Ten best places to visit when you’re in Crested Butte

Carly and ross Holbrook take a break at the top of West Maroon Pass near Crested Butte while hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Enjoy these pics from my last few days in Colorado. After three nights in the Crested Butte, I’m moving on today, to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park. Before I leave, I thought I’d share some of my favorite places to visit:

1. Secret Stash, http://www.secretstash.com: You can’t go to Crested Butte and not visit the Stash, where waiters wear T-shirts that say Pizza Kills. The decor is Indian (I have no idea), the crust is bubbly, the place is the bomb.

It’s chilly here in Crested Butte this week. Today’s morning temperature was 37. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

2. Dogwood, https://thedogwoodcb.wordpress.com: An old cabin on a sidestreet that serves up craft cocktails. Go get lost in there.

3. Sunflower: Try the charred carrots (seriously) and one of the charcuterie trays at this high-end dinner spot. Also, the lamb ravioli.

The leaves are starting to change around Crested Butte this week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

4. Third Bowl Homemade Ice Cream, https://www.thirdbowl.com: I tried a scoop of carrot cake, but look for a rotating case of flavors like pineapple serrano or blackberry bergamot.

5. The Slogar Bar and Restaurant, https://slogar.com: Trays of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits, served family style in an old 1880s-era house.

6. Montanya, http://www.montanyarum.com: Belly up to the bar and order the Kokomo, a blend of rum, lemon, lime, fresh mint, coconut and ginger beer.

7. Public House, http://publichousecb.com: They feature Colorado beers, and the best on tap (I think) come from Crested Butte’s Irwin Brewery. Sit at the bar and admire the cotton candy fur of the white goat mounted on the wall.

The Cristiana Guesthaus has a fleet of bikes out front for guest use. Pam LeBlanc/American-Stateman

8. Cristiana Guesthaus, https://cristianaguesthaus.com: I’ve got two favorite places to stay in Crested Butte now, and this cozy, European-vibe gets my vote for several reasons: Homemade pastries on the continental breakfast, fresh-baked cookies in the afternoon and complimentary red wine in the evening. Plus a fleet of bicycles out front for your use.

9. Elk Mountain Lodge, http://www.elkmountainlodge.com: This gets my other nod. I’m pretty sure things have changed since miners rented rooms here a century ago. Today guests can order drinks in the lobby, soak in a hot tub and enjoy french toast or homemade biscuits for breakfast. And it’s just two blocks off Elk Avenue. Comfy and cozy.

10. A bench on Elk Avenue: No need to get fancy. After you’ve finished hiking or skiing for the day, grab a seat on a bench and watch the people go by.

When in Crested Butte, don’t miss this high-elevation hike

Someone hung a tie-dyed T-shirt on a post at the top of Scarp’s Ridge.

 

I warmed up for tomorrow’s big hike from Crested Butte to Aspen by climbing to the top of Scarp Ridge today.

The trailhead lies just above Irwin Lake, about 20 minutes outside of Crested Butte. Park your vehicle on the side of the road near the green-roofed Irwin Lodge, which serves as a ski chalet in the winter, and head uphill.

Beautiful scenery looking up at Scarp Ridge.

The trail forks almost immediately. It’s a loop, but we took the left side fork first to cover the steepest stuff first. The trail meanders through clusters of pines and a few aspen. Look down and you can see the lake in the distance.

Hike the loop trail counter clockwise. That way you’ll cover the steepest terrain on the way up.

The round-trip hike only covers about 4.6 miles, but you gain a lot of elevation. We started hiking at about 10,700 feet and climbed to just higher than 12,000 feet. Along the way we got great views of mountain bowls, vistas and trees, and flushed plenty of chipmonks out of the underbrush.

We missed the summer wildflower show, but got a sneak peak of fall. The trees are just starting to turn here this week. Some of the aspens wore yellow leaves this morning, a nice change after their summer greens.

Hiking up Scarp Ridge.

