Four weeks in Buena Vista, Colorado…
Why we came…
To fish and hunt for mushrooms in the spectacular Collegiate Peaks mountain range and upper Arkansas River valley.
Arrowhead Point Campground was nice. It was busy on weekends but fairly quiet during the week. It’s a bit expensive, but the sites are decent sized and the facilities are well maintained. Highway noise was annoying at times as were nearby inconsiderate campers. We liked the location, 5 miles north of Buena Vista. It was often breezy which we appreciated on warm afternoons. We had full hook-ups and pretty good wi-fi. The Verizon cell phone signal was just about non-existent. We walked up the hill to the other tent site area to make phone calls. Satellite should be ok in each site, though some of the sites have cable access. The owners and their crew were great and worked hard every day. We would come back, but would likely request spots 1 or 2 because they should be quieter.
Buena Vista, population 2,617 and elevation 7,965 feet, is one of our favorite mountain towns. Its relatively small, fairly laidback, has miles of trails accessible from the river park, fishing and floating the Arkansas River, outstanding scenery, a couple of small grocery stores, and a selection of decent restaurants. It can be overrun with summer visitors, but is quiet in the off season. Salida, 25 miles south, has more grocery stores, restaurants, and a big Walmart. The upper Arkansas River valley is an outdoors paradise with nice towns…we would gladly live here!
Dad’s RV on the left and ours is on the right
West and East Buffalo Peaks, elevation 13,326 feet and 13,300 feet
Sunset over the Sawatch Range
Arleen and my Dad fishing Crystal Lake near Leadville, CO
On 22 August we fly-fished Crystal Lake with my Dad…
Crystal Lake is just south of Leadville. Its only a few acres in size, easily accessible, and harbors four species of trout: Rainbows, cutthroats, browns, and brookies. Though it gets heavy fishing pressure all summer long, the trout usually cooperate. My parents really enjoy fishing it!
We hooked fish consistently on grasshoppers and hares ear flies. I had a chance to catch all four kinds of trout, a “grand slam”, but didn’t hook a brown trout. The cutthroat and rainbow trout were plentiful, some up to about 15 inches long. I only caught one brook trout, a plump and colorful 15 incher that put up a great fight. It was a good day!
Dad making some nice casts / Arleen fighting a rainbow trout
Cutthroat trout / Rainbow trout / Brook trout…needed a brown trout for a “grand slam”
On 23 August we hiked to Lost Lake…
I spotted Lost Lake near Cottonwood Pass on a map, and did some research that indicated that it might have cutthroat trout. None of my various maps showed a trail, but it looked like a fairly easy hike: less than a mile and a half with about 600 feet of climbing. Plus, much of the route was in a spruce/fir forest where our mushrooms like to grow.
My research was spot on. It was an easy hike to the beautiful lake. We found a couple of king bolete mushrooms in the spruce/fir forest, and the lake had small cutthroat trout. Two fish hit my fly, but I failed to hook them.
On our way back, we crossed paths with two moose. The first moose posed for pictures and ignored us. The second moose gave us attitude! It looked at us, started charging, and we ran behind the nearest clump of trees. Once we were behind the trees, thankfully the moose stopped and ran the other way. It was an exciting incident on an otherwise enjoyable adventure!
Hike route to Lost Lake / Watching a moose
Fishing Lost Lake…didn’t catch any
On 25 August we hunted for mushrooms near Cottonwood Pass with Heather and Stephen…
Newlyweds, Heather and Stephen, visited from Colorado Springs. We headed into the woods near Cottonwood Pass to search for mushrooms. We saw various mushrooms, but none that we would eat. The pups got some good exercise and we enjoyed sharing some flora and fauna knowledge with a receptive audience.
Then we drove to the top of the 12,126 foot high pass, and climbed the nearest hill for a better view. It was incredible…Mountains and valleys in every direction!
Hike route near Cottonwood Pass / Stephen, Heather, and Arleen
Heather, Stephen, and pups at Cottonwood Pass
Arleen above Cottonwood Pass, 12,200 feet
On 26 August we went to Maroon Bells with Mary and Erin…
Maroon Bells are two prominent and very scenic peaks near Aspen. In fact, they are some of the most photographed peaks in the U.S. Arleen had never seen them and they have been on her wish list for a long time.
