Lost Creek Wilderness {November 2011}

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Acorn Creek, near Silverthorne

Gore Range panoramic from the ridge - one hell of a view!
Location: From 1-70, exit 205 for Silverthorne and drive north on Highway 9 for approximately 10.6 miles. Immediately after crossing the Blue River, turn right onto Ute Park Road (CR 2400). Keep left at the junction (there is a small brown trailhead sign) and then turn right onto Rodeo Drive (FDR 2402). The parking area and trailhead are only 0.6 miles down this road amidst some homes. 

Distance: 2.5 miles one-way from the TH to the ridge in the above photo (5 miles round-trip). The climb to this point was enough for Justin and I {we'd both donated blood two days prior and absolutely noticed the absence of some red blood cells during this hike}. I believe that it is about 4 miles one-way from the TH to the pass below Ute Peak (8 miles round-trip), with the final half-mile being quite steep. I find this to be quite unnecessary, since you'll already have the pretty view you're looking for :)

Date Hiked: April 5th, 2012

Dogs Allowed? Yes, but a leash is required upon entering into Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness

The Acorn Creek trailhead is located on the edge of an expansive sagebrush meadow that is typically covered in lupine come late-June. Just a few eastward strides into the hike, we came across an aspen thicket containing more than a few downed trees (a theme that would soon become annoying, at best). The trail crosses Acorn Creek less than a half mile from the trailhead and meanders in and out of pine forests, which are often broken up by sagebrush meadows. Since the trail climbs towards Ute Peak to the east, do be mindful of turning around and catching progressively more impressive Gore Range views to the west!

A southwest view from the trailhead

Looking back on one of many sagebrush meadows & the Gore Range to the west
While this hike is only moderate in difficulty, it does require a reasonable level of fitness to gain 1,600 feet of elevation over 2.5 miles ... I don't recall any flat segments. At 1.8 miles, we entered Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness and, shortly after, passed by a wooden sign with an arrow pointing up towards the right. From here, we encountered a steep section of trail that eventually leads to the grass-covered ridge (our destination) with a dynamite view of the Gore Range. Looking north, we could even see Williams Fork Reservoir alongside Highway 9 in the distance.

Pasque flowers
Justin on the pre-ridge steep section of trail
If you are in need of a relatively quick & easy day-hike in the Silverthorne area, I'd highly recommend Acorn Creek. Though early May is an exciting time to hit the trail, I would wait until late June/early July for this one. Not only will there be a greater array of wildflowers, but you will likely see a larger green to brown ratio. However, no matter when you hike Acorn Creek, you are guaranteed to be rewarded with an incredible view throughout! Be sure to stop at the Dillon Dam brewery on your way home; there's nothing like a cold brew post-hike :)

** When we hiked Acorn Creek, it was necessary to bypass many fallen trees. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common occurance in our mountains this season - be careful and keep on the lookout for those pesky juniper bushes (but, try the berries for a wonderful burst of gin-flavored goodness!) **

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Swedish Cardamom Rolls

I truly don't have much of a sweet tooth, yet I am addicted to these exquisite little rolls ... thanks to Linda Hills. Plus, you can double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe as they freeze well! Just beware, you'll be dealing with quite a bit of flour in that case, which is fine ... as long as you're prepared :)


1 pack (2 tsp) dried yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 liter milk (~ 2 cups)
1 1/2 sticks margarine (~ 3/4 cup ... I like to use butter instead)
1 1/2 deciliters sugar (large 1/2 cup)
1 tsp salt
14 deciliters flour (5-6 cups)
cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla sugar, coarse sugar (Swedish pearl sugar)


Dissolve yeast as instructed above. Melt margarine and add milk. Mix with all other ingredients, except flour. Next, add flour (you can also add 1/2 to 3/4 tsp cardamom to flour for extra flavor - do this before mixing with liquid ingredients). Let ferment for about 30 minutes in bowl. Divide dough into 2 pieces; roll thin, about 1/4 inch. Spread with butter, then sprinkle (what a fun word!) with granulated sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla sugar. Roll up and seal ends. Cut into 1 inch pieces and place in/on top of cupcake paper on cookie sheets. Let rest and rise for about 20 minutes, at least. Brush tops with beated egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Cool on rack, covered with a towel. 

