A Hidden Gem: Geneva Creek Iron Fens

Hiking guide to the Geneva Creek Iron Fens, Clear Creek County, Colorado.

Tucked away a short hike off of a four-wheel drive road in the Guanella Pass area lies the Geneva Creek Iron Fens. A rare geologic phenomenon unique to Colorado, iron fens are formed when mineral rich groundwater bubbles up from mountain springs and forms colorful ledges and terraces composed of limonite (the earth pigment used to create ochre dyes). Iron fens also produce acidic peat-forming wetlands that supports rare plant communities, including the only known occurrence of Sphagnum girgensohnii (a sphagnum moss) in Colorado. The hike to Geneva Creek Iron Fens is short, but allow plenty of time to explore the fens and the surrounding areas.

Features: Unique geologic process, rare plant community, designated Colorado Natural Area (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), historic mining buildings
Location: Guanella Pass Area, Geneva Creek Basin
Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map 104: Idaho Springs, Loveland Pass; USGS 7.5′ Montezuma, CO
Managing Agency: Clear Creek County Open Space Commission
Emergency Contact: Clear Creek Sheriff 303-679-2376.  Cell reception is non-existent in this area. Carrying an emergency GPS beacon is recommended.

Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
Time: 2-4 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.  The distance is short, but it is at high elevation.
Rating: Class I. Easy hiking on a good trail. The footing is generally good when exploring the fens, but can be slick in spots and if you venture into the swampier areas, be cautious of stepping in deep, wet mud.
Starting Elevation: 10800 feet
Ending Elevation: 11400
Elevation gain: 600 feet

Permit: Not required
Vehicle Access: Four-wheel drive is required to reach the trail head. High clearance is recommended.
Gear: Waterproof boots are recommended.
Water: Bring at least 1 liter. There is abundant water, but it may be contaminated with heavy metals.
Dogs: Dogs are permitted. Keep under control to protect wildlife, livestock and fragile environment.
Season: Late Summer, Early Fall. The access road (FR119) is closed by snow in early to mid-October until late July.  The trail is accessible in winter  by skis or snowshoes but much of the winter the closest starting point will be the Duck Creek Picnic ground at the head of FR119 which will add 7 miles each way.
Camping: Geneva Park Campground (National Forest Service Fee Site) offering tent and RV camping is near the start of FR119. Many free dispersed sites are available along FR119. Duck Lake Picnic area is also near the start of FR119 for day use only.
Restrooms: None
Food: Al’s Pits in Grant, Colorado provides great BBQ. For a hearty lunch or breakfast, check out The Shaggy Sheep.
Nearby: Geneva Basin mining area (requires high clearance 4wd), Shelf Lake Trail, Jackwhacker Gulch, three 13,000+ foot peaks (Landslide Peak , Geneva Peak, Sullivan Mountain), and Josephine lake (the most Northern Lake in the county).

Directions to the Trailhead: From Denver:
1. Travel south on Highway 285 to the town of Grant located about 40 miles South of the C-470/Hwy 285 intersection (45 minutes)
2. Turn right on Park County Road 62 (Geneva Road/Guanella Pass) and continue for approximately 7 miles (15 minutes)
3. Turn left at Forest Road 119 (four-wheel drive only) and arrive at trailhead after 5 miles (30 minutes)
Driving Notes: FR119 is a four-wheel drive road that starts off as a graded road, but becomes rougher and narrower the farther you go. Be prepared for large puddles, stream crossings and lots of rocks. At 4.3 miles, you will pass through private property. At 5 miles cross Jackwacker creek. The trailhead is on the left just 0.1 miles beyond the creek crossing (5.1 miles total) and only has room for one or two vehicles.  If you are unsure if your vehicle can do the creek crossing, there is a wide spot suitable for parking two or three vehicles just before you reach the creek. Beyond the trailhead, the road becomes a narrow shelf road with a steep grade and is only suitable for high clearance 4wd vehicles and experienced off road drivers.

Trail Description: The trail is an old 4wd road making it wide and easy to navigate.  Distances are approximate.

0.0 Mile – Walk in past the locked vehicle gate
0.5 Miles – Cross a shallow pond by rock hopping or walking through the shallow water.  The trail starts to climb after this crossing.
1 Mile – Unsigned fork in the road.  Take the right fork.  The left fork leads to another fen that is also worth exploring if you have time.
1.25 Miles – Arrive at the Iron Fens.  Explore the Fens as long as you like before returning the same way you came.

Trailhead Parking.  If you continue up the road to the right, it quickly becomes a steep, rocky, narrow shelf road, suitable only for high clearance 4wd vehicles with experienced off-road drivers.
Vehicle barricade at the start of the trail
IMG_6691 (2)
The pond crossing at 0.5 miles requires some rock-hopping.
The road forks at about mile 1.0.  Take the right (lower) fork to reach the fens.
Arrive at the fens at about mile 1.4 and spend some time exploring.

Check out these videos we made at the fens. The first one was starting at a different, less accessible trailhead. It’s about a mile up the high-clearance 4wd road and requires some off-trail navigation.

and this one too!

We would love your feedback!  Did you find the guide useful?  Would you like more information in a trail guide?  Did you get hopelessly lost following our directions?  Let us know in the comments!

Happy trails!

Katie and Marybeth

Do You Believe in Magic?

Every year, during the blazing heat of summer, a group of artists and misfits gather in the scorching Nevada desert for a week-long celebration of community, humanity and art. They call it Burning Man.

The Man effigy at Burning Man
The Man


Every year, during the blazing heat of summer, a group of artists and misfits gather in the scorching Nevada desert for a week-long celebration of community, humanity and art. They call it Burning Man and it’s part social experiment, part art extravaganza and part joyous display of the human spirit.  Thousands of dreamers and doers pour their heart and soul into building a magical, ephemeral place called Black Rock City.  During Burning Man, a fully functioning city rises out of the barren playa and after one amazing week, it disappears back into the dust.
Loved these twin Hexayurts way out in the open camping area.