Mary and Erin spent five nights tent-camped near us and were game for an adventure. A drive over Independence Pass to Aspen and then some hiking near Maroon Bells sounded great to them!
We stopped at the 12,095 foot pass and did a short hike to an overlook. After posing for some silly pictures, we headed into Aspen for a late breakfast at Aspen Over Easy. It was reasonably priced and yummy…a rarity in Aspen!
With full bellies, we headed to Aspen Highlands Resort to catch the bus to Maroon Bells. We learned a lot during the 30 minute bus ride. The bus driver shared information about the geology and history of the area.
The view of Maroon Bells across Maroon Lake is spectacular. We’ve seen that view in numerous pictures, post cards, and calendars, but it’s even better in person. We were all very impressed and Arleen finally checked Maroon Bells off her wish list!
Hike route to Maroon Bells / Erin jumping off a stump at Crater Lake and Maroon Bells
Posing at Independence Pass, elevation ~12,100 feet
Being silly at Maroon Bells
Crater Lake and Maroon Bells (the “Bells” are in the upper left)
On 28 August we hike to Ptarmigan Lake with Mary and Erin…
Arleen and I are familiar with Ptarmigan Lake and the trail to get there…it’s one of our favorites! We wanted to show it to Mary and Erin.
The well-maintained trail climbs about 1,600 feet in three miles. Except for a couple of short, steep sections, it climbs steadily and is a good workout. The view really opens as the trail gets above timberline. 14,202 foot high Mount Yale dominates the scene to the north…it’s impressive. As you crest the final ascent, the big deep lake pops out right in front of you…it’s beautiful.
We ate snacks, posed for pictures, and headed off in different directions. I grabbed my fly rod and started fishing. Mary wandered around the lake getting excited about the numerous types of rocks. Arleen and Erin walked up past the lake to the saddle for a better view. We all had a great day!
Hike route to Ptarmigan Lake / Looking at rocks by the lake
Ptarmigan Lake, elevation ~12,100 feet, and the Sawatch Range
Posing at Ptarmigan Lake
View north towards Mount Yale…peak is 14,202 feet high
We had a busy day on 29 August: fishing, geocaching, picnic, campfire…
My parents, Mary, Erin, and later Kendal, and my sister’s family were all visiting…we had a lot planned.
We headed to Wrights Lake, west of Nathrop, to fish with my parents and my sister’s family. There were lots of trout and thankfully a few of them hit our offerings. Nearly everyone caught fish. It was a lot of fun to hook one, and then give the rod to one of the boys. They fought the trout with big smiles on their faces…it was cute!
Then we went on a geocaching adventure with my sister’s family. We have each placed a geocache on the Colorado Trail south of Wrights Lake. It’s a fairly tough hike with a thousand feet of climbing to our geocache so we were a little concerned about how the boys would do.
They did pretty good! Austin ran out of steam as we headed down. Jordan did really good. The geocaches were in good shape. We stuffed them full of goodies and hid them for future geocachers to find.
We headed back into Buena Vista for a family picnic. We picked up three large pizzas with various toppings. Mary showed up the yummy desserts, and my parents brought watermelon…it was a feast! Austin tried to swim in the Arkansas River and it took us awhile to warm him up. Then we had fun playing Frisbee and were all pretty worn out.
We ended the busy and fun day with a big campfire. It was nice to spend time with family and have some fun adventures!
Austin fighting a fish while Grandma watches / Jordan fighting a fish with Grandpa’s coaching
Austin posing with his catches
The trout won the battle against Jordan! / Having fun with my two nephews!
The view of Chalk Creek Canyon from our geocache / See the alien?
Posing by the Arkansas River
Jordan and some pizza / Posing with the grandparents / Austin taking a bite
Playing Frisbee with Erin and Jordan
Jordan and Erin making some nice catches
Erin and Mary watching the fire take off / Mary and Arleen gazing at the flames
Jordan, Mary, Nic, Austin, and Gary enjoying the campfire
Saying good-bye. 10 people in our little home!
On 31 August we fished Crystal Lake with Dad and Wanda…
We finally got to do some real fishing with Dad and Wanda! We headed back to their favorite spot: Crystal Lake.
We all strung up our fly rods, tied on grasshopper flies, and spread out. We did pretty good. Arleen caught the biggest trout…a plump 16 inch brown trout. I nearly had the “grand slam” again. This time a brook trout eluded me.
