Creede, CO – Mining History & Championships + 4th of July!

July 2023 – Creede, Colorado, is a very small town that is tucked into a canyon at the end of the road in a remote part of Colorado. With just 257 residents (2020 census), it is the most populated place in Mineral County. What’s more, it’s the only incorporated municipality in all of Mineral County to boot!

Despite its small size and remote location, Creede hosted the Colorado State Mining Championships for three days and was our choice this year to celebrate the 4th of July.

Creede Colorado RV Trip

Looking up Main Street.
Creede, Colorado, backs right into a canyon.


Like many Colorado towns, Creede has its roots in mining. Silver was discovered in the area around Willow Creek in 1869.

20 years after that initial silver discovery, Nicolas Creede yelled “Holy Moses” when he hit the “Holy Moses” silver vein on East Willow Creek. The town’s name was soon changed from “Willow” (for the creek) to “Creede” (for Mr. Creede)!

The town quickly became a silver boom town. Within three years it grew from 600 residents to 15,000, and its name was changed to Creede!

Colorado Ghost Towns

Nicolas Creede wasn’t done with his discoveries yet, though. He also found an amethyst vein along West Willow Creek which turned out to be the richest in US history.

In no time, not only were there silver mines, but there were amethyst mines with names like “Happy Thought Mine” and “Last Chance Mine.”

A plaque out along Willow Creek shows a photo of Creede in 1892 when the town was booming. There were buildings under construction, piles of lumber, people milling around, and a horse drawn buggy all filling the dirt street and wooden sidewalk.

Main Street Creede Colorado 1892

Creede as it looked in the midst of the silver boom in 1892.

At the peak of the boom, Creede was growing by 300 people a day. Every inch of flat ground in the area was built upon.

A photo of a line of mules loaded down with lumber shows just how challenging it was to build the mines, the homes and all the commercial establishments at such a fast rate back in those days. The mountains were steep and the trails were narrow!

Mules carry building supplies in Creede Colorado late 1800s

It wasn’t so easy to haul building materials back in 1892!

Unfortunately, silver prices plummeted with the passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893. Amethyst mining alone wasn’t enough to sustain the crowds, and Creede’s population quickly plummeted to just 1,000 people!

Today, Creede’s Main Street is once again a lively and colorful place. It’s full of tourist boutique stores and eateries, and in the summertime the tourists outnumber the locals by many to one. Most of the roads in town are paved these days, and the sidewalk on Main Street is concrete!

Love Rings in Creede Colorado

Creede is a colorful town.

Holy Moses...Spare a Keg in Creede Colorado

Holy Moses, it’s a spare keg!

Reese Goosebox

The miner’s pick-axe and shovel are icons for this area, and we spotted them on signs and in artwork around town.

Moose and miners in Creede Colorado

We saw the miner’s pick-axe and shovel in a lot of unusual places!

As we had found in most of Colorado, except for Rocky Mountain National Park, dogs are welcome in Creede! Their owners, however…well, they can come too, I guess…

Dogs welcome (people tolerated) in Creede Colorado

Four legged visitors are fine…but the folks at the other end of the leash? Not so much!

Being snow and ski country, it was only fitting that a row of chairs outside a store were made of old skis. Even better, the cup holders were ski bindings!

Chairs made with skis in Creede Colorado

Reminders of what Colorado is like in the OTHER season!

Ski chair cupholder is a ski binding

What a perfect cup holder!

We visited Creede in early July, and flowers were blooming everywhere.

Flower baskets in Creede Colorado

A beautiful hanging basket of flowers.

Columbine - Colorado state flower

The delicate columbine is Colorado’s state flower.

Bleeding hearts in Creede Colorado

Dainty bleeding hearts.

Evening primrose Creede Colorado

An evening primrose.

After window shopping for a while, we wandered to the far north end of town where the pavement ends and Main Street becomes Forest Road 503, a gravel road.

This was a really scenic spot and we returned several times during our stay.

Beautiful Willow Creek in Creede Colorado

Just steps north of the last buildings in town, we found a lovely oasis.

Dawn at Willow Creek Creede Colorado

Willow Creek.

Willow Creek Creede Colorado

Reflections.

If you continue beyond this pretty spot, you are on the Bachelor Loop, a dirt road loop that goes past several old mines. It is an interesting drive that can be done in a passenger car or a Jeep or side-by-side, and that’s where we saw the plaque with old photos of Creede and the mules.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

As we travel around with our RZR, we’re finding that the issue of side-by-sides and ATVs being allowed to drive around on the streets is handled differently in every town and state.

Creede has a very good system. The town is long and narrow (it fits into the mouth of a canyon) and the streets form a grid pattern. So, there’s a long Main Street down the middle and a few other long streets that run parallel to it on either side. Then there are a bunch of short cross streets that connect these roads.

Side-by-sides are not allowed on Main Street, but they’re allowed on two outer dirt roads that run parallel to it. They’re also allowed on a few of the cross streets.

So, if you’re driving a side-by-side, you can get close to where you want to go, park, and walk the remaining little bit.

Creede Colorado Main Street

Side-by-sides and ATVs can’t drive on Main Street, but they are allowed on two parallel streets on either side of it. “OHV” signs made it clear where we could take our RZR.

We found Creede’s Main Street was really crowded with cars all day long, largely because the southern portion of it is also the major “highway” in the area. Keeping the side-by-sides to the smaller outer streets works out really well for everyone.

We visited Creede during the 4th of July week, and when we came into town on the big day, we found a fantastic chalk drawing of the Statue of Liberty on the sidewalk.

Statue of Liberty sidewalk chalk drawing in Creede Colorado

Happy 4th of July!

Buddy was dressed in his Independence Day finest, ready to watch the parade.

Handsome pup on 4th of July in Creede Colorado

Dapper Dog.

There was a lot of excitement as the town geared up for the parade. Buddy wasn’t the only one who dressed for the occasion. We saw lots of wild and creative outfits!

Dressed up dog 4th of July parade Creede, Colorado

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Costume for 4th of July in Creede Colorado

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Dressed for 4th of July Creede Colorado

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Little kids decorated the pavement with chalk while some very buff looking bigger kids posed for us as they waited on their float for the parade to begin.

Decorating the street with chalk before the 4th of July parade in Creede Colorado

Kids had fun drawing in the middle of Main Street.

Buff people on a float in the 4th of July parade in Creede, Colorado

Lookin’ good!

Creede’s 4th of July parade was unique, probably due to the commmunity’s small size. There was no American flag carried by proud military veterans. There were no high school bands to play the Star Spangled Banner. And there weren’t any dance teams or rodeo queens.

However, there was still a lot of spirit. After the Grand Marshal drove by sitting on the trunk of a convertible Austin Healey, a solo bagpipe player appeared.

Bagpipe player 4th of July parade Creede Colorado

The parade begins.

Lots of vehicles were decorated to the hilt, and there were literally dozens of side-by-sides too!

4th of July parade in Creede Colorado

Going all out!

Side-by-sides in 4th of July parade Creede Colorado

The side-by-sides kept coming and coming, and they were all decked out for the parade too!

Every single vehicle that went by threw out candy (or bead necklaces) for the kids. Many would stop for a minute to pass the candy directly into the kids’ outstretched hands.

Candy handouts in the 4th of July parade in Creede Colorado

A little girl gets some goodies while a camera in the truck captures the moment.

Most kids came well prepared for collecting candy and brought large bags for their loot. A few adults also handed out bags to ensure no child went without!

It was like Halloween. But the candy came to the kids rather than the kids going door to door to ask for it. Afterwards, the street was littered with candy that hadn’t been snatched up!

Kids get candy in the Creede Colorado 4th of July parade

“I’ll trade ya!”

A beautiful display of handmade quilts went by, and then a toddler wobbled down the street driving her own wee side-by-side. It turned out that her mother was at the controls behind her. So cute!

Quilt display 4th of July parade Creede Colorado

Beautiful quilt — and a cool truck too!

Remote controlled side-by-side 4th of July parade Creede, Colorado

Before we realized Mom was at the controls, we wondered how and when this toddler got her driver’s license!

Buddy loved it all, and at the end he suddenly threw his head back and let out a howl!

Howling dog

“Ow-oooooooh! That was great!”

RV hose Water Bandit

Throughout the 4th of July festivities, the three day long Colorado State Mining Championships were going on in town too!

Miners showed off all kinds of unusual skills as they tried to best each other. One competition was a race to see who could drill into a huge boulder to a certain depth fastest. It was incredible to watch these men handle that drill. It takes a huge amount of strength and coordination to keep it under control!

Mining Competition Creede Colorado

Miners competed with each other in all kinds of mining skills at the Colorado State Mining Championships.

On the evening of the 4th of July, there was a fireworks display right over the big new RV park just south of town. (The park is Mountain Views at River’s Edge RV Resort — excellent and popular, book early!).

We decided to head up onto a hillside to watch the show from a distance. It was a cool vantage point that was slightly higher than the fireworks.

Lights in the neighboring homes were lit up, which added a special intimacy to the show.

Creede Colorado fireworks

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Creede Colorado 4th of July Fireworks

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Creede is a little bit out of the way. However, if you find yourself on the Silver Byway Scenic Drive, it’s a natural place to stop and a great place to hang around in an RV for a while!

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Places we’ve celebrated the 4th of July

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Rocky Mountain National Park & Trail Ridge Road: RV? Dog??

August 2023 – We were busy enjoying our stay at Lake Granby, Colorado, so much that we almost forgot why we took our RV there in the first place! It was because we wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and drive the famous Trail Ridge Road scenic drive that soars over the peaks!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado and Trail Ridge Road scenic drive

America’s Alps!

Rocky Mountain National Park is a huge Park. The 48 mile long Trail Ridge Road runs between the town of Grand Lake at the west end and the community of Estes Park at the east end. In between, it ascends 4,000’ to its summit and winds between the mountains, going from one gorgeous scenic overlook to the next.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park has breathtaking views.

Fellow RVers had told us Lake Granby was a great place to stay while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, but other RVers had told us their favorite part of the Park was on the east side near Estes Park. Unfortunately, the eastern portion of the park is 50 miles from Lake Granby where we were staying!

So, we weren’t sure how much of the eastern side of the Park we would see, but we were excited to get going as we hopped in the truck and headed into the Park.

The roads were super quiet at 9:00 in the morning as we pulled up to the entrance gate. To our complete surprise, the ranger asked us for our timed entry reservation permit.

Our what??

Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

During certain hours, Rocky Mountain National Park requires visitors to reserve a timed entry permit in order to enter the Park.

It turns out that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the National Parks that now uses a timed entry permit system to cap and control the number of visitors that enter the Park at any given time.

So, not only do you need to buy a Park Pass to visit this Park (Federal annual and Senior passes are fine), but you have to make an appointment for the exact time you wish to enter the Park and pay a fee for that too. Holy smokes!

Rocky Mountain National Park Guide Book

A few of the most popular National Parks are using this new timed entry permit system because they were being overrun with visitors. The roads and overlooks inside these Parks had become too congested.

In 2023, Rocky Mountain National Park required visitors to reserve the timed entry permits between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. between May 26 and October 22.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado scenic overlook on Trail Ridge Road

Incredible views at Rocky Mountain National Park!

We hadn’t made a reservation to enter the park, but fortunately, with the road completely devoid of cars and a friendly ranger gal at the window and the official time being just a hair after 9:00 a.m., she let us enter rather than turning us away as she would have a few minutes later. Phew! We got in under the wire!

For those that are early risers or who prefer more spontaneous travel, the trick is to enter the Park either before 9:00 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m. when the timed entry permits aren’t required.

Trail Ridge Road views in Rocky Mountain National Park

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The first ten miles or so of the drive into the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is badly scarred from 2020’s East Troublesome forest fire, the largest wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park’s history.