I’d heard of Burning Man here and there over the years, but had never known anyone who had actually been there.  My uninformed impression was that it was some sort of Bacchanalia for drugged out hippies and EDM kids.   In truth, hippies and EDM fans do make up a part of the population, and plenty of people indulge in mind altering substances, but the bulk of the population is composed everyday misfits like myself who are just there to (hopefully) contribute to the city and be amazed by the contributions of others.


Our decision to go to Burning Man was made on a bit of a whim.  We’d seen the pictures of the art and the outfits, but had no concept of what it really is.   Being outdoor girls who don’t want to die, we live by the motto of “be prepared.”  So months before the Burn itself, the research began.    Like the prep for any adventure, we researched the location, the logistics (getting a ticket, food, water, shelter) and the culture.  Yes, culture.  Burning Man has it’s own rules, communities, lingo and social mores.  We read blogs and watched videos, and joined Burning Man social media groups.    We even built a playa-tested shade structure based on some vague (but ultimately successful) plans we found on the internet.  We were ready.
Our Tensigrity Shade Structure worked quite well on the playa and it can hold 3 hammocks!


The more I researched, the more I came to understand that Burning Man is not just a bunch of people partying in the desert surrounded by cool art, but I didn’t truly understand what it is.  Once I actually arrived  I realized I couldn’t know exactly what it is beforehand, because you have to actually go there to really get what it’s all about.  That’s why burners have a hard time explaining it to non-burners.  Burning Man is whatever you want it to be, it’s what you make it and it’s what you need it to be.  I can show you pictures of what we saw and tell you what we did but I can’t tell you how it feels, except that it feels amazing.
Yours Truly, feeling amazing!


It also feels hot.  Burning Man takes place in a desert.  In August.  And it’s hot.  Really hot.  Large portions of our days were spent trying to cool off and keep hydrated.  Misters and spray bottles of water were lifesavers.  We spent a couple of days thinking we were being kind of wimpy about the heat until we learned that it was the hottest year on record for Burning Man.  Misting camps and shade structures were very popular hangouts this year.  All that heat did have an upside.  There was only one major dust storm all week and the nights were pleasantly cool.
We looked forward to the sunsets every night because it cooled off enough to go exploring.
You hear lots of warnings about the dust.  We took them seriously.  The playa is an ancient lake bed and the “soil” is composed of a very fine alkaline clay.  It’s similar to bentonite clays we often encounter in Western deserts, but it’s much finer.  It is composed largely of decomposed volcanic rock and has the consistency of baby powder when dry.  The slightest breeze makes it airborne and it subsequently gets everywhere and sticks to everything.  When wet, it turns into a slippery, tire swallowing hazard.  We taped up our trailer windows with reflectix, we kept the truck doors closed and only ran the A/C on recirculating, we had a mandatory footwash before entering the trailer.  Our efforts paid off with minimal clean up needed when we returned the trailer to the rental place.


Waiting for sunrise out by the trash fence.


During any adventure, there’s always a point where you find yourself hot, tired and maybe a bit grouchy.  Burning Man is no different, but just when you think you’ve reached a low, something wonderful happens.  It might be something small, like the gift of a hot dog when you just noticed you were hungry or something big like an art car comes passing by and offers you a ride.  For me the highlights include being gifted an airplane ride over the city, waking up before sunrise and biking out to the trash fence to watch the day begin, an impromptu picnic of deconstructed Spam sushi we stumbled upon in the deep playa, listening to a live opera singer performing on a giant, house-sized gramophone, and pushing my own personal boundaries at the Human Carcass Wash.
Marybeth hanging out with the Space Cats in the Deep Playa.


Hosted by PolyParadise, the Human Carcass Wash is one of the more unique experiences on the Playa.  If you’re feeling kinda dusty and gross, head over to the Carcass Wash.  Leave your clothes at your bike and queue up with 50 or so other naked people to wait your turn to wash and be washed.  Yep, it’s a little weird at first hanging out in the buff, chatting with other naked people, but it quickly starts to feel normal.  The wash is set up a bit like a car wash with stations for soaping up, washing, rinsing and a final squeegee.  The washing is done by the participants and monitored by camp members that give instructions, keep the line moving, and diplomatically and gently deal with people who are having a hard time with exploring their own boundaries or those that need help understanding the boundaries of others.  There’s not a “girls only” or “boys only” line.  It’s one “humans only” line.  Male, female, gay, straight, fat, thin, able bodied, disabled, pretty and not.  Everyone is welcome.  Everyone is accepted.  Everyone ends up a little cleaner than they started.
Hanging out beyond the trash fence at the Black Rock City Airport.


With so many sights and activities to capture your attention, it’s impossible to do it all, but one of my goals at Burning Man was to see it all from the air.  There are three ways to get a plane ride at Burning man: hope the skydiver camp has extra spots on their plane, wake up really early to get your name on a list for a tourist flight (which may or may not happen), or know a pilot.  The first two require a bit of luck and a long wait.  Luckily, one of Marybeths old friends (“Captain Kirk”) is a pilot, though even with an “in” our flight almost didn’t happen due to a series of unfortunate events.  The first delay happened when the runway was shut down after a pilot failed to deploy his landing gear.  Oops.  That got cleared up just in time for a dust storm.  Low visibility grounded all the flights for a few hours.  Just when it was looking like we were good to go, another pilot forgot to secure his storage compartment on take off and littered the runway with luggage.  We ended up being the last flight out of the day and it was worth the wait!  We also discovered the best kept secret of the playa. The porta-potties at the airport, beyond the trash fence are immaculate!  It’s the little things that count the most.