*Makes approximately 33 rolls. Though they look like cinnamon rolls, they aren't nearly as sweet. I typically double or triple the recipe during the holiday season ~ everyone loves them! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Piney Guard Station: White River National Forest, CO

Piney Guard Station: White River National Forest, Gore Range
When I inquired about Piney Guard Station this past December, the forest service ranger imparted two words of caution (that I interpreted as complete bliss): snowshoes and rustic. He actually said that we could only reach the cabin via 3 miles on snowshoes or cross-country skis, and that it would definitely be rustic. Perfect! So, for a mere $50, my Dad, boyfriend Justin, pup Kona, and I were spending the evening in a Gore Range cabin on December 12th, 2011; there wasn't a single reservation within several months of us ... in either direction.

There are three photos (all snow-free) of Piney Guard Station online; two are from forest service and recreation websites, and the other is of a random person standing near the front porch next to a campfire. I've concluded that the cabin's existence is virtually unknown as well as the fact that it can be rented on a daily basis, year-round. It is located north of Wolcott, past Edwards on 1-70. The turnoff onto Muddy Pass Road (Forest Service Road 700) from Hwy 131 can easily be missed ... but soon we were driving past a field of nearly 50 dogsled pups (which caught Kona's attention - he'd fit in seamlessly) on our way towards FSR 744. From there, we were to snowshoe 3 miles to our destination. Justin had other plans; despite one or a few minor mishaps, he and my trusty Subaru had managed to get us halfway closer on the snow-covered road before coming to a stop, thus putting our mileage at 1.5 to the cabin. Though I fully supported this decision, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Justin has many years of Winter Park snowy driving experience, and my car is excellent in these conditions.

Beginning our adventure {12/12/2011}
With heavy packs and shared excitement, we set out around 11 am. The snow was ideal for snowshoeing - untracked and fluffy - and the route meandered gently uphill through aspen and spruce trees. I counted only four falls during our short hike; though I'm guilty of one, I think something may have been misbalanced in my Dad's pack :) Nevertheless, he did provide comic inspiration for our latest homebrew: the Cherry Tumbler.

Piney Guard Station was built in the 1930's as forest service workers' housing; it consists of one cozy room, a set of bunk beds & two cots, an old German wood-burning stove, a table & two benches, and many random provisions that have been supplied by either former guests or White River forest rangers (including candles of all sizes, mugs, plates and bowls, skillets, utensils, paper towels, and toilet paper). I fell in love with the place upon opening the front door. Plenty of firewood can be found in the large box outside - though it did take nearly two hours to heat the cabin, it remained toasty until we departed the following morning. 

We had a stellar stay at Piney Guard Station. Since the stove heated the cabin so nicely, we were able to spend time outdoors knowing we could always warm up if need be. The views of the Gore Range are spectacular from the front porch as well as throughout the latter section of the snowshoe hike. While I would prefer to spend my time and adventures elsewhere during warmer months, this trip was ideal for the dead of winter. Plus, we found both the inspiration and label for our sour cherry ale. Perfect all around!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Canyonlands ~ Backpacking the Needles District

I'll get right to it ... below is our proposed pre-trip plan, which we did indeed follow through with to perfection. I would easily suggest this or a similar route for exploring the unique environment of the Needles as it covers everything from a) descending into and climbing out of canyons b) hiking along the sandy bottom of canyons c) squeezing through narrow joints between canyons d) navigating over rocks and other fun obstacles e) up-close views of the sandstone needle formations f) a jaunt through the strange elevated grassland of Chesler Park, and g) ridiculous scenery with endless photography opportunities. Plus, I believe the route to offer a perfect balance among endurance training, adventurous playtime, and sweet relaxation ... ideal for a triathlete in training, experienced backpacker, or casual hiker.