The fire burned a total of 302 square miles of which 33 square miles were inside the Park. As we drove Trail Ridge Road through the forest, every single tree was burnt to a crisp.

Colorado National Parks Book

Eventually, however, Trail Ridge Road took us way up into the mountains where we saw some wonderfully dramatic views. The dead burned trees gave way to living green trees, and the vistas at each overlook were wonderful.

Overlook at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado on Trail Ridge Road

Towering mountains and alpine lakes.

Trail Ridge Road twisted through tight turns, and with every bend we got another look at mountain views that went on for miles into the distance.

Scenic Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

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Trail Ridge Road Views at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

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There was still a little bit of snow on the mountain peaks in mid-August. At one overlook, there was a bowl of snow on a nearby mountainside and an ice-filled pond in its midst. There were bright blue alpine lakes in the distance.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado snow in August

Snow surrounds an icy pond.

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A bright blue lake shimmered in the distance

We were the only car on the road and the only people at several of the overlooks we stopped at. As the morning wore on, though, the traffic picked up and we had company when we stopped to take in the views.

As always, Buddy attracted lots of attention from the younger set!

People and dog at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

A sweet toddler and a cool pup.

Buddy checked out the views alongside Mark, but I’m not sure it was the dramatic mountain scenery that caught his interest. He seemed to be looking down more than out!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado person and dog

“See the views?”
“Yes, but I see something else too!”

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado dog looks over the edge

“There’s something in the bushes down there!”

That’s because Buddy was totally focused on the chipmunks!

The chipmunks in these parts are quite brazen and very savvy. They darted between the cars and people, looking for snacks on the ground or handouts from tourists.

Chuckit Dog Ball Thrower

I was amazed that somehow the chipmunks knew exactly how car wheels behave. Even though they took wildly risky chances running between parked car tires, we didn’t see any get run over when the cars started moving again.

Buddy was transfixed!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado chipmunk

These cute little guys know all about tourists and their cars!

The drive and the views reminded us of the Beartooth Scenic Highway in Montana. However, the Beartooth Scenic Highway is a public highway traveled by Montana residents, tourists and truckers alike. There is no entrance fee to do the drive and no timed entry permit system either!

I hate to say it, but for us, the Beartooth Scenic Highway seemed to boast more dramatic scenery too.

Colorado Scenic Drives

However, we drove the Beartooth Scenic Highway in late June, just a few days after the road opened (it closes each winter due to massive snowfall and dangerous icy turns). The mountain peaks were still covered with snow.

In contrast, we were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park in mid-August, almost two months further into the summer season. Most of the snow was gone from the mountain peaks by then, and all that remained was small pockets of snow dotting the hillsides.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado view on Trail Ridge Road

These mountain peaks have more snow on them earlier in the summer season.

Rocky Mountain National Park has lots and lots of hikes of all different lengths and difficulties that take hikers out to incredible vistas.

However, dogs are allowed only in the paved parking areas at the overlooks that are along the paved roads. Oddly, dogs aren’t even allowed on the very short paved paths that go to some of the overlooks.

What a contrast this was to the super dog-friendly South Rim of the Grand Canyon where dogs are welcomed on the 5 mile long paved Rim Trail! But rules are rules, so, walking and hiking weren’t on our agenda on this visit.

Rocky Mountain National Park No Dogs Allowed

Dogs are not allowed on this 50 yard paved path that goes to a viewpoint.

Despite the restrictions, we had a lot of fun at the scenic overlooks anyway. The views were fabulous, the air was crisp and clear and we were super fortunate to be out here enjoying the Rockies.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado peeking from the edge

Goofing around at an overlook.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado enjoying the view on Trail Ridge Road

Everyone sees something different out here.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado selfie with dog

Happiness on the ridge.

Trail Ridge Road has a lot of tight switchbacks that ascend steep climbs where the speed limit is 15 mph. RVs are allowed to drive on the road, and we found the driving was not difficult in our big dually truck. We just took our time.

Rocky Mountain National Park Guide Book

However, Trail Ridge Road might be quite challenging with a large RV and it would be difficult to find room to park at the overlooks. We saw some vans and short Class C motorhomes on the road, but that was it for RVs traversing this road.

For RVers with bigger rigs who want to get from one end of the Park to the other, it would probably be best to do your sight-seeing drives on Trail Ridge Road in a tow vehicle or toad first and then simply drive the RV straight through from one end to the other without stopping.

RV driving on Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

A Class C motorhome on the Trail Ridge Road.

We were impressed to learn that Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in America. It climaxes at a breathtaking altitude of 12,183’.

Before we’d arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park, we’d already taken the truck and trailer over several of Colorado’s highest mountain passes with summits over 11,300’. But the peak on this road was 800 feet higher!

Alpine lake at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

These mountains are very tall!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado overlook on Trail Ridge Road

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Down at Lake Granby where we were staying (8,284’ elevation), the midday temps had been warm enough to wear shorts. However, up here at this towering height it was downright freezing cold. Mark was happy to have a warm dog in his arms as we took a selfie in a biting wind.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado selfie

Even in mid-August it’s COLD in these high mountains!

We turned around about halfway down the descent into Estes Park. The eastern side of the Park was dramatically warmer than the than the western side or the area around Lake Granby.

I know we missed some really beautiful scenery around Estes Park, but it was a long drive back to Lake Granby. We’ll return someday, and on our next visit we’ll stay in Estes Park and explore the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park in greater depth.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado panorama on Trail Ridge Road

Goodbye, Rocky Mountain National Park…til next time!

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RV hose Water Bandit

More info about Rocky Mountain National Park:

All the National Parks, Monuments and World Heritage Sites we’ve visited – It’s quite a list!

Other scenic drives we’ve enjoyed, including the Bear Tooth Highway and it’s companion, the Chief Joseph Highway

Other blog posts from Colorado:

Our most recent posts:

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Remote RV Camping: Antero Reservoir & Blue River Colorado

August 2023 – During both summer and winter, Colorado’s popular ski resort towns and other spots with mountain views get very busy. However, you can still find some fairly remote RV camping areas away from those locales. Both Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground and a few places along State Route 9 next to the Blue River offer not only scenic views but quiet nights too.

Remote RV Camping- Antero Reservoir & Blue River Colorado

A summer thunderstorm brings a beautiful double rainbow off the beaten path in Colorado.

Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground

Denver Water, the entity responsible for providing Denver’s city water, has some rustic waterfront dry camping campgrounds at their reservoirs. One of these is Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground where we stayed for a few days.

Antero Reservoir Campground offers remote RV camping in Colorado

Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground in Colorado.

Antero Reservoir is a very beautiful lake that has distant mountain views in every direction.

Even better, Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground is FREE!!! And it’s not the only free campground operated by Denver Water. It turns out that several Denver Water lakeside campgrounds are free!!

Antero Reservoir Campground provides remote RV camping in Colorado

Sunset on the shores of Antero Reservoir in Colorado.

Well, it turns out that the Denver Water campgrounds are free for now.

A ranger informed us that, beginning in 2024, Denver Water will charge $18-$22 per campsite. Because these campgrounds are on Denver Water land rather than Federal land, the popular Federal Interagency Senior Pass discount won’t apply.

So, we felt really fortunate to have found this campground before that change took place!

Sunset near Antero Reservoir in Colorado

We had a ball chasing sunsets with the RZR!

While Antero Reservoir is very beautiful and utterly devoid of crowds, especially on weekdays, what it lacks in quantities of bustling tourists it unfortunately makes up for in quantities of buzzing bugs!

During our stay, the deer flies were really thick. Deer flies bite hard and their bites hurt! So, outdoor pursuits were a challenge. But the lovely surroundings were worth the constant swatting.

Sunset near Antero Reservoir Campground in Colorado

What a colorful sky!

Sunset at Antero Reservoir Colorado

A last glimpse of the sun.

If it weren’t for the bugs, Antero Reservoir South Shore Campground would be a top destination for RVers and daytrippers too. It’s first-come-first-serve now (we’re not sure if that will change too), and every site is just steps from the water. Just take your bug spray!

When I emailed a friend about the bugs accompanying the beauty at this campground, she recommended we try a bug spray by Sawyer Products which she’s found works wonders, smells good, isn’t toxic and lasts for 12 hours. We couldn’t get it ordered fast enough to use during our stay at Antero Reservoir, but it’s on our list to order and keep in our truck so it’s always with us!

Sawyer Bug Spray

Every night we were at Antero Reservoir, we wandered along the shoreline watching the sunset. The patterns of colors were constantly changing.

Sunset near Antero Reservoir Campground in Colorado

Reflections at a small inlet.

Antero Reservoir Campground in Colorado at sunset

A burst of color behind a mountain silhouette.

Antero Reservoir is also a great place for dogs, and Buddy met many during our stay. Big ones, little ones, young ones and old ones–he made friends everywhere.

When we were indoors, his favorite activity was watching the Outdoor Channel at his window. There were lots of chipmunks running around and he knew where they all lived.

Puppy watches the Outdoor Channel from inside his RV

Buddy kept a close eye on the chipmunks.

Way beyond the campground limits, we found a huge open meadow where he ran to his heart’s content, full speed ahead. It’s not often that he has acres and acres of open land to run wherever he wants and show off how fast he is.

Puppy runs free in the Colorado countryside

“This place is FUN!”

After all that running, he cooled his jets for a bit in the water.

Puppy in Antero Reservoir in Colorado

“The best way to get a drink is to wade right into the water bowl!”

There are several dirt roads in this area, and he just loved taking rides in our Polaris RZR side-by-side.

puppy loves riding in his Polaris RZR side-by-side

“Make it go fast!”

At one point we looked up on a ridge, and we saw a stately pronghorn antelope standing there framed by puffy white clouds.

Pronghorn antelope at Antero Reservoir in Colorado

A pronghorn antelope looks down at us.

The antelope watched us closely and then turned away. I loved the way the clouds billowed behind him.

Antero Reservoir in Colorado pronghorn antelope

It is so exciting to see one of these exotic looking creatures.

Then he took off at an elegant trot.

Running pronghorn antelope at Antero Reservoir in Colorado

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Corps of Engineers Campgrounds

The winds built all morning every morning, becoming quite wild and woolly by the afternoon. Wind waves crashed on the shore and we saw some serious whitecaps further out in the lake. By then, the boats and kayaks were long gone!

Waves at Antero Reservoir in Colorado

Wind wave action.

Antero Reservoir is primarily used by fishermen, and many of the people camping in the campground had a boat of some kind with them.

But we loved just walking along the shore, watching the patterns and energy of the waves.

Antero Reservoir Colorado splashing waves

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State Route 9 on the banks of the Blue River

Moving on from Antero Reservoir, we drove up State Route 9 which runs alongside the beautiful Blue River north of Silverthorne. In some places, the water tumbled over rocks on its northward journey to the Green Mountain Reservoir.

Beautiful Blue River in Colorado

The Blue River in Colorado north of Silverthorne.

There are several USFS campgrounds along the river and around Green Mountain Reservoir. Last year, near the end of our summer RV adventure, we camped at the Green Mountain Reservoir and really enjoyed our stay (blog post here…see the second half of the post).

This year we explored the rest of the river between Silverthorne and the reservoir.

The Blue River moves fast, and we had a wonderful time blurring the cascades as they flowed over the rocks using various slow shutter speeds.

It’s always hard to choose — do you go for the striated lines in the water that give a sense of its speed and movement, or do you go for the totally silky look that gives the scene a deep and otherworldly serenity?!

Blue River Colorado-2

Fast moving water.

Blue River Colorado

A serene moonscape of rocks.

Sunset was the best time — and not to be missed!

I lolled around in the camper, though, just not in the mood to run down to the river at that particular moment to take photos. However, Mark was Johnny on the spot, and he got some fabulous photos.