The Man Burning
Burning Man is a temporary, place.  Many of the large scale artworks, including “The Man” are built to be ultimately burned to the ground.  On Burn Night, the Art Cars line up encircling the structure and people on foot (nearly the whole 70,000 who attend) fill in the space up to the burn perimeter.   The Burning of the Man is an amazing spectacle, one I didn’t think would leave me in awe, but it did.  The lights, the sounds, the people, the hundreds of fire dancers, the fireworks, and the intensity of the burn all contribute to the experience.  It’s fun and absurd.  It’s peaceful and exciting.  It’s sacred and profane.  I can’t really explain it.  You just need to go.


With all the grand spectacles at Burning Man, what’s really amazing are the little things you find in your own neighborhood.  The local coffee shop, the Pirate Bar around the corner, chatting with your new neighbors and passersby about the wonders they’ve seen, and getting a hug, a smile and acceptance from just about everyone you meet.


I can’t wait to go back!


Happy Trails,


Katie headed across the Playa.
This is a big part of what it’s all about.
The Angler Fish Art Car.
Marybeth and Momma Bear.
No words.  This is simply beautiful.
Marybeth and the Temple.
Black Rock City from the Air.
The A-Roar-Har gals.
Every Burgin must roll in the dust and ring the bell!
Don’t think she has to worry about the dust getting washed off.
Well, Hello There!
Sunrise with a pal.
Carl the Chameleon
Love to all!

Colorado Trail Segment 3 – Winter Solitude

It’s cold and there is fresh snow on the ground, but it’s Colorado, so the sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for a hike.  There’s too much snow for the mountain bikers and not enough for the snowshoers so I get the trail all to myself.  That’s exactly how I like it.

With my faithful companion, Fluffy Dog, I set out on the trail to finally finish Section 3 of the Colorado Trail.  The trail starts at the Little Scraggy Trailhead and rolls through ponderosa pine forests.  It winds around the sides of hills and up and down drainages until its terminus at Rolling Creek.

Rocky peaks, composed of well worn rubble dominate the landscape.  The lower reaches are strewn with boulders wearing blankets of snow.  Remnants of ancient peaks, they are reminders that the mountains are no more eternal than we are, just longer lived.  Now and then, there is a a glimpse of the snow capped mountains through the trees.

The cloudless sky is a shade of brilliant blue that I’ve only ever seen in winter.  The sun throws long shadows, even at midday and it’s low angled rays glide over the snow making it sparkle like precious gems.  The stark white of the snow contrasts sharply with the conifers making the green needles and the red bark of the ponderosas appear deeply saturated.  Here and there the trees let loose a silvery cascade of snow dust.  I stop and watch the show until a nearby tree decided to loose it’s cold, shimmery gifts upon my head.

The going is slower than usual because of the snow, but I don’t mind.  There is something extra special about hiking after a fresh snowfall.  With the crystalline carpet muffling the rustling of the trees and brush, the silence overwhelms the senses.  Even the streams are quiet.  No babbling brooks chattering on their course, there is only a muted glug, glug as the water makes it’s way under the ice.  Punctuating the silence are the sounds of mountain song birds, clearer and brighter than what you hear in summer, and a lone woodpecker is tap, tap, tapping in search of grubs.

And, oh the happy puppy dog!  He’s unfettered to frolic freely in the snow.  He’s bounding through the forest after who knows what.  Oh look, he found a deer leg.  Hope the critter that left it isn’t still around.

It takes some route finding to find my way through the forest with the trail obscured by snow, but the path is well worn and the depressions left by thousands of footsteps are not too hard to follow.  I make my way through this cold, white Eden contemplating all and nothing.  The landscape is beautiful and silent and the peace it brings my soul is unmeasured.  I leave this place and return to the bustle of “real life” but it lingers in my mind and I am restless and anxious to return to the woods to find that peace again.

Happy Trails,




Welcome to the Isla!

