Skiing in June

Thank you to Moosejaw for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest & completely my own.

The saddest day of the year for me is usually in mid-April when the Grand Targhee lifts stop turning for the season, signifying that ski season is over until November. But since my husband Max & I learned to backcountry ski last December, the madness of skiing all summer long has opened up. So instead of hitting the beach, I packed clothing for temperatures ranging from 30-80 degrees, my backcountry ski backpack, skis and avy gear and hit the road. Destination: the Beartooth Highway along the Wyoming/Montana border for some skiing in June.  My Moosejaw Madness story was about to begin, because I love skiing too much to only do it during one half of the year!

 skiing Beartooth Basin in June 2018

First stop: Beartooth Basin summer ski area. In our excitement to ski their rope tow lift area, Max and I bought full-day lift tickets without actually looking over the edge first. After we took our first look over the cornice in the photo above, we were both thinking "oh no, we just wasted $70." It was really steep and scary looking, and we we considering bailing! 


But we spent a few minutes summoning our courage, watching others ski down and survive, and then dropped in and wound up having tons of fun skiing soft spring corn. There was a definite learning curve involved in mastering the rope tow for me, which included two consecutive fails while the line of people watching me struggle and fall shouted advice and encouragement (after which I sent myself to the back of the line). But in no time, I was picking up someone else's fallen gear on the way up, and helpfully motioning sideways to someone who fell off the tow in front of me and was laying there in my path. We ended the day really glad that we had stayed. 

 bootpacking up to Reefer Ridge on the Beartooth Highway

On day two we moved to the backcountry, and began with a bootpack up to Reefer Ridge. No more rope tow pulling me up the mountain - now I was hiking it myself, carrying my backcountry ski backpack from Moosejaw filled with my avy gear and with my skis strapped on for the way up.

 enjoying the view of the Beartooth Moutains

After making it to the top, I had to admire this view of the Absarokas before skiing down. (Scrambling over rocks while wearing ski boots: awkward.)

 backcountry skiing down from Reefer Ridge on the Beartooth Highway

Skiing down, facing the view of the incredible winding hairpin curves of the Beartooth Highway. The snow was fun, soft corn for the top half, and chunder on the bottom half. I quickly learned why some people were stopping halfway down before starting their next lap.

 bootpacking up a massive wall of snow along the Beartooth Highway

Next stop: Gardiner Headwall. The amount of snow still here in mid-June was pretty incredible! It was about twice as high as the cars driving through.

 getting ready to ski Gardiner Headwall

Time to pick a line down. This area had gotten icy from below freezing temperatures overnight, but had softened up enough to be fun now. I didn't spend too long in this spot, because the wind was strong enough to almost knock me over!

 skiing Gardiner Headwall

Such a fun ski down! Those tiny dots below the rocks are other skiers doing a steep bootpack back up - the fate that also awaited me at the bottom of my run. So worth the burn though! I already can't wait to go back.

 

Groomer Days

Powder days are fun, but that zipper sound that my skis make across fresh corduroy can't be beat! Sometimes the fog even lifts, and the sun pops out to reveal giant fir trees coated in impossibly thick blankets of white snow. The sky looks a pure, deep blue from up near 10,000 ft elevation, and sometimes puffy white clouds even come out to play.

 Ripping down Raven Wood
 Me skiing down that final steep drop on Raven Wood

Me skiing down that final steep drop on Raven Wood

 Max in Chief Joseph's Bowl

Max in Chief Joseph's Bowl

A morning of clear blue skies and and the first rays of sunlight as it peeks over the mountains to warm up ghost trees.

 Ripping groomers on Slim's Shot at Grand Targhee
 Skiing groomers
 Skiing down Slim's Shot and onto the Teton Vista Traverse
 Ripping fresh groomers
 Skiing groomers - Chief Joseph's Bowl at Grand Targhee
 Skiing Chief Joseph's Bowl at Grand Targhee
 Ripping groomers

And I love to take in the scenic views with a few fresh inches on top of the groomers and frosted white trees.

