Mountain Times, Colorado

[The first in a 4-part series that reflects a recent road trip, camping with my daughter through the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. I hope you enjoy the ride.]

Our first Colorado night was spent in Monument at Terry’s house. I unrolled the new sleeping bag and pad beneath the second-story patio with its view of Pike’s Peak to the west. Alyssa had a room inside her grandmother’s lovely home. It was all quite fresh and mountain-scented. In the morning we’d resume our journey with a hike through the Garden of the Gods.

Nature’s red-stone sculptures formed a wonderland inviting us to investigate this famous Rocky Mountain site near Colorado Springs. My new binoculars were busy picking out the feathered spirits of the blue-sky West– the ravens, magpies, pygmy nuthatches, and Stellar jays, to name a few of the front-range species I’d been looking forward to revisiting.

my new custom Sam Lacina hand net (thank you, family!)

fringed gentians…

With an outdoor brewery lunch to sustain us, Alyssa and I headed for the South Platte River, the so-called “Dream Stream” section flowing from a highland reservoir. White  pelicans and fringed gentians complemented our windy attempt at fishing, and it didn’t matter that the trout remained elusive. Later, on the upper Arkansas, the first wild brown trout came to net like a grain of gold from a heavy flush of water that washed away all cares.

my chief navigator & trail prompter…

“Dream Stream”…

Next morning, a Rocky Mountain sheep stood at roadside as we motored slowly toward Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, at over 14,000′ above sea-level. The views from Independence Pass (12,000′-plus) helped to keep us humble and sanguine, ready for the unexpected. At a pull-off on the headwaters of the Roaring Fork, I assembled a 3-weight rod for our short descent into an attractive gorge. Five wild rainbows quickly came to hand and then returned to the cold, clear stream before a motley crowd of travelers broke our solitude with aspirations of their own.

at Independence Pass…

Beyond Aspen and Basalt, the Frying Pan River held more fly-fishers than I’ve seen in ages. During a global pandemic with a surge in outdoor recreational pursuits, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a full house on the streams and in the campgrounds. Nonetheless, we met the challenge in remote locations, and I managed four nice trout (up to 15 inches) that rose to a Pale Morning Dun and a Pheasant-Tail variation.

the Frying Pan sizzled with activity…

That evening we settled in historic Carbondale, enjoying good food and local brews not far from the Crystal River. We would drive upriver to the Red Rocks Campground where, establishing a pattern of lucky breaks in campground siting, we obtained the last available tenting spot. The red-stone cliffs of this alpine valley seemed to tell us life was good. We soon reserved our next night’s stay at nearby Bogan Flats– again, the last site available, where Alyssa’s grandparents had been camp hosts 22 years before.

Red Rock coke ovens…

my 5-weight Chester2 did yeoman’s work…

The national forest campground at the Flats is actually located on a beautiful mountain slope. From there we could fish and inspect the low-water drainage of the wild Crystal River. We explored the tourist town of Red Rocks (interesting coke ovens from the coal-mining era!) and the higher ground at Marble with its artful scattering of rock from the marble mines above the place of human habitation.

Marble art…

Shards of marble glimmered from the pristine river but, unlike my experience back in ’98, encounters with trout seemed few and far between. Had the forage base diminished in these alpine heights, or had the fish suffered an increase in angling pressure during this unusual season? Western tanagers, pine siskins and McGillivray’s warbler gave their accents to the willow shrubs beside the river, but no answers came to an inquiring mind.

from Bogan Flats…

above Marble…

My best fish on the Crystal was a 12-inch rainbow. Fishing would improve in the days to come as we traveled northward. For now, an evening meal with cold drinks at the Barbecue House in Marble would suffice. The restful patio dining gave an almost perfect closure to a splendid mountain day.

at least we can dream…

near Marble…

the marble trout…

on the South Platte…

[Next stop, Alpine, Wyoming]

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to Mountain Times, Colorado

  1. Don T says:

    Beautiful photos again Walt. Glad you had an opportunity to bring some river jewels to hand. Looks like a great trip.

  2. Larry R says:

    Sounds like a great time well spent with your daughter. I always enjoy your adventures as so many parallel some of mine and in this case even with my own daughters.

  3. Brent says:

    Looking forward to enjoying your words and pictures recounting the trip, having followed along in real-time with Alyssa’s texts and pictures! It’s funny how memories work: I remember Bogan Flats pretty clearly (considering the time that’s passed), and I remember the existence of Redstone and the coke ovens, but I definitely don’t recall them being so well-preserved. The coal history in that region must be relatively recent.

    • Yeah the work of memory is an odd fish, for sure. Redstone didn’t surprise me after all these years, but my new perspective of Bogan Flats is quite different than I recall.. It might be because our new campsite was higher up (near the entrance) than before but, all in all, still quite pleasant. As for the coal history, it was mostly finished by the early 20th-century.The ovens have had some recent restoration.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Part one of four? Marble-lous! Apologies…
    Looks like the camping gods were with you, even if the fishing gods were a bit iffy. Hard to find space in this most unusual of summers, but Colorado is a pretty decent outdoor state of mind with beautiful corners to get lost in. The brewing scene is an elevated delight!
    Thanks, Walt, and looking forward to the next instalment.

    • We must have entered the Garden of the Camping Gods, given our luck with just playing it as if with Marbles & not relying much on reservations. Thank you, Plaid, and I thought you’d like that scene with the aluminum can.

  5. An excellent journey. And some ace photos. I really like the close-up of the trout’s head. And I could go for a mug of that IPA right now.

  6. Jet Eliot says:

    What a joy it was to visit the CO mountains with you and your daughter, Walt. I look forward to seeing the posts ahead, too. The outdoor scenes here in Calif. right now are unusually crowded, too, due to Covid. Good, though, that you managed to find places for solitude and enjoyment. Those coke ovens are pretty cool to see, and the mountains are beautiful. The South Platte looks lovely. And I thought the marble scenes were really cool. Thanks for this adventure…and how lovely for you.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Yes! I’ve been waiting to read the account of your western pursuits and adventures. I’ve been reading some Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall) and Stephen Ambrose’s account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, “Undaunted Courage,” so I’ve been past the 100th meridian in my head for a little while now.

    • I haven’t yet read either of those renowned accounts but Lewis & Clark are ever present in the western landscape (as are the native people, past & present, who survive in the spirit of the land). Thank you, Bob. There’s more to come.

  8. Dan Hayes says:

    Welcome home and thanks for the first installment of your journey west! I have always wanted to fish the Platte but it hasn’t happened as yet. Look forward to the rest of the trip in time. Best, Dan

    • Thanks Dan! The S. Platte is an interesting river with good stretches between its mountain reservoirs. It gets a lot of fishing pressure & I’m not sure I would have fished it if I didn’t have family connections nearby but, as it is, my visits have been enjoyable. As for local rivers, I haven’t been to the Oswayo since June. Hopefully its wild trout have come through the summer.

  9. UB says:

    See if this works now…. WOW…. (unintelligible gibberish )….Wow. What a start! UB – also looking forward to parts ii, iii, and iv

  10. loydtruss says:

    Walt
    What a trip, made special by spending time with your daughter and connecting with some colorful trout, compliments of Chester! Thanks for sharing

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