Enjoying the surf, sand and sun at North Beach on Isla Mujeres.
The last time I traveled to Mexico, I was 18 years old (yes, that was a loooong time ago).  I traversed the border with my college boyfriend at San Diego to have some drinks and take in the sights of Tijuana.  My short visit did not really leave the best impression.  The things that stick in my brain from that adventure are the extreme poverty, destitute children selling chiclets, places advertising donkey sex shows and street after street of hawkers selling crappy tourist merchandise for “almost free.”  Almost free was way beyond my college budget, so I didn’t bring anything home and even tequila bars were a stretch.  This time, a little more luxury and a quiet beach town was on the agenda.
Our first sunset on the beach at Playa Lancheros.
Our parents, those adventurous folks who inspire us to be the itinerants that we are, wanted a family vacation to bring together our far flung siblings and nieces.  As our parents are aging, and we are realizing  that the time we have left with them is shorter than the time we’ve already had, it has become a priority in our lives to spend more time with them.  On Marybeths suggestion, we choose Isla Mujeres, a cute caribbean island just off the coast of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula.  She had been there a couple of times previously with friends and knew it would be just thing for a family get together.
The island is awash in tropical colors.
This bike is so rusty, it’s a wonder that it’s still rideable.
My prep work for this trip consisted of trying to fit back in my swimming suit after half a winters worth of putting on winter weight and finding my passport and towel.  In general, we relied on Marybeth to get most of the plans together (which she did), but also, this part of Mexico is so practiced at catering to tourists, particularly American tourists, little preparation is needed.  Which is the problem.  Isla is a a cute little place, with lovely beaches, good food and plenty of sun, but it hardly feels like you’ve left the country.  It’s a little difficult to wax poetic about a place that’s not very different from the Florida coast where we grew up.  I actually like a little struggle with the my travel and I enjoy getting pushed out of my comfort zones.  That’s possible here, but you have to try really hard and with poolside drinks just waiting for you it’s difficult to get the motivation.
Two iguanas basking on the rocks at Punta Sur.
One of the many large steel artworks in the sculpture garden at Punta Sur.
The ruins of Ixchels temple on Punta Sur.
This part of Mexico is, however, a great place for family and for newby international travelers.  It’s easy to get around the island.  Most of our transportation was provided via rented golf carts, though we used the ubiquitous (and cheap) taxis on a number of occasions.  Zipping around the Isla on golf carts is great fun.  Just keep an eye out for one-way roads and the many speed bumps peppered over the island roads.  Take some time to just explore the island, it would be pretty hard to get truly lost.  Do go visit the Ixchel temple at Punta Sur.  It’s a lovely spot.  Take the short trail down and around the cliffs, but watch your step wherever you see wet pathways (I almost ended up a mermaid after slipping on on some of it).
While all the food we had on the Isla was phenomenal, the gold star goes to a tiny, humble restaurant called El Charco for the best Flautas I’ve ever had!
English is widely spoken by those working in the tourist trades and most restaurants have menus in English and Spanish.  On the topic of food, you would have to work pretty hard to find a bad restaurant here.  Everywhere we ate was good, a few fantastic.  Fresh seafood and fresh pressed juices are not to be missed.  Many of the restaurants along the coastlines are co-ops run by fishermen who bring their fresh catches in daily.  Living in landlocked Colorado, truly good, fresh seafood is a luxury commodity in which I rarely indulge.  On the Isla however, seafoods are cheap and plentiful so I ate to my hearts content!
Mayan Temple at Chichen Itza, miraculously devoid of crowds.
If you were a fitting sacrafice in ancient Mayan culture…this is where you would die.
These columns were roofed with wood in ancient time to provide shade for Mayan pilgrims.
Swimming in Cenote Saamal.
We booked a driver with Carm Tours and Transfers and spent a day traveling to Chichen Itza.  We got to Chichen Itza early in the day, well ahead of the crowds and heat of the day, so we were able to enjoy the park in relative peace.  The ruins are truly impressive and well worth the long drive.   After we had our fill of the park, our driver took us to Selva Maya Hacienda for a great lunch followed by swimming in the adjacent Cenote Saamal.  Devoid of surface rivers, the Yucatan Peninsula has vast underground waterways.  In some areas, the ground above the water gives way and forms cenotes.  Bringing life sustaining water to the inhabitants of the peninsula, cenotes are magical places and swimming in a cenote is an experience not to be missed.
Marybeth and I logging dive time.


I was thrilled to have my first chance to go diving in over 20 years.  I was PADI certified when I was 16 years old and for a couple years before going away to college, I spent quite a few weekends on dive trips in caverns and springs around Florida.  It’s been a long, diveless time between then and now, so after a short “refresher” course, I was ready to go.  Diving is a lot like riding a bike, what you need to know comes back to you pretty quick.  Marybeth and I did two reef dives with the Squalo Adventures dive company.  The water was clear and calm and we were treated to the wonders of the reefs including lots of fishes, lobsters, sea urchins, and even a stingray.
Yours truly, relaxing at North Beach.
Beaches and beach clubs are the highlight of any coastal Mexico vacation.  Take your pick of venues and rent a chair or cabana to spend a relaxing day in the sand and sun.   There are the usual vendors hawking goods on the beach, but they are rarely pushy and will move on with simple “No gracias.”  Most of the beach clubs have waiters ready to bring you whatever food or drink you might like right to your cabana, or you can sip a Mojito in the shade in one of the many beachside bars.
A bittersweet sunset.  It’s time to go home.
After nearly 10 days of surf and sun, coastal vibes and sumptuous seafood, it was time to go home.  We are already dreaming and planning a return to Mexico.  It’s a large, diverse and welcoming country and we want to sample it all!
Happy Trails!

Is this the bus to Cartagena?

 “Is it safe to go there?” is the first question people asked when we said we were going to Colombia.  When answered in the affirmative the next question from our genuinely baffled acquaintances was, “Why would you want to go to Colombia?” As lifelong itinerants our incredulous response is always, “Why the heck wouldn’t you go?”
Inglesia de San Pedro Claver in the Old City of Cartagena
Truthfully, I’ve had dreams and eventual plans of going many places in South America, but Colombia was never really on the short list.  Opportunity arose to finally visit the South American continent when, bored of the usual stateside venues for my continuing education, I searched for something a little more exotic and found a veterinary conference that was being held in Cartagena, Colombia.  The sum of my pre-travel knowledge of Colombia came from occasional news reports of the long-standing guerilla war and drug trafficking and what I gleaned from “Romancing the Stone” (which I discovered later was actually filmed in Mexico).   We ordered a few travel guides (which we didn’t really use as none are very good for Cartagena), did some googling and watched an old episode of Anthony Bourdains travels to Colombia.  In all, we weren’t terribly prepared, and having no real preconceived notions about the country and its people turned out to be a good thing.  Cartagena is a city for wandering and discovering, not for planning and schedules.
Bougainvillea vines drape over many of the old Spanish buildings.
Cartagena is most of all a Spanish city.  Like something out of a fairytale, its streets are graced with colorful colonial mansions dripping with bougainvilleas and grand old stone churches watch over every square.  The old city is ringed by an imposing 7 mile long stone wall and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a typical Spanish fort, served to protect the city from attack by land or sea.   A port city settled and built by Spaniards in the 1500’s, Cartagena grew rich on the trading of gold and slaves.   While the indigenous cultures were largely wiped out by the settlers and are a small minority today, the Palenqueras, those colorful ladies balancing bowls of fruit for sale on their heads, are descendants of escaped slaves and are a very visible reminder of the cities past.
Being a low lying equatorial city, it’s hot.  So hot, the sweat starts streaming down your skin the moment you step outside into the tropical air.  Part of that is because, though we grew up in humid swamp that is Florida, both of us are now cold-adapted mountain girls.  The other reason, is that it’s just that stinking, crazy hot.  As you wander the city, you find the heat is a little less brutal closer to the walls, with the inner areas harboring still, stagnant air.  Tall buildings and narrow streets allow no trace of ocean breeze to pass.  There is no relief from the heat until the afternoon wanes and the sun begins to set behind the city walls.    It’s still hot, you’ll still sweat, and the ocean breezes are warm, but it’s far more comfortable than in the daytime.  Sunset most often found us up on the walls of city, enjoying a cold cervesa from a street vendor and savoring the salty breeze.
By chance, we were in Cartagena for the signing of the peace agreement between FARC and the Colombian government.  Ultimately, the people of Colombia voted against the agreement, but it was still a remarkable piece of history to witness.  This was a candle-lighting ceremony in one of the city squares the night before the signing.

