Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hanging Lake

Before my husband and I drove home from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in early October, where we celebrated our anniversary, we had one more sight we wanted to visit. As we drove early in the morning alongside the Colorado River, within the steep fall foliage lined Glenwood Canyon walls, we headed towards the most popular hike in Colorado, and one of the most unique and beautiful sights in the state--Hanging Lake.  Since moving to Colorado, I had seen many photos of Hanging Lake, which is located high up in a canyon that branches off Interstate 70, about seven miles east of Glenwood Springs. Along with the Maroon Bells Mountains, which we also saw on this trip--click here to read that post--it is one of the most photographed places in Colorado.  I was filled with trepidation, however, as although the hike is short one, at 1.2 mile, it is also very steep, a thousand feet elevation gain to an elevation of 7,200 feet (2194.5 m), and the trail is full of rocks and boulders to climb over, giving it a "difficult" rating.

Hanging Lake is part of the White River National Forest, and attracts 1,100 visitors on an average day in summer! As Colorado's population grows, and the state becomes more popular with visitors, many new regulations will soon go into effect limiting visitation to protect the fragile natural beauty of sites such as Hanging Lake. More about that later in this post. We hoped that since we were visiting mid week, and after peak season, there would not be many people on the trail, but when we pulled into the parking lot a Ranger told us we would have to wait on a line of cars for a parking spot for an estimated 45 minutes!

Happily, our wait was less than thirty minutes, and we parked and began walking towards the trail head.

Please click on to enlarge.

The views along this flat section of the long walkway are beautiful. There was a sign explaining how the 1.5 acre lake was formed by a geologic fault that caused the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above.  Dogs, fishing, swimming, and camping are not allowed in the area to protect the fragile environment.

 Click on to enlarge

When we reached the trail head we soon found out that the description that there were many rocks to climb over was not an exaggeration!

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Up, up, up, my husband and I climbed. Sometimes the rocks were arranged as steps, and sometimes there were brief sections of rocky soil. All the while as we climbed Dead Horse Creek flowed down, at times in small waterfalls. The moist canyon air allowed ferns to grow, an unusual sight to see in high altitude and usually low humidity Colorado environment.

The trail switch backed over the creek, with around seven wooden footbridges. There were a few benches along the way, near some of the footbridges, to allow for rest.

The trail is narrow, so slower hikers (us) yielded to faster hikers, both going up and down. Everyone we met on the trail was very encouraging. Most of the hikers were in their 20's to 40's and there were many families. The hikers that were descending kept telling us to keep going, that the sight was worth it! One lady told me to be sure to continue up to see Spouting Rock after seeing the lake, which I'm glad she did!

At one point I turned around to see how high we had traveled up the canyon and saw this beautiful sight!

When we reached these pretty waterfalls we knew we were in the last stretch of the trail! The last stretch is also the steepest and narrowest part of the hike, so I really had to put forth my last burst of energy to make it up the very steep and high rock steps.  We climbed and climbed and finally reached flat ground where we saw a sign for Spouting Rock on a continuation of the trail even higher. Instead, we walked ahead to a boardwalk, turned a corner, and saw our first sight of.....

Hanging Lake!

What a beautiful and breathtaking place it is! We admit that tears of joy came to our eyes when we first saw it, The tears were a combination of realizing we actually accomplished a very strenuous hike for two retirees, and tears because it was even more beautiful than we hoped! Photos just don't do the whole scene justice.

Bridal Veil Falls run over travertine walls into..... 

..crystal clear aquamarine colored water. The color is formed by carbonate minerals in the water.

Above is a video I took of Hanging Lake that is on my blog's facebook site at this link. (You may have to turn the sound on by touching the "x" next to the microphone on the lower right corner) As you can see, and hear, the water flows quickly, and the pretty foliage around the lake bed is lush and gives an exotic garden appearance to the lake.

There is a nice boardwalk with benches that surrounds most of the lake that we walked around to take photos.

A close up of one section of the falls...

..and the other section.

