of cleaning and a little repacking, and I could be at the lifts by 11am and board until 4pm. Five hours of boarding powder for $33.

The color of autumn under a white blanket. Weird.

But the thing about snow dumps on your favorite ski area is that they’re not very cooperative with your driving schedule. And so it was, early Saturday morning on October 8 that I drove right into a snowstorm. It wasn’t snowing heavily and the conditions were not white-out, but the roads were icy. Driving on unplowed, icy, snowy, and dark roads is something I’ve done (a lot) and something I hate. I drove with an envy for the other, paved side of the road that only extreme dieters can understand. I white-knuckled it in places, slid a little here and there, and arrived at Wolf Creek by 11am.

Temps were warm, maybe upper 30s and I wondered if I hadn’t overdressed with three layers on the top and two on the bottom. My first run was off the Bonanza Chair, a long, winding, easy-peasy run that’s good to warm up on. It’s called the Great Divide and it’s a great introduction back to snowboarding after a three-month hiatus. But the trail was longer than I or my legs remembered and somewhere, about three quarters of the way down, it burned, burned, burned. That IT band, it burned, and the calves followed suit.

Those rocks are unmarked obstacles--a fact of early season boarding

The iron deficiency thing I have kicks in just over 10K feet, so I was huffing and puffing like an emphysemic wolf at the straw house. I chilled out for a few minutes at the lodge before I headed over to the the Treasure Chair, where I would stay for the rest of the day. The Treasure Chair had the powder. That’s the beauty of Wolf Creek–the more eastern you go, the further away you get from the main lodge, the more powder you can find. And I found it by ducking into the trees along the Tranquility run. I was swishing and laughing, all by myself, forgetting that it was October, that I had driven five hours to get there, that I hadn’t sleep much that week, and that I was 41 years old. I forgot all that and used my x-ray vision to find more untracked powder even though it was getting on in the afternoon.

The stuff of early season powder dreams

I found an open field of untracked powpowpow, which had what looked like pieces of straw sticking up. I leaned back on the board with my weary-heavy legs and shifted my weight back so I could literally surf over the snow. That feeling of gliding over snow is what makes skiers turn into snowboarders. Snow-surfing is surreal and full of quiet, save the the board fwapping over the straw in the field. I went back for more. And again.

Exhausted by 3:30, I called it after about 10 runs. I had packed my New Mexico maps just in case I wanted to duck south and do some mountain biking. I knew I wanted to mountain bike Penitente Canyon on Monday, but I love northern New Mexico I dream about it. Often. So I headed to Chama.

The drive down the mountain to Pagosa Springs is ridiculously scenic, so I pulled over, with a dozen other cars, to the overlook to click and capture some magical moments:

 

 

I took highway 84 down to Chama, New Mexico, home of the famous Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad that winds through the countryside/mountainside just like back in the days of old. I was hoping to stay in Chama and ride my mountain bike nearby the following day, but there was no room at the Chama Inn. Or the Chama Motel. There were no beds on which to rest my weary head.

So I parked in town, watched the sunset, then drove north through another snowstorm.

Stay tuned for Day 2.

Mountain sunset in Chama

Read about SheSpoke’s trip to Moab for Thanksgiving in 2008: mountain biking the Monitor and Merrimac Trail, camping at Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, the Shafer Trail and some killer overlooks, and hiking in the rain at Arches National Park.


Powder and rocks! Fun!

If you’ve been following by non and mis-adventures you might be wondering why I’m not in Moab this weekend. The Moab trip had been in the works for a month and yet the night before fell apart owing to work obligations of one of our party. I was sad not to be visiting the homeland, but this now meant I was free to head down to Wolf Creek’s opening day as the first ski resort to really (more on this later) open in North America.

I’ll have more to write later, but I’ve got to get back to my road trip, which includes hiking and sandboarding and mountain biking Penitente Canyon.

Let me get back to my mini-vacation, but read about what made snowboarding at Wolf Creek yesterday so awesome.

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