After dark, the city really comes alive.  Too hot to be active during the day, the nightlife in Cartagena is robust with tourists and locals mingling in every square.  Just follow the voices and music and you’ll find yourself being entertained by talented street performers or stumble upon a local bar where you can grab a cervasa and find the people of all ages salsa dancing.  One of our favorite finds was the “Cuba 1940’s” bar where you can dangle you feet in a cool indoor pool while sipping Mojitos.  Plaza de La Trinidad, in the Getsemani quarter, was steps from our hotel and swarming with people every night.  Located in a working class neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification, and awash in expensive boutique hotels alongside hostels and modest local homes, a gathering of people from all walks of life occurs on the square.  Grab some rum laced fruit punch from a street vendor and find a spot to sit and watch the show.

A wonderful way to spend the day and escape the heat on Isla Grande.
To escape the heat of the city, a trip to one of the many island beaches is in order.  Though it’s a coastal town bounded by the ocean, the beaches near the city tend to be avoided by tourists, for good reason.  Within moments of stepping onto a local beach you will be bombarded with people trying to rent you a cabana, or sell you a massage, jewelry, or questionable food.  It never lets up and makes a peaceful day enjoying the surf impossible.  Good thing there are lots of private or semi-private options on the islands off the coast.  The charming hosts at our hotel, Casa Lola, set us up with a day trip to the beach at Eco-hotel Isla del Sol on Isla Grande.  A privately owned resort, you get a boat ride to the resort, a hearty lunch and a peaceful day in the sun and sand.  We also arranged a day at the Beach Hostel on Tierra Bomba, the closest beach to the mainland, accessed via a short 10 minute boat ride.  It’s a laid back, casual atmosphere and there are a few peddlers offering their wares, but not so many to become a nuisance.  I imagine that it might get pretty busy on the weekends, but we were there on a quiet weekday and enjoyed the beach with just a few other people.
Marybeth enjoying a relaxing day in her hammock at the Beach Hostel on Tierra Bomba.
While there certainly are American tourists, most of the tourists we encountered were from South America which means, few of the locals speak English other than what few words are needed to sell you stuff.  It also means there are no Starbucks or McDonalds and when you speak as little Spanish as we do, it makes ordering food and getting information an interesting challenge.  Most often, we would find a restaurant or food stand, and we would point to something that looked potentially tasty and say “Uno, por favor” to order. Eating mystery pastries and empanadas worked out pretty well most of the time.
Trying fresh fruit juices at the Mercado
We hooked up with Cartagena Connections for their Street Food and Mercado Bazurto tours.  The Mercado Bazurto is not on the agenda for your typical tourist, but it’s on our “don’t miss” list.  A sprawling, dirty, bustling market, the Mercado Bazurto is an assault on the senses.  Music is blasting from all corners as you navigate the maze.  Sanitation is in short supply and the pungent sour odors of fish and meat, decaying vegetables, and piled trash are pervasive.  Shopkeepers stalls are made from whatever materials could be cobbled together and roofed by old grain bags, netting and cardboard.  The Mercado is the go to spot for locals to purchase just about anything you might need for your home or kitchen.  Our guide, Jan, led us through the cacophony of sights and sounds and purchased some of the exotic tropical fruits and foods for us to sample.  We shared a lunch of steamed plantain, deep fried fish and Aguapanela, a local drink made from sugar cane that tastes remarkably like Southern Sweet Tea.  The intense heat of the day was made hotter by the blasts of heat coming from the cooking fires in that part of the market, but it was an experience not to be missed.  We met up with Jan again later that afternoon for the Street Food tour, and got to try a variety of local foods along with learning a bit more about the layout and history of city.  The arepas choclo were my favorite!
Local kids congregating at the church entrance during a wedding we happened by.
There is no shortage of things to do in Cartagena.  Put on your shoes (and sun hat) and start wandering.  Hungry?  There are a myriad of restaurants and street foods to try.  Want some culture? Several museums are located in the old city and are easy to find or book a tour to visit the village of Palenque (something I wish we had time to do).  Hot?  Head to the beaches.  You don’t need to plan your time, just enjoy the city as it presents itself.   In our wanderings, we encountered a fabulous parade of Colombian senior citizens, a neglected but beautiful cemetery (you need to wander a bit outside the city to find that one), and the warm, welcoming hospitality of people of Cartagena.
We are already dreaming of returning and expanding our travels beyond Cartagena.  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “It’s ludicrous that this place exists and everybody doesn’t want to live here.”
Happy Trails,
Katie and Marybeth
Some more photos from our adventure…

Mount Elbert…or 14ers are hard.

