The day finally arrived! The boys were counting down the days till Grandma and Grandpa arrived and we could go camping. Dave pushed hard to finish up a big deadline at work and finally we could roll out to fill the reservations of ten days of camping we made half a year ago. (But first Will had to meet his teachers for the upcoming year.)
First Stop…May Queen Campground on Turquoise Lake near Leadville. The drive went well and we ended up in two nice, adjoining sites with a great open space for the boys to play in. After set-up the first priority was fishing! Our first full day included exploring the lake more though the wind delayed much canoeing. In the afternoon Dave and I got away for a solid hike up to a nice alpine lake for some fly fishing. So fun to hike at an adult pace with no kiddos on your back, though I have to admit the elevation and pace had me gasping for breathe. Saturday was the main event with a train ride out of Leadville. It was such a relaxed atmosphere with us able to explore the whole train. Great scenery, a few deer sightings and the start of some fall colors added to the enjoyment. Back in Leadville we hit up the Golden Burro for a delicious lunch. All the evenings included a fun campfire with games or stories. We all got into the corn hole game and Will and Josh were getting pretty good. The nights got pretty cold and we were glad we packed fall clothing. We also fit in a few good drifts in the canoe for fishing which had better success than from shore.
And just like that it was time to move camp. Next stop…Difficult Campground near Aspen but first, the drive over Independence Pass. With the length of the suburban and the camper combined we were pushing the 35′ limit for driving the pass but we went for it. Grandpa and Grandma were a little nervous but with Dave in the lead we headed out. The views were spectacular and in spite of some hairpin turns and narrow sections we managed the drive with only a few gasps over the walkie talkies by Grandma.
We had been shut out of camping in this area a couple of years ago because of bear activity and there were warnings up on their website so we were anxious to finally get to stay. When we checked-in the campground host said a bear had been sighted almost every day over the past week and asked us to be extra vigilant in keeping foods put away. That evening I walked our trash down to the big bear-proof dumpsters then headed out around the other loop of the campground. I was stopped by a couple who had just seen the bear and sure enough there it was out behind some trees up on the hillside less than twenty yards away. It quickly headed into the brush but you could hear it crashing around as it explored looking for a food opportunity. Another camper who volunteers at Mt. Rainier Nat’l Park then went around banging bear box doors and warning other campsites to control their dogs, watch their kids and make sure their sites were clean. It took a while for the excitement to die down especially since you could hear the bear working her way up the valley.
Monday’s adventures started early as we drove out to see the Maroon Bells. For the most part you are supposed to take a shuttle from Aspen out to the mountains but there is an exception for infants in car seats and since we have three in that category we figured we were covered. When we got to the guard station we learned the depth of how strict the rules are. Dave said we have three kids in car seats when the attendant said the road was closed to private vehicles. Without a pause she then asked how old is the youngest? and is he in the carseat? at which point Dave just rolled down the window to show Nathanael smiling away in the second row. Apparently people have tried to get through by just putting a car seat in their vehicle without actually having any need for them?! Even with some clouds rolling through we were immediately able to enjoy great views of the Bells and as we ambled out around the lake we spotted a MOOSE. He grazed away then decided to take a little siesta in the brush. We tried some fly fishing and everybody eventually had success including me! The moose came back out and was eating lake algae and weeds. He kept submerging his whole head as he ate. So amazing to sit and watch. After a lunch break and some stream fishing we headed into Aspen for some much needed showers.
