Road trips in Colorado require patience. Whether it is summer construction or winter pass closures, it takes a particular kind of composure to drive around this state. However, this road trip required tenacity.
We were on our way to Revely Vail, a brand new festival that involves cooking, eating and celebrating the holiday lights in Vail. We’d been looking forward to this one, partly because we were booked at Antlers at Vail, a dog-friendly condo property. We’d stayed here on previous occasions but never with a dog.
I had been chatting about the event on social media and was more than ready to ring in the holiday season in the Rocky Mountains with Fritzi in tow.
Little did I know that the weather had other plans for my weekend.
On Friday, a morning rock slide closed I70. I tweeted with several reporters and determined that I70 was likely to be closed for the entire day. See, Twitter is useful! We decided to take Hwy 285 to Fairplay, drive over Hoosier Pass to Breckenridge and get on I70 at Frisco. The drive is a bit further but no big deal.
RELATED: Taking the Long Way Home
Fast forward nearly five hours and we were huddled in the Jefferson Market with dozens of other “weather refugees.” A few people were wrapped in blankets milling around aimlessly, their cars parked at various angles outside in the blowing snow.
Hwy 285 was closed. That’s right, Ryan, Fritzi and I, along with the hundreds of other vehicles that had made the trek around the I70 rock slide were now stopped. This included three Epic Pass vans that I had seen as we crawled through Conifer at the pace of a snail.
The sun had gone down. Snow swirled in the blackness interrupted only by a row of red brake lights for as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, headlights would breach the darkness, as another soul had given up waiting and turned around in Hwy 285. Ultimately, they joined the crowd at Jefferson Market as it is the only sign of life on this lonely road through South Park.
The rumor was that a jackknifed vehicle on Red Hill outside of Fairplay was the reason for the closure and the road wouldn’t reopen for hours. It was just after 5 p.m.
Hungry road trippers were enjoying Fish Friday at the Jefferson Market. I chatted with some semi-locals who go drive here every Friday for fish and chips. They weren’t expecting a crowd. I can only imagine how dirty the floor got that night as weary travelers shuffled in with snow-covered shoes. Hopefully, Jefferson Market experienced such a financial boom that evening that they didn’t mind the mopping.
By the way, and this is not related to the story but I feel you should know, this market makes amazing breakfast burritos.
I am familiar with this area because Ryan’s parents built a cabin near Lost Creek Wilderness about 17 years ago. We’ve been venturing up here for at least that long. This was Xena’s favorite spot on the face of the earth (our first dog) and it’s quickly becoming Fritzi’s favorite (our puppy).
Fritzi was a rockstar during the first part of the trip. At just five months old, she is already a stellar road trip dog.
Leaving the backup behind us, we headed south towards Tarryall Reservoir, stopping for a beer at the Stagestop Saloon before reaching the cabin. Without a doubt, we are lucky to have a place to stay in the area because turning around at this point would have meant we’d never make it to Revely Vail.
Snowing in earnest by this point, I was sure that the truck wouldn’t make it up the cabin’s long, uphill driveway. Ryan unlocked the gate, jumped back in his truck and put it into 4X4 low. We made it! I was thrilled that I didn’t have to walk through the snowdrifts because I’ve done that before.
We happily snuggled into the cabin for the evening, enjoying an upside-down day by eating breakfast I had packed for our condo at Antlers at Vail.
The next day, we rose and decided to get breakfast when we arrived in Fairplay, about 25 minutes from the cabin. Unfortunately, the phone rang with a recorded message that said the same thing I had just read on Twitter: “Hwy 285 closed due to blowing snow.” And the closure, between Kenosha Pass and Fairplay, was expected to last all day.
Our route to Vail had been thwarted once again but we would not be deterred.
I wrote earlier that this would be a long story, right? If I didn’t note that, I am telling you now. This is a long story about road trip tenacity.
We decided to go the long way which is south from the cabin down some dirt roads to Hartzell, the geographical middle of Colorado, and then to Fairplay. The roads were desolate but the sun was shining.
The wind blew the snow around but visibility was good and Fritzi was a trooper. She is one heck of a great road trip dog and if we didn’t know it before, we know it after this trip. As long as she is with us, she is happy (like most dogs).
Our stomachs were growling with hunger pains by the time we reached Hartzell but the cafe in town, Highland Cafe & Saloon was packed. The cars were loaded down with skis and parked two rows deep; we weren’t the only ones who’d taken this route. We aren’t sure how they got to Hartzell but they were here, in droves.
Once we reached the intersection that would take us to Fairplay or Buena Vista, a long line of cars were headed that way so we changed plans once again. We would get to our destination via Buena Vista to Leadville to Minturn to Vail.
For a while, we followed a snow plow throwing up blinding blizzards of snow. It was actually fairly entertaining until the road got drier and drier. The drive to Buena Vista was uneventful although I have never seen as much snow on Trout Creek Pass.
We reached Buena Vista around 10:15 a.m. and to the tune of growling stomachs, we finally stopped for breakfast. Ryan walked Fritzi in the sunshine while I got a table and a steaming cup of coffee at Jan’s Restaurant.
The server recommended that I get the half order of biscuits and gravy and she was right. Even the half order is a lot of food. Ryan got an enormous omelet. The food hit the spot after hours of being hungry on the snowy road.
This place is a throwback with a little bar in the back and two seating areas, one near the bar and one in the sunny front of the building. I like Jan’s a lot and would definitely stop here again. Plus, our server was a diehard Broncos fan which isn’t easy this year so we knew these were good people.
From Buena Vista to Leadville we drove through the snowy countryside under hazy skies. I can usually see the majestic mountains on this drive but I couldn’t even see their outline. We skipped around Leadville via County Road 99 and hit Hwy 24.
The drive between Leadville and Minturn was a winter wonderland. It is like something right out of a snowy postcard. The highway passes Cooper Ski Area and eventually, Red Cliff where it starts down towards Vail Valley.
We stopped at Little Beach Park in Minturn to let Fritzi stretch her legs. Located next to the Eagle River, the park didn’t look like a beach all covered in snow and ice.
Minturn to Vail takes less than 15 minutes and we were comfy in our Antlers at Vail dog-friendly condo by 1:30 p.m.
We were fairly ecstatic to have made it, albeit by a circuitous route. The last day of Revely Vail was in full swing and it is something I will write about next week. In the meantime, if you are heading out on Colorado’s roads this weekend just remember to remain calm… you’ll get there… eventually.