Fall Drive

By Craig Kimble
Throughout the year I plan a number of excursions into the outdoors, be it a hike, hunting trip or other adventure. This planning always starts well in advance so I can procure maps or any special equipment needed for the occasion. I try to be prepared for any adverse weather conditions or other unseen circumstances, as all outdoorsmen should be. Prepping in this way has always keep me safe on my expeditions, but my friends and family have often complained of my inability to be spontaneous when it comes to enjoying the outdoors.

So, I decided this last weekend, on the spur of the moment I might add, to take my wife for a drive into the Rockies to view the changing aspen. My preparation for this jaunt was as follows; Quickly download a list of geocaches for the area I was thinking of, Fill a canteen with water, Ask my wife to fix a lunch, Grab a map of Colorado, Throw a jacket into the back seat of the pick-up. OK, not as spontaneous as some but I consider this the basics.

Anyway, We were off. Well not quite! Gas, I needed gas, gas and donuts. In my normal planning technique these things would have been taken care of the night before but spontaneity has its cost I guess. So with a breakfast of stale chocolate donuts and a full tank of gas we were on our way again.

Twenty minutes later we were seeing our first aspen stands in autumn color. Yellow, gold and a slight hint of orange. The sky was overcast so the colors were muted a bit but the day had a real fall feel to it. Sonja and I relaxed, sipped hot coffee and began to take in the beauty. As we traveled we could see mountain folk working at various chores like splitting wood, moving cows in a field or putting up feed. We also noted the number of ranches that had given way to development. Large or should I say, Very large, homes could be seen on the side of mountains. Jokingly we suggested what the occupations of these homeowners might be, but will refrain from mentioning them here.

On the trail from Kenosha pass

Our first stop was at the summit of Kenosha pass. I have always liked the view to the south from here. From its 10,001-foot vantage, a person can see the South Park plateau to the horizon. High peaks line the west, their summits hidden in the clouds, and their flanks covered in new snow. On the east, the Lost creek wilderness area stretches as far as you can see. The Kenosha pass parking area was jammed packed with people wanting to get a snap shot of the aspens. Add to this the fact that this is a parking area for the Colorado Trail and you have a mess of cars and people. Sonja suggested that we continue on and find another place to hike for a cache but I have learned over the years that if you are willing to walk just a quarter of a mile you will leave behind hordes of people. It was true in this case too, after a short walk we were all alone. We spent the next hour walking in the aspen, the cool breeze and the hint of last nights snow spoke of the coming winter. For now, it was just Sonja and I walking and enjoying the outdoors. We found the cache and signed the log just as another family hiked over the hill so we headed back to the truck.

On the highway again we headed south towards Fairplay. Mt. Silverheels stands nearly 14,000-feet and is a picturesque mountain. I climbed to the summit years ago and have hunted for blue grouse there on several occasions. As we drive I remind Sonja how the mountain got its name. Sonja is kind and listens to my stories even when I have told them more than a few times.

During the gold rush days when the mountains around here were full of miners searching for their fortunes a woman from the east made a name for her self as a magnificent dancer. The miners called her "Silverheels". An outbreak of small pox hit the mining town and Silverheels helped nurse the sick back to health. Unfortunately Silverheels fell victim to the epidemic too. The town's people went to her home to help but found she had gone, never to be seen again. So, in her honor they named the mountain after her.

Mt. Silverheels
Our next stop was on Four Mile Creek Road, at the base of Sheep Mountain. Here the aspens have dropped their leaves and old man winter is starting to take his hold upon the land. Sonja and I ate lunch watching the squirrels run up and down the pine trees stockpiling the food that will sustain them this winter. Snow melting on the branches made it look as if it were raining. The clouds hung low, just above timberline and gave the valley a gloomy feel. A skiff of snow on the ground reviled the tracks of a snowshoe hare sprinting the same direction we were now walking. We bagged our second cache of the day looked at some interesting rocks before heading back to the truck.

Sonja napped as I proceeded in a southeast direction across the South Park plateau toward Hartsel. The windshield wipers ticked off the time as I watched the Middle Fork of the South Platte River meander is way through the valley. Fly fisherman could be seen on her banks braving the flirting snow in hope of a wondrous trout. I marveled at the beauty of this area and felt jealous of the people that lived here. My jealousy only increased as I stopped the truck a short distance from our last geocache of the day.

This cache is aptly named "Mountains 365". I woke my better half and asked if she wanted to see the panoramic view from this high spot my GPS receiver had brought me to. Together we took in the tremendous sight before us. We could see the lofty peaks in the distance partially veiled by the clouds. The sun forced its way through the gray ceiling in several places and spot lighted the ground below. A large dark cloud on our right spewed rain on the floor of the valley. On the left side of this expanse Eleven-Mile and Spinney Mountain reservoirs looked like mirrors on the ground. The tanned grass of the basin and the aspens in the distance provided spots of color to this composition. A ponderosa pine beside us finished the whole portrait by scenting the air with its perfume.

At Wilkerson Pass we stopped and looked at the new visitor center but the rain kept us from hiking the trail there. I did snap a few photos to finish up a roll and set off on the hour and half drive home.
The last leg of our fall drive was uneventful and passed quickly. I reflected on all we had seen today and felt glad that we taken the time to for this drive. Both Sonja and I were weary from this day's events but felt revived in our spirits. There is nothing like time spent in the outdoors with the one you love to put life into perspective