In honor of Independence Day on Friday, we are wandering our way to a very American place.
There’s very few places that match the beauty (at least for me) of the Colorado Rocky Mountains in summer. Wildflowers erupt in a riotous array of color. Patches of white snow stand out agains the grey-brown rugged peaks. White puffy clouds dance in the sapphire blue skies. Clear mountains streams flow through bright green meadows.
One of my personal favorite places to wander through the wildflowers is American Basin just outside of Lake City in southwestern Colorado. Lake City, a former mining town makes a nice base to explore this area, but if you are up to it, pitch a tent along the shores of Lake San Cristobol just outside of town. There’s a public campground called Wupperman that has some awesome views across the lake.
From the lake it’s about 20 miles up a dirt road to American Basin. Depending on how much snow there was the previous winter, this road can get a bit rough. While a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not required, it’s probably a good idea to have one. You’ll definitely need one to get higher up in the basin, but the best place to park is in the first parking area on the left as you enter the basin.
American Basin is blanketed with wildflowers in July and August. Bright yellow arrow leaf balsamroot and hoary groundsel; vibrant purple lupine and Rocky Mountain penstemen; varying shades of red of scarlet gilia and Indian paintbrush and; of course, the soft periwinkle of the state flower – the blue columbine (my personal favorite). It’s a sight to behold these flowers in this glacial valley.
Once you tear yourself away from the flowers and begin the hike toward Handies Peak (a 14er – meaning a 14,000+ foot mountain), you’ll climb up and up. The single track trail is good and offers fabulous views to the mountains and the basin below. If you want to, tackle the 14,048 foot Handies Peak. It’s one of the easier 14ers. The views are spectacular out to all the peaks of the San Juan range. Truly amazing! If you’re not up to the challenge, then go as far as Sloan Lake. It’s a 2 minute walk off the Handies Peak trail. The lake is one of those gorgeous turquoise mountain lakes that you keep staring at because you can’t believe the color. You’re up in the tundra here, so stay on the trails to avoid walking on this sensitive ecosystem. The flowers are smaller here, but no less beautiful.
Be sure to enjoy those views on the hike back down. Once you are safely back to your vehicle, make the drive back to that gorgeous campsite by Lake San Cristobol. Make a fire in your fire pit, cook up a tasty camp meal, kick back with your favorite adult beverage and watch as the stars come out. Life is good…