We walked around to the far shore where the iconic tree log lies in the water. There is a sign that says "please stay off the log" but sadly there have been instances of people not doing so.  Happily, all the visitors behaved themselves during our visit. Any contact with the water has an effect of its ecological balance, so visitors are asked to have no contact with it. This website has good FAQ's regarding visiting Hanging Lake.

The autumn foliage surrounding the lake really enhanced its beauty.

One last look!

Click on to enlarge

After spending time at Hanging Lake we felt rested enough to climb even higher on the trail to Spouting Rock.  As you can see by the notice added to the sign, changes are coming to how many people can visit Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock. Over 150,000 people visited the area in 2016, and the US Forest Service has realized that measures need to be taken to ensure safety and to preserve the natural beauty of the area, especially because, sadly, in the past few years there have been incidents of vandalism in the area and people not obeying rules. There are PDF files on this US Forest Service website that explain the reasons behind the change and the proposals being considered. Most likely visitors will be required to have a permit (free), and will be limited in number, and will be required to use a shuttle bus service to and from the parking area during peak season, most likely May to October. 

We climbed higher and were amazed to see Spouting Rock!

For centuries water has eroded a passage through the limestone to exit out a sheer cliff wall as a spectacular waterfall. 

This is a video of me standing near the falls on my Mille Fiori Facebook facebook page at this link. (Again, you may have to turn on the sound) As you can see and hear, they are pretty powerful!

To see what the falls look and sound like from behind it,  go to my MilleFioriFavoriti Instagram at this link Place your cursor over the photo to see the video play arrow on the Instagram page.

You can also follow my entire Instagram feed on this link to see more photos from my travels and my everyday life.

Hiking back down the 1.2 mile trail to the parking lot took us almost as long as hiking up the trail. We regretted that we did not have our hiking poles to help us with stability. The 1,000 foot steep trail down was hard on my knees and feet as momentum and gravity was carrying me forward and I had to be careful not to fall. We were tired, but we were also a little giddy and exhilarated! The hike is expected to take 2 to four hours to accomplish round trip, and we were in the 4 hour range because we also stopped for water breaks and to allow faster hikers to pass us.

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We were back on the "grand boulevard" of  Interstate highway 70,   that runs through the 12.5 mile Glenwood Canyon.  The canyon section of the interstate is called the most celebrated part of interstate highway system in the United States.

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We passed magnificent Colorado scenery on our drive. All the way home we kept talking about how happy we were that we did the Hanging Lake hike, and how proud we were that we were even able to accomplish it! It was truly an achievement for us and a memory we will always cherish.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Rifle Falls State Park

Just 25 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where my husband and I spent a few days enjoying our anniversary, was the 48 acre large Rifle Falls State Park.  Here, in this limestone and travertine grotto are triple seventy foot waterfalls that run year round from East Rifle Creek.

One of my daughter's neighbors camped in this area this summer and I was amazed by her photos of the falls, and wanted to see them myself.  This area is very popular in summer and the parking lot fills up quickly, but since our visit took place in October we almost had the park to ourselves on a beautiful fall day.

 We were able to walk right up to the falls...

 ...and even behind them for a bit....

...where there was a bench to sit on to watch the water fall. 

We walked to the other side where I took this photo....

...and this video. Turn on the sound to hear the power of the water!

The Coyote Trail on the right side of the falls is a 1.5 mile trail that winds past limestone walls...

..and past many caves.

Most of the caves had a low entrance and would require one to crawl so a flashlight and old jeans would be handy if one wants to do this. We were not that adventurous..

There was one cave that had a high entrance that we walked into to look around.

We continued to hike on the trail upwards...

...until we were able to walk across a bridge that went over Rifle Creek.

There we could see areas where the water went over the ledge... form the waterfalls!

There was a viewing platform on top where we had a wonderful overlook at the falls and all the lush greenery that surrounds them.

If you'd like to see a video of how the falls look and sound from this vantage point go to my Mille Fiori Favoriti Facebook Page, at this link, or you can see it on my Instagram page here If you follow my Instagram you will see I share many more photos of Colorado, my other travels, and daily life.