Justin and I, eager for another backcountry adventure, began organizing our Canyonlands outing in late January. Hoping for sunny, snow-free, and warmish weather, we reserved our permits for backcountry campsites EC3 and CP1 as soon as we finalized our dates {2/21 - 2/26} to coincide with a new moon. Why February? I cannot imagine who in their right mind would visit the high desert in summer's heat, let alone backpack through it, or during the more crowded spring and fall seasons. Why EC3 and CP1? Thanks to those few backpacker/bloggers out there, we were able to view photos of both campsites and concluded that they'd best fit our needs ... there also seemed to be a general consensus that they're the best, period.  We were not disappointed. Finally, why a new moon? Much of Utah and the surrounding/neighboring Great Basin is ideal for stargazing ... and, through extensive research via EarthSky, we discovered that Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Mars would all be visible for the first time in years, as well as several bright stars near the constellation Orion that cannot typically be seen. Let me say, it truly was incredible -- and, if you take the time to gaze up at the night sky throughout March, the show will certainly continue.

Day One, Tuesday February 21st: Denver to Squaw Flat Campground, Canyonlands

Justin and I have the advantage of being the luckiest couple when it comes to timeframes and road trips; we happened to plan this one perfectly between two snow-laden winter storm systems in Utah and the Colorado mountains. Despite some snowpack on I-70, particularly near the Divide, we managed to reach the park boundary by 1:00 pm subsequent to a quick viewing of Newspaper Rock. The rock's surface features a concentrated collection of ancient Native American petroglyphs from various tribes, the oldest carvings dating back nearly 2,000 years! It requires only 3 minutes of your time, so do pull over and check it out.

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument {along Hwy 211}

Squaw Flat site #13
View from the cliffs above Squaw Flat
I quite enjoyed Squaw Flat ~ the campground is more beautiful than online photos suggest, and the sandy environment is perfect for a game of horseshoes or bocce (we had both). If you're traveling in a larger group, each site has multiple tent pads and enough space to accomodate a number of people (though I think there may be a ten-person limit). Thankfully there were no such groups while we were there :) Thus, we enjoyed a few beers -including our sour cherry homebrew-, a gorgeous fire, grilled pork chops & sweet potatoes along with ample peace and quiet. I'm not sure about the pop-up van next to us though, the guy drove all the way to Canyonlands only to hang out in his vehicle ... in too close a proximity to our occupied site.

Day Two, Wednesday February 22nd: Elephant Hill TH to EC3 

The dirt road from the campground to the trailhead is well-maintained, and we didn't come across another vehicle until we reached the parking area. Our photos will paint a much more accurate image of this route than my words ever could. Essentially, we climbed up a rock staircase or two, crossed over slabs of slickrock, marched through sand surrounded by cryptobiotic soil, passed between rock walls in narrow side-canyons, and eventually descended into Elephant Canyon on our 3.4-mile journey to EC3; it was fantastically fun.

How our backcountry trek began {just beyond Elephant Hill TH}

An early view of the sandstone needle formations

Fun trail segment/Make sure you have easy access to your camera
Cryptobiotic soil (the black stuff)

The descent into Elephant Canyon presents a unique challenge with a backpack loaded down with  water and enough provisions for three nights. Since there are virtually no areas to collect water (yes, even in winter), that translates to a lot of extra weight on your back; just think of it as an added bonus on top of your already intense workout. Once in the canyon, EC1 is immediately visible. I half wished we could just set up camp there, but EC3 is literally a quarter mile or less down the sandy wash. The site is more dramatic than I imagined based solely on photos; we felt happy and cozy against the canyon wall, with a sweeping view of Elephant Canyon. The only downside I'd consider is the absence of afternoon sun since the campsite is so close to the west wall. But, who cares ... we were in Canyonlands! Shortly after setting up, we watched a lovely albeit brief sunset, heated up peanut butter & chicken chili (which we cooked the previous night over the fire ... so yummy), played a few games of Yahtzee, stared up at a very bright Orion, and finally snuggled into our sleeping bags.