Mount Elbert beckons.
2016 has been a great year for adventure, but finding time to sit down to write has been a bit of a challenge.  Mother Nature has decided to intercede on behalf of our tiny blog audience by laying me low with a nasty cold that has made my biggest adventure of this week being a trip to the grocery store for chicken soup and cold medicine.
Today I have the chance to reflect back on a late July hike up Mount Elbert.  At about 14,440 feet in elevation at its peak, Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado.  The cute mountain town of Leadville is nestled near the base of Mount Elbert and her neighbor, Mount Massive.  There are 4 routes to the top and I chose the East Ridge as it is the shortest route with the least elevation gain.  It’s probably the easiest route, but when you’re talking about 14ers, there are no easy routes (unless you drive up Mount Evans or take the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak)  A beautiful drive past the Twin Lakes takes you to the a nice camping area and the trailhead.  Those without 4wd need to park near the campground and hike to the trailhead.  This will add 4 miles and 900 feet of elevation gain to the hike, so 4wd is highly recommended.  The trail starts to climb about 1/4 mile in and rarely lets up until you get to the top.   Up, up, up you go, through a pleasant mixed confier/aspen forest.
An early morning start is needed in order to summit before the storms roll in. The reward for the lack of sleep is a lovely sunrise on the trail.
Fluffy Dog is not letting the altitude slow him down. He spent some time bounding through the trees while waiting for me to catch up.
As soon as you break tree line, the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below open up and become more beautiful and impressive the higher you go.  Of course, once you get above tree line, trying to breath in air devoid of oxygen, the views become secondary to trying to oxygenate your body while performing strenuous exercise.    Everyone has a different level of fitness, but the oxygen deprivation becomes a great leveler.  With the exception of a few super-athletes, the closer to the summit you get, the slower the going gets.  Above 13,000 feet, you start to wonder why the hell you’re doing this.  You concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and are acutely aware that your hiking pace has slowed dramatically and continues to slow the closer to the summit you get.  14ers are a beast to hike and that last 1/2 mile to the summit is always an excruciatingly slow struggle.
A great mid-mountain place to stop for a snack and to take in the views.
Fluffy Dog is enjoying mid-hike his snack.
Fluffy Dog making new friends on the mountain.
Fluffy Dog was happy to find a snow field to play in near the summit.
Getting closer to the summit, I was hiking at a snails pace, while the altitude didn’t slow Fluffy Dog down at all.
It’s all worth it when you reach the summit.  The summits of 14ers in Colorado are rarely lonely places.  I’m always amazed by how many people are willing to make the trek.  There’s always a jovial, party type atmosphere at the summit, with people bounding over the rocky terrain to take in the views and groups of hardy hikers rewarding themselves picnic lunches.  Fluffy Dog and I enjoyed our own summit sandwich and cookies before heading back down.
Fluffy Dog savors the triumph of his first 14er.
The views from the summit are always awe-inspiring.
Getting a little older means more aches and pains going down than up, but after a bunch of Ibuprofen and hot tub time, I’ll be ready to tackle another of Colorados amazing 14,000+ foot mountains.
Happy Trails,

Colorado Trail Segment 10 – Gear in Review

Segment 10 runs along the base Mount Massive.

A little synchronicity happened in our schedules allowing Marybeth and I to embark on a short backpacking trip to tackle segment 10 of the Colorado Trail.  It was a good chance to test out our gear and have a little adventure.  We started our trek in the great little town of Leadville, where we met up and had dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.  I popped into the Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market to pick up a dehydrated meal for our trip and ended up walking out with a new air mattress and a bunch of maps.  The Market is a small but well-curated shop and the owner was very helpful and knowledgeable about her products.  I can definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the area and need some gear.

Fluffy Dog along the trail.  Most of the trail is nicely shaded in pine forest.

Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail meanders through a pine forest along the base of Mount Massive, and aptly named 14er that is the second highest mountain in Colorado.   There are two long up climbs going either direction on the trail.  We started from the Mount Massive Trailhead, hiking “backwards” from the way most people choose to do it.  The grade is not too bad on the legs and lungs (and about the same whichever direction you choose), though I think we both were a very happy when we completed the second uphill portion.  Water crossings are abundant which made this a good section to go lighter on the amount of water in our packs and I didn’t need to carry extra water for Fluffy Dog which was a welcome change from most of my hikes.  The trail winds mostly through pine forest and grants you occasional glimpses of Mount Elbert (which is right next to Mount Massive).   After 10 miles on our feet, we found a good campsite at a large clearing with views of Leadville and the surrounding hills just inside the Mount Massive Wilderness.

Fluffy Dog is guarding the tent.

The lack of good rain this summer and subsequent burn ban meant we couldn’t build a campfire, so we made quick dinners from our dehydrated meals.  It would have been perfect except we were swarmed by mosquitoes for a couple of hours before the sun went down.  We took shelter from the pesky bugs in Marybeths tent until they settled down for the night.  We broke out the campstove again to toast marshmallows for ‘smores, my favorite camping treat.

You can enjoy ‘smores, even if you can’t have a campfire!

While Marybeth and Fluffy Dog spent the night in her tent, I brought along my hammock and rainfly for a trial run.  In one night, I’ve become a hammock camping convert!  I spent a very comfortable night (even when it rained) with the exception of my sleeping pad shifting.  A new sleeping bag with a pad holder is now on my wishlist, along with a bug net.

My morning view from my new favorite piece of gear, my hammock!

My pack weighed in at 28 pounds including 1 liter of water and all my food.  I’d like to get that pack weight down a bit (under 20 pounds if I can) when my budget allows buying lighter gear.  I have a toasty warm sleeping bag, but it weighs in at 4 pounds and takes up an extraordinary amount of pack space.  A lighter, smaller sleeping bag is first on the list!  Fluffy Dog is also going to learn to carry his own food, dog booties, some of his water and few other pup supplies.  His gear and food (not counting water) adds nearly 3 lbs to the pack so I’ll be searching for a pack for him soon!

