Sandwiched between the ‘troublesome’ parts of our quick get-away in Granby was some fine hiking and sight-seeing. After experiencing a wild drive from Fort Collins to Granby that involved dodging two raging wildfires, (click here to read about Day 1), the next five days were relatively uneventful, which is what we thought we signed up for in the first place.
Aside from the relentless (and annoying) wind, the weather was unseasonably warm and pleasant during our stay. Smoke from the East Troublesome fire, which doubled in size to 19,000 acres during those five days, was ever present but much smaller than the day we arrived. The sunset photo below was taken on day 2 from the balcony of our rental condo – note the relatively faint smoke plume at the far right side.
Big Meadows Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Our hiking destination was an enormous meadow that, as advertised, featured gorgeous views.
We hiked through forest en route to the meadow and were struck by two features. We weren’t at all surprised to see so many dead trees (both standing and fallen) – mostly lodgepole pines killed over the last 20+ years by a mammoth infestation of pine beetles. We didn’t, however, expect to see such an abundance of young, healthy conifers filling in the gaps. It was an encouraging sign that the forest is rejuvenating.
The second observation was that there were hundreds of downed trees (both dead and living) along the trail, apparently due to a very recent and extraordinary wind event. Crews had cleared those that had made the trail impassable, but we still had to do a fair amount of ‘ducking and climbing’ to get past obstacles.
Our trek to Big Meadows was on the Green Mountain Trail, which is part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) – an interconnected network of trails (and roads in places where connecting trails are lacking) that extends from Mexico to Canada. Along the 3,100 mile route, the CDT passes through five states as it traverses the high country backbone of the U.S. – New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. In Colorado, the average elevation along the trail is around 11,000 feet.
Our short hike to Big Meadows was just an infinitesimal speck of the CDT, but it brought us huge joy nonetheless.
Holzwarth Historic Site in Rocky Mountain National Park
Horseback riding, hunting and all the trout you can catch from the Colorado River – what’s not to like about vacationing at the Holzwarth Trout Ranch?
In the 1920s, the Holzwarth family moved to the mountains after Prohibition shut down their thriving saloon in Denver. Over the years, they expanded and rebranded their guest operations as the Never Summer Ranch, one of the first dude ranches in Colorado.
When the property was added to Rocky Mountain National Park in 1975, many newer structures were removed to restore the meadow to its natural state, but the original homestead and trout ranch buildings remain. Today, visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds and cabins.
Plus a couple of vintage outhouses that have seen better days!
Click here for a more complete history about the Holzwarth family and the property. And if you find yourself on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park with a couple of hours to spare, it’s worth a visit.
Grand Lake Cemetery
Bill and I enjoy visiting old cemeteries when we travel, so we decided to check out the Grand Lake Cemetery. Unlike some others that have largely been abandoned over the years, this one is well-maintained and still welcoming new ‘residents.’
Also unique because it’s located entirely within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, the cemetery has plenty of rules governing its use: “Prior approval is required for . . . planting (no artificial flowers are permitted) or any alteration or addition to the natural or historical condition of the area. Violators are subject to Federal Prosecution.”
We quickly found the headstone of one prominent local citizen.
Johnnie was the youngest child of John and Sophia Holzwarth, the homesteaders who moved their family from Denver when Johnnie was a teenager. He was instrumental in later developing the Never Summer Ranch and overseeing the enterprise. Johnnie raised his own family on the property and spent the rest of his life in the Grand Lake area.
As we explored the historical sections of the cemetery, we couldn’t help but notice that 1883 was apparently an eventful year in these parts.
Sights at Granby Ranch
Granby Ranch is a family-oriented ski, golf and mountain biking community located a couple of miles south of downtown Granby. Over the years, the small resort has struggled to find a sustainable niche in Colorado’s competitive market for outdoor sports.
Currently owned by the bank following foreclosure proceedings earlier this year, the property is once again in limbo regarding its future. I imagine that Granby Ranch homeowners are especially concerned about the situation and hopeful that a buyer with a compelling vision and the financial wherewithal to invest in needed improvements emerges soon. In the meantime, we got a really good off-season deal on our rental condo.
The Granby area is not forested like Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park, so the views are expansive (and there is nothing to slow down those blustery winds). We enjoyed getting out on a few of the hiking trails at Granby Ranch.
Day 6: Evening and Overnight
The East Troublesome fire roared back to life, and we knew it wasn’t good. Here’s how it looked from our balcony.
Day 7: Heading Home over Berthoud Pass
After receiving our pre-evacuation alert the next morning, we loaded up the car and drove home over the only route that was open.
We made a quick stop at Berthoud Pass to snap a few photos.
It was a memorable trip. Troublesome? You bet. Would we go back? Definitely!
Three weeks after our visit to Granby, the wildfires in northern Colorado have finally abated after the worst season in history. Over a thousand firefighters worked tirelessly to save lives and structures, but it was Mother Nature’s snowstorms that finally allowed humans to gain the upper hand.
By the Numbers
Our area experienced three devastating wildfires this summer:
- Cameron Peak fire in Larimer County – Colorado’s largest ever at 208,913 acres
- East Troublesome fire in Grand, Jackson and Larimer counties – Colorado’s second largest ever at 193,812 acres
- Mullen fire in southern Wyoming and Jackson County in Colorado – 176,878 acres
- Combined, the three fires burned a total of 905 square miles, which is equivalent to 75% of the size of Rhode Island.
- Two lives were lost.
- Nearly 1,000 structures were lost, including at least 550 homes.
- Over 30,000 acres burned in Rocky Mountain National Park.
At this time, we don’t have a clear picture about the direct impact on the numerous areas and trails I highlighted in my blog posts this past summer or on the areas in Rocky Mountain National Park we visited during our recent stay in Granby. At this point, we may not learn much more until spring.
On an emotional level, it’s been a heartbreaking experience. And intellectually, even though I understand that fire plays in important role in maintaining the health of the forest, I have a hard time believing that these mega-fires fall in that category. Can we really expect the land, vegetation, wildlife and rivers to recover from this degree of destruction?
A Temporary Hiatus
With winter just weeks away, our day trips for hiking and other outdoor activities have ended for now, so I’m also pausing my blog posts until I have something interesting to tell you about. Which could be next month but more likely next year.
Yes, I realize that many people love skiing and snow-shoeing and other cold weather pursuits, which would no doubt provide new content and lovely photos. But unless I am introduced to a secret part of my being that involves learning to enjoy (or at least better tolerate) those freezing temperatures, I just don’t see that happening.
In the meantime, let’s hope that 2020 ends on a positive note and that good things happen in 2021!