 Skiing Grand Targhee
 Skiing through ghost trees
 Skiing through huge snowy trees

Teton Pass Closed = Powder Day at Grand Targhee

Day one of the great Teton Pass closure of 2017, which lasted 5 days in total. Teton Pass closed at 2:30am on a Tuesday for avalanche mitigation -- something that Max and I didn't realize until we arrived and found the gate down at 6:30am on our way to work in Jackson, WY.  After getting the notification that the Pass wouldn't be reopening in time to make it to work that day, we went to go skiing at Grand Targhee. Five fresh inches of wind-blown powder, some fog, and fun in the trees. This is my second season skiing off-piste powder on fat skis - and Max, as you will see, has been skiing for most of his life.

 Dropping in

Dropping in

 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 skiing Grand Targhee
 skiing Fallen Timbers at Grand Targhee
 skiing Raven Wood at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 skiing Grand Targhee
 skiing Raven Wood on a powder day at Grand Targhee

In the afternoon it started to snow again and things got a little more fluffy.

 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing
 powder day skiing
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee

Quick break to scrape off google crust!

 scraping off google crust
 powder day skiing at Grand Targhee
 skiing pwoder at Grand Targhee
 powder day skiing
 powder day skiing

Road Tripping Through the West, Part Three

As our road trip through Colorado continued, brilliant fall colors were already on display on the very first day of fall. After leaving Great Sand Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, we drove the entire length of the Silver Thread Scenic Byway on our way to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Byway wound along the banks of the Rio Grande River, tracing the routes of old stagecoach lines and railways of the late 1800s. Named after a time when silver mining and ranching were the main industries in a land that was still part of the Wild West, the Silver Thread passes through beautiful mountains that are swallowing up the remains of old ghost towns and mines.

 Brilliant fall colors along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado

We stopped in the rain to look out at the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, where the Rio Grande River originates in the heart of the San Juan Mountains at 13,821 ft elevation. This overlook was too pretty to pass by!

 Weminuche Wilderness

When we reached the Gunnison River, which has been dammed to create Blue Mesa Reservior in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, we stopped to admire the Dillon Pinnacles across the river. 

 Dillon Pinnacles across the Gunnison River in Colorado

A short distance later, we arrived at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - known for being "deep, steep and narrow." It has been carved over the course of 2 million years by the Gunnison River, which used to flow with a force as much as 2.75 million horsepower, rushing through the canyon at 12,000 cubic feet during its flood stage. Today dams upstream make the process of erosion happen more slowly.

 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  Black Canyon of th  e Gunnison National Park

The park lands below the canyon rim are also designated wilderness, with no maintained or marked trails leading down to the inner canyon. Poison ivy is also abundant along the way down, so I opted to do a series of shorter hikes near the rim during this visit. Maybe if I make it back again I will try dropping 1,800 vertical feet in one mile down to the river while hanging on chains and scrambling over boulders, and then climbing back out again. Or not. :)

Our next planned destination was Mesa Verde. While driving along Highway 145 on the way there, we passed by Telluride and decided that it was too beautiful a place not to stop and explore. Telluride is surrounded by the highest concentration of 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks in North America - how could we not take a little detour to check it out?

 Telluride, Colorado

We spent the night in a pretty little campground in the Uncompahgre National Forest, surrounded by aspens with leaves in brilliant shades of yellow and orange. 

The next day we rode the tram and hiked the See Forever Trail up above 12,000 ft elevation, both to take in the beautiful vistas all around, and to check out how amazing it would be to come back in the winter and ski Telluride!

 Riding the Telluride Tram in autumn
 The view from the See Forever Trail at Telluride

The view from the See Forever Trail at Telluride

 Telluride is definitely on my Must Ski list!

Telluride is definitely on my Must Ski list!

Then we were back on the road again, headed for Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde. After a restful night at camp (and a hot shower! what a treat!), we spent the day exploring the fascinating ruins of Mesa Verde. The Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) lived in Mesa Verde from 550 AD until the late 13th century. Many of the dwellings in the park are located below natural overhanging cliffs, and are very sophisticated in their construction and design. 

 The view from inside Balcony House, a cliff dwelling that requires a steep climb up a ladder to enter. The round chambers are called kivas. Kivas are still included as central places within the community in m any modern pueblos .

The view from inside Balcony House, a cliff dwelling that requires a steep climb up a ladder to enter. The round chambers are called kivas. Kivas are still included as central places within the community in many modern pueblos.

 Stones used for grinding corn inside Balcony House

Stones used for grinding corn inside Balcony House

 Spruce Tree House, the third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde. Circa 1200-1280 AD.