The fun continued on Tuesday with rock scrambling around the Grottos, in and out of the ice caves and along the rivers edge. Dave had done his research well and this was the perfect area to spend the day. Josh must be growing because he’s been face planting just about every day and has the “owies” to prove it. This made us pretty nervous about all the rock climbing but with some extra hand holding that he didn’t appreciate we made it without any big disasters. There were fish to be caught in almost every hole and gold to be panned for. Dave and I got in a couple of jumps into the pools as well. Then we headed down river to check out the Devil’s Punchbowl, a nearly 40′ cliff jump. After already having a great day that included river time I wasn’t too sure I needed to add this to my list but after checking it out and watching a couple of jumps I was hooked. So Dave and I headed up to jump much to Grandma’s dismay. It was a blast! and it didn’t take much for Grandpa to talk us into doing it again when he claimed he didn’t get that good of pictures, so why not a round two. Will did ask us “Why did you do that, mommy?” with a funny look on his face. My answer to him was because it’s fun and in the back of my mind was also a little voice saying so you can see your mom be brave. We did also discussed how to be safe and assess the risks in a situation like that. We topped the night off by being treated to ice cream by Grandpa and Grandma. Right after we had all gotten our cones the boys realized they needed to go to the bathroom. So while Dave took them Grandpa, Grandma and I were left double fisting it. It must have looked pretty funny since we were immediately the center of much laughter and jokes about a two for one deal. But I have to admit I probably could have eaten both cones, the ice cream was that good.
Well time kept flying by and it was time to move again. This time the drive was a little longer and include a stop at Penny hot springs and making it over Kebler Pass. The hot springs were a fun diversion but we didn’t go all in though I think Grandpa would have liked to get more than his feet wet. Kebler Pass isn’t quite as extreme as Independence but with the length of the winding rodes, the gravel sections, and getting stuck behind the road grading crew it was still a mountain driving adventure. Now to explore near Crested Butte! This is one area of the state we haven’t spent time in and were excited to check out. Even driving in we were impressed with the beauty of the colorful mountains and the immensity of the aspen forests. Our last stop was Lake Irwin Campground. We loved it from the moment we drove in. The sites were pretty rugged but the views made up for anything. To top it all off it only took Dave three casts from the canoe on the first night to catch a fish and it was averaging a fish a minute on some of our drifts. To say the least we fished a lot over the next couple of days. Dry flies in the evening from the canoe were the best and everyone including Will and Josh were able to land at least one. But the fish also nibbled on power bait and worms from the bank. The action seemed non-stop and I quit taking pictures after awhile. Will also got a real kick out of learning how to row the inflatable boat and spent hours playing in it. Josh was too focused on catching the “big daddy” fish to join Will. Dave can give you the blow by blow account of all the fishing conquests but my summary is that all my boys love to fish and if a two year old can catch a fish from a canoe with a fly rod then he must have an amazing and patient father to teach him. My favorite fishing moment is probably when somebody walked by and asked how it was going in a rather skeptical tone. Dave responded by proudly saying “oh no, the fishing is great and both his boys had already caught fish on their own.”
In addition to the fishing madness we also took a day to head into Crested Butte. Since the area is known for its mountain biking Dave and I decided to bike into town while the rest drove in. We realized the best way to describe ourselves is as hikers on bikes but Dave did great and I survived a fairly steep single track trail. It was fun to challenge myself. In town we met up and dug in for some pizza at a funky little place. That was followed by “pony” ride. Both boys have been asking all summer for a ride so I found a place. It turned out the ponies were full sized horses which was a little much for Josh but Will hung on like a pro and really enjoyed it. After that we decided to check out some popular falls. It was a short but mountainous hike. We never saw the bear someone claimed was in the area but we did wander through some open range that had cows bellowing in it and the drive got Grandma’s heart racing again. Another day, Dave and I got in another great hike, no mountain summit but a ridge hike with spectacular views all the way back up to the Elk Range near Aspen and south for miles as well as more mountain biking.
If you are still reading that concludes the description of our activities as we sadly said goodbye to Grandpa and Grandma. It is pretty amazing that at the end of ten days we all wanted to stay longer. There are definite challenges to taking three boys camping but we made so many special memories. Thank you Grandpa and Grandma Mulder for joining us, for spoiling us with lots of treats, for being extra hands to hold and help, and for giving Dave and I time together. All the boys including Nathanael were such troopers and it just gets more fun to do things together. You can see from the picture of all three boys in the camper with their “light saber” flashlights that Nathanael is joining right into the mix and will be able to hold his own in the chaos of our future adventures.