I was totally jealous when he came home and showed me what I’d missed! No more lolling around at sunset!! As Ansel Adams said, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” and mine had been somewhere else!

Blue River Colorado at sunset

The Blue River at sunset.

Sunset at Blue River Colorado

Another view of the Blue River at sunset.

Reese Goosebox

Towns and villages — even small settlements and homesteads — are rare in this neck of the woods, and we felt one with nature. The distant mountain peaks lit up in a deep burnt orange as the sun slipped from the sky.

Rocky Mountains at sunset near Blue River Colorado

The day ends in a blaze of glory.

Colorado sunset at the Blue River

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RV at sunset by Blue River Colorado

Goodnight, Colorado!

This year, the summer monsoons were very active in the Colorado mountains, and we saw quite a few rainstorms late in the day.

One afternoon, we got a doozy of a thunderstorm, complete with enormous black clouds, huge thunderclaps and lightning.

RV under stormy skies at Blue River Colorado

Monsoon storm clouds gather over our RV.

After it was over, the sun came out and a huge double rainbow appeared in the sky.

RV under a double rainbow in Colorado

A reminder of God’s promise.

When we think of Colorado, our first thoughts are always the famous mountain towns like Ouray, Durango, Telluride and Crested Butte. But there are quiet, out-of-the-way places too, and they are just as wonderful!

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More info about these places:

Boondocking “how to” blog posts and RV camping off the beaten path:

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Burro Days! Burro Races, Llamas & Outhouses in Fairplay CO

Burro Days! Burro Races, Llama Races, Outhouse Races and More!

Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado - Last full weekend in July_

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July 2023 – We’d been hanging out in Buena Vista, Colorado, during our summer RV tour, and one afternoon we took a drive north to check out the town of Fairplay. As we came into town, we spotted a big sign that said, “Burro Days – Last Full Weekend in July”

Huh? What on earth was Burro Days? Whatever it was, we were intrigued! We checked the calendar, and the festival started the very next day. Perfect!

When we got back to our RV, we poked around on the internet and discovered that Burro Days is an annual festival — and burro race! — that has taken place in Fairplay, Colorado, every summer since 1949.

Officially known as the World Championship Pack-Burro Race, there were just 21 entrants back in 1949, and they ran from Leadville, Colorado, up and over towering Mosquito Pass (13,185’ elevation!) and down the other side of the mountain into the town of Fairplay for a $500 cash prize. Not surprisingly, only 8 participants finished that race!

Today, there’s 3-day festival that features not only burro races starting and ending in Fairplay (with one race still taking contestants on mountain trails to the top of Mosquito Pass and back!), but also a “Llama Rama” (a what??), a dog race, a llama race, a parade down Front Street and an outhouse race!

We just HAD to check this out!

Front Street Fairplay Colorado

Fairplay’s historic buildings on Front Street are quaint and inviting.

Fairplay got its name back in 1859 when gold rush latecomers found themselves unable to get into one of the bigger mining camps in the area called Tarryall. Frustrated, they nicknamed that camp “Grab-all” and set up a new camp which they called “Fair Play.”

Still fond of playing with words, Fairplay welcomes visitors to town today with a big blue silhouette of Sasquatch bearing the Colorado logo and the letters “WTF” — “Welcome to FairPlay!”

Welcome to Fairplay Colorado

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While Highway 9 runs right through the middle of town, the historic part of town is on Front Street, and that was where the Burro Days races and parade took place. Much of the rest of town was filled with artisan tents and food tents throughout the weekend.

The buildings along Front Street are really appealing, and crowds grew quickly in front of each establishment in anticipation of the races.

Fairplay Colorado Front Street Buildings

All the shops were open and people milled around waiting for the fun to begin.

Ellen's Place on Front Street in Fairplay Colorado

There were plenty of places to grab lunch and/or a brew!

The Distillery in Fairplay Colorado on Burro Days

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Colorado Delorme Atlas

Unfortunately, we missed the first race of the day — the Dog Race — by 5 minutes. The contestants in that race are all kids, and they run alongside their leashed dogs. The course is short, so arriving a few minutes late meant we missed it all together. Rats! Next time!!

However, the llamas had begun to arrive in their trailers, and we saw a few peeking out at the growing crowd.

A Llama waits for the Llama Rama on Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

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Buddy was especially disappointed that we missed the dog race, so when we saw the llamas hanging out with their owners in the middle of Front Street — the “Llama Rama” — he wanted to make sure he saw one up close.

He was very intrigued by their smell — and vice versa!

Llama and puppy meet at the Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Buddy meets his first llama.

If you haven’t seen a llama up close, they are really big! When you look at them they look back at you at eye level!

Llama Rama at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Llamas are as tall as people, just a different shape!

Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Racers were posing with their llamas for anyone with a camera or phone!

As proud owners showed off their beautiful llamas, we realized that the llama race involves a lot of whimsy. The entrants were teams of four people and one llama, and the idea was that all five would run together, the llama tethered on a leash and the four people running alongside.

But the runners weren’t wearing typical running race garb. They were dressed up in all kinds of crazy costumes!

One group of gals paid homage to the brown furry coat of their llama with brown tutu skirts. They wore little llama ears too.

Llama Races at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

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Most of the llamas came dressed in regular llama attire, but one had been to the groomer and wore fluffy knickers and a thick llama fur stole around her neck. Her black two-toed feet looked like she was wearing party shoes!

Llama Rama at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Dressed for success!

Suddenly, Mark said, “Hey, there’s a guy over there in pajamas!” I turned and grabbed a quick pic, but it was only later that I remembered the Ogden Nash poem (and explanatory footnote):

The one-l lama, he’s a priest.
The two-l llama, he’s a beast.
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn’t any three-l lllama*

*The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

I’m not sure if this guy’s pink, llama-covered PJs were made of silk, but his outfit definitely was a three-alarmer!

Silk pajama Llama at Llama Rama in Fairplay Colorado

Three-l lllama?

Mark also remembered a song that his daughter loved when she was a little girl: “Me and my llama are going to the dentist today.”

He’d sung it to me before, and it’s cute, but I’d never gotten the joke until I took a few portrait shots of these wonderful llama faces.

Llama portrait at the Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Going to the dentist today!”.

Reese Goosebox

We roamed among the llamas and their people at the Llama Rama for a while, and then suddenly they all lined up behind the start line and took off running on the count of three.

Llama Race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The race is on.

As soon as the llamas had raced down Front Street, the crowd ran to the far side of the street to a ridge overlooking a dirt trail in the distance. Before long, the llamas and their people appeared on that trail, racing away.

Llama Race during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

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Some of them were bunched together and others had gotten a little separated, leaving the person holding the llama’s tether to run on his or her own.

In some cases the llama bounded happily ahead.

Burro Days llama races in Fairplay Colorado

“Weeeeee!”

And in some cases the person was towing the llama behind!

Llama Race during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Not so fast!”

There was lots of confusion in the crowd about where the course would go from there and how long it would be until the llamas came back to the finish line, but suddenly the announcer said the leaders were coming in. It was the team of Game Wardens — all very fit looking runners — and they soon crossed the line for the win.

Not far behind, the Search and Rescue team came running in for second place with four guys looking equally fit and serious.

Llama Race winners at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The Game Wardens took the win in the Llama Race.

Although the first two teams duked it out for the win, most of the teams and their llamas seemed to be happy just to be out running together on such a beautiful day.

Llama Race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

All smiles.

As the llama teams went past, a gal standing next to me named Amanda was keeping a close eye out for her team. She and her husband have 9 llamas on their 35 acre ranch, Shining Mountain Llamas, and they had selected two for the Burro Days events.

She explained that they raise their llamas for high altitude hikers who want to have help carrying their gear. Llamas are good natured animals, are native to mountains that are 17,000′ high, can make their way over difficult terrain like fallen trees, and contentedly eat pine cones and other things found on the trail so there’s no need to carry special feed for them. Hunters and mountaineers love having a llama or two along on their high altitude expeditions!

Llama Race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

One of Amanda’s two llamas happily trotted past us.

Of course, a few llamas were not very enthusiastic about the running aspect of the race. A few put their foot down and said, “No more!” and had to be coaxed over the finish line — to lots of laughter and cheers from the crowd!

Reluctant llama in the Llama Races at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Come on — it’s just a few more feet to the finish line!

The dog race, llama race and Llama Rama were all held on Saturday, while the headline event — the burro races — were reserved for Sunday. We could feel the excitement as we pulled into town for the first of the two burro races the next day.

The announcer was standing on a second floor balcony, entertaining the crowd and keeping all the events running smoothly.

Race and parade announcer at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The announcer kept everything rolling, from races to the parade, all day long.

We’d done a little homework overnight and learned that “burro” is simply the Spanish word for “donkey,” a particular species of equine animal.

Mules, on the other hand, like the ones we had seen at the Grand Canyon a few weeks prior, are not a species but are a hybrid animal that is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. The resulting animal is infertile. Cross-breeding the other way — a male horse and female donkey — isn’t done because of the large size of the baby and the small size of the mother donkey.

It turns out that burros come in three sizes, small, medium and large (“miniature,” “standard” and “mammoth”). When the burros lined up at the starting line, you could see the size differences between them!

The first burro race was the “long course” race — 29+ miles round trip from Fairplay, which is at 9,953’ elevation, to the top of Mosquito Pass at 13,185’ elevation, and then back down again. Longer than a marathon (which is 26.2 miles) and raced at insanely high elevations, this is one heck of a race!!

Start of the long distance burro race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

29 miles to go — Both mini and standard burros and their runners left the starting line for a long day of racing high up into the mountain peaks and back down again in the “long course” race.

Each racing team consists of just one runner and one burro, and it is very grueling for both. Unlike a traditional marathon, there are no water stations along the way, although there are checkpoints, and fans can watch from public property.

The burros were carrying packs which held whatever the racers might need: water bottles, energy food, clothing for the high elevation at the top and/or other survival necessities. The runners carried the burro’s tether and more water and food and other goodies.

We found out later that the long race at Burro Days in Fairplay is actually the first race in the “Triple Crown” of burro races each summer. The other two races are held in nearby Leadville and Buena Vista in August.

At the far end of Front Street there is a reconstructed living history museum mining camp called South Park City, and when the runners and burros passed under the South Park City gate around 10:20 in the morning to begin their trek to Mosquito Pass and back, they weren’t expected to be seen again until late afternoon at the very earliest. Some wouldn’t come in until sunset or after dark or even as late as midnight!

Burro Race heads out the South Park Gate in Burro Days at Fairplay Colorado

The “long course” burro racers left Front Street and entered the living history museum mining camp of South Park City on their way into the mountains for a very long trek to Mosquito Pass and back.

But for the crowd on Front Street, attention quickly turned to the second burro race of the day, the “short course” race which is a mere 15 miles of similar outback terrain!

The burros, large and small, soon lined up with their owners. Again, the burros wore packs and the runners were prepared for anything and everything the mountains might throw at them.

Burro Days Fairplay Colorado start of the short distance burro race

The “short course” burro race (a mere 15 miles) gets underway.

We watched a burro named Ivy go by with her owner. We’d met them before the race, and she’d told us that Ivy was a rescue burro. Her mother had been kept in very poor conditions and fed candy bars, so she was diabetic. Fortunately, Ivy was thriving now, and both owner and burro were eager to do the race.

Burro Days shorter distance burro race in Fairplay Colorado

Ivy and her owner begin the “short course” burro race.

Soon, the “short course” racers passed under the South Park City gate and headed into the mountains beyond. Although their race wouldn’t take all day, the fastest racers still weren’t expected back for about two and a half hours!

Burro Race leaves Front Street and South Park in Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

Off they go into the mountains!

With nothing else to do while we waited for the burros and their companion runners to chase each other back to us, the crowd settled in for a really fun parade. Burro Days is non-stop action!