Spruce Tree House, the third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde. Circa 1200-1280 AD.

 Another view inside the Spruce Tree House

Another view inside the Spruce Tree House

 Square Tower House

Square Tower House

 Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde. Sadly, it was closed to exploration inside the dwellings for the season.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde. Sadly, it was closed to exploration inside the dwellings for the season.

After a full day of exploring Mesa Verde, we spent a second night at Morefield Campground, and then set out for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Our first stop was at the Anasazi Heritage Center, which serves as the Canyons of the Ancients headquarters, to pick up maps and visitor information and to visit the museum inside. We then set out into the remote and rugged desert to explore Painted Hand Pueblo. The road to the trailhead was rough and rutted, making us glad to be driving it in a high-clearance truck. It was a hot, dry early autumn day as we took the short hike to the pueblo - such very different weather from the freezing cold and howling wind that nearly blew me off my feet in Rocky Mountain National Park just a week earlier.

 Painted Hand Pueblo, Canyon of the Ancients, Colorado

Painted Hand Pueblo, Canyon of the Ancients, Colorado

Painted Hand Pueblo is in the middle of the Great Sage Plain, where deep soils hold winter moisture and have been used for dryland farming for hundreds of years. Painted Hand Pubelo was built in the 13th century, and was originally a small village of about 20 rooms. Some remaining structures, like the one above, still include faint hand print paintings and petroglyphs.

"K'amagshe is 'White Hands.' He was a leader of Ship'app who led the people across the landscape and left white handprint marks. His hands were white. He leads the Follow the Leader Dance." --Victor Sarracino, Water Clan, Pueblo of Laguna

Final stops: Hovenweep National Monument and Valley of the Gods in Utah, Monument Valley in Arizona, and Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

Road Tripping Through the West, Part Two

After leaving the first stop on our road trip through Colorado, Arizona, and Utah - Rocky Mountain National Park - Max and I continued on to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. On the way there, we passed through the funky little historic town of Leadville, CO. At an elevation 10,152 ft, it is the highest incorporated city in the United States. Leadville was so scenic that we decided to stop there for lunch and for a quick walk around.

 Awaiting our lunch on the outdoor patio at High Altitude Pies. Despite being a clear and sunny day, it was a bit chilly at 10,152ft!

Awaiting our lunch on the outdoor patio at High Altitude Pies. Despite being a clear and sunny day, it was a bit chilly at 10,152ft!

 Colorful historic buildings on the main street in Leadville, Colorado.

Colorful historic buildings on the main street in Leadville, Colorado.

  Leadville, Colorado
  Leadville, Colorado
 The Silver Dollar Saloon, circa 1879 - dubbed "The Best Wild West Saloon in America" in a banner on the side of the building. I need to check out the inside next time!

The Silver Dollar Saloon, circa 1879 - dubbed "The Best Wild West Saloon in America" in a banner on the side of the building. I need to check out the inside next time!

After leaving Leadville (and deciding that we had to return sometime to explore the town and surrounding area some more), we were back on the road again heading south for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where we would be camping at Piñon Flats Campground in the park for two nights. During our full day in the park, we hiked up to High Dune (699ft tall) and Star Dune (755ft tall) - twice! Both dunes are close to 9,000ft in elevation.

 Great Sand Dunes in Colorado
 Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
 Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

 I had to really push myself the second time up. Unlike our cold and windy days in Rocky Mountain National Park, it was quite hot and dry here, with the sun reflecting off the sand. On the steep parts of the zig-zagging "trail" through the dunes, each step found me sliding a little bit back down as the soft sand gave way beneath each step. With my shoes loaded full of sand and feeling heavier and heavier, I had a few "I can't do this any more!" moments. But Max encouraged me to climb up to Star Dune a second time for sunset, and convinced two other people along the way that they had to make it up too. This view with this light.... worth it!

 Great Sand Dunes framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

But the best thing to do in Great Sand Dunes is... play in the sand! We had fun laughing at each other's awkward running jumps into the sand, which ended with a "dooooomph!" sound on impact. Max's cannonball jump was the best! Next time we have to try the little-known sport of sandboarding.

 Playing in the sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
  Cannonball into the sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
great-sand-dunes3.jpg

Next stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison.