Tag Archives: hiking Grand Mesa

A Labor Day Trifecta – Colorado Style

Eric is home….for good…for his second (and “final” he says) retirement. So what better way to welcome him home than to give him a sampling of activities near our new home. No, our weekend did not include horse racing as the title might suggest, but it did include road bikes, mountain bikes, and hiking shoes

Day 1 – Roading Biking near Aspen (46 miles, 4,242 ft)

Smooth roads and little traffic make cycling to Ashcroft a pleasure.
Smooth roads and little traffic make cycling to Ashcroft a pleasure.

A short two-hour drive from our house brings us to beautiful Aspen, Colorado. We parked our car at the HHS “free”(on weekends) parking lot near the Aspen Hospital. From there we cycled uphill towards the old ghost/mining town of Ashcroft. The gradual 12 mile uphill on a beautifully paved road heavy on scenery and light on traffic must be a cyclists’ favorite as we passed and were passed by many cyclists. The sound of the stream rushing over boulders on our right, the smell of pine and the sound of the rustling aspen leaves in the slight breeze were welcome contrasts to the Egyptian desert that Eric had recently left.

A view near Ashcroft
A view near Ashcroft

After arriving at the quaint “ghost town” of Ashcroft we stopped to snap a few photos but didn’t linger because dark, puffy storm clouds were appearing over the peaked mountains. The possibility of being caught on our road bikes in a mountain thunderstorm did not seem fun.

The downhill ride from Ashcroft to Aspen is fantastically fun and fast bringing us back to the parking lot before we knew it. Our stomachs were grumbling so we took the paved bicycle path passing the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching  and beautifully-restored Victorian houses on the way to downtown Aspen. The town itself was bustling with tourists and locals alike celebrating the end of summer by dining at one of the many restaurant patios, strolling through the Saturday Farmer’s Market, shopping at one of the many designer stores and/or art galleries, or like us, sipping a beer and munching on a brat at beer garden.

After refueling and meeting another couple who said their “favorite” road bike ride is from downtown to the Maroon Bells, we decided to see the iconic Bells for ourselves. Although this ride was no more difficult than the morning’s, it felt longer and harder…beer?…too long of a rest?…out of share??? … all of the above?

Our slow climb uphill actually worked in our favor for great photos. As the afternoon sun dropped behind the peaks the reds, purples, and blues of the mountains were accentuated. But, with the setting of the sun, the temperatures dropped motivating us to hurry.

Because the Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed mountains in Colorado, they are heavily visited. If it weren’t for the amazing view, the busloads of people and number of cars parked at lake would have been a disappointment.

Putting the crowds aside, the downhill ride was a blast – smooth, fast roads, straight enough to require little braking!

A day worth repeating….

Day 2 – Hiking Craig’s Crest on Grand Mesa (7.6 miles , 878 feet)

The view from he top of Craig's Crest on Grand Mesa.
The view from he top of Craig’s Crest on Grand Mesa.

Less than an hour from home is the beautiful Grand Mesa, the largest table-top mesa in the United States. From fishing, jeeping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and camping to snowmobiling, all-types of skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping, this mountain/mesa has it all.

With another fun day in our forecast, we needed to fuel up before we started. Taking advantage of a $10 off coupon from our “Welcome Wagon” packet, we tried out Starvin’ Arvins, a local truck stop at the Fruita exit of I-70. Both Eric’s choice, the Green Machine (green chili with pork, biscuit gravy, eggs and hash browns) and my simple Two Eggs and Bacon came with salad-plate-sized homemade cinnamon rolls before the meal. By the time our meals actually came we were buzzing on the sugar/carbo load and feeling pretty gross. But, we assured ourselves that the hike would burn off the calories.

The rock I carried down the hill for our rock garden at home.
The rock I carried down the hill for our rock garden at home.

Craig’s Crest Trail is a fun hike that starts in the scrub oak, meanders through dark pine forests filled with fir and the famous Colorado Blue spruce trees, switch-backs across rocky scree fields, and rewards hikers with a grand 360-degree vista as the climbs along a rocky spine near the top. We found a beautiful, sunny, rocky ledge where we enjoyed our sandwiches until rain drops and a darkening sky indicated it was time to get away from imminent lightening danger.

Not accustomed to hiking downhill, our legs were aching and our thighs were shaky. We both agreed that we need to keep hiking in our repertoire of activities to cross-train our muscles.

Ibuprofen and an early bedtime assured us we would be ready for day 3 of our Labor Day Trifecta.

Day 3 – Mountain Biking at the new Ridgeway Area Trails. (RAT)

The 90 minutes drive south towards Ridgeway, Colorado is beautiful with the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains appearing like a picture through the front windshield of the car during much of the ride south.

I love the "cheesy" trail names.
I love the “cheesy” trail names.

The new RAT trails are located across Highway 550 from Dennis Weaver Park (yes, it’s the Dennis Weaver of the TV shows Gunsmoke and McCloud). The parking lot was almost full with cars and young children riding their pint-sized mountain bikes around the gravel lot while waiting for their parents to join them. The children were a good indicator to us that the trails might be at our level.

As we began our ascent uphill on “The Big Cheese”, we were delighted to note that the trails were perfect for us – not too rocky, hilly, or technical – and very manageable except the sharp switchbacks near the beginning. Once we got to the top of the plateau, exploring trails like Ratical, Rat Trail and Maze was a blast! We enjoyed continuous riding without hopping off our bikes every few minutes to navigate rock ledges or loose-rocky downhills typical of the rides closer to our home. The Ridgeway trails meandered through sage brush and piñon pines with occasional views of the Ridgeway Reservoir below in the distance.

One of Eric's first days on his mountain bike.
One of Eric’s first days on his mountain bike.

After several hours of riding, we headed into the town of Ridgeway and enjoyed a late lunch at the 66 Diner, a funky establishment located in an old Airstream trailer parked on Main Street.

If this “Trifecta” is any indication of the outdoor paradise near our home, we are in for a fun retirement.