The parade began with the rumble of motorcycles in the distance. Soon, the color guard marched past followed by a group of roaring bikes.

Parade during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

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Humorous costumes are a big theme at Burro Days, and there were several fun floats and groups in the parade. The “pothole patrol” went by followed by a clever rendition of the Titanic, complete with an iceberg.

Parade during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado - the Pothole Brigade

Watch out for those potholes!

Burro Days Parade in Fairplay Colorado - Titanic Float

And watch out for that iceberg too!

The Rodeo Queen and Princess looked very regal as they went by in full regalia on their horses.

Rodeo Princess and Rodeo Queen at Burro Days Parade in Fairplay Colorado

Rodeo Queen and Princess.

The sky had been growing darker and darker during the parade, and then all of a sudden the heavens opened up and let loose, drenching everything and everyone in a massive torrent. The crowd scattered to shelter under any kind of overhang we could find, and umbrellas popped up here and there.

Luckily, the parade was almost over, and in no time the downpour ended and people wandered back out onto Front Street, no worse for wear.

A banjo player strolled around entertaining everyone.

Banjo player and little girl at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

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Ryobi drill set

And then news of the returning “short course” burros filtered through the crowd and the emcee announced their arrival.

The gates to South Park City swung wide, and two runners and their burros appeared, flying towards us at top speed, racing neck and neck.

Winning stretch of short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The first two “short course” burro racers appeared in the distance.

A roar went up in the crowd as they sprinted down Front Street. It was going to be a photo finish! And it was going to be a little burro against a big burro and younger runner against an older runner to boot!

Final stretch short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

It’s going to be a photo finish!!

The crowd went wild as we watched the fast footfalls of these four racers. They were racing their hearts out!

It was impossible to tell which pair might win until suddenly, at the last second, the little burro surged ahead and stretched out his feet and nose across the line for the win.

What a fantastic race!

Photo Finish short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The little burro wins by a whisker!

We found out the little burro’s name was Ben and his 15 year old companion runner was Aidan Malherbe. Aidan’s family raises burros and he’s been racing them his whole life! He runs track and cross country and trains about 50 miles a week.

Burro Days Champion Ben in Fairplay Colorado

Zippy Fast Little Ben…with special shoes on his front hooves!

Burro Race Champions Ben (Burro) and Aidan (runner-trainer) Fairplay Colorado

The champs, Ben and Aidan Malherbe.

Edged out by inches, the second burro over the line was Tito with companion runner Brian Rawlings. Brian also runs about 50 miles a week and has raced burros for years. He hadn’t planned to run in this race, but a friend called him the night before asking if he could run with Tito because a runner had pulled out. Tito is a wild BLM burro that Brian’s friend had rescued and trained.

What a great story!

Burro Days 2nd place Tito (burro) and Brian (runner-trainer) Fairplay Colorado

2nd place by a hoof length, Tito and Brian Rawlings.

The winning time for these four outstanding athletes was 2 hours and 24 minutes, similar to fast marathon times. Even though the distance wasn’t a marathon distance (15 miles vs. 26.2), the race was held at extremely high altitude and the runners were managing a running burro the whole way.

What a fabulous athletic accomplishment for all of them, and what a thrill these fine athletes gave the crowd!

Of course, the front of the race was very intense, but further down the line it was sometimes a different story. One burro took a very casual attitude and decided it would be more fun to walk rather than run down the finishing stretch. And who could blame him after running 15 miles through the mountains?!

Burro Days short distance burro race with reluctant burro in Fairplay Colorado

“Come on…we’re almost there!”

He took his time and stepped delicately over the finish line.

Burro Days burro race - no need to rush over the finish line! _

“What’s the rush?”

Another burro crossed under the South Park City sign — still two blocks from the finish line — and decided to take a break. His companion runner tried to coax him down Front Street, but this burro had other ideas.

Burro Days burro doesn't want to run any more at the end of the race

“I know the finish line is right up ahead, but I’m going to take a little breather.”

The burro took matters into his own hands (hooves?) and headed off the race course straight into the crowd.

Burro Days racing burro decides to join the crowd at the end of the race in Fairplay Colorado

“I wonder what these people are doing over here?”

Eventually, all the burros made it across the finish line, and after a round of well earned congratulations and photos, the burros and their owners made their way back to their trailers. Meanwhile, the Outhouse Race participants were getting ready to roll!

B&W Tow & Go bumper hitch

There were only two entries in the Outhouse Race, but each team had been huddling at the starting line for a while, discussing their race strategies. Maneuvering an outhouse down a race course isn’t so easy!

Suddenly, they were off and running/rolling with a pair of runners on either side of the outhouse and a third guy sitting on the throne inside. Talk about laughter and hoots and hollers from the crowd!

Burro Days Outhouse Race in Fairplay Colorado

Ya gotta love an outhouse race!

Burro Days Outhouse Race in Fairplay Colorado

Don’t fall in!!

The long course burro racers were still a few hours out at this point, but we were pooped even though we hadn’t raced a step! So, we decided to leave all the festivities and head back to our trailer.

I’m not sure how the race went for the long course burro race contestants or when the winners finally arrived back in town, but their names will appear on the World Championship Pack-Burro Race Winners monument that stands near the finish line.

Burro Days monument of winners in Fairplay Colorado

World Championship Pack-Burro Race Winners, 1949-Present.

If your travels take you anywhere near Fairplay, Colorado, at the end of July, don’t miss the very special Burro Days festival.

Meet a llama, pet a burro, and laugh as the outhouses careen down the road. It’s a total blast!

Note added later: RVing friends of ours who saw the burro race in Leadville told us that the winner of the long course races in both Fairplay and Leadville this year was the adorable little burro named Buttercup. She won the Fairplay Burro Days World Championship race in 5 hours, 26 minutes and 11 seconds with her running partner, Martin Sandoval. Unfortunately, the winner’s wreath did not adorn her neck in Buena Vista the following week, so she didn’t win the Triple Crown, but she has a lot of fans that love her!
Storage ottoman with tray top and drawer

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Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado – Fire in the Sky!

July 2023 – The Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado meanders between mountains, over rolling hills and past scenic lakes for 120 miles on Colorado State Route 149 between the Blue Mesa Reservoir and the town of South Fork.

This is a very remote area that is wide open country for much of the way, punctuated by two picturesque villages, Lake City and Creede.

We found a place to RV camp in the hinterlands, and along with utter peace and quiet during our stay, we were blessed with two extraordinary sunset light shows that produced fire in the sky!

Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado - Fire in the Sky!

A dramatic sunset on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

Many years ago, we rode this route on our bicycles as part of the Bike Tour of Colorado. Our most vivid memory from that ride is Slumgullion Pass, a beast of a mountain climb that peaks at an elevation of 11,530’. This lofty summit is preceded by umpteen tight turning switchbacks on the ascent and is followed by a screaming descent down umpteen more fast switchbacks on the other side!

On our RV trip along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado this year, we did lots of sightseeing but no pedaling. After soaking in the views for a while, we stopped at the beautiful Weminuche Wilderness Vista Overlook. What an exquisite panorama of Brown Lakes and the mountains beyond!

Weminuche Wilderness Vista Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

View from the Weminuche Wilderness Vista Overlook on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado.

Another highlight on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway was a stop at North Clear Creek Falls which is considered Colorado’s most photographed waterfall.

It was easy to see why this cascade is so well loved. Not only is it a gorgeous waterfall, but after winding through endless meadows and forests, it was a wonderful change of scenery to see water crashing down the side of a cliff.

North Clear Creek Falls Waterfall Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

North Clear Creek Waterfall on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado.

North Clear Creek Falls Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

North Clear Creek Falls drops more than 100′ over the side of a cliff.

Colorado Scenic Drives

Mountain weather is always unpredictable, and so it was during our stay. The wind howled so fiercely in the afternoons that, at times, we thought we were going to get blown right off the hillsides!

At dusk, however, the wind completely stopped. On one afternoon, we noticed storm clouds beginning to form on the horizon. We ran out of the RV to see what was going on!

Storm clouds on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

After a wildly windy afternoon, stillness prevailed and storm clouds began to form.

Mountain light on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

We were dry but there was lots of rain beginning to fall across the valley.

The sky began to show hints of yellow and orange as the heavy storm clouds gradually filled the sky. We weren’t sure if we were going to get drenched, but we didn’t want to miss a moment of this incredible heavenly spectacle that was unfolding before us.

Brooding sky on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The storm clouds began to show a hint of sunset colors.

Wild sky on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The heavens filled with color when the sun vanished for the day!

Some crazy patterns formed as the mist and clouds rolled across the sky.

Roiling clouds on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The clouds formed patterns as they rolled over on themselves.

Sunset on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The patterns in the heavens looked like fingers!

In another direction, the whole underbelly of a mammoth cloud turned orange.

Sunset on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The sunset was evolving differently in every part of the sky!

We turned to head back towards the RV, and our trailer looked like it was facing a raging fire in the sky!

Sunset with RV on Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

These weren’t flames but they sure look like they could be!

The storm clouds soon darkened the landscape around us. Only the fiery embers of the sunset still burned above us.

Sunset on Colorado's Silver Thread Scenic Byway

Our jaws hung open as the constantly changing and extraordinary views evolved all around us.

Vibrant sunset on Colorado's Silver Thread Scenic Byway

What a sight!

Finally, darkness fell and we made our way back into the cozy confines of our RV.

But sleep was elusive. We couldn’t stop talking excitedly about the unbelievable sunset light show we’d just seen. It had come upon us just as quickly as it had left, and there had been no hint ahead of time that anything unusual was about to begin. The sky had been clear blue until the first cloud showed up!

A few nights later, we were treated to more drama in the sky. Again, late in the afternoon, the howling wind that had buffeted us for hours on end came to a sudden stop, and the clear blue sky gave way to a big puffy cloud with a dark underbelly growing above us.

We noticed a lone car camper on a distant hillside that had just arrived for the night. The camper looked really tiny under that big menacing cloud as he got his camping gear out of his trunk!

Camping under storm clouds on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

A huge storm cloud threatens a lone car camper on a distant hillside.

Then the cloud began to swirl and roil within itself, showing off peachy yellow highlights that flamed between dark edges.

Storm clouds on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The play of light and shadow within this cloud was fantastic!

As all this happened in the heavens, Buddy’s attention was on the local chipmunk population which skittered about from burrow to burrow.

Rain clouds and puppy on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

We were enthralled by the wild skies but Buddy had more terrestrial interests.

Honda EU2200i portable gas generator

A few minutes later, that massive cloud began to fade, break apart and float away. We wandered down a trail, keeping our eyes on the sky. Suddenly, the clouds began to organize into stripes with pink highlights.

photographing sunset on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

Meanwhile, a pink glow began to radiate in another part of the sky.

Pink sunset on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

Suddenly, part of the sky began to blush pink.

By chance, I turned my head towards a very dark part of the sky and noticed a bright orange spot in the distance. WTH?

Then, from our many nights of sailing on blackened seas under inky skies, we suddenly realized it was a bright orange full moon rising behind the mountains!

How awesome is that?!

Moonrise on the Silver Thread Scenic Bywayin Colorado

The full moon — dressed in flaming orange — peeked over the darkened mountains!

Full moon rising on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

What great fortune to have all this happen on the night of a fiery full moon!

Panning back to take in the whole view, we watched the pink glow of sunset arch over the landscape as the moon rose steadily and silently.

Moon rise on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The moon rose in the middle of a glorious sunset.

We were both breathless from witnessing this glorious sunset light show. What a blessing to stand here on this mountain and see this miraculous display of color and drama!

The moon disappeared for a while behind the clouds, but then it reappeared above them, soaring peacefully across a fluffy bed of vivid orange.

Full moon on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

The full moon rose above the sunset — sensational!