Wanda and Dad fly-fishing Crystal Lake near Leadville
Changing flies / Wanda, Dad, and I fly-fishing Crystal Lake
I caught rainbow, cutthroat, and this nice brown trout…needed a brookie for the “grand slam” / Arleen caught the biggest one!
On 31 August we hiked to Windsor Lake…
Windsor Lake sits at 11,800 feet in the Sawatch Range, west of Leadville. Though the hike is only one mile, the trail climbs a thousand feet. That’s pretty tough…nature’s stair climber! I had to rest a bunch as we climbed the steep trail and was relieved when we hit the top and got our first view of the lake. The very first view of a new lake is always special and this one was incredible. It was a big deep lake in a huge cirque. Rocky cliffs with a few patches of snow surrounded 270 degrees of the beautiful lake.
The water was a little choppy as squirrely winds criss-crossed over the lake. As I strung up my rod on a point on the far side, I spotted the rise rings of a feeding a trout…excellent! I fished the point for about 45 minutes and missed one good bite. I saw the 12 inch cutthroat trout materialize from the depths of the clear water and hit my fly…it was exciting!
Arleen wandered around the woods and looked for mushrooms. It looked promising, but she didn’t find any that we would eat.
Then I spent about 30 minutes at the shallow inlet of the lake. I missed a slightly bigger trout and that was it. I vowed to go back to spend more time fishing the beautiful lake!
Hike route to Windsor Lake / At the lower lake
Windsor Lake, elevation 11,800 feet, in the Sawatch Range
On 10 September we fished Spinney Mountain Reservoir with Brian…
Spinney is one of our favorite lakes to fish…one of Brian’s favorites too. He drove from Colorado Springs and we met at the entrance.
The three of us fished hard for about three hours and got skunked. The weather was nearly perfect…not ideal for fishing though. Spinney let us down, but we had good conversations and an enjoyable day.
Brian and I fly-fishing Spinney Mountain Reservoir
On 11 September we hiked to Timberline Lake…
Timberline Lake has special fish: greenback cutthroat trout, the Colorado state fish. The once numerous species was considered extinct by 1937, but in 2012 a pure strain was discovered in a 4 mile stretch of Bear Creek near Colorado Springs. A small portion of those pure greenbacks were moved to hatcheries where their numbers have multiplied. The “threatened” species has been introduced successfully to a few isolated streams and lakes and they continue to multiply. Where those populations are stable, catch and release fishing is allowed, providing a unique opportunity to catch a unique fish with an interesting history.
The two mile plus long hike is pleasant. There are a couple of short, steep sections within the last half mile, otherwise its a gradual climb most of the route. The area is popular during summer weekends and the trailhead is often full of cars. We went on a Friday after Labor Day weekend, and it was quiet…we were the only ones fishing!
Timberline Lake is fairly large and lined by trees…usually not a good thing when fly-fishing. However, there are multiple rocky points that allow decent casts. Right away we spotted fish cruising in just a few inches of water near the bank and along shallow shelfs. We walked to the far side and took up position on a big rock point with a large shallow shelf on one side and deeper weedy section on the other. As we ate lunch, we watched about 10 trout feed across the shallow shelf.
Arleen got the first cast. She focused on the trout feeding in less than a foot of water. She dropped her floating ant fly about five feet ahead of a cruising fish. The trout spotted the fly, accelerated towards it, and sucked it in…fish on! We watched all of this happen perched eight feet above the inches deep crystal clear water…it was awesome! Over the next couple of hours, we hooked about 15 trout on the shallow side, and another 10 on the deeper side, all on the floating ant fly. The trout were 5-9 inches long and beautiful.
It was a special day. We had fun catching Colorado’s state fish, that until recently, was thought be extinct.
Hike route to Timberline Lake / Special trout with special fishing rules…excellent!
Timberline Lake, elevation 10,850 feet
Fishing off a rock point on a glorious fall day in the Rockies / Greenback cutthroat trout…Colorado’s state fish
Video link of a greenback cutthroat trout hitting my floating fly, and the ensuing fight and capture.
Video link of a greenback cutthroat trout hitting Arleen’s floating fly, and the ensuing short fight.
