My heart was pounding and I was out of breath as I pushed up Mount Epworth. I had been following the steep trail for some time wondering when the top would come into my sight. A boulder field lay ahead, which would lead to the summit ridge. Suddenly, there was nowhere higher to go; I had arrived at the cairn which marked the summit: a perfect place to enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views of the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountain Range. The air at well over 11,000 feet was cool. I was above the snow line and could see for miles. The hike back down the mountain was still to come, but for now my world was complete. I was at peace. This was my first hike in the high mountains of Colorado, and I looked ahead with excitement to all of those yet to come.
I spent almost the whole the summer in Winter Park, Colorado, which — at an altitude of 9,120 feet is nestled among the big mountains of the Continental Divide and those of the Arapaho National Forest. I had rented a gorgeous condo with views of the Continental Divide; a perfect place for my vacation. Lodges, hotel rooms and cabins are also readily available during the summer months.
With many hikes to choose from, my favorites were Monarch Lake, Bottle Peak in the Byers Peak wilderness area; and the high-ridge hike along the Ute Trail from the Alpine Center in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Forest Ranger District office in Granby and the Rocky Mountain Information Center are very helpful and can provide a wealth of information about hikes, campsites, maps, etc.
The Gore Canyon hike was in complete contrast to Mount Epworth. There, I walked along a narrow track high above the roaring Colorado River. The water rushed over the rocks forming rapids (that appeared to be ideal for a future rafting trip). On the far side was the railway line, a marvelous feat of engineering from the 1800s that clung to the nearly vertical mountainside. Trains still run along this scenic route through the majestic mountains. Time seemed to have stood still and it was almost possible to imagine the Native American Indian tribesmen on their horses looking down from the high ridge line.
One associates mountain towns with skiing, but at the height of summer, brightly colored Lycra outfits and cycle helmets are ubiquitous in Winter Park, also known as, Mountain Bike Capital USA. Ski lifts have been adapted to take bicycles to the top of the mountain for easy access to the high-altitude tracks. Weekends are filled with cycle races and the sound of cow bells can be heard at the water stations urging the competitors to pedal harder. The town is buzzing and bikes are a common sight.
Summer weekends bring Denver vacationers into the mountains to enjoy the events and festivals. They make the short 70-mile journey for sunny days at the annual Winter Park Jazz Festival (July), The Winter Park Alpine ArtAffair (July), and the Crankworx Colorado mountain-biking festival (July/August). The Rocky Mountain Wine, Beer & Food Festival (August) and the Famous Flamethrowers High Altitude Chili Cook Off (August) also add some culinary delights.
The town makes a complete transformation during the Salute to American Veterans Rally & Festival (August), when the main street is lined with hundreds of motorbikes. The feeling of camaraderie and community are strong; even visitors feel a sense of belonging. On the morning of the POW/MIA Recognition Ride (in memory of those who are missing in action and prisoners of war), the thunder of the motorcycles can be heard long before they appear, and then slowly riding past with headlights on and flags streaming behind them. The weekend is a peaceful and somber reminder to us all, of the price of freedom. In 2009, the American Veteran Traveling Tribute Wall for all living veterans was erected in nearby Fraser.
Held at the based of Winter Park Resort, the Rocky Mountain Wine, Beer & Food Festival is organized annually by the National Sports Center for the Disabled. It is always a big hit, and the dedication of the volunteers, as well as the excellent event organization, speaks volumes about the cause. This local charity gives thousands of young, disabled people the opportunity to participate in sports activities, which include rafting, rock climbing, horse riding and skiing. Wine and beer are available for tasting, along with a variety of foods provided by the sponsors and local restaurants. My favorite wine was the Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, a full-bodied, fruity and rich red wine. Grapes and strawberries with chunks of cheese provided a perfect complement.
Towards the end of my stay, my need for pampering took me for a day of decadence at the Devil s Thumb Ranch, where I enjoyed their spa and the Ranch House restaurant with its extensive wine list. A tour before dinner gave me an insight to their environmentally friendly policies and enabled me to appreciate the owners attention to detail. This was especially visible in the Wine Cellar which has been designed with doors shaped as wine barrels. It is even possible to arrange to enjoy a private dinner in the wine room itself. Outside, the backdrop of the mountains provide a perfect setting for weddings and special occasions.
During my two-month residence in Winter Park, I rarely found myself looking for things to do. The mountains and the National Forests offer lots of outdoor activities, and the various events proved that quality can be found and enjoyed outside the big cities.
Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce
Rocky Mountain Information Center (970) 586-1242
National Park Service, Rocky Mountain National Park
Granby Forest Ranger District Office (970) 887-4100
Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive, Granby, CO 80446
Devil’s Thumb Ranch (800) 933-4339
Crankworx Colorado Mountain Bike Festival (604) 905-2093
Salute to American Veterans Rally & Festival (719) 487-8005
National Sports Center for the Disabled (970) 726-1540