As we put away our gear and turned to go back to the RV, we noticed a quietly cheering crowd on the far hillside — a row of trees had deemed the whole show a worthy of a standing ovation.

Sunset over pine trees on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

These trees witness sunsets here every night, but they knew this one was extra special.

What beauty! What a sunset light show! What a glorious moment on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado!!

RV under the stars in the mountains

Goodnight!

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Telluride Gondola Ride in Colorado – FREE and Dog Friendly!

June 2023 – Telluride, Colorado, is an upscale and elegant resort town for the ultra wealthy, a place where A-list celebrities have getaway escapes.

I mean….ESTATES!

Fortunately, we common folk are also welcome there, and what a wonderful place it is to spend some time. And, it turns out, the FREE and dog friendly Telluride gondola ride is one of the best ways to see the area — and to get to town too!!

Telluride Gondola Ride in Colorado - Up Up and Away!

The Telluride gondola ride is FREE and dog friendly!

Telluride is no longer just a small mountain village that gradually evolved from a silver mining camp into a chic modern day ski town. “Telluride” now includes a vast expanse around the small downtown Main Street area, and as you drive the winding roads over the mountainsides you’ll see one eye-popping ritzy estate after another.

Elegant mansion estate with snow-capped mountain backdrop in Mountain Village atTelluride Colorado

What a place to call home!!

Mountain Village lies on a hillside and valley that is neighbors with the valley that downtown Telluride is in, and Market Plaza is in the heart of Mountain Village. For Telluride tourists, that is the best place to start your visit and get oriented.

We tried to start our visit in downtown Telluride the same way we had when we first visited the area 23 years ago, but there just wasn’t enough room on those tiny and very busy streets for a big dually truck to maneuver or to park! It was extremely frustrating, so we were thrilled to find that we could get to Telluride without dealing with parking at all!

1000 Places to See Before You Die

Market Plaza has easy parking (even for large dually trucks) in front of the Village Market grocery store. Like everything else in Telluride, this grocery store for the locals doesn’t look anything like the supermarkets most folks shop at!

Elegant mansion estate with snow-capped mountain backdrop in Telluride Colorado

Does the supermarket you go to every week look like this? Ours sure doesn’t!!

To the right of Village Market is the Market Plaza station for the Telluride gondola ride that goes up and over these gorgeous mountains.

Next to that is a fantastic little take-out coffee bistro window that serves espresso coffee at a calm but breakneck speed (there’s often a line of customers by the window!). They also have delicious breakfast burritos and other goodies!

The Telluride gondola ride consists of three legs originating at four gondola stations: Market Plaza to Mountain Village, Mountain Village to San Sophia, and San Sophia to Telluride. Each leg is a 5 to 7 minute long ride. You have to change gondolas at the Mountain Village station, but you can remain in your gondola at the San Sophia station and ride on through to downtown Telluride.

Telluride Colorado gondola map

The 4 stops (3 legs) are (from right to left): Market Plaza, Mountain Village, San Sophia and Telluride.

The Telluride gondola ride is an extremely smooth and professional operation!

Telluride Colorado Gondola

The Telluride gondola runs all year. No skis or ski boots required!

The best thing about the Telluride gondola ride for people who have a dog is that it is extremely dog friendly. Dogs are not only allowed to ride in the gondolas, they’re warmly welcomed!

In fact, the whole area around Telluride is really dog friendly. You see dogs with their people EVERYWHERE around town!

Someone put five cute pooches wearing ski gear onto a gondola seat and took their photo. You can find this image on post cards and on a huge poster on one of the station walls. It’s nicknamed the GonDOGola!!

I know…I can hear you saying that now you’ve heard everything!!

We dog people are a little crazy, but we’re very warm hearted!

Telluride Colorado gondola rides accept dogs Gondogola!

Telluride is very dog friendly, and the Telluride Gondola downright encourages them to ride!

Each gondola car is numbered, and the odd numbered ones have paw prints on the outside indicating that our four footed friends can join us in that car. I can’t say that I saw any cats, but I’m sure they would be welcome too (on a leash)!

Telluride Colorado Gondola for dogs is pet-friendly

The four paw prints on the car let you know it’s a pet-friendly car!

So, off we went. Mark carried Buddy into the gondola and I followed, snapping away. It was hilarious! We were laughing like crazy, but the attendants helping people in and out of the gondola just took it in stride. They see baffled, laughing owners and their dogs all day long!

Happy dog and owner on the Telluride Colorado gondola

Buddy sure has done a lot of interesting things!

Regardless what kind of four footed (or two footed) friend you choose to bring with you — or even if you ride alone — the ride on the gondola is a jaw-dropper and is worth every penny. Oh, that’s right, it’s FREE! Well, it is worth making a detour in your travels to go and do!

The doors close and seal automatically as the gondola leaves the station, and you’re suddenly enclosed in a glass bubble with views on all sides.

The ride was incredibly smooth and quiet, and we were the only ones in our gondola! (3 adults can sit on each of the two bench seats that face each other).

Telluride gondola in Colorado goes over rooftops

The gondola soars over houses, ski stations and tree tops too!

The views were so awesome we couldn’t decide which way to face! We kept moving from one seat to the other and pointing things out to each other.

Dog checks out the view from the Telluride Colorado gondola

A dog’s eye view is as good as a bird’s eye view on this ride!

On this first leg from Market Plaza to Mountain Village, we sailed over the rooftops of houses and over what looked like community center areas too.

Telluride Colorado

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Colorado Delorme Atlas

Suddenly we floated over a scene that was right out of the Swiss Alps! What a place! What a ride!!

Spectacular alpine view from the Telluride gondola in Colorado

Are we in the Rockies or the Alps?!

Swiss Alps view from the Telluride Gondola in Colorado

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The gondola slowed down as we arrived at the Mountain Village station until it was moving at the pace of a crawl, and the doors automatically opened.

We had tons of time to get out onto the ground comfortably, even carrying Buddy. After all, six adults routinely get in and out with skis, ski poles, ski boots and all kinds of other winter skiing paraphernalia.

We walked around a little bit in Mountain Village. Lots of people take a chair lift up the mountain with their mountain bikes. We saw bikes going on one chair on the lift and the mountain bikers themselves sitting on the next chair behind. Quite a few people were riding around the Mountain Village area and headed back down the mountain on their bikes.

Bicycles at Mountain Village on Telluride gondola ride in Colorado

There are separate chair lifts to take a bike up the mountain and we saw lots of people riding around at Mountain Village.

Bicycles at Mountain Village on the Telluride gondola ride in Colorado

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There were still patches of snow on the ground even though it was almost July!!

Happy dog and owner in the snow at Mountain VIllage Colorado

In the last days of June there was still snow in some places!

After breathing the high mountain air deeply and milling around a bit, we hopped back on the gondola to ride to our next stop, the San Sophia station. This time we had company in our gondola.

Happy dog and owner in the snow at Mountain VIllage Colorado

Back onto the Gondola!

We could see the Telluride airport in the distance. It looked like it ran through a plush green carpet and right off the edge of a cliff!

View of Telluride Colorado airport from the gondola

The Telluride airport runway seems to go right off a cliff!

Once at the San Sophia station, we poked around a bit and then boarded the gondola one more time to make our way down into Telluride.

What an incredible descent this was into town. It was like taking a steep escalator or even a glass elevator down into town. We saw a waterfall cascading over a red rock cliff in the distance, and then we dropped straight down the mountain!

Telluride Gondola on the way to San Sophia Station passes a waterfall

As we descended into Telluride, we saw a thin waterfall pouring over the edge of a red rock cliff in the distance

Telluride gondola descends from San Sofia station into Telluride Colorado

Then down we went into the quaint town of Telluride.

Magma Stackable RV Cookware

We hopped off the gondola and were suddenly in the heart of Telluride! No parking hassles whatsoever, and we’d had fun the whole way!!

Telluride was as quaint as we remember it being all those years ago when we stayed in a tent in the tiny campground at the far end of town. It’s more upscale now, but just as charming. And the campground is still there…also more upscale but also just as nice!

Telluride Colorado main street of town

Telluride is a beautiful town.

Telluride Colorado Main street buildings

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Telluride Colorado old First National Bank building

The old First National Bank building.

Everything about this whole region is classy. It’s a world apart. We wandered down one street and did a double-take when we noticed a really elegant stone gate with gold lettering above it that said, “Telluride Marshal’s Department.”

I don’t know of any Marshal’s Department anywhere that welcomes you in with a fancy stone entrance gate, gold lettering on the sign and flower baskets hanging out front!

Telluride Marshal's Department entrance gate

Where else but Telluride does the entrance to the Marshal’s Department look like this?

There are loads of enticing restaurants — many with raised outdoor seating that is set up right in the street! — and there are a ton of boutique shops too.

Telluride Colorado elegant outdoor dining in the street

Many restaurants have outdoor seating right in the street!

We did a little bit of window shopping and walked a few of the back streets. We found some tiny colorful houses that must have originally been miners’ homes a century or more ago.

Telluride Colorado colorful old homes

Telluride’s mining past is remembered in vivid color.

At last it was time to go home. By now we were old hats with the gondola ride business, but we were still awestruck by the view that grew steadily behind us as we rose higher and higher above the town of Telluride.

Fun with a dog on the Telluride Gondola in Colorado

Camera, dog and a big smile!

Telluride gondola ride in Colorado - view of downtown Telluride from the gondola

Goodbye, Telluride, way down there!!

Honda EU2200i portable gas generator

This was a glorious day we will always remember.

If your travels take you anywhere near Telluride and you can spare a day in your itinerary, take this gondola ride into town — and if you have a dog, take your dog too!

Telluride gondola ride in Colorado

If you have a chance, do this ride!

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Dog Bowl with Kibble Storage

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Rocky Mountain High: Alpine Beauty in Colorado + Trout Lake!

June 2023 – After a great stay at Grand Canyon’s South Rim, we suddenly had an urge for a Rocky Mountain High!

We were eager to feel the cold crisp mountain air on our faces, be surrounded by tall pines, hear the spirited burble of streams rushing past, and see snow-capped mountain peaks punctuating every view.

So, we jumped on the San Juan Skyway (CO-145) in Dolores and headed high into the Rockies, thrilled to immerse ourselves in the alpine beauty of Colorado!

Rocky Mountain High - Alpine Beauty in Colorado! + Trout Lake

Buddy loves to run ahead of the RZR, and when he saw the first snow-capped mountain, he turned back to look at us, as if to say, “You won’t believe what’s around the next bend!”

Trail Scout dog pauses on a Rocky Mountain trail...Alpine beauty in Colorado

“OMG! Look at what’s ahead!”

I couldn’t believe it either when we got up there. What a fantastic “Rocky Mountain High” moment that was, especially after scurrying across the arid orange and red badlands and mesas of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Suddenly, we were surrounded by rich shades of blue, green and snowy white!

Rocky Mountain alpine beauty in Colorado

“This is so great!”

Over the next week or so we went on a flurry of daily back country rides in our RZR side-by-side. The wonderful Springtime results of a very snowy winter surrounded us: fast flowing rivers…

Rocky Mountain Stream in Colorado

The rivers everywhere were moving fast!

Vibrant green meadows filled with large puddles…

Back country scenery and Rocky Mountain alpine beauty in Colorado

Deep snow had left large puddles everywhere.

Spontaneous waterfalls and streams gushing out of the earth…

Water gushing from the mountains at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

It was as if the earth were oozing water from every pore.

And beautiful lakes and ponds backed by snowy mountain peaks…

Rocky Mountain alpine beauty in Colorado, lake and mountains

Classic Alpine beauty in Colorado!

Spring was in the air, and the world was full of life everywhere. Mark spotted a lovely butterfly in the flowers.

Moth in the Colorado Rockies

What an exquisite butterfly (or moth?)!