Rifle Falls State Park has year round camping sites. Check out the park's website at this link for further information.

Adjacent to Rifle State Park is Rifle Gap State Park, a 350 acre reservoir, with clear aquamarine water.

It is a reservoir popular for swimming, boating, windsurfing, water skiing and fishing. Anglers can catch rainbow trout and German brown trout, walleye, yellow pike, and largemouth and smallmouth bass and perch. Migrating waterfowl can also be seen. There are 89 campsites available by reservation at Rifle Gap State Park, and many picnic areas.

We enjoyed our side trip to Rifle State Park and seeing this NW part of Colorado. We weren't done taking side trips on this long weekend get away, however, come back next time to see some more beautiful scenery and a hiking feat that I almost thought I could not accomplish, but did!

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Maroon Bells in the Aspen Snowmass Wilderness

My husband and I celebrated an anniversary recently, and spent a few days in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. While we were there I wanted to take a side trip to the Aspen Snowmass area where the iconic Maroon Bells Mountains are located.  We began our drive early in the morning on CO 82 East passing beautiful autumn scenery along the way.

Although peak autumn color was probably a week before, there were still plenty of color to light up the hills in shades of gold.....

...and a few reds and oranges were also in the mix, making a lovely patchwork quilt of tree color.

When we turned onto to Maroon Creek Road, County Road 13, to approach the USDA Forest Service Snowmass Wilderness Area where Maroon Bells are located, I was very excited to see their peaks in the distance!

We were fortunate to be able to drive into the Snowmass Wilderness area to see the Maroon Bells Scenic area, as between June 11 and Oct 2 only shuttle buses are allowed to bring visitors between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, due to the high volume of visitors. Shuttle bus information can be found on the USDA White River National Forest web site at this link.  We visited at a later date in October so we were able to drive in, and our America the Beautiful Senior Pass was accepted as payment.

Driving along the aspen tree lined road was beautiful.

The pristine White River National Forest was filled with color

All the while I could see the Maroon Bells peaks in the distance beneath a blue sky.

The 14,000 foot Maroon Bell Mountains are the most photographed mountains in North America. They lie in a glacial valley with Maroon Lake in front of them that often reflects the mountains on a clear weather day.  The mountains are part of the Elk Mountain Range and are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened into rock over millions of years.  The mudstone gives the mountains their maroon color, and their triangular shape gives them their name.

After parking, we looked at the information placards...

...and then began walking on a short trail towards the mountains.  I noticed the blue sky we saw on the drive in quickly being replaces by heavy clouds

Finally, my first full view of the maroon Bell Mountains! Maroon Lake was not mirror like due to the weather, and the blue sky had disappeared, so my photos would not win any awards, but I was too excited to care.

I've seen so many photos of these mountains that seeing them in person was a thrill for me! 

This was the view to their right...

...and to their left....

....and the view looking back to where most people stand to take the mountain's photo, along the shore of Maroon Lake.  There can be hundreds of photographers there lined up here at dawn, to take their photo as the sunrise lights them in alpenglow.

There are many scenic hiking trail options in the area and we took the easiest trail along the lake towards the mountains to get a closer view.

 The autumn aspen color was still strong in this area and made a beautiful forefront for the mountains.

There was a foot bridge at the end of the lake, leading towards a continuation of the trail.

As we crossed over the bridge it began to snow!  I was so excited to see it snowing heavily on the mountains, as snowflakes also drifted toward us.

The mountains became almost impossible to see, due to the snow white out.  It was such a beautiful sight and an experience I'll always remember.

We waited awhile, but the snow continued, so we walked back towards the parking lot, taking a few last looks at the mountains in all their changing season magnificence.

I was very happy to have visited this area of Colorado in the fall season, and to be able to check off a sight on my list of places I've been wanting to see for a long time. We had some other long awaited adventures on our anniversary trip, and I'll be showing them on a future post!

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