Fluffy Dog got to take it easy this trip, but soon he will be outfitted with his own pack.

I’m loving my Osprey pack (3 lbs) which is big enough to carry all my gear, but not terribly bulky.  My spur of the moment purchase of a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was a welcome upgrade from my old foam pad.  I cut the foam pad down to Fluffy Dog size so he could have his own backcountry dog bed. My trusty Down Under oilskin hat, my trekking umbrella and my versatile shemya, round out my 3 favorite pieces of backpacking gear.

All my gear.  Note the size of my sleeping bag!  It’s definitely time for a smaller one!

We packed up our gear the next day and had a quick 3 mile hike to the Timberline Trailhead.  It was time to get back to civilization and our jobs (so we can buy more gear!).  We’re already dreaming of our next journey!

But first, a few more pics…

Happy Trails,






All The Pretty Horses

Pryor Mountain Mustangs, 2016
In a remote region of Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana, the Pyror Mountain feral horse herd roams free over vast high mountain meadows.  The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is one of those very special places where it feels like your soul has found home.  I first visited this area in 2003, then again in 2004.  A return visit had been on my mind for a while and I finally had the opportunity to visit my old friends again last week.
At the top of the mountain, the views of the Big Horn Canyon and surrounding public lands are stunning, but the horses are the main attraction.  The Pryor mustangs tend to be small in stature and many have primitive markings such as dorsal stripes and zebra striping on their legs.  They are accustomed to gawking humans and their inquisitive nature often leads to close encounters.
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (142)
The foals are especially curious about humans.  2004
Several local groups (along with the BLM that manages the herd) keep close track of the herd, including naming each newborn foal and keeping track of lineages and deaths.  The most famous of the horses is White Cloud, a pale palomino stallion that stands out for his unique coloration.
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (4)
White Cloud and his harem, 2003
On my first visit to the range, in 2003, I had the mountain top and horses to myself.  It has since become a more popular destination, but there are still plenty of opportunities for alone time with the horses.  The bulk of the human visitors only come up for the day, so if you camp out overnight, you’ll find more solitude.  There are several good locations for dispersed camping on top of the mountain.  If you’re lucky, a few of the horses will come over to check out your tent.
There are three roads that access the mountain range, Pryor Mountain Road (aka Sage Creek Road), Burnt Timber Ridge Road and Sykes Ridge Road.  I have driven all three on different trips to the area.  The Pryor Mountain Road is a (mostly) well-maintained gravel road that is passable by passenger cars, but it does get a bit bumpy over the last few miles.  Burnt Timber and Sykes Ridge are 4WD roads.  Burnt Timber is a bit easier on the suspension than Sykes.  Keep your eyes peeled on both roads for horses grazing at lower elevations.
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (112)
An old tractor lies at rest on Burnt Timber Ridge Road.
Sykes Ridge Road was the first real 4WD road I ever drove and it can take a toll on your vehicle.  On my first trip up Sykes in my old pick-up truck, I managed to blow out a sidewall on one of my tires, destroyed my power steering gear box and seriously damaged my alignment.  It’s not a road to travel unprepared.  It is 16 miles of very rough road and a high clearance 4WD vehicle is required.  While it doesn’t have any particularly dangerous sections, there are stair-step and rock garden obstacles along with steep, rocky ascents that will require use of 4-low and your skid plates will likely takes some hits.  This trip, my trusty Jeep made it just fine.  Whichever road you chose, take a good map.
They aren’t kidding about the 4×4 recommendation!
This is a place that is better described in photos than words, so on with the show!
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (6)
Scratching an itch, 2003
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (26)
A stallion and his mare, 2003
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (104)
Hey friend! 2003
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (173)
A foal in a meadow of lupine, 2003
2003-07 Pryor Mountain 1 - Wild Horses (133)
Damage acquired on Sykes, 2003
Overlooking Montana on the Pryor Mountain Road, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (96)
Mares and foals, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (108)
Just 3 little buddies, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (174)
Nap Time, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (175)
Mustangs at a salt lick.
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (190)
Evening is settling over the range, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (215)
Foal friends, 2004
2004-09 Pryor Mountain 2 - Pryor Mountain (237)
Must be love, 2004
Sunset in the lower reaches of Sykes Ridge Road, 2016
Relaxing with Fluffy Dog on top of the Mountain, 2016
Even the “good” parts of the road are rocky, 2016
Views of the Big Horn National Recreation Area on the way up Sykes Ridge Road, 2016
Typical coloration of these mustangs, 2016
Hello there! 2016
Views of Wyoming from the top of the range, 2016
Resting among friends, 2016
Curiousity, 2016
A very angry marmot.  He didn’t like Fluffy Dog coming near his den. 2016
A foal in evening light. 2016
Grazing in the last light of the day, 2016

For more information about the Pryor Mountain Mustangs check out:

KBRHorse.net has directions for getting there, but still take a good map, the directions are a little off.
Wild In The Pryors Nice blog from a gal that takes people on tours of the mountain.
BLM Website but, don’t rely on their maps to get there!
Happy trails!