Plan on a couple of leisurely hours to make the hike, and bring plenty of water. For more information go to https://travelcrestedbutte.com/crested-butte-hikes-scarp-ridge-middle-loop/.

Starting a Colorado adventure at Denver’s Union Station

Union Station in Denver was renovated in 2012 and includes hotels, shops, restaurants and a train terminal. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Don’t hate me, but I’m currently wrapped in a comforter, looking out the window of the Cristiana Guesthaus in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Temperatures are hovering in the 30s out there, with highs predicted in the 50s. I’ve got a few days of hiking on my agenda, plus some sand surfing and a burro race.

I started this year’s Colorado adventure in Denver, where my sister and her husband live. Before heading to the mountains, I spent half a day downtown, checking out the trendy LoDo area.

I stayed the night at The Born hotel, adjacent to Union Station. The first railyard was built here in 1881, but it burned in 1894. The existing terminal was finished in 1914 and renovated in 2012. It’s a great community space, with a splash pad outside, museums nearby and lots of activity day and night.

The station still serves as the city’s central transportation hub, with rail and bus service in addition to an assortment of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. It’s located at the intersection of 17th and Wynkoop Streets.

The whole place feels European, and if you’d told me I’d somehow been transported to Switzerland, I’d probably have believed you, until I noticed that the trains weren’t all precisely on time.

The historic terminal is done just right, with wooden benches and huge hanging lights, brass detailing, leather couches, tile floors and a pair of shuffleboard tables. The Terminal bar serves up cocktails, and an ice cream joint sells milkshakes made with shots of booze.

Today, hiking around Crested Butte. Tomorrow, if the storms hold off, I’m walking from Crested Butte to Aspen, returning the following day.

Stay tuned.

Ingredients for next Fit City adventure: One stubborn burro plus a steep trail

Pam LeBlanc will team up with Little Jonah to run the Gold Rush Challenge race in Victor, Colorado, next month. Photo by Susan Paraska

I’ve never raced up a mountain with a pack burro at my side, so on Sept. 8 I’ll do that, with a four-legged little beast named Little Jonah.

I’ve rented Jonah from donkey matchmaker Amber Wann in Idaho Springs, Colorado, who loans out animals so (crazy) people like me can participate in a series of pack burro races in small towns around Colorado. And no, I won’t be riding the burro – runners lead their partners up steep mountain trails in races that honor the gold mining history of the area.

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Wann paired me with 17-year-old Little Jonah, a resident of Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colorado, because she thinks our personalities match. I looked up his results for previous years, and, well, let’s just say I’m not expecting to win this year’s race, not that it matters. Jonah’s track record makes me think he might just screech to a halt.

I’m fine with that. Plus, it’ll make a more interesting story if Jonah decides to pause to take in the scenery for a few hours.

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“He has come in last ass on a time or two , but that is because the folks running him were not speedy people to begin with,” Wann told me. “Burros like Little Jonah could go either way, speed wise, depending on the person navigating and encouraging him to keep going.”

Just chalk it up to this Life of Adventure.

No, you can’t swim there yet – but repairs are starting at Balmorhea Pool

Repairs are set to begin at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, which has been closed since May. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

 

Don’t expect to take a flying leap into Balmorhea Pool in West Texas anytime soon.

But after nearly three months of evaluation, crews are set to begin making repairs to pool walls and a concrete apron beneath the diving board, which collapsed during the annual cleaning and draining of the facility in May.

The 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis, located about 400 miles west of Austin, draws locals and visitors heading to the Big Bend region. It’s also home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish.

This photo shows damage to the concrete apron near the diving board at Balmorhea Pool. Contributed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Years of erosion caused by the flow of water from the springs caused the damage. Repairs are expected to take several months and cost $2 million. Crews will build cofferdams, temporarily remove the diving board, salvage existing brick around the pool edge, remove the failing wall and backfill behind it, then install new walls along the north and south sides of the pool.

RELATED: Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely due to structural damage

Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say they are working to protect the endangered species during the project. They have created habitats outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and say they are working to protect the species while work takes place.