On 13 September we hiked to Windsor Lake…
We got a late start the first time we went to Windsor Lake so we wanted more time to explore it. The one mile hike is pretty and a great a workout. We crested the last rise and were nearly knocked backwards by gusty winds. Still, we worked our way to the opposite side of the lake and eagerly strung up our fly rods.
We donned neoprene booties and waded shin-deep into the cold water. The wind was very erratic. It blew from every direction and went from calm to gusting to 40 all day long. We tried to time our casts to catch favorable wind gusts but weren’t always successful.
Shortly after she started, Arleen got a hit on her floating ant fly. She missed that one, but got at least 10 more bites. She landed two nice cutthroat trout and had a fun day. Me on the other hand? I got skunked! I didn’t even get a hit! It was definitely Arleen’s day.
Between the chilly winds and standing in the chilly water, we were quite chilled. I did jumping jacks and push-ups and Arleen walked up a nearby hill to warm up. I got a half mile down the trail before my toes warmed up. Fall was definitely in the air!
Arleen fly-fishing Windsor Lake
This nice cutthroat trout hit a floating ant fly…Arleen had a good day and I got skunked!
My parents visited 14-16 September…
The highlight of my parents visit was a tour into the Sawatch Range to see the aspens. As we climbed up Cottonwood Pass, the fall colors got more spectacular. The were large areas of bright yellow accented by patches of red and orange, all back-dropped by 14,000 foot high peaks. There was even a dusting of new snow above 13,000 feet…it was very pretty. We hopped out of the truck at the 12,126 foot high pass, and nearly froze as the upper 30 degree temperature was being pushed by 40mph winds. We got our first taste of winter on 15 September!
Our next stop was the old mining town of Vicksburg in the Clear Creek drainage. The fall colors seemed even more vibrant as we slowly drove up the rough dirt road. Like many of the old mining ghost towns, Vicksburg has an interesting history (from Wikipedia):
“Vicksburg was founded in 1867 after prospectors from Leadville, Colorado camping out in the Clear Creek Canyon, lost their burros. The burros had wandered down the creek and when the miners found their pack animals, they discovered gold in the creek bed as well. In its heyday, Vicksburg had a post office, school, blacksmith, two hotels, two billiard halls, several saloons, a general store, an assay office, and a livery stable. Early miners packed in Balm of Gilead (balsam poplar) trees on the backs of burros and planted them to line the street. The trees still stand today and are watered by ditches leading from Vicksburg Creek into the town. The ditches were dug on either side of the street to provide a water system; wooden boxes were built in the ditches to keep food cold and provide water to fight fires.”
It’s amazing that 600-700 people lived here around 1885!
While my parents visited, we also had some nice meals and enjoyed their company!
Cottonwood Pass…the temperature was in the upper 30s and the wind was 40mph…brrrr!
My Mother and I
Fall colors peaking near Vicksburg
Vicksburg…mining town founded in 1867
On 16 September hiked through a glorious golden aspen grove…
Before we left Colorado, we wanted to hike through a grove of golden leafed aspen trees. I checked out some maps and found a bunch of aspens in the southwest corner of South Park. This area is “off the beaten path” so I figured that we might it have it to ourselves…I was right!
The lengthy dirt road drive got rougher as we progressed. Not only were we slowly dodging a bunch of rocks the last mile, but we also herded cows away and tried to avoid their large piles of poop.
We stopped at my GPS waypoint and headed up a rocky 4-wheel drive trail. The trail ended a half mile from the truck and there were a few cows lingering at the dead end. Then we detoured into the woods and worked our way to the aspens.
Once in the aspens…it was great! Gusty winds made the leaves “quake” while a few leaves slowly drifted down around us. As we ascended straight up the grove, there were more golden leaves as more trees were near their fall peak. We saw lots of critter signs, but no critters. We certainly didn’t see any other people…we had that beautiful aspen grove all to ourselves!
Aspen grove hike route / Looking over the southwest corner of South Park
A beautiful grove of aspens…we love Fall in the Rockies!
We will spend a few days in Colorado Springs and then we head east for the winter. Our major stops along the way: D.C. area, Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Disney World, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Keys. I’m hesitant to leave the Rockies, but it will be a great adventure!
Hedgehog mushrooms…a rare find in the Rockies! Found only a few other edibles while in Buena Vista
Aspens peaking and a dusting of new snow on the mountain peaks on 15 Sep
Double rainbow over our home