Then his sharp eyes caught a Western Tanager perched on a railing.

Western Tanager in Colorado Rocky Mountains

A Western Tanager checked us out while munching on a snack

Western Tanager in Colorado Rocky Mountains

Then he turned around to show off his tux and tails.

We drove one Forest Road after another, going all through the woods, up and down mountainsides, and across undulating meadows.

Alpine beauty in Colorado Rocky Mountains

Our RZR rides on the back country roads were breathtaking!

Colorado Delorme Atlas

We just took whatever road looked appealing, not paying too much attention to maps but instead following our instincts when we’d get an inkling that there might be something exciting around the next turn.

Squiggly roads with lots of turns—and possibilities—were our favorites. Forest Roads 535 and 578 off of CO-145 north of Rico in San Juan National Forest were especially scenic. These roads can be driven by passenger cars, and we saw quite a few out exploring Colorado’s alpine beauty!

Rocky Mountain High in the alpine beauty in Colorado

A curvy road like this is so inviting — where does it go??

Buddy’s inner puppy came out in spades.

We came across an old hunting cabin deep in the woods by a stream, and he ran between the cabin and the stream over and over, leaping across the snowy patches by the river with glee while flashing us the biggest smile.

He finally settled down in a meadow filled with flowers in front of an idyllic pine tree studded mountain backdrop. Perfect!

Puppy, Wildflowers and mountains at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rockies

What a beautiful place to rest between sprints!

We never knew where these rides would lead. Often, we wound up at remote trailheads or old bridges over fast flowing streams.

Bridge over a stream in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

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One day we emerged from a short hike in the woods to come face to face with a Class C RV from Germany. We were miles from nowhere! Buddy ran up to the door, put his muddy front paws on the stairs, and looked at us, asking if he could go in!

Puppy checks out an RV

“I think they’re home. Can I go in and meet them?”

It turned out the owners were indeed home, although Buddy’s muddy paws remained firmly planted outside! We discovered they had shipped their RV from Stuttgart, Germany, to Baltimore, and they were on a seven month tour of America! She was a photographer, and right now they were on the hunt for ladyslipper flowers deep in the woods!!

Colorado Scenic Drives

These were happy, fun-filled days, and Buddy was ever the Trail Scout.

Trail Scout in the Rocky Mountain alpine beauty in Colorado

“Follow me!”

One day, we were driving on the highway when our heads whipped around as we saw the most exquisite lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains out the window. Talk about alpine beauty in Colorado! It was gone in a flash, but we later met a Forest Ranger who told us it was Trout Lake and that there was a rails-to-trails dirt road that went all the way around it.

Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Trout Lake, Colorado.

So, we returned with the RZR and took a very leisurely drive around the lake.

Into the alpine beauty in Colorado at Trout Lake - Rocky Mountain High

The view of Trout Lake that caught our eye from the highway.

Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Down at the shoreline of Trout Lake we found lots of flowers in bloom.

Trout Lake is much loved by locals and visitors alike, and we saw people out on the water in kayaks and stand-up paddle boards and standing along the shoreline fishing.

Kayak on Trout Lake in Colorado

What a beautiful spot for a ride in a kayak!

Standup Paddleboar and picnic ramada at Trout Lake in Colorado

Heading out on a stand-up paddleboard.

Trout Lake fishing in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

These folks were fly fishing.

An ancient log cabin had a wonderful, rickety old porch out front where the owners had no doubt enjoyed the dazzling view over many a morning or evening brew, back when the porch was strong and solid.

Porch view from an old cabin at Trout Lake in Colorado

An antique porch with a view.

Pour Over Coffee Maker for RV dry camping
Alpine beauty and snow-capped mountains at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Colorado’s alpine beauty at Trout Lake.

The narrow guage Rio Grande Southern Railroad used to go around the north end of the lake. The steam powered trains hauled silver ore and supplies, and there’s an old water tank sitting up on stilts that filled the boilers back in the day.

Antique steam train water tank at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rockies

This massive water tank used to fill the boilers on the trains that rolled by.
We experienced having a train’s boiler filled with water on the Cog Railway in New Hampshire!

The vast network of Rio Grande Southern Railroad trains meandering throughout Colorado’s mining areas on narrow gauge tracks ran between 1891 and the early 1950s. The 65 mile long “Middle Division,” of which this area around Trout Lake was a part, was considered the railroad’s most difficult stretch.

The road isn’t long, and it winds gently beyond the lake into the woods.

Back country road at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Is this inviting or what??!!

Rocky Mountain high on back country rides through alpine beauty in Colorado

We spent as much time out of the RZR admiring the views as we did in it going from one view to the next!

We turned a corner and saw an old trestle bridge over the river. It was not only built quite high in the air, but it curved as it crossed over the river. What a complicated structure to build, especially back in 1891!

Trestle Bridge at Trout Lake in Colorado

There’s a trestle bridge at the far east end of Trout Lake.

Steam train trestle bridge at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

The trestle bridge not only spans the river but it curves too!

It is hard to imagine a train loaded with ore passing over this bridge. This is the kind of bridge that always gets blown up in old western movies, making for a very dramatic train crash as the whole train takes a nose dive into the river.

Reflectix for RV

The engineering behind the trestle is either very complex or very haphazard, I’m not sure which. Every plank was notched so it wouldn’t slip, but nails were pounded in at crazy angles, and we wondered if the planks were cut to specific measurements or if they were just fit into place at whatever angles seemed best at that particular spot.

Complex trestle bridge contruction at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

The design and construction of this trestle bridge is mind boggling.

The train’s whistle had been silenced long ago, but this trestle still stands as a reminder of a time when this very quiet part of the world was actually a hub of activity. The road today where the train tracks ran is utterly peaceful and silent. Not one car or person passed us the whole time we explored the area.

Alpine beauty in Colorado on the back country road around Trout Lake

Mark began singing, “The Hills Are Alive!” from the Sound of Music!

Alpine beauty in Colorado brings a Rocky Mountain High

A century ago, this was a busy train track!

As the road looped back towards the lake, we came across a huge field of dandelions. They’re so common, it’s easy to forget they are actually beautiful flowers. The vibrant yellow carpet beneath the blue sky and snowy mountain peaks was breathtaking.

Wildflowers and mountains and a Rocky Mountain High in Colorado

The lowly dandelion completes this awe-inspiring view!

Wildflowers and mountains at Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

A carpet of yellow leads to the mountains.

Buddy decided a little bed of dandelions looked like the perfect place to lie down for a while.

Puppy resting in the wildflowers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

“Let’s rest here for a bit!”

We thoroughly enjoyed this glorious welcome to the alpine beauty in Colorado. We had purchased the RZR for just these kinds of adventures quite a few years ago, and even though we’ve done a lot of great rides since then, the back country roads around Trout Lake and in the San Juan National Forest gave us a Rocky Mountain High we’ll never forget!

Puppy on the back road around Trout Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Our Trail Scout leads us back to our rolling home.

RV Door Shade

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Grand Canyon History: A Navajo & A Mule Link Us to the Past

The Grand Canyon is most beloved for the raw power of its majestic views, but Grand Canyon history is fascinating too. Learning some of the stories behind the development of this world famous tourist destination and being able to make a personal connection to that history through the world famous mule rides (of all things!) was thought-provoking…and fulfilling.

Grand Canyon History and Mules!

Our Grand Canyon visit took a very special turn when we met this man!

As we have discovered America’s history during our many years of RV travel, I have felt a special attachment to the late 1800s and early 1900s because, as a child, my much adored great-uncle, who was born in 1885, lived with my family until his death when I was 11.

Throughout my life, whenever we’ve encountered anything to do with his era, I’ve thought of him and wondered whether he saw it, or was aware of it, or what kind of stories he might have heard about it from friends and relatives.

Near the end of his life, he would often say that he’d lived during a period of history that had seen more change than any other: growing up with horses, buggies and trains for transportation, witnessing the transformative rise of the automobile followed by the airplane, and finally flipping on a TV to watch astronauts ride a rocket ship to the moon and back.

Puppy checks out the train tracks

Buddy checks out the train tracks that travel through time at Grand Canyon

One of his treasured memories from his young adulthood was the trip he took to the Grand Canyon around 1907. Sitting around the dinner table in urban Massachusetts in the 1960s, we heard about his ride on a mule down the Bright Angel Trail and the beauty of the El Tovar hotel.

I couldn’t picture any of it, though. Not the Grand Canyon, not the narrow cliffside trail, maybe the hotel, but definitely not my very ancient great-uncle as a nimble young man astride a mule!

Grand Canyon Fodors Guide
Hikers on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

The beginning of the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.
Hikers and mules pass each other on these narrow cliff-side trails.

Hikers on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Trail, like most trails in the Park, has lots of exposed areas where you’re hiking right on the edge!

So, on this trip to Grand Canyon, I wanted to peel back the layers of what modern tourists see at the Grand Canyon, especially Grand Canyon Village, and try to envision something of what the experience might have been like back around 1907 for a newly minted Art Institute of Chicago graduate who was in his early 20s.

He rode the train from Chicago to get to there, of course, and today thousands of people come to the Grand Canyon by train everyday on the same tracks that the Santa Fe Railraod completed in 1901.

Grand Canyon history - the Railway train prior to 1910

A train at the Grand Canyon depot before 1910 when it was still just a humble shack!

The arrival of the train in the tiny settlement on the edge of this vast and charismatic chasm changed everything about it.

Settlers had lived in the area since the mid-1800s, and everyone who dared make a go of it struggled to make a life for themselves in the harsh and remote land. Most were miners and cattle ranchers. The few people who saw the tourism potential built their own private roads from Flagstaff and Williams through 70 miles of forest to their own rustic properties at different points along the rim. Many homesteaded their land.

Grand Canyon history - the arrival of the train at Grand Canyon National Park

The arrival of the Grand Canyon Railroad changed everything about Grand Canyon.

Before the train arrived, only a trickle of die-hard travelers would visit Grand Canyon, taking the train to Williams or Flagstaff and then catching a stage coach or renting a buggy to travel one of the private roads to a proprietor’s guest house or tent somewhere along the rim.

What is now an hour and a half car ride generally took two bumpy days by horse, and most travelers stayed in tents.

Grand Canyon Railway arrival at Grand Canyon National Park 2

The train took just a few hours to get to Grand Canyon whereas a stage coach ride took two days!

The big money railroad men recognized the immense tourism potential of the Grand Canyon, and after completing the train tracks, Santa Fe Railroad went on to build a stunning resort hotel in 1905. They called it El Tovar and positioned it right at the end of the train tracks and next to the Bright Angel Trail.

At this point in time, destination spa hotels in remote locales were rare or didn’t even exist. Not only were the rooms beautifully appointed, but there were two barbershops, a solarium, hot and cold running water, and the freshest food imaginable.

The El Tovar hotel had a chicken coop for fresh eggs, two roof gardens, a music room, an art room, a billiard hall and a gift shop! Staying there was an elegant and all inclusive affair.

Grand Canyon Guide Book

Unlike today’s tourists, many of whom drive straight to the rim, say “WOW!” a few times, get a selfie and then leave, a journey to the Grand Canyon in those days was a trip that deserved a fairly long stay, making those barber shops a necessity.

El Toval Hotel and Grand Canyon history

El Tovar Hotel.

A room at El Tovar cost $4.50 a night as compared to just $1.00 to $3.00 for a tent or rustic hotel room. However, a stage coach ride cost $15 while the train was a mere $3.50. (For reference, rooms at El Tovar are going for $394 per night now!).

No doubt customers did some quick calculations and realized there was no reason to undertake a two day bone jarring journey on a small private road to a second rate hotel or tent when you could watch the world go from a comfortable window seat on a train for a mere three hours and stay at a top flight resort for a similar outlay, depending on how long you stayed.

