The Friendly Wildlife of St. Elmo, Colorado

A few weeks ago I posted about our excursion to the ghost town of St. Elmo and beyond.  What I neglected to tell you was the age-old tradition we took part in while visiting. It seems that the ground hogs and chipmunks of St. Elmo have quite a reputation in this town.  They gather daily to be fed by eager tourists, and they are surely not shy!  Seems it’s been going on for years and years. The kids had a blast feeding these cute little critters.  It was an interesting experience to say the least!

Ghost Towns, Hiking and More Off Road Treks in Chaffee County, Colorado

One of my very favorite excursions in Colorado was traveling from the ghost town of St. Elmo to the tiny town of Tincup via Tincup Pass. We actually explored Tincup Pass over a time period of two days because there was so much to see and explore.  I loved this particular trip because we got to spend time walking through a ghost town, off roading, hiking and passing over the continental divide.  It was such a fun time!

First, we started in the ghost town of St. Elmo.  This town lies in the middle of the Sawatch Range and was founded in 1880 by a group of about 2,000 people looking to mine for gold and silver in the surrounding mountains. In the 1920s, train services stopped for this community as the mining industry began to dwindle.  The buildings have been well preserved though and it was fun to catch a glimpse of the past in this old ghost town. On our first day, we walked through the ghost town before our off road trek on Tincup Pass.

After we finished at the ghost town, we headed towards the pass. Just outside of St. Elmo lies the entrance to Tincup Pass. Not too far up the pass, we stopped for a hike since the other vehicles in our group were having some mechanical issues that day. The trail we chose to hike meandered through the beautiful valley along a creek.  It was absolutely gorgeous!

We also spent some time fly fishing and picnicking along the stream.

The next day, we came back to the pass in order to complete the entire off road trek. Once we made it to the highest region of the pass, we came upon the continental divide.

After passing by Mirror Lake, we finally arrived to Tincup (as you can tell, a storm was fast approaching.)

You’re probably wondering where I am in all of these pictures.  Guess I was too busy soaking up the goodness and snapping pictures, oops!  I do have some videos that I took of myself up on the continental divide.  I will have to download them and post them soon.  I still have more to share from our time in Colorado…are you sick of hearing about it yet?!

Hiking to Agnes Vaille Falls in Chaffee County, Colorado

On our very first morning in Colorado, we decided to get our hearts pumping with a short hike that was just a hop, skip and jump away from our cabin. Although it was an extremely easy hike, it offered some great views of the surrounding area. Since we weren’t sure how treacherous the trail was (steep cliffs, etc.) we put the boys in the backpacks on the way up. Turns out that the trail is pretty mild with only a couple of dangerous but manageable areas. The kids were able to hike back down the trail with no problems at all.

The Agnes Vaille Waterfall Trail is a short 1/2 mile hike through Chalk Creek Canyon in the San Isabel National Forest that ends with a large waterfall plunging from the peak of Mt. Princeton.













Little Man exploring

Big Brother chillin’




This is definitely a short hike that is family-friendly and worth a visit! I loved how the scenery and even the smell of the forest was so different from what we are used to in our ancient Appalachian forests. We really enjoyed spending our morning here. More Colorado adventures to come…

Medano Pass (Primitive Trail) to The Great Sand Dunes National Park

On day 5 of our Colorado exploration, we headed to The Great Sand Dunes National Park via the Medano Pass. These sand dunes are the highest and most majestic in all of North America, and they are formed from some unique environmental conditions that allow a massive collection of sand to accumulate in the San Luis Valley (see here for more details.)

The Medano Pass is a primitive off-road trail and backcountry entrance through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to The Great Sand Dunes National Park. This pass is a low mountain pass that links the San Luis valley (where the dunes lie) to the Wet Mountain Valley on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is a relative easy off-road trail that offers breathtaking scenery of the surrounding forest and mountains. It was a fun way to approach the park and made for a full and exciting day!





all of a sudden, things started to get sandy…







wheeeeeee Little Man!



Big Brother loved the textrue and resistance of the sand, and would even climb all the way to the top!


even Big Brother’s beloved lamb let loose and enjoyed himself for a change






goodbye Great Sand Dunes!

