Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Backpack Fly Fishing Colorado in a High Altitude Nutshell. Part I

This will be the first in a series of posts that document my trip to Colorado this summer. It's a lot of stuff so I'm doing it in parts.

This would be my third trip to the beautiful giant playground of a state we call Colorado. My second time driving as opposed to flying and my first time going by myself. Destination: Flat Tops Wilderness Area to backpack and fly fish. It made me somewhat nervous to be driving a 1997 Taurus with 120k miles on the odometer, but it would ultimately prove reliable. Thank you Taurus!

It makes me giddy to punch a location into my GPS that reads 1200 miles and 16 hours to my final destination. I laughed at myself when I said out loud "I'm driving to Colorado", while rounding the corners on highway 60 through the south western part of Wisconsin. Using Gas Buddy's website, I plotted a few stops along the way, saving some money on fuel.

Driving through Iowa and Nebraska on I-80 is a soul draining experience. Flat nothingness surrounds you interrupted by the occasional wind farm.

Many miles of blah ahead

Half way through Nebraska, I stopped at Windmill State Rec Area along the interstate for the night before it got dark. The directions on the sign comically read that the tent camping area was the parking lot. I assumed that meant that the numbered sites were off-limits to me and began to pitch my tent in front of my car on the grass. The effeminate gentleman of a camp host stopped me short of driving in the stakes and directed me to use one of the electric sites so I wouldn't be in his living room window. It was a humid night but a couple of cans of Coors and the noise of the nearby highway assisted with some sleep.

Campsite in Nebraska
Changing landscape as I enter the West
The next day, with my voice still raspy from singing along to Cherub Rock by The Smashing Pumpkins, I let out a "woo hoo!" as I crossed the Colorado border. However, it would still be hours before I got to see those dark triangles on the horizon, the Front Range. It was energizing when they finally came into view. After a stop in Commerce City for refueling, the real test to my Taurus would begin. Heading up the pass west of Denver was unnerving. Lots of traffic on a Friday afternoon and some very steep hills forcing my car to downshift in order to keep up and lots of sudden braking while heading down the other side.

We don't have signs like that where I come from
On the other side of the continental divide, in the town of Silverthorne, I left behind the interstate and was finally able to start enjoying the scenery of the west slope. Driving north on highway 9, I noticed signs for the Blue River, a famous trout river that I was tempted stop at and try my luck. But the momentum towards my destination at the Flat Tops kept me going.

A few hours later, passing through Kremmling and heading west, I arrived at Yampa, the "Gateway to the Flat Tops".

Yampa
Yampa felt like the Wild West. Dirt roads and cowboys. Though it contained ample amenities and supplies that reflect the amount of travelers that go through the area, the town wasn't touristy. The employees of the stores and restaurants I visited were folks who lived there and they were kind to me. Penny's Diner had awesome burgers and breakfasts when I needed them. Montgomery's General Store was loaded with everything and anything and the liquor store below the Royal Hotel was well stocked.

Sign on road between Yampa and the Flat Tops trail head

First in a series of 3 reservoirs on the way to the Flat Tops trail head
I picked up a few things in Yampa, made "I'm OK" calls to my Mom and Grampa and pointed my car towards the Stillwater Reservoir area where I would car camp for the night and access the trail head the next morning. The one lane gravel road that serviced the area was busy with vehicles locating a $5-10 camping spot and returning self registering envelopes to the proper receptacles. I found a spot for myself that was perched above Bear River, a creek running between the reservoirs filled with stocked browns, cutthroats and brook trout. With daylight to spare I headed down the steep hill to the creek with my rod and caught several fish, includind one 14" brown that became the first of many fish to be eaten on my trip.

Bear River
Bear River
First CO brown
Bear River brookie
Tiny Bear River cutty chomping a big PMX

Dinner trout
After heaving myself back up the hill to my camp, I cooked my trout and tried to organize my things for the journey I would start tomorrow. But the air was thin for my midwestern lungs and I was tired. Sensing my weakness, camp-robbing bunnies encircled my territory. They were large and brave. I fended one off my garbage by the picnic table only to catch sight of another attempting to enter my car. I locked everything up, zipped myself into the tent and listened to the muffled foot falls of cute looting rodents.

Robber bunny to the left of my car. He means business.
A view from my campsite on the eve of my backpacking adventure.
Continue to Part II

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