Rooftop of El Toval Hotel and Grand Canyon history

El Tovar has a beautiful roof line.

Not surprisingly, the stage coach lines and livery stables went out of business shortly after the Santa Fe Railroad began bringing tourists to El Tovar and other hotels at the head of the Bright Angel Trail. The smaller hotels and guest tents that were miles away from Bright Angel Trail along Grand Canyon’s rim soon went out of business too.

Sadly — and shockingly — in the end, only one of the original proprietors that homesteaded and initially developed the land on the rim of the Grand Canyon made a profit on the sale his property!

The hub at Bright Angel Trail eventually became known as Grand Canyon Village, and the tourism age for this iconic spot was off and running. It would be decades before the other areas along the South Rim were further developed or redeveloped.

El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon Village

El Tovar has a unique look with wonderful, huge, shady porches.

One such place is Grandview Point, 13 miles from the Bright Angel Trailhead. Today, it is just an overlook with a parking lot and a very steep trail heading down below the rim past remnants of the mine that once put Grandview Point on the map. However, nothing remains of the Grandview Hotel, and it is hard to imagine where it might have stood.

With all of this info swimming in our heads (the stories are told on plaques along the Rim Trail in Grand Canyon Village and in a PDF document I’ve linked to at the bottom), we gazed at the El Tovar Hotel in wonder.

There’s a charming beer garden out back with a view of the Grand Canyon that is a delightful place to while away the afternoon.

Beer Graden at El Toval Hotel Grand Canyon National Park 2

El Tovar Beer Garden.

One of the nicest features of the El Tovar, to this day, are the big shaded porches that are filled with wooden rocking chairs and porch swings. This is yet another perfect place to unwind with a world class view.

Swing on the porch of El Toval Hotel Grand Canyon National Park 2

Just kicking back.

Arizona Delorme Atlas

The Bright Angel Lodge is another historic hotel that is very close to El Tovar. Originally a cabin and some tents dating back to 1885, it was renovated 50 years later by Mary Jane Colter into a complex that incorporates several historic buildings. A few of the doors have vivid Indian designs on them.

Elaborate door at Bright Angel Lodge: Grand Canyon history in the Park

Bright Angel Lodge has some very colorful doors painted with an Indian motif.

In the 1930s Mary Colter began exerting a strong influence on the construction of new buildings at the rim. She designed the Hopi House to resemble the stone pueblos of the Hopi Indians nearby.

Hopi House: Grand Canyon history in the National Park

Hopi House has some fabulous Indian artwork inside.

Other artists had studios in fantastic dwellings that hang right out over the rim. What an inspiring place and view for a studio!

Kolb Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park 2

Kolb Studio.

Kolb Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park

Kolb Studio.

Lookout Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park 2.jpgLookout Studio

The Lookout Studio was built under Mary Colter’s guidance in 1914

In Grand Canyon Village at Grand Canyon National Park

All of the historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village are just steps from the rim.

This was all wonderful and interesting to learn about, but it was the mules I was really after. I wanted to get a photo of the mules coming up the Bright Angel Trail after their overnight at Phantom Ranch at the bottom.

When I asked around to see what time they usually returned, a mule ride leader I saw giving instructions to a group of customers told me they arrived between 1:00 and 1:30, although “it’s an inexact science!”

I got to the trailhead at 1:00, and a bus stop attendant right there told me they hadn’t come up yet that day. Yay! So, I stood in the sun waiting patiently for two hours while Mark and Buddy amused themselves in the shade by El Tovar. But the mules never showed up!

Bright Angel Trail: Grand Canyon history at the National Park

I’m here. But where are the mules?

Hiking Grand Canyon

I spoke with a concierge at Bright Angel Lodge, and she told me they actually come up between 11:30 and 12:30 at this season due to the heat. So, I arrived around 11:00 the next day and milled around at the rim for a while first. Suddenly I caught a whiff of mule sweat and dung. Oh no! Were they already here?

I rushed over to the mule corral next to the bus stop at Bright Angel Trailhead, and there they were, lined up side by side. A wrangler was attending to each one. The sight was something from another era.

Grand Canyon Mule and wrangler at Grand Canyon National Park

A wrangler was tending to the mules after their two day journey down to Phantom Ranch and back.

I ran over to the wrangler and quickly got swept up in conversation about the mules, the rides and the history. His name was John, and he’d been guiding the mule rides since December, although he’d done guiding elsewhere for many years.

He proudly told me that this mule outfit had taken a million people in groups of less than 10 at a time down to Phantom Ranch and back on the narrow, twisting, cliff-hanging Bright Angel Trail since they began operations in1890, and not one mule, not one wrangler and not one guest had ever died.

Grand Canyon Mule named Cholla and wrangler John at Grand Canyon National Park

John and friendly mule Cholla (she is one of the good natured mules that guests get to ride)

He casually mentioned that people die rafting the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon all the time, and that people fall off the edge to their deaths quite frequently too.

Sitting on the edge of Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

It’s tempting to get yourself right out to the very edge, but it’s not always a good idea!

Over the Edge at Grand Canyon

“These mules are the safest way to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” John said earnestly.

For inexperienced riders, though, I’ve heard the several hour long journey can leave you very sore in certain places and struggling to walk when you get to Phantom Ranch! And then you have to ride your mule back out again the next day!

I asked him if mules are stubborn, and he said that they’re actually super smart.

“They can sense 32 different things that might go wrong if they put their foot in a certain place, and they just won’t take the risk if they think it’s unsafe.” And they hold their ground on that opinion!

He gestured to another wrangler, Simon, and said that he’d been guiding these Grand Canyon mule rides for 16 years. John said he’d learned a lot from Simon.

Simon introduced himself as a Navajo, and when I asked if he’d mind if I took a photo of him with his mule (named Paco), he not only posed next to Paco but quickly mounted him for another photo.

Grand Canyon Mule named Paco and wrangler Simon at Grand Canyon National Park

Ride leader Simon and his trusty mule, Paco.

Once seated on Paco, Simon began talking about the meaning of the Grand Canyon to the Navajo and how it is a sacred place for them. He loves being able to bring visitors into this beautiful canyon that he holds so dear, and share God’s wonder with them.

He went on to describe a huge monolith stone that is shaped like an Indian face that you come to after going through the second tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail descent. It is a sacred rock for the Navajo, and they refer to its spirit as the Keeper of the Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail first tunnel Grand Canyon National Park

This is the first tunnel on Bright Angel Trail. Simon told me that after the second tunnel you come to a huge stone that looks like an Indian face which the Navajo refer to as the Keeper of the Canyon.

“When we reach that point in the trail, I always say a prayer for our group, asking God for a safe journey for everyone on our way to Phantom Ranch and for a safe journey home the next day. In English it goes like this…”

He then recited the prayer.

Grand Canyon mule wrangler Simon and Mule Paco at Grand Canyon National Park

Simon recited the prayer he says each time he takes a group of guests down Bright Angel Trail.

I was touched by his sincerity and openness, and I imagined his guests sitting on their mules and listening to him saying this prayer to the Almighty while they were next to the towering rock Indian face.

Then he said, “In Navajo it goes like this…” and he suddenly launched into the prayer in Navajo.

My mouth fell open and I felt a shiver run up my spine…I was mesmerized watching him as he gazed up at the sky saying this lovely prayer in the language of his forebears.

Grand Canyon mule wrangler Simon and Mule Paco at Grand Canyon National Park

I had goose bumps listening to Simon recite the prayer in Navajo.

When he was done, I was speechless. I wished I’d recorded him with a video, but it was such an intimate gift he’d gave me that it wouldn’t have felt right.

We chatted a little more and then he suggested I go to the Mule Barn where I could read the prayer if I wanted to. So off I went.

A bunch of mules were roaming about outside the barn nibbling grass and hay, and two wranglers were working inside. I started chatting with one of them, explaining that my great-uncle had ridden a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon around 1907. “This mule barn was built in 1907” he grinned.

Grand Canyon Mules resting at the Mule Barn in Grand Canyon National Park

Mules relaxing at the Mule Barn.

Suddenly, he turned and said, “They’re here!”

I looked out the door and there were John and Simon coming around the corner with all the mules from the ride they’d just finished in tow. I snapped away taking pics as they approached, my heart singing as my wish for a unique Grand Canyon mule experience was completely fulfilled.

Grand Canyon Mules being brought back to the Mule Barn at Grand Canyon National Park

John and Simon bring the mules back to the Mule Barn for a much needed rest after two days on the trail.

We can’t step into the past and live it exactly as it was, but if we’re lucky, we can capture the spirit of a time and place and feel its essence envelop us.

I don’t know what captivated my great-uncle’s imagination most about his visit to Grand Canyon and his mule ride to Phantom Ranch, but I remember that he painted several beautiful and evocative images of Indians in his last years.

I believe he would have been as moved as I was listening to a Navajo guide on his mule reciting a special prayer in the native tongue of his people, and if there were a way to connect a beloved great-uncle and his great-niece through the veil of life and death and across more than a century of time, that was it.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon.

Sidney Riesenberg, artist and illustrator, 1968

My great-uncle, Sidney Riesenberg, as I knew him, painting at his easel, in 1968

Sidney Riesenberg, artist and illustrator 1968 2

Sidney Riesenberg as a young man

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Grand Canyon South Rim RV Trip – Views, Views, VIEWS!!

June 2023 – We decided to start off this year’s RV summer travel season with a bang, so off we went to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park!

Grand Canyon National Park Mather Point Sunset

Grand Canyon South Rim at sunset.

There are many RV camping options at the Grand Canyon South Rim, including RV parks and campgrounds with hookups ranging from none to full and either dirt or paved campsite pads both inside and outside the Park. There’s also a USFS campground with paved loops but no hookups in the Kaibab National Forest ten miles away and dispersed campsites scattered further afield. It all depends on how close you want to be to the Grand Canyon views and how much dust you can tolerate when it gets windy in the forest.

We found a spot to call home for a few days, set up camp, and promptly drove into Grand Canyon National Park, grinning from ear to ear. A beautiful summer had begun!

RV camping in a toy hauler in the US National Forests

Home sweet home.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

It was late in the afternoon, and we had white line fever from a long day of driving. Even though we have both been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon many times, we realized we still did’t know it all that well.

The National Park Service has quite a task on its hands to manage the more than three hundred million Grand Canyon visitors each year, and in many ways their Job #1 can be boiled down to one thing: Crowd Control.

People arrive at Grand Canyon’s entrance gates via car, bus, train, bike, horse and even on foot, and once there, they need to figure out what’s where. We were no exception!

Grand Canyon National Park sign

Grand Canyon here we come!

In a smooth move that reminded me of the way the crowds were handled by the East Germans back in the 1980s when I and an array of hitchhiking college age kids ventured through the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the maps handed out by the National Park Service are, well, minimalist.

When my youthful pals and I arrived in East Berlin, we were given tiny maps that had just four intersecting streets on them and nothing else for the whole city. The authorities wanted us to stay on the streets surrounding a single city block.

And so it is at the Grand Canyon where the NPS maps show certain roads in bright colors and others in faded gray. The colorful roads are the city bus routes that take people from place to place without having to find parking. The other roads can be driven, but the NPS map doesn’t make that clear.

So, we followed the purple road to the orange road, and that led us straight to a mammoth parking lot just steps from the Yavapai Point overlook. Perfect! Those simple directions turned out to be just what we needed at that late hour of the day.

Grand Canyon Fodors Guide

In hindsight it was smart of the National Park Service to guide new visitors away from the hotel, restaurant and boutique store hubs in the interior of the Park where things get congested and, instead, take them right to a satisfying overlook well worthy of their long journey through Arizona to get there.

Looking to the west where the sun was falling fast, the Grand Canyon view was layer upon layer of silhouetted mountain shapes.

Grand Canyon at dusk

Looking west from Yavapai Point.

