Leadville

There was no early morning walk today because a major part of the plan for the day was a walk in the mountains. Instead we were up early for breakfast and packing the car for an early departure on a planned 10 day road trip to Leadville, Ouray, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, and Moab.

Around 8:30 we were on the road west out of Denver. We retraced some of the journey from Monday on the western segment of the ring road but soon took the I-70 west into the mountains. We stopped once along the way at a visitor centre where we got coffee and once at an overlook above Frisco where we took photos of fall colours on the hills across a lake. 

For the rest of the journey we looked in delight as we passed by high craggy mountains. The highest areas were bare rock. The lower slopes were mostly covered in green conifers with scattered bursts of yellow where clusters of Aspens were changing colour.

We reached Leadville around 11:00 but drove on to the Twin Lakes area at the foot of Mt Elbert, highest peak in the Rockies (14400 ft, 4400 m). Leadville is the highest city in the USA (10200 ft, 3100 m) so we were already at altitude and planning to walk a little higher though nowhere near all the way.

The weather forecast for Leadville today had predicted a warm day with rain showers from early afternoon. We hoped to be done walking by the time the rain began. As we arrived at Twin Lakes trailhead there were some thickening clouds appearing in the west but there were still patches of bright sunshine lighting up the yellow aspens on the hillsides.

Our walk began through low sagebrush with scattered pines. The first group of aspens we saw were changing colour but small and spread thinly in a small area. Further on we saw more and larger aspens and, as we passed them we rounded a corner into a large thick grove of aspens in full fall colour. As we walked further into the grove the carpet of fallen leaves thickened and occasional bursts of wind in the treetops induced a thin golden rain to add to the covering.

While stopped to admire the view at one point we were passed by a young woman who had been walking the Colorado Trail for 3 weeks and expected it would be 30 days of walking by the time she reached her destination in Denver. Further along we met a couple who were returning from higher up the trail we were on. They mentioned beaver ponds beyond a switchback climb some way ahead. Majella was keen to see beavers so we set that as a possible goal depending on how challenging we found the climb. We made it past one turn of the switchback but after Dave and I walked on a bit to check we decided it was probably more than we wanted to attempt. That decision was reinforced by another couple on their return who said they had seen ponds with beaver sign but no beaver. Majella didn’t think it worth pressing on without a good chance of success.

Our walk back was just as enjoyable with several stops to admire the view or falling leaves as the wind picked up. We made it back to the car park and into the car just as the first drops of rain began to fall. There were signs of more rain on the mountains so we abandoned plans for a picnic and headed back to Leadville for lunch.

Accommodation in Leadville was the house in which Peg’s parents had lived. It is now owned by two of her sisters who operate it as rental accommodation. With 6 double bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, large living spaces it was more than enough for the four of us. We ate lunch there and then relaxed as rain fell outside. Dave read a book, Peg and Majella started on a jigsaw puzzle, and I worked on photos from the morning.

Around 4:30 we ventured out to explore downtown Leadville. A favourite of Peg and Dave is the Western Hardware store which has been there more than a century and is now an antique store with a profusion of weird and wonderful items for sale. We managed to get into a couple of other stores but it was closing time so shopping was curtailed and we headed to the Silver Dollar Saloon, another favourite, which has traded there since 1879. We had beers in the bar which is decorated with many and varied items of memorabilia.

An attempt to look at the Matchless mine just outside town was thwarted because we were past closing time. We drove back through town to buy rice for the curry Peg had planned for dinner.

As we approached Safeway Majella’s phone rang but she missed the call. A moment later mine rang. It was Jane so I put it on speaker as she shared the sad news that Vince’s condition had worsened and the doctors were placing him on palliative care. The indications were that he did not have much time.

Back at the house Peg and Dave made dinner while Majella and I discussed options. Given that our road trip would take us further from Denver and the luggage we had not brought on the road, the best option seemed to be to for us to go back to Denver and home as soon as possible. That would allow Peg and Dave to carry on with their trip as planned but without us.

After dinner we worked on the necessary arrangements. I contacted our travel agent to change flights home from mid-October to Thursday which would get us home Saturday morning. He was able to confirm there were seats available and make the change. Peg worked the accommodation and was able to cancel the rooms that had been booked for us. Even where the bookings were technically non-cancellable the hotels were prepared to do so if they could rebook the rooms. Dave located a shuttle service that would get us to Denver airport if he drove us the 40 minutes to Frisco by 7:40 am. The most practical way to collect our remaining baggage was to rent a car at the airport and drive to Littleton where Mike, a neighbour we had met on Sunday, had a key that would get us in. I booked a car through Qantas and everything seemed set.

It is disappointing not to complete road trip with Peg and Dave and the rest of the itinerary we had planned but there is no alternative. Hopefully we can get back sometime in the next year or two to complete what we started.