Monday, October 6, 2008

There's Gold in Them Hills!

After 9 years in Denver, we figured it was about time we headed up to the mountains to see the changing colors. Seemed like alot of fuss to us, after all it's not like we live in Vermont. But after hearing story after story about how beautiful the trees are, and the fact that it'll soon be over, we blocked out last Saturday and decided we'd check it out.

Finding out where to go to see the mythical Rocky Mountain gold was easy. Between advice from co-workers and the US Forest Service Fall Color Report, we decided that we'd head up Hwy 285 west of Morrison through Bailey and up to Guanella Pass.

Initial research on the important issue of food, however, was most frustrating. We couldn't find much on the interwebs about how people in those upper elevations go about feeding themselves. Berries and bark? Did we have to prepare to kill something? Ah, these city folk were a bit worried. The best we could find were rumours of a monstrous "hot dog in the hills" and perhaps collecting larvae off the bottom of rocks in the streams! A general survey of friends around the office revealed a lacuna of infinite proportions. The "mountain man" of the office had already headed for the hills on Friday and could not be reached for comment. He'd probably advise taking up our own food anyway, boring!

Fortunately, I work with a fellow foodie and a walking Colorado directory assistance. He pointed me in the direction of a place in Bailey for breakfast, the Cutthroat Cafe. A call to the Shawnee Post Office put me through to Joe, who offered Sweet Fanny Adams as a dinner possibility. Your tip of the day: For dots on the map that aren't well represented on the web, you might consider the USPS as a resource to find a place to eat. So we were set. Just in case, we packed sandwiches, some trail mix, water and fruit.

A lovely drive (1 hour) along Hwy 285 from downtown Denver took us to bustlin' Bailey, Colorado. First order of business, breakfast. The Cutthroat Cafe is at 157 Main Street in Bailey (303-816-5099). But in Bailey, you don't need no stinkin' addresses! It's the little place next to the Bailey Country Store. They are open everyday from 5am to 7pm. Ten tables and a short bar is all the room in this little place, so there will be a line for breakfast. We put our name on the list and walked over to the aforementioned Country Store to pick up some snacks. Outside the store they were grilling-up some brats, probably trying to entice all the waiting customers. Inside, it had most anything you could get at Safeway, however, they had only one or two of each item. It was quite interesting plus they had great homemade Banana Bread, yum!

We headed back to the Cutthroat for breakfast. The place makes you feel like you stepped into some one's home and all the family is in. Lot's of locals, although I think "local" is a relative term up there; and lot's of tourists, but all are welcome and made to feel at home. Service is very fast and friendly. We went for breakfast and that's what we got. One "Reel Deal", one half-order "Reel Deal" and a short-stack of pancakes. The Reel Deal is: Ham, Bacon, Sausage (yes all, not "or"), two eggs, toast, and hash browns. Hearty? Oh yeah! If I'm going to be hiking at over 10,000 feet, I don't mind a little extra fuel. Quit laughing! The fact of the matter is, I'm a sucker for breakfast even at sea-level. The pancakes at the Cutthroat Cafe ROCK! They are so fluffy and delish, you got to go up there just to try them.

Before I forget, oh how could I even consider it, let me tell you about that "hot dog". It does exist, it is huge, it draws crowds and I didn't bother trying one. I was strongly advised by a co-worker to avoid eating one at all cost. So I didn't. For the curious, Coney Island Hot Dogs is at 10 Old Stagecoach Road, just west of Bailey. Here it is:

While you might not be interested in getting a hot dog here, there is another reason to pull off the road at the Old Stagecoach junction. Tucked just to the right of the "boardwalk" is a little shop called "Bake Me I'm Yours" (303-838-7858). This little baked goods shop is wonderful; muffins, cookies, breads, pies, cupcakes.... All freshly made on site; if you are in the Bailey area, you must check this place out!

Driving out of Bailey, you continue along a pleasant valley. It's the north fork of the South Platte. Little farms and beautiful scenery abound on this drive. The hills above the valley were flecked with patches of gold amongst the sea of green, gorgeous! A fifteen minute drive from Bailey will get you to Grant. This cute crossroads is where Geneva Rd./Guanella Pass Rd. veers off the highway to the north. Even here, we found a cute general store/Post Office and a roadside barbecue stand. Still thoroughly stuffed from breakfast we reluctantly passed on the BBQ.

Up the road we went, eager to walk amongst the beautiful gilded trees. "Willow's whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver", wrote Tennyson. He could have been waking with us in the Rockies when he wrote those words. As we drove up, up, up, we could not stop marveling at the beauty around us. The road follows Geneva Creek and from time to time there are areas where you can park, cross the creek and catch a trail. Only about a mile from the junction the amazing colors convinced us that it was time to get out and hike it.

The colors were intense and all around, it was amazing! Any little breeze would bring down a shower of golden rain. The trail was covered in some areas with a carpet of gold coin-like leaves. The creek even seemed to run as if it carried a treasure of Spanish gold. It was interesting following the trail through a deep pine forest and then instantly come out into an Aspen stand. The change from one color to the other was an experience not easily forgotten.

As the day progressed the weather started cooling down and it started sprinkling a bit. We decided to head back to the car and drive up to Guanella Pass before the weather really changed. Sure enough as we got to the summit, thankfully on a well-paved road, we encountered our first snow of the season. A strong cold wind and blowing snow made it difficult to appreciate the view from the top, but it was exciting to see the quickly changing weather that Colorado is know for. We scurried back down the mountain to warmer climes and calmer weather. On the way down we were rewarded with beautiful views:

We were also amazed to find a high meadow filled with horses and cows. How do they get through the winter up there? I assume they must move them to another pasture at some point. But for the time being, they seemed to be enjoying the grass and the meandering creek that flowed through their little piece of paradise.

We tried another trail up there, but it wasn't as successful. We ended up in somebody's yard. Ok, it wasn't an "official trail" but it looked like it went right into an amazing bunch of trees that we wanted to see, so we headed that way. Then, we had to turn around, never quite making it to our goal, but at least we didn't get lost!

We continued down the mountain, frequently stopping and walking around particularly beautiful vistas or clearings where the creek leaped over boulders or through the trees. Not being serious hikers, this route we took was just perfect. It has a good mix of high-altitude trails and river-side easy trails. The scenery everywhere is beautiful and accessible. The season is winding down, but I would highly recommend this drive.

By the way, on the road back, we did stop at Sweet Fanny Adams (57922 Hwy 285, Bailey, CO 80421; 303-832-6697) to check out the dinner situation. It was just after 4 pm but they were closed. A friendly lady saw us drive up and came out to welcome us and let us know that they would be open at 5pm. There would be live music at 7pm and we were welcome to come back. We still wanted to stop by Evergreen, so we decided to keep going. I have heard good things about their live music on the weekends and will have to try again next year.

Our last stop of the day was Evergreen Lake. On the way we saw this group of beautiful Elk. It was a fitting end to a great day in the mountains. We got to "discover" new areas that we want to go back to and really continue growing in appreciation of the beauty around us. Also, you'll be happy to know that the food situation is not as dire as I expected. No need to pull out the rifle (the Elk will thank you) just bring a little cash and your sense of exploration. You'll have a grand time in those golden mountains!

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