Day Three, Thursday February 23rd: EC3 to CP1, with a day-hike to Druid Arch

The plan: French press coffee - 2.a little miles to Druid Arch - 2.a little miles back to EC3 - disassemble tent; pick up gear; bagel & salami; 2 miles to new campsite in Chesler Park. The hike along Elephant Canyon's wash and up to Druid Arch is a must-do. The last quarter mile is steep after following the flat canyon bottom, but we were up it in a flash. Be forewarned, it will most likely be windy at the top. Oh, and the ladder is mandatory ... and totally awesome!

Druid Arch
Now, the 1-mile section that connects Elephant Canyon to Chesler Park was easily my second favorite part of our trek (after the Joint Trail). It was completely unexpected. The trail switchbacked up a steep red cliff from the sand below, disappeared into shady side-canyons on more than three occasions, and emerged to a most bizarre sight - Chesler Park. 

Chesler Park
A grand view of Elephant Canyon (though you can barely tell a canyon exists there) from Chesler Park
As a campsite, CP1 is ideal. The afternoon sun shines brightly, rocks on all sides provide excellent shelter, the ground is sandy and soft, and you have front row seats to an incredible sunset over a backdrop of mesas and buttes. It's also a perfect basecamp for different day-hikes in the area.

The Moon & Venus (can't yet see Jupiter)
Day Four, Friday February 24th: Chesler Park day-hike loop

After backcountry pancakes and maple syrup, we chose to hike counterclockwise around Chesler Park; the photos can speak for themselves. The Joint Trail is too cool.

Massive playground

Along the Joint Trail

Unfortunately, it seems that the cairn cavern I was so excited to visit no longer exists. Of course the cave is still intact, but there was just one lonely creative cairn that I could find ...

The entire 5.1-mile loop probably took us three hours at a decent pace; we were back to CP1 with plenty of daylight to spare, beers to consume, and bocce to be played. Blessed with another splendid sunset and an unobstructed night sky view we thought, 'ah, life is good' :)

Day Five, Saturday February 25th: CP1 to Elephant Hill ... and Denver, Colorado

A strange, high-pitched, and methodical sound woke us early the next morning. Oh yes, we had set the alarm (phone) for sunrise - around 6:45 am. I glanced down only to find that the phone had in fact lost a full charge of battery overnight ... thankfully the squawking raven just outside our tent was on top of things. We had no idea what time it was when we left camp, but the angle of the sun and the length of our shadows both suggested that it was early. The 3-mile hike from CP1 back to Elephant Hill was quite ordinary; however, we did come across the above walrus/gnome hat/melted hershey formations that I found amusing. Surprise, surprise, we reached the car at exactly 9:58 am! I would have been happy with noon ... 

What would you consider to be a perfect ending to a flawless trip? Hot $3 showers at the Lazy Lizard {a colorful hippie commune located along Hwy 191 as you enter Moab} and microbrews at the Moab Brewery? Precisely. Be sure to try their oatmeal stout. Justin and I had initially planned on camping at a designated BLM campground just outside of Moab on Hwy 128 so we could unwind and enjoy a fire (wood fires are prohibited in Canyonlands backcountry). Each campground  (shown here) was supposed to be open year-round. Suffice it to say, we were back home in Denver before we knew it. I think a few of the campgrounds were actually open, but once we drove past them in search of greener pastures there was no turning around. 

This itinerary worked incredibly well for us and, as I said before, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone heading towards Canyonlands. Justin and I have both seen and visited some remarkable places in this world, but Canyonlands is unlike anything ... the best way I can think of to describe it is a ridiculously fun and uniquely beautiful natural playground. I can guarantee we will be back to explore another district in the near future, most likely the more remote Maze :) 

Happy Travels!