Today was a very eventful day – we saw some wildlife (and got chased by some), rode a train, ate a fantastic dinner, and then did some more wildlife watching.
Third Time's a Charm
If I’ve learned one thing so far on this trip, it’s that you can no longer trust business hours posted on Google…at least not in Colorado.
Just before sunrise, we left our VRBO in Dillon, and drove east on I-70 through the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel, and then on to the tiny town of Silver Plume. Originally incorporated in 1880, Silver Plume is a “ghost town that never died”. It mined silver, gold, and lead until just after WWII. It has mostly original buildings, and is a charming “Wild West” town – a textbook example of a historic Colorado mining town.
Our intended destination was Plume Coffee Bar, an acclaimed coffee shop in the historic town. Unfortunately, it was closed. Great sadness abounded, but I picked out a backup caffeination destination – the Colorado Coffee Caboose in Durmont. When we arrived, we found it too was closed, contrary to the posted online hours. Luckily, there was yet another coffee shop next door in the side of a ski rental shop (yes, I planned a backup backup because we were running short on time). So, we settled on a light breakfast and coffee from Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea.
It turned out to be a good decision; our coffees (and a muffin for Faith) were delicious. Mom, Dad, and I got mochas – which would prove to be [mostly] the drink of choice for this trip. Faith got a blueberry muffin and a maple spiced latte.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
We drove east on I-70 to Mount Evans Scenic Byway (the name of that hasn’t changed because it’s under different governmental management), which is the highest paved road in North America. Passing through the entry gate, we began the climb towards the summit of the 14,271′ mountain. The road quickly rose through alpine forests and past lakes, all with spectacular vistas.
Mount Blue Sky is one of the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain’s Front Range, which also include Pike’s Peak, Grays Peak, Longs Peak, Mount Bierstadt, etc. The mountain is 35 miles due west of Denver, but is accessed through Idaho Springs. The mountain has seven cirques (a glacier-carved, amphitheater-shaped valley), many of which have tarns (glacial lakes). These cirques are the deepest in the Rockies.
The atmospheric pressure at the summit is about 60% of normal, so altitude sickness is common. Over the years, mountain has been host to various experiments and and studies by a variety of entities. Auto manufacturers commonly test cars on the road, often heavily disguising them with zebra paint and other coverings.
Climbing up the byway, our first stop was Mount Goliath Natural Area and the Dos Chappell Nature Center. The area offers nice views of the surrounding mountain ranges, and marks the elevation where the trees dissipate – the beginning of the “tree line”. We stopped briefly at the interpretive exhibit, and then continued our journey onward and upward.
As we neared our final destination, we passed Lincoln Lake, Rogers Peak, and Mt. Warren.
After driving the narrow, winding, exposed road to 12,836′, we finally reached Summit Lake Park; beyond this point, the road was closed for the season. This land, which houses a tarn which sits under the north face of Mt. Blue Sky, provides even more incredible views. Dad, Faith, and I hiked the short trail past Summit Lake to Chicago Lakes Overlook, which overlooks (you guessed it!) the Chicago Lakes from the top of the pass.
In 1915, the USGS reported that Summit Lake was the highest lake in both Colorado and the United States. However, it’s actually the thirteenth highest lake. The land at Summit Lake was acquired by the city of Denver in 1924 and is a part of the Denver Mountain Parks system.
The views were amazing. Even though we didn’t get to go all the way to the summit, this experience far exceeded Pike’s Peak, and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
While mild for the elevation, the weather was verging on extreme. The wind gusts almost knocked me over, and turned pleasant temperatures almost unbearably cold.
Fully frozen, we returned to the car and began our descent, stopping again at Mount Goliath Natural Area to use the restroom and cool the brakes. Just past the pullout, we drove straight into some female bighorn sheep, much to our surprise and delight.
Run For Your Life
Now well below the tree line, we arrived back at Echo Lake, close to the entrance station for the highway. I noticed something moving in the reeds on the far end of the lake, and quickly identified it as a huge bull moose! We quickly hopped out of the car, grabbed my telephoto lens, and began watching and taking pictures. (P.S.: I took most of these photos from 125+ yards away, so please excuse the mediocre quality).
The moose began walking towards us on the lakeside path, and unfortunately two people with dogs ruined the experience for everyone. One woman with two larger dogs refused to get them back to her car (wolves are one of the predators of moose, so they feel especially threatened by canines), and then another woman with two little yippy dogs got WAY too close. The moose charged, and sent the crowd (which had amassed 20+ people by now) scattering. Thankfully, he ended up veering off down a side trail, rather than running people down (which he could have easily done; moose can run up to 35mph). All this happened despite multiple warnings from a ranger who was present.
I hate that a couple people ruined the experience for those trying to do the wise/right thing, but it was an awe-inspiring experience nonetheless.
I’d planned for us to drive down Juniper Pass for some more sightseeing, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time, so we took the direct route back to I-70.
Marion's of the Rockies
Back at the base of the mountain in Idaho Springs, we stopped at Marion’s of the Rockies for brunch. Dad got a chicken fried steak breakfast skillet (with potatoes, eggs, gravy, and cheese); Mom got a meat and eggs platter with bacon; Faith got a triple decker sandwich with onion rings; and I got a meat and eggs platter with corned beef hash. We also got a cinnamon roll to split. All the food was very good, and portions generous – none of us managed to clear our plate.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
Backtracking west on I-70, we drove back towards Silver Plume, exiting the interstate in Georgetown, CO. At the Devil’s Gate station, we boarded the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad. The railroad was originally constructed in 1872 to connect the mining boom towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. The unique loop in the tracks is to assist in changing elevation between the two towns, as Silver Plume sits 563′ above Georgetown.
The entire ride was about an hour round-trip, with an optional stop in the middle to visit the Lebanon Mine (which we opted to skip). It was interesting to hear the history of the area and the railroad; everyone enjoyed the ride.
Peak-To-Peak Scenic Byway
After the railroad, we began our journey north towards Rocky Mountain National Park, taking the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Nederland to Estes Park. It was a pretty drive, but the aspens were not quite in full color. A gathering storm to the north provided a contrasting backdrop to the landscape.
Rock Inn Mountain Tavern
Around 17:00, in an attempt to beat the dinner crowd, we drove down the road to the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern for an early evening meal. I’d called ahead to get us on the waiting list fortunately, because the wait was already long. We enjoyed a delicious dinner. For an appetizer, we got the smoked elk sausage; Dad got the Colorado bison meatballs with mashed potatoes; Faith got the trout (pan-seared with dill butter and lemon) with mashed potatoes; I got trout with roasted seasonal vegetables; and Mom got beef stroganoff. Also, I got a Heritage salad (chilled sautéed onions, chopped dates, crushed cashews, and poppy seed dressing); Dad got a Caesar salad; and Mom and Faith got house salads.
The dinner was excellent, and it was a neat rustic setting for a meal.
After dinner, we headed back to the condo, and then Dad and I decided to head back out to fill up with gas and orient ourselves before entering the park tomorrow. We ended up riding a ways into the park, and spotted some mule deer and two herds of elk. See the video below to hear a bull bugle!
The Best Things we Saw Today
The best thing I saw today was… “Chicago Lakes Overlook and the bull moose”.
The best thing I ate today was… “bison meatballs”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the moose”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the maple spiced latte”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Mount Evans”.
The best thing I ate today was… “bison meatballs”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Mount Evans (especially the sheep) and Silver Plume’s old downtown”.
The best thing I ate today was… “beef stroganoff”.
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Tomorrow, we’ll start exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.
– Isaac & Co.