Drive Up Cottonwood Pass and Family Days in Evergreen

We only had a day and a half to get from our Habitat build in Cortez to Tom’s niece’s house in Evergreen but we made the most of it, leaving early from the campground in Cortez in order to arrive in the mountain town of Buena Vista by midday. As soon as the jacks went down on the RV we hopped in the truck and started off to Cottonwood Pass, a 12,119 foot saddle traversing the stunning Collegiate Peaks in central Colorado. The drive up the canyon was incredible but the views from the pass were a knockout – alpine tundra, snow-dappled peaks, and mountains, mountains, mountains wherever you looked. From the parking area at the crest we took a short walk up to the nearest high point from which the scenery improved even more, the valleys and canyons spilling out below our rocky perch.

After spectating around the top of the pass we dropped over the other side, winding our way down to Taylor Park Reservoir, a large body of azure that appeared suddenly in the midst of a large, arid valley upon breaking out of the trees. The lake was a stunner and as a bonus the far shore was resplendent in wildflowers, purples set against the background of blues. We made this our turn around point since, as often happens in late afternoon, we found ourselves in need of a beer. We scratched that itch back in Buena Vista at Eddyline Brewing where I indulged in samples of IPAs and sours in addition to a delightful black lager.

The next morning we were off again, en route to family in Evergreen where we quickly ensconced ourselves on the patio and began the process of catching up with Nancy, Tim, and the kids. Shortly after I was also attacked by their ferocious 8-week old puppy Willie Nelson – all 5 pounds of fluff and excitement — who kept flopping over and chomping on my fingertips.

We stayed almost 2 weeks (minus my couple days nearby at a work training) with the family, hiking, cooking and eating dinners, tackling small house projects, and enjoying their company but Tom and I also gave them a little space by taking a couple short hikes nearby on some of the many local trails. At around 8,000 feet elevation, the topography of the Evergreen area is primarily meadows of tall grasses with clusters of, well, evergreens. On hilly terrain – of which there is plenty – and in the adjacent canyons the waves of the fields cede to the tall trees (and even some aspen!); it is these areas that make for some of the best hiking, providing abundant shade, views of the 10,000-foot-and-above peaks that lie to the west, and the fragrance of thousands of pines.

Other than the gorgeous natural setting, the thing that I think most recommends the town are the 3 resident elk herds. They love hanging out on or near the road and so we frequently saw them as the lines of traffic snaked through town (the local schools have an excuse on their tardy passes for “Elk Jam.”) Abby and I also spotted a pair of antlered gentlemen too less than a mile from the house on most of our morning walks. Being late August it was still a little early in the year for bugling but I did hear a few notes from a distance.

Oh, and the third best feature of the town? Obviously the brewery. I stopped in a few times with either Tom or Nancy after hikes to relax on their deck and rehydrate. My favorite beer, not unsurprisingly, was the Elk Meadow IPA.