Pomeroy Lakes and Mary Murphy Mine Ruins, Chaffee County, Colorado

On Day 2 of our Colorado adventure, we loaded up for an off road trek to the Pomeroy Lakes that sit at about 12,400 ft. in elevation atop Pomeroy Mountain. The off-road trail that leads to these alpine lakes is located just outside of the ghost town of St. Elmo, or 17 miles SW of the town of Buena Vista. The rocky trail follows the gulch that runs between Chrysolite and Pomeroy Mountains and is not suitable for stock vehicles. Along the trail lay the remnants of the Mary Murphy Mine, which was the predominant gold mine along Chalk Creek in Chaffee County, operating from about 1870 to 1925.

The trail eventually ends near a system of two alpine lakes, known as the Pomeroy Lakes. A short hike can lead you to these spectacular bodies of water. If you hike up a little further to the crest of the mountain, you can view some spectacular scenery and even find another alpine lake. By far, this trail and the scenery it has to offer was my favorite out of all the trails we did. I absolutely loved having this hard-to-reach and very majestic place all to ourselves. The wind was insane up at top (enough to actually blow over the kids!) but we had a very lovely time!


Going up.



Some of the Mary Murphy Mine ruins. The last pic shows Little Man posing with his beloved travel companion, his suffed yeti.


Hiking to the lakes.










A hike to the crest recealed this spectacular site

Ruins at the bottom of the mountain

If you are looking for a wonderful mountain trek in Colorado full of spectacular sites, history, hiking opportunities and even camping opportunities, you won’t have to look much further! We loved this trail SO much.

Special Needs Kids and Adventure: when is it too much? (or not enough!)

[I’m skipping around in sharing our Colorado adventures. Stay with me, I promise the chronological ordering is not important!]

It was our fourth day in Colorado and we were looking to take a break from our daily mountain escapades. Right down the road from our cabin was a riding stable. On a whim we decided to check it out. Little Man loves horses and although he hasn’t ridden much, it’s something he absolutely enjoys. Big Brother had never even seen a horse up close and personal before. Big Brother is not really into animals, or so we thought.

When we reached the stables, I asked Big Brother if he wanted to ride a horse. He quickly said “yes.” A nice man took us out back to see the horses and brought one near. Big Brother immediately put his nose against the horse’s face. It took him a year to even pet our sweet, gentle and very old family dog…but this giant creature he had known all of two seconds was invited into his close, personal space without even so much as a slight hesitation.

So the staff kindly placed him upon this horse–the most kind-hearted and mild-mannered horse they had–and led Big Brother and his horse around in a small circle.

I held my breath, waiting for the meltdown that I was sure would ensue….


He sat on the saddle quietly, listening to the horse’s footsteps and reaching down to smell her back.

I was baffled. Here was a child that “does not respond to discipline,” and “cannot sit still for any length of time,” and who normally has continuous, disruptive verbal stimming. Here was a child that did not like to be high up in the air, deathly afraid to even ride on Daddy’s shoulders.

And here he was now, as quiet and still as a mouse, sitting up high upon a large creature, listening closely to the giant beast breathing.

The man looked at me, waiting to see what I thought.

“Let’s do it,” I said. And just like that, I found our family about to embark on a horseback ride through the Colorado praire.

Big Brother ready and waiting to go

Little Man rarin’ to go

“This is ludicrous,” I thought to myself as we trotted out onto the praire. “You just can’t take Big Brother out on an hour trek into the wild on a horse, he’ll never be able to do it. He needs more time to practice and learn about how to ride. He can’t even make it through an entire day of school without a violent outburst or having to be restrained, What are we doing here?!”

But I quieted my brain and instead, listened to my gut. “I think he can do this,” it whispered.


And so I realized that with the help of the very kind and compassionate staff, Big Brother was safe and that he could, indeed, do this. In fact, this was the first time in his life that he was doing something without direct help. That feeling must have been overwhelming for him.