Balmorhea State Park in west Texas on a hot July day. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

No heavy equipment will be used; crews will demolish and remove debris by hand. Cofferdams will allow water to flow through the canals and cienegas while work takes place, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff will monitor water quality and flow to prevent downstream contamination.

“Our plan is to reverse decades of erosive impacts and restore public access to this oasis as soon as possible,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a press release. “It’s regrettable that the timing of this issue has prevented Texans from cooling off in their favorite swimming hole for most of this hot summer, but visitors will find an improved park after badly needed improvements are made to the pool, the historic motor courts and the parks’ popular campground.”

RELATED: Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea Pool

The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.

More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.

The pool measures 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.

The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.

To make a donation to help fund the repairs, go to http://www.tpwf.org/balmorhea/.

What’s it like to swim across Lake Tahoe? We found out

Lauren Lubus scans Lake Tahoe before the start of the Trans Tahoe Relay on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

I thought I’d turn into a Popsicle, but as it turned out, the water temperature hovered at a balmy 65 degrees Saturday, when I swam across Lake Tahoe as part of a six-person relay team.

That’s well above the 55 degrees we’d been braced for, and barely cold enough to raise goose bumps, as long as you keep moving. And thank goodness for that, because wetsuits aren’t allowed in the Trans Tahoe Relay, which starts in Nevada and finishes roughly 10 miles away in California.

Bret Cunningham, who swims on the same U.S. Masters Swim Team that I do, invited me and my husband to join him for the race. Three other swimmers – David Bruns, Kaleigh Mitchell and Lauren Lubus, all from different parts of the country – flew in to round out our group. We’d each swim a 30-minute leg, then alternate 10-minute turns until we reached the finish.

Team Keep Tahoe Weird, which included three Austin swimmers, navigates its way across Lake Tahoe on July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

The Olympic Club of San Francisco hosts the event, which starts at Sand Harbor and finishes in Skylandia. Along the way, swimmers cross the deepest section of the lake, which plunges a mile straight down. (Yikes!) This year marked the 42nd running of the relay, and it drew former Olympians, collegiate swimmers, and recreational athletes just out for a nice cruise.

Kaleigh Mitchell dives in to swim her leg of the Trans Tahoe Relay. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Things I noticed as our team made its slow but steady way across the lake? A massive flotilla of boats, bobbing along in support of the swimmers. The way shafts of light flickered deep into the lake. The cool, full-body hug from Mother Nature. The deep green of the pine trees standing shoulder to shoulder all the way around the basin. The peace and insulated quiet that comes when you’re immersed in water. The splashing and underwater burbling noises. With every breath, the vague outline of mountain peaks in the distance.

And the blue that goes on forever.

I love to swim, and swim four or five days a week here in Austin. Lake Tahoe now ranks in the top five most beautiful places I’ve ever gone swimming. (The bay in Kona, Hawaii makes that list, as do a few pristine high alpine lakes along the John Muir Trail and High Sierra Trail in California. I also love Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Lake Michigan, The Narrows near Blanco, the ocean around Fiji, Barton Springs right here in Austin, a place called Half Moon Cay off the coast of Belize, a spring-fed pool on Independence Creek in West Texas, and about a dozen other places, so I guess I actually can’t pick just five.)

Pam LeBlanc swims next to the support boat during the Trans Tahoe Relay. Other swimmers and boats are seen in the background. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

In all, more than 1,100 athletes competed in this year’s race, which is staged in four groups, based on cumulative age and spaced 10 minutes apart. Our group started with the third wave. Our lead swimmer (thanks David!) dashed off from shore in a group, while the rest of us waited on a support boat, trying to pick him out. We spotted him about 15 minutes in – or he spotted us, since we hung balloons, gold fringe and an American flag on the side of our rental craft to make it stand out.

Most of the team boats were decked out in balloons, ribbons and other accoutrements, including inflatable flamingos, pirate flags and a giant yellow rubber duck. One boat had its own slide, so swimmers could gracefully glide into the lake to make their relay exchanges.

