True confessions: the puzzle never happened, because we were too tired and went to bed early; then woke up early again after our night in the cabin, but took it a little slower than usual, taking advantage of a kitchen to fix our picnic ahead of time (Antje) and consuming a leisurely cup of tea and the on-line news (Mark). The news from Lincoln were at least partially reassuring (although Mark’s dad is still on a ventilator for at least this one more day), so we decided to continue our travels–although with the goal to get a bit further north and reach the Boulder area a day earlier than planned.
We had really not planned out a direction for this particular day (unusual for us), so we decided to start by taking the scenic route from Fairplay via Breckinridge to the I-70. Mark had gone skiing at Breckinridge many times over the years (not since 2011, though, since I don’t ski), but he was amazed how many extra condos, shops, and infrastructure the already-touristy resort town had added over the years. I thought it was totally hideous, unsurprisingly–but the drive beyond it was awesome. We took Highway 6 to take the longer, Eastern route to I-70, which is the route over Loveland Pass that was the normal route before the Eisenhower tunnel was completed, but is now used mostly for scenic purposes and by the big fuel trucks that are not allowed in the tunnel. The view at 11,990 ft (thank you, Wikipedia) was fabulous, and since it was a balmy 50 degrees up there and not that windy at all, we got out and walked up the first “hill” of the ridge that starts at the pass. Beautiful view of the continental divide and of gorgeous mini wildflowers at the tundra level. We also visited a little snowmelt lake that was just about 500 feet off the summit of the pass, and walked all the way around it, snow and boulders and all, watching the snow run-offs and the buttercups and other plants that are just starting to bloom and bud.
Then we drove on from the pass to the I-70 and thereby the fast route to Idaho Springs, which turned out to be my favorite town so far–it did have all the traffic it needed to make an old late-19th century Main Street into a functioning tourist attraction with cafes and shops (unlike Fairplay or Nederland, where few businesses survive more than a year or two), but not so much that it just becomes the ski resort super wealth claptrap that I found so unpleasant in Telluride, or the 20-taffy-shops-in-a-row thing that Estes Park has going). We sat down in a quirky, pleasant cafe with good latte and even better “upside down muffins” with apples and caramel topping (not to mention with a sign for “Parrot Coffee” from the Hargreaves Mercantile Company of Lincoln NE as bathroom decor–dorks that we are, we promptly had to look up that particular company, which used to operate out of the Haymarket area in Lincoln). We even got a cookie to go with our picnic later, and then left town a little before 11 to continue on another scenic route–to Echo Lake Park and then on to Mount Evans on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, “the highest paved road in North America.”
I had been on once before years ago with Jacquie and the kids. I had suggested this road to Mark because I knew he’d love the view and wouldn’t mind the driving–even though I remembered how anxious I had been as a passenger looking out over sheer drop-offs on the 28 miles of switchbacks that help drivers slowly gain 7,000 ft (2,100 m) in total (thank you, Wikipedia). But the Grand Canyon trip in 2012 has made me much less anxious about heights and drop offs, and given that it was such a gorgeous day, I really wanted to be up there again and have Mark see it, too. We had a great time, even though I occasionally gripped the “oh shit handle” above the passenger-side door (not ever with any real reason). We stopped several times on the way up to take in the view, and we even took a little loop hiking trail along the way. When we got to the top, we actually decided to hike the remainder of the rocky foot trail to the summit, since it was sunny, not too windy, and we weren’t feeling the altitude as much as we’d feared. So we joined the constant stream of people to the top, and it was impressive to look all the way around–snow-capped mountains directly to the West and southwest, the huge plains where Fairplay sits (South Park), and the more rounded mountains in many layers to the East–plus Summit Lake right below us. Last time I was there, it had gotten very cloudy/foggy, cold, and windy, and the visibility was limited, so this was awesome. And then, as we descended from the summit, we saw a whole bunch of snowy white mountain goats, with their babies, coming right up across the last switchback and frolicking around within feet of the tourists (there was a state park ranger watching out, so it was really the goats that got close to us, and not us who were getting too close to them). The babies were doing their little crazy jumps and were being unbelievably photogenic, so we stayed quite a bit longer to watch them after we had had our picnic and cookie in the car.
Then it was time to take the road back down to Echo Lake–we only stopped once, at a nature trail where we some of the flowers we’d seen in bloom were identified, and where we were able to see some impressive bristle cone pines, complete with their beautiful dark purple new cones from this spring. Bristle cone pines are some of the longest-living species in the world, and grow very very slowly, so the pines we saw were hundreds, if not a thousand years old. At the end the Mount Evans byway, we took Colorado Highway 103 further east to get back to the I-70 across a much lower (but also very scenic) pass. We only stayed on the I-70 as long as we absolutely had to to exit before Golden and take a road straight up to Lousville, east of Boulder, to stay at the house of Mark’s cousin and his wife. They are currently on vacation, so we get to use their house and (perfunctorily) pet- and housesit until they get back. We got to Louisville at about 5 pm, got some groceries at the local super markets, and I made us a salad while Mark got instructions from the regular pet sitter about the cats and talked to his brothers. We had a nice early dinner, and we might actually still go on a little walk around the neighborhood (which has trails) before we turn in for the night.