Layers in the mist at Grand Canyon National Park

Layers of peaks fade into the distance.

Looking to the east, the mysterious forms took on their true shape and color, the peaks highlighted by the vivid orange and yellow sunlight and the valleys steeped in shadow.

Grand Canyon golden hour before sunset Yavapai Point

Looking east in the late afternoon.

The lovely paved Rim Trail goes along much of the South Rim, offering one jaw dropping view after another. Sometimes the views are wide open, and sometimes they are slightly obscured by wonderful gnarly trees.

Grand Canyon tree silhouette

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You can choose to look at the view from an official overlook behind very sturdy steel and masonry fencing or you can take a seat anywhere on the ground that looks appealing and soak it all in.

Grand Canyon overlook at Yavapai Point

The formal overlooks have very solid barriers and bench seating so you don’t fall off the edge.

Grand Canyon view at Yavapai Point

However, you can also sit anywhere you’re comfortable and enjoy the astonishing view without a barrier.

We strolled slowly along the Rim Trail, our eyes glued to the view. As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, the colors of the Canyon became ever richer and deeper.

Grand Canyon at Yavapai Point sunset

Grand Canyon South Rim view.

Grand Canyon late afternoon Mather Point

Crevices and peaks created by erosion.

RV patio mat 9x18
Grand Canyon Yavapai Point

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Tree silhouette at Grand Canyon National Park

Another fabulous tree.

Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon South Rim is one of the more dog-friendly National Parks we have seen. Although the Park Service strongly recommends leaving your pooch at home, especially in the heat of the summer when the pavement is searingly hot for bare paws and the temperatures soar, dogs on leashes are allowed on the trails at the rim of the Canyon.

The Rim Trail goes for over 5 miles along the edge of the Canyon, and we were just thrilled there was a place for us to enjoy the Grand Canyon with Buddy as long as we stayed on that trail or elsewhere along the rim. Otherwise, of course, we would have gone somewhere else for the first leg of our RV trip!

Buddy loved walking the Rim Trail and found lots of wonderful smells along the way. Sometimes he plopped down in the shade and insisted we stop for a spell.

Patient puppy on the Rim Trail at Grand Canyon National Park

The Rim Trail.

We stopped to grab a lot of photos too.

Grand Canyon Photography

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We strolled the Rim Trail between Yavapai Point and Mather Point. What a wonderful area this was for our first foray into the Grand Canyon on this trip.

Grand Canyon sunset at Yavapai Point

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As you can see in the photo above, several forest fires deliberately set by the US Forest Service nearby created a thick brown haze of smoke above the horizon in certain directions, but the views were still out of this world

Grand Canyon Rim Trail

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Grand Canyon Guide Book
Grand Canyon views at Yavapai Point

Some of the canyon walls seemed like they were molded in clay.

Mather Point golden hour at Grand Canyon

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As full-time RVers we spent a lot of time at Grand Canyon’s North Rim, and we also took our RZR to a few of the overlooks that are outside Grand Canyon National Park on the north side.

We’ve always struggled, though, as everyone does, to try to capture the awe-inspiring beauty and vastness of the Grand Canyon in photos. It is so huge and so barren and so craggy, but too often the immensity and raw power of the place vanish in photographs. It’s hard to convey that wind-blown feeling of standing on the edge looking down 5,000 feet and across to the far side 9 miles away.

The light constantly changes too, especially at the beginnings and ends of each day as the sun plays along the horizon.

I found a beautiful little tree growing alongside a spectacular view and took a photo at the peak of the golden hour when the cliffs were lit up in full glory. Twenty minutes later I rushed back to that spot to catch the same view in the pink glow of sunset. What a startling difference. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better!

Grand Canyon Mather Point golden hour graceful tree

I loved the jaunty look of this little tree.

Grand Canyon Mather Point graceful tree at sunset

All dressed up in pink.

Ken Burns National Parks DVD Set

There were lots of beautiful trees all along the Rim Trail, each one unique, twisting and curving in unusual ways.

Grand Canyon view under a tree at Mather Point

Some trees live on the edge.

Grand Canyon tree on the Rim Trail

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The sunlight and shadows played with each other on the distant Canyon peaks as we wandered between Yavapai Point and Mather Point.

Sunset at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon

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Grand Canyon view from the Rim Trail

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Although you can catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon with just one step to the edge (and you’ll leave forever changed after taking in that view), we’ve been fortunate on this trip to have been able to return again and again, checking out different overlooks and going back to favorite spots where we see new things on each repeated visit.

Hiking Grand Canyon

The town of Tusayan is just a few miles south of the Grand Canyon South Rim, and we stopped at the Chocolate Factory there one day for a yummy ice cream. The walls were adorned with metal prints of incredibly stunning photos of Grand Canyon, and we studied each one as we savored our treats.

Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory in Tusayan Arizona

When you get your chocolate or ice cream treat here, check out the beautiful photos on the walls!

One of our favorites had been taken somewhere at Mather Point. We were so enamored of the photo, we went back to Mather Point to see if we could find where the photographer had stood.

Grand Canyon Mather Point at sunset

The photo we liked was taken near here.

Sure enough, we found the spot. A huge tree is growing there now, and we had to lean into the branches to get the same shot. But it was worth the extra effort and we were pleased with the outcome, both before the sunset and during.

Grand Canyon Mather Point sunset

This is the spot!

Grand Canyon sunset at Mather Point

And again during the peak of sunset.

Taking the Rim Trail back to the parking lot, we saw the crowd at the Mather Point overlook. Their silhouettes looked really cool against the layered backdrop of the canyon walls and the vivid orange glow of sunset above the Grand Canyon’s North Rim plateau in the distance.

Sunset crowd at Yavapai Point in Grand Canyon National Park 1

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Back at camp, Buddy’s inner puppy came out in spades as he frolicked in the grass, chasing lizards and mice around old logs and exploring every nook and cranny of our campsite. He’s really loving this summer’s RV adventure — and so are we!

Puppy peeks at his RV at the campsite

“That was really fun. What’s next?”

RV hose Water Bandit

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More info about the Grand Canyon South Rim:

Honda EU2200i portable gas generator

Blog posts from our previous RV trips in the Grand Canyon area:

Blog posts from the National Parks & Monuments and World Heritage Sites we’ve visited:

Articles from our adventures in Red Rock country:

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Willow Lake (& more) around the Granite Dells in Prescott AZ

Willow Lake is like the quiet, hands-in-his-pockets, unassuming brother to its neighbor, the more popular, vibrant and beloved Watson Lake. Both lakes are situated on the edge of Prescott, Arizona, and they share the wonders of the stunning rock formations known as the Granite Dells. Willow Lake is on the west side of the Dells and Watson Lake is on the east side, and miles of hiking trails roam through the vast acreage of boulders between them.

Willow Lake Arizona & More!

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After taking in lots of “WOW” sunset moments at Watson Lake, we finally went over to Willow Lake to see what was there. It was midday and the light was harsh, but what a beautiful place it turned out to be. We wished we’d gone there earlier in our Prescott RV trip!

We started at the Willow Lake boat ramp on the north shore and were surprised to see waves incessantly lapping the shore and the trees trunks! The lake level was very high and the wind was strong that day.

Willow Lake Arizona boat ramp

High water on a windy day at Willow Lake.

Along the shore of Willow Lake there were huge expanses of boulders, and we were soon hopping from one to another. There were fabulous patterns in the rocks, like veins running all through them.

Willow Lake Arizona Patterns in the Dells at Willow Lake Arizona

Colorful veins meander through these rocks by Willow Lake.

Buddy was on the lookout for any stray ground squirrels that might be scampering about. Mark caught him up on his lookout perch from below.

Willow Lake Arizona It's a long ways down!

“Is there a squirrel down there?”

Willow Lake Arizona Photographer and pupppy

I see you!

Arizona Delorme Atlas

Some of the rocks in the Dells had quite a bit of color.

Willow Lake Granite Dells in Arizona

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Suddenly we heard the familiar haunting cry of a Gambel’s quail. I just love the way these guys dress up with very dapper trim on their bodies and faces and that wonderful little topknot on their heads.

721 Gambel Quail at Willow Lake Arizona

All dressed up and ready to go!

Gambel Quail at Willow Lake Arizona 2

“Are you taking my picture? I wasn’t ready yet!”

We noticed a young man expertly navigating the crazy boulder formations and discovered he’s a local who hikes around the Dells around Willow Lake all the time. He highly recommended that we follow a trail that headed to the north and east past an RV park on the edge of the Dells, and he mentioned intriguing things we’d see, including a red bench and a bridge.

This sounded like fun, so off we went.

Hiking at Willow Lake Arizona

“C’mon, Dad, let’s go find that red bench!”

As we hiked away from Willow Lake, we saw some wonderful old trees and lots of massive expanses of boulders.

Tree and shadow at Willow Lake Arizona

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Willow Lake Arizona granite dells

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We came to a sign with a large map on it and could clearly see the trail that went to the red bench. Woo hoo! This was definitely a really cool area. We hiked along the trail for quite a while.

But then the trail suddenly went straight up a boulder hill. Mark stayed below while Buddy and I checked it out. At the top it seemed like we were standing in a sea of boulders, but I sure didn’t see a red bench or a bridge anywhere.

Willow Lake hike through the Granite Dells in Arizona

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On the way down we met a couple hiking the Willow Lake trails with a dog. After the pups introduced themselves with a few sniffs, I asked the couple where the heck the red bench was. It turned out we’d missed a fork in the trail and had taken the Ascent Trail instead of the Red Bench Trail. Oops!

Oh well. What we saw was still cool and it was a beautiful day to be out hiking.

Suddenly, a mountain biker rode over the boulders past us. Wow! Then his friend appeared and the two of them rode up and down the boulders like experts. What fun!

Granite Dells at Willow Lake Arizona mountain biking

Don’t try this at home!

Mountain biker in the Granite Dells at Willow Lake Arizona

These mountain bikers at Willow Lake made it look so easy.

Granite Dells mountain biking at Willow Lake Arizona

Weeeee!

Arizona Highways Scenic Drives

Buddy watched the mountain bikers for a moment, but he was much more interested in athletes of the rodent kind.

Regal pup

“Not just rodents, Mom. I’ll chase anything that moves. Lizards are good!”

Willow Lake is definitely worth a visit, and we’ll be back at sunrise or sunset next time to add a dash of color to our photos. In the meantime, we found a few more photos of the Granite Dells at Watson Lake buried in our computers along with some more lovely shots of Lynx Lake that we thought you’d enjoy.

Here you go — the Granite Dells and cactus flowers at Watson Lake:

Granite Dells at Watson Lake Arizona

Granite Dells at Watson Lake (next door to Willow Lake).

Full moon at the Watson Lake Granite Dells in Arizona

Granite Dells under a full moon.

Red cactus flowers at the Watson Lake Granite Dells Arizona

Red cactus flowers in the Dells.

Red cactus flowers in Arizona

Happy cactus flowers smiling at the world.

Red cactus flowers at the Watson Lake Granite Dells Arizona

Look for these red beauties in the springtime!

And here’s the southeastern corner of Lynx Lake where the water trickles into the lake and forms wonderful shallow pools on its way:

A trickle of water flows into Lynx Lake in Arizona

The pools of water in the southeast corner of Lynx Lake are as clear as glass.

A glorious sunset reflected at Lynx Lake, Arizona

Tree reflections at Lynx Lake Arizona

A reflected archway in the lake.

Lynx Lake Sunset

Goodnight!

We really enjoyed our brief RV trip to explore the lakes in the area around Prescott Arizona. There are actually even more lakes nearby that were on our list but we didn’t get to…so now we have to go back, and we will!

Puppy fur blown by gentle breezes

Buddy is looking forward to exploring the Prescott area some more.

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More info about Prescott and the Granite Dells:

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