Colorado Trail Section 1: A Tale of Two Hikes

Panorama from Section One of the Colorado Trail
Hitting the trail again, I backtracked to Section One of the Colorado Trail and tackled it in two very different days of hiking.
June 3, 2016 – 16.2 miles.  Laced up my hiking boots and packed up plenty of snacks and water for what I knew was going to be a long, steep, and mostly dry hike.  The plan was to start from the South Platte River and hike 8.1 miles to Bear Creek and then back.  The first 4 miles are switch backs up and over a rocky ridge.  It was definitely strenuous going up, but my legs were fresh and the weather was lovely.  Once you gain the ridge there is a beautiful view of the valley bellow.  Another 4 miles and 1000 feet of elevation loss, brought me to the first crossing of Bear Creek, a nice place to have a snack and refill the water bottles before turning back.  Fluffy Dog was very happy to have a little water to splash around in.  The climb back up the ridge wasn’t too bad as the grade going back was gentler on my legs and cardiovascular system than the switchbacks from the other side.
Fluffy Dog is leading the way.
The wildflowers of summer are just starting to bloom.  Colorado wildflowers don’t tend to be as showy as those you find in moister regions, and you’ll miss a lot of them if you aren’t paying attention.  I spied quite a lot of berry bushes, mostly thimbleberries, raspberries and currants, at the lower elevations.  In a month or so, hikers will be well-rewarded with natures best trail snacks.
I was dreading this 1/2 of the section a bit because of the long switchbacks, but overall it was pretty pleasant, with plenty of shade, unlike Section Two.  If you have a car, there is a great tubing spot on the Platte River (at the Platte River Campground) near Deckers that would be a great activity/reward at the end of this section.
June 17, 2016 – 12.6 miles.  Bringing Fluffy Dog along for the hike, meant starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead for the second half of Segment 1, instead of the “Official” starting point near Waterton Canyon (no dogs allowed there).  I got an early start and found a very helpful volunteer at the trailhead that gave me a map of the trails in the area put together by the Parker-Elizabeth Riding Club.  There is an equestrian campground at the trailhead run by the forest service.  It looks like a great place to camp out with the horses and do some trail rides.
I started out from the Indian Creek Trailhead with a spring in my step and was thoroughly enjoying the meandering trail as it wove it’s way through the forest and along Bear Creek for the first 1.5 miles.  If I had been planning to hike this section in one direction, the fact that I was going downhill for so long wouldn’t have concerned me too much.  Knowing I would have to come back the same way, I took note of how much uphill hiking I would have to do to get back to the car.  I didn’t ponder it too much though, because the grade seemed reasonably gentle and the overall distance would be shorter than what I did just a couple of weeks before.  I was delighted to find even more wildflowers were blooming.


Soon, you leave the lower forest and gain a ridge, hiking the rolling terrain of the ridge for another 1.5 miles.  Quicker than I thought I would get there I made it to Lenny’s Rest, and was officially back on the Colorado Trail.  Three more miles of hiking up and down drainages (with several water crossings) finally found me at my turnaround point.  Fluffy and I stopped for a bit and had some snacks and I refilled my water bottles at Bear Creek.  This part of the trail is really lovely, and the moisture from the creek supplies plenty of water to support lush vegetation.

All too soon, my snack break was up and it was time to head back.  I checked my stats on my Iphone and found I had come 6.2 miles, ascended 1255 feet and descended 1798 feet.  I wasn’t looking forward to the 1798 feet I would have to climb back up, but figured it wouldn’t be too bad.
I was wrong.
The temperature was creeping up, I could feel some fatigue setting in, and I was almost out of trail snacks.  Packing up my backpack, in my early morning haze, I had forgotten to grab half of my planned snacks for the day.  I usually, keep an emergency high calorie trail bar tucked somewhere in my backpack, but I ended up eating it on another hike and forgot to replace it, so it was a long, hot, hungry hike back.
I was doing okay until I hit the “Ridge” again.   At the bottom of the ridge, there is a trail intersection.  I had to make a decision, I could go back the same way I came or take a connecting trail to Stephen’s Gulch to reach the trail head.  It was very tempting to take the connecting trail, as it was very clearly going downhill.  I didn’t have a topo map with me so I wasn’t sure which way would have been easier on the legs.  In the end, I chose the “Devil I know” and prepared myself for the ridge ascent.
The Ridge
Half a mile into it, I was cursing all the ice cream I had indulged in over the winter, as I still haven’t shed all my “winter weight.”  Lugging extra pounds uphill, the grade was tougher than usual.  Three quarters of a mile into the ridge, my feet felt like I had lead weights in my shoes and the heat was becoming a problem.  I deployed my handy hiking umbrella to to get some relief from the sun, but it was of little help.  The heat radiating from the ground was far more potent than what was coming from above.  I felt like I was hiking through some level of hell.  Then came the chills and goosebumps.  I’m medically and outdoor savvy enough to know that chills, when you’re sweating it out in hot weather is an early sign of heat exhaustion, so I found a nice patch of shade to rest and for a bit and drank a lot more water.  Unfortunately, my sawyer filter was beginning to clog up and it took some effort to get a decent flow of water from it.  I had to stop a few times to rest and rehydrate over the next mile.   What was a gently rolling ridge on the way in, turned into 1.5 miles of drudgery and hill climbing on the way back out.    Thoughts of the ice cream I would get at the end kept me going.
Finally, I descended the ridge and was delighted when the trail began to once again follow Bear Creek.  I was hungry, hot and tired, but at least I had plenty of water!  The hard times were over…or so I thought.  The last 1.5 miles (that seemed to be a gentle grade going in) were pretty miserable.  My Motion tracking app on my Iphone was very helpfully telling me every 0.5 mile that I was going the blazing speed of 1.7 miles per hour.  Fluffy Dog, however, was still full energy, chasing butterflies and practically dragging me uphill.
In what seemed to be a million years later, I finally made it back to the trailhead, drove up the road to the nearest market, only to find they were out of ice cream!  Well, it’s probably better for my waistline, that I didn’t get to indulge in my favorite treat.  Lots of lessons learned on this hike…don’t forget to pack all your food, bring a higher volume water filter (I have one, I just didn’t bring it), and stop eating so much ice cream!
I’m feeling the need to leave the heat of lower elevations behind, so next up, I’m probably skipping ahead to Section 6.  It’s 32 miles, so it might take me the rest of the summer to get it done, unless I convince Marybeth to backpack some of it with me, but I’m looking forward to getting out of the foothills and into the real mountains!
Happy Trails,