Before I knew it, our ride was over. Somewhere along the way I was able to see Big Brother in a new light…from a perspective I’ve never seen before. And in that moment, I felt ashamed for ever thinking that he couldn’t do it. I’m his mother for crying out loud! I, most of all, should be the one to know he is capable of so much more than this world gives him credit for. As for the special and instantaneous bond between Big Brother and his horse? Well, it’s not at all surprising given the many stories of similar happenings in the autism community (check out the documentary Horse Boy, for example.)

As for me, I learned an important lesson that day. Sometimes you have to cast rational thought aside and follow your instinct in order to accomplish that which seems impossible. If adventure is about sailing away from the safe harbour, Big Brother must have traversed the entire globe that day.


“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
― Shel Silverstein

An Off-Road Trek Up Mount Antero in the Colorado Rockies

On our first full day in Colorado, we did some hiking (that’s for an upcoming post) and then visited Mount Antero via an off-road expedition. I filmed our trek with my phone and I’m sharing the clips below. If you become bored with them, just skip to the last two videos of the kids where an overload of cuteness awaits you. I’m not a very good videographer, so be gracious!

“Mount Antero is the eleventh highest peak in Colorado, with an elevation of 14,276 feet (4,351 m). Also known as Antero Peak, it is named for Chief Antero of the Uintah band of Utes. It is located in the central Sawatch Range in Chaffee County between the towns of Buena Vista and Salida. The mountain itself is prized for its gemstone deposits and has one of the highest concentrations of aquamarine in the country. There are several active private mining claims being exploited on Mt. Antero and surrounding peaks.

The peak is located entirely within the San Isabel National Forest, due south of the more visually prominent Mount Princeton. Mount Antero is one of the most prominent peaks of the Sawatch Range rising an impressive 7,000 feet above the town of Salida, Colorado to the south east. There are two popular climbing routes on Mount Antero. The generally accepted hiking route, which begins near the ghost town of St. Elmo, is from the east starting at the Browns Creek Trailhead and paralleling Little Browns Creek to its upper reaches where it crosses Forest Road 1A, then following the road near to the summit. The other route follows the same forest road from the north up Baldwin Creek. This route has heavy mining and tourist traffic in fair weather during the summer months.

The peak was surveyed by the Pike Expedition in 1806. A forest service sign at the Browns Creek trailhead commemorates the expedition camp at the eastern base of the peak.” -Wikipedia

Going up and rocking out to Phineas and Ferb (this video is kind of boring and poorly executed, but I’m posting them all so here it is!):

On our way to the peak:

The one where I have a panic attack on film. I would have happily hiked this mountain, but in our FJ Cruiser, it was just too much to see us teeter-totter on the edge of the blind curves:

Looking for snow:

Looking for a lake:

Baldwin Lake:

Big Brother’s Take on Colorado:

Little Man’s Take on Colorado:

I’ll be back with photos from our other hikes and trails soon!

A Rocky Mountain Adventure for an Appalachian Girl (and her family)

yours-truly rocking the 80+ mph wind gusts 12,000 ft up near Pomeroy Lake in the Colorado Rockies

I’m a southern, Appalachian Mountain girl through and through. Born and raised in the foothills of Appalachia, I love my old growth cove forests, raging waterfalls, lightening bugs, sweet tea and steamy summer nights where the forests glisten in an almost magical, ethereal way in the wetness of the surrounding air. After traveling 24 hours in the car, I found myself here, within reach of the clouds. Toto, we’re not in Tennessee anymore!

traveling off-road up to the crest of the Continental Divide

We spent a week climbing up the spectacular mountains of Colorado in our trusty FJ Cruiser. We hiked to alpine lakes and waterfalls and even managed to go horseback riding (a first for my son with Autism!), visit some ghost towns and mine ruins, and also visit the Great Sand Dunes national park. It was an exciting trip filled with breathtaking views and new landscapes to explore. I have hundreds upon hundreds of photos to download off of both my “good camera” and my iphone! I’m not sure when I will be able to tackle it all, so bear with me. I have so much to share…not only of pictures and trails, but reflections from travel and adventure with a special needs child and more. I also have some reviews I would like to do. So stay tuned, I’ve got a lot in store for you all!