Bret Cunningham, of Team Keep Tahoe Weird, swims his leg of the six-person relay race on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

It took us 4 hours and 52 minutes to chug our way across the lake. I lucked out and drew the last leg, which meant I got to tag the big buoy marker off the beach and swim in to shore, where lots of families and friends lined the dock to watch.

It costs $750 per team to enter the Lake Tahoe race. That’s a lot, but consider this – it’s divided among six people, and proceeds benefit Keep Tahoe Blue, a non-profit organization that works to protect water quality of the lake, and the parks departments in the villages where the race starts and finishes. Teams also need a support boat. We rented one from a marina near the race start.

If you’re interested in racing next year, go here for more information.

That one’s too far to go? Consider racing in the Lake Travis Relay, set this year for Oct. 20. This year’s 10- to 12-mile race starts and finishes near Emerald Point. Entry fee is $360 (plus $15 per person for ASA membership); registration fees increase Sept. 17 and Sept. 30. Go here for more information.

Lauren Lubus swims across Lake Tahoe during the Trans Tahoe Relay on July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

People loved Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest so much organizers cancelled it

Did you make it out to Big Bend for the 2018 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest? Hopefully so, because this year’s event drew so many bicyclists that organizers have decided to cancel next year’s event.

A notice sent to past attendees from Desert Sports in Terlingua said this: “Alas, more riders attended then our allotted cap of 500. Area resources, from venues to delicate trail environments to emergency services, were overwhelmed by the attendance.”

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The festival first took place in 2011, and was designed to encourage cyclists to enjoy the array of trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park. It also included a few guided rides behind the Lajitas Resort and in Big Bend National Park.

Heidi Armstrong and Dan Opdyke ride their bikes at Big Bend National Park during Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest in February 2018. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

“We have been successful beyond our wildest hopes and dreams,” the notice said, adding that cyclists are still encouraged to visit the area to ride between October and April – just not all on one weekend.
“The Big Bend Trails Alliance will continue to maintain, build and advocate our beloved trails through your generous donations,” the letter said.

I’ve been attending the festival since it began, and spent a day earlier this year at the event, pedaling some of my favorite bike trails in the state. I’ve launched myself into more than one cactus there, and enjoyed every moment.

Considering paddling the remote Pecos River? Check out our photos

Collis Williams takes a dip in the rapids at Painted Canyon, during a five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve fallen in love with paddling.

In the last year I’ve explored waterways all over the state by canoe and kayak, from the Llano to the Pedernales, the San Marcos to the Colorado, and the Devils to Medina Creek.

Colton Moore fills his water bottle at a spring in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had landowner permission to visit the site. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

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Last week I added the remote Pecos River to the list. I’ll be writing about my five-day adventure down the stretch of river between Pandale and Comstock in an upcoming article, but first I wanted to share some pictures I took along the way.

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The group enjoys sunset along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Our group of five camped along the riverbank, fished for bass, shot small rapids, explored a natural spring and visited an emerald green pool inside a magical amphitheater created by Mother Nature (all with landowner permission) as we eased down the river.

Gearing up after a night of camping along the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Water flow was low, and we had to pull our boats over a stretch of bony fingers of rock called The Flutes, a cold front turned out last 10 miles into a blue-lipped, freezer fest of a day, and, yes, my legs were dappled with tiny black leeches at one point, but it was good.

Really good.

This pool of water is tucked in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had the landowner’s permission to visit. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

To whet your appetite for more, I’ve attached some of my favorite pictures here. Look for a story in the Travel section of the Austin American-Statesman in the next few weeks.

We encountered a small herd of horses on Day 3 of our trip on the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Houston Dobbins tows his kayak – and his dog Oso – over a stretch of shallow water known as The Flutes. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath relaxes at the side of the river during our five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Collis Williams draws water to filter from the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath and Colton Moore snuggle in a hammock along the Pecos River during last week’s paddle trip. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
The sun sets on night two of our paddle trip along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman