LOG 40, Day 5

Tuesday, September 14

The route back was the same as the route there, with two exceptions. I drove to Heber City via I-80 and US 191 instead of the slow, scenic route through the park. And on the other end, I took US 40 from Kremmling to Granby and over Berthoud Pass rather than through Silverthorne and the Eisenhower tunnel.

When I was just about to Heber City, I realized that I’d left my LOG 35 cap in the hotel room. I can picture it exactly as I left it: right next to the room phone, with a cloth mask in it. I called the hotel when I got home, but they say housekeeping didn’t find anything.

Coming over Rabbit Ears Pass, I encountered a few cars that were running in the Colorado Grand. The first one was an early Porsche. I don’t know that I’d have spotted him if he hadn’t waved at me. Next was a red Ferrari. There was a yellow one, I didn’t get a good look at it, could have been a Morgan. Finally, a Mercedes I think was lost. He was at the stop sign at the junction with CO 14 and pulled out and followed me. All the other guys were going the other way. He turned around before he went too far.

The drive from Kremmling to Granby was new to me. Byers Canyon is nice, if a little short.

I was pleasantly surprised throughout the day that the truck traffic was considerably less than on Friday. Auto traffic was pretty bad from Granby to home, exacerbated by showers from Winter Park to Golden. I didn’t actually get rained on until Idaho Springs or so, but all of Berthoud Pass was wet, and the cars kicked up a lot of spray. I’d say it improved when I caught up to the rain, but then puddles made me a little nervous.

My trip home took about half an hour less than Friday’s drive.

So that’s the story.

Now, two final thoughts.

Where Did the Oil Go?

Michael figured it out right away when I told him what Dave and TJ said. Dave and TJ would have figured it out had I thought to tell them that we did an engine swap over the winter.

Of course, the cooler and lines drained when we pulled the old motor out. So they’re empty. When we filled the new engine with oil, it didn’t fill the cooler because the thermostat was closed. It doesn’t open until I put it under “track conditions”, whatever that means. When it opens, the cooler fills with oil and we’re suddenly two or two and a half quarts low.

The problem with that theory is that when I put one quart of oil into the car, I was able to run a 12 lap session and get 3 laps in another session before having the problem again. I guess that means there was an air bubble in the cooler that didn’t come out until the heat from the 12 lap session worked it out.

Which only leads to the next problem: this was not my first track day after the engine swap.

I’ve done 4 track days at HPR. Not a lot of laps: 90 laps over 12 sessions. One day was a Thursday Evening event, one was a half-day in April, one “session” was the RMVR Ticket to Ride. And the Ferrari day. How did I run 90 laps at HPR and not put it under “track conditions”?

Things that make you go “hmmmm”.

I have now put three quarts of oil in and all is good. If I was half a quart low when I left the house and the cooler uses two and a half, that’s the three. I’m reasonably certain I’m good to go now, but I won’t know until the next time I take it to the track. (And maybe not even then.)

I never put more than a quart in at a time to get the dipstick to read full or nearly full. I’m assuming that I went from full to a quart low in an instant on the track, when I could get on the high cam one moment but not the next. The distance driven at a quart low was fairly limited and at low revs.

I’ve done more than fifty track days and I’ve never had any need for brake fluid or motor oil. Needed both in one day.

LOG 40 Reflections

The pandemic took a bit of a toll on this LOG. It was supposed to happen last year, but we all know what happened. Some things just couldn’t be overcome, like the travel restrictions. I was looking forward to seeing the speakers live. I hoped to see the Evija and the Emira. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed.

I often get lazy and refer to “the Lotus club”. But really, the cars are the excuse to meet people. It’s not a club of cars, it’s a club of people who share a passion for cars.

I met quite a few really nice people. How’s that not a good time?

I repeat: I met quite a few really interesting, accomplished, nice people. I had a great time, even if it wasn’t perfect.

But I am bummed that I lost my LOG 35 cap.

LOG 40, Day 4

Monday, September 13

For me, today is it, the highlight of the trip.

I wouldn’t say that I attend LOG for the track day, but I can say I don’t think I’ll attend a LOG that doesn’t have a track day.

Utah Motorsports Campus is the seventeenth track I’ve driven, in the ninth different state.

The facilities are top-notch. Of the tracks I’ve been to, only COTA has better. In many ways, this is COTA but on a smaller scale. The garages are just as nice, only smaller. The meeting rooms are just as nice, but smaller and fewer. It has a go-kart track, an off-road track (with a giant jump). There’s a restaurant and a clubhouse. The parking lot is enormous.

As for the track, it has four configurations: East Course, West Course, Outer Course, and Full Course. We ran the Outer Course, which is 15 turns in just a bit over 3 miles. It’s not billiard table flat, but there’s not more than a couple of meters of elevation change. It’s fast: there are no second gear turns. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about hitting anything if you go off.

We were asked to arrive at the track by 8:00 so everybody could get checked in in time for an 8:45 drivers meeting. I left the hotel at 7 and was parked in the paddock promptly at 8.

I’ve been in a lot of drivers meetings. This one was perhaps the least polished. Polished or not, all the important information was covered. The four or five instructors introduced themselves then the lead instructor started running through the topics. At times, he’d falter a bit and one of the other instructors would jump in and complete the thought or provide something the others had missed.

There were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary. First, everybody got out on track and followed the instructors around a very slow lap. At the end of it, we parked in rows of three with the first row at the start/finish line. An interesting and unusual photo opportunity.

Another unusual facet for me was that we never really used the paddock. Typically, we all empty our cars, placing our things adjacent to our parking places in the paddock. Today, we all unloaded our stuff into one of the garages and parked our cars on pit road. We could park anywhere along here when not on the track as we didn’t need to park near our stuff. And it was quicker and easier to get on and off the track. The relatively small number of cars made this possible. I can’t see it working with 60 or more cars. (I didn’t get a car count, but it was only about three dozen, including the instructors’ cars.)

The advanced/intermediate group was out first. I found myself behind our ghost town drive leader, Speedy Gonzalez. Turns 5 and 6 are the slowest. Not 2nd gear slow, but nearly. Speedy Gonzalez got to turn 6 and spun out. I was saving my camera batteries for later in the day, so I didn’t get it on video. Back in the pits, I asked one of the guys what happened. This is “hearsay evidence”, so not admissible in court, but I’m told he said that he “ran out of talent” in turn 6 and blamed cold tires. You’d think, after racing Formula Fords for hundreds of hours, he’d come up with an excuse that wasn’t the crutch of novices.

I cut my first session short. I was getting a brake warning light in some of the left turns. I needed to top off my brake fluid. I asked around and found a gentleman from North Carolina who kindly donated some to me. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name, but I really appreciated it.

I also cut my second session short. After a few laps, I started getting the rev limiter at 6000 rpm. Back in the pits, I tracked down Dave Simkin and TJ, who hooked their laptop up to my car. They quickly ruled out two or three possibilities and theorized I was low on oil. TJ checked the dipstick: it was dry. The switchover to the high cam is activated by oil pressure. Insufficient oil, no cam. I checked my oil before I left the house and it was okay. How am I a quart (or more) low?

To remedy my problem, I needed to make a trip into town. There’s an auto parts store about ten miles away, so off I went. I bought a quart of oil, poured it in, and now the dipstick showed oil almost to the top mark.

On the way back to the track, I decided to stop at the gas station in town to top off the tank. The pump wouldn’t accept my Discover card so I tried a Visa. Still no joy. A bit frustrated, I hopped back in the car and left. When I got back to the track, I noticed that I hadn’t closed the fuel filler door. And saw that I didn’t have my gas cap. Clearly, in my frustration, I forgot to put it back on. I’d driven off with the cap sitting on top of the car. So off I went, back to town, to find my missing cap. Luckily, someone had found it and given it to the cashier. Each trip to town was about half an hour lost.

When I got back to the track, my group was already on the track, so I quickly put my helmet on and joined the session. Each session was supposed to be thirty minutes. As I had cut my first two sessions short, I still hadn’t seen a checkered flag. In this session, when I saw that I’d done 12 laps, I knew I was well over the half-hour session length. By the time I was back in the pits, I was 14 minutes late. I never saw a checkered flag (which would have been shown to me at three different places), so I’m guessing they weren’t that strict about who was on track when. I never did see the checkered flag all day. But I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, all was good. A few minutes after the hour, I went back out. After 4 or 5 laps, I began having the limiter problem again. When I stopped back in the pits, the dipstick was dry again. Where is all the oil going? I’m not burning it; I’m not putting out any smoke at all. I’m not leaking it; there’s never a fresh drop of anything under the car, and a quart of oil would certainly overflow the undertray. And it’s not getting in the coolant, as the overflow tank is its usual pinkish color. Where’s the oil going?

I had no choice but to call it quits.

The instructors were giving rides. There were four Evora GTs we could ride in, but I’ve already driven an Evora on the track. One guy, Jonathan, had his 2-Eleven there, so I asked if he’d give me a ride. I don’t know how heavily modified it is. He told me it puts out 330hp, so it’s not stock. The body also features a lot of carbon fiber. This made it interesting getting in and out, as it has no doors and you must climb over the top of the roll cage without stepping on any bodywork.

We got me all strapped in and started down pit road. At the entrance to the track, the steward reminded Jonathan that the novice session was on track and he should take appropriate care not to divebomb the newbies.

The car is pretty amazing. It’s not quite twice the horsepower of mine, and at least 400lbs lighter. He’s running slicks (Hoosier R7), naturally, and he’s done thousands of laps here. There weren’t many cars on track, so we had an open run. On our out lap, in turn 6, he missed the turn and we went wide. “OPR”, he said: other peoples’ rubber.

Next lap around, in turn 6 again, where we went straight the first time around (and where Speedy Gonzalez spun on his first lap), all hell broke loose. The engine stopped, which threw the car into a spin. Jonathan took his hands off the wheel (so he wouldn’t break a thumb), we went around twice and were in a cloud of tire smoke. He restarted and went a hundred yards down the track toward the next corner bunker, which was showing us the “meatball” flag. He pulled off the track and stopped the car. We were leaking oil. A lot of it. There was a slick from turn 6 to halfway between turns 7 and 8. There was oil inside the cockpit, in the right front wheel well, and all over the ground under the engine compartment.

The rescue truck was there very quickly and the tow truck was right on its heels. Jonathan described the incident to the rescue crew as they winched his car onto the flatbed. He rode in the towtruck, I went with the rescue crew. First, we went back to the site of the spin (driving the wrong way on the track, which I’ve never done before). Leaving there, we made our way back to the pits using some of the infield service roads. Oh, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I got to ride in the rescue truck.

I felt bad for Jonathan. After having my day ended due to an oil issue, to be his passenger when he suffered a catastrophic oil failure, made me wonder if I was suffering some bad oil karma for some reason. I know his problem was in no way my fault, but I felt some guilt nonetheless.

The cleanup took 45 minutes. By the time the track was green again, there were only about a dozen cars left. Everybody still there got to run as much as they wanted in the last hour of the day as they stopped running by groups.

Just before I left, there was a bit more excitement. When they opened the track back up, a yellow Evora that had been parked for a couple of hours got started up. That produced a fairly big cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t clear to me if it was oil or coolant or something else.

I took this as a sign for me to make my exit and go back to the hotel.

I bought three more quarts of oil and put a quart and a half into the engine before the dipstick indicated it was full. Still no smoke, no drips, no contaminated coolant. Where did it go? I’ll just have to check the oil every time I make a stop on the way home.

Both there at the track and back in the hotel parking lot, I discussed my experience with several people. Everybody had a look under the car, both front and back (the oil cooler is in the front), checked out my coolant reservoir, and scratched their chins in wonder. Nobody had any ideas.

After dinner, I started packing the car with the idea of making an easier departure in the morning. While I was doing this, Dave and TJ came by and we discussed the situation. They said the oil coolers and lines held about two quarts, or maybe two and a half, they weren’t sure. They said the oil cooling system doesn’t operate except under track conditions. It sounded to me like they thought this would somehow explain it, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t run enough laps to thoroughly learn the track; I know I could have picked up a few more seconds. Particularly, I know I can take turns 1 and 11 faster. That said, no Elise passed me. I did get passed by some Evoras, but most of those were instructor-driven. I got passed by the 2-Eleven and an instructor’s 911. And I got passed by a couple of Exiges and the V6 Cup car. I could only manage 118 on the long straight. It was so long I expected to be able to top 120. I am somewhat disappointed that I only ran half the number of laps I expected to, but so it goes. I think I acquitted myself well.

It was an interesting and unforgettable day, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow, hopefully, my trip home will not be so interesting.

LOG 40, Day 3

Sunday, September 12

Unless I want to leave the hotel, I’m pretty much limited to Starbucks. Luckily, they have more kinds of sandwiches than I’ll have mornings here, so no repeats are necessary. I sat down to eat my sandwich in front of the TV, which was showing the F1 race. I only missed the first ten laps. I’m so happy the cars have the halos. That halo saved Hamilton’s life, no doubt in my mind. The race kept me entertained until it was nearly time to meet for the guided group drive to the ghost town of Eureka City.

The fellow running the drive collected us in the lobby at 10. (I will refer to him from now on as Speedy Gonzales, SG for short.) He gave us a short description of Eureka City and talked about the historian who will meet us there. The museum is normally closed on Sundays, as is the restaurant, but both will be open for us. He then described the route. Somebody pointed out that his route doesn’t match the route that was published. Obviously, nobody was carrying paper and pencil, so nobody took notes. He told us, “You’ll just have to keep up.”

Exiting the hotel, I was near the end of the train, but at our first red light I switched from the center lane to the right lane. It wasn’t that I wanted to get to the front of the line but more that I didn’t want the line to be so long, people would miss the light. When the light turned green, I was third in line. A couple of miles later, we got on the interstate and were soon going quite fast. I use a speedometer app on my phone. It keeps track of driving time, total distance, average speed, and so on. It recorded a maximum speed of 98. This was on the interstate in south suburban SLC. I like to go fast, too, but that’s why I do the track day. I think we lost half the group within five minutes of leaving the hotel.

We exited the interstate and Bobbi pulled up next to me at the light. I hollered, “Does he know people are trying to follow him?” She replied, “I don’t think he gives a shit!” He didn’t make things any better when, shortly after getting on UT 68, he stopped for gas. The experienced drive leader will tell everybody to be gassed up when we meet or will arrange to meet at a gas station so folks can top off their tanks if needed. SG was the only one who needed to fill up, but I took advantage and made a comfort break and bought a beverage so it wasn’t a total waste.

When we were all ready to leave, a bunch of us LOCOs decided to make our own way and stayed at the gas station for a few minutes. Wayne was quite familiar with the area, so we put him in the lead. To our surprise, SG and the few cars that went with him were waiting for us on the side of the road not far from the station.

UT 68 goes south alongside the western shore of Utah Lake. It’s a fairly scenic drive, with a view of the lake and the Wasatch mountains behind it. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a salt lake, too. (I learn later that it’s a freshwater lake that is a bit saline because two-fifths of its outflow is evaporation.) Unfortunately, we were again going at a pretty good clip, not as fast as before, but still too fast to enjoy the scenery. It’s not a curvy road, but there are some bunny-hops that add a little lightness.

We stopped at the junction with US 6. We pulled into the parking lot of a defunct gas station. SG had mentioned the rustic ruins of a station where he had taken pictures of his car, but this didn’t look that photogenic to me. And we were all jammed in together, so I’m not sure what sort of photo one could get. In any event, nobody got out of their cars. We got going again, heading west on US 6. (On the return trip I think I figured it out: the rustic station was on the other side of US 6 from where we parked.)

Not long after, we arrived in Eureka City. It’s not what I’d call a “ghost town”. It has a population of about 700, has a nice new post office, a couple of restaurants, a museum, and a high school. And, driving around, we saw quite a few new or nearly new houses. When I think ghost town, I think nobody lives there. This, to me, seemed more like Central City before the gambling, without the tourists. A ghost of its former self, but not a ghost town.

We met our local historian who launched into his spiel. About ten minutes later, the cars we lost back at the start of the drive showed up. With everybody assembled, after a brief introduction, we followed him up the hill to one of the mines. We were parked everywhere. One of the homeowners invited six of us to park in his driveway.

The mine itself is sealed, looks like an unpaved parking lot now. There’s a tall stake in the middle, with a series of painted markings. “That tells us if it’s sinking.” The EPA did quite a bit of work here. They took the top eighteen inches of topsoil of every lot in town (if you can call it “topsoil”). Many of the old mine buildings are still standing, and still full of derelict equipment. He took us through one, the hoist building.

This held the machinery that ran the lifts to get the miners in and out of the mine. It was dark inside, too dark to shoot pictures with the SLR. The floor was covered with debris, lots of broken glass. In one area, everything looked to be covered with feathers. I don’t think it was feathers, though, because I didn’t see or smell any bird shit. Mostly it was just dusty.

It was quite interesting, so, in spite of the problematic drive down there, it was good in the end.

After the mine “tour”, we headed to the restaurant. Somehow, I managed to get there almost last. I was the second to last to get served. I had a raspberry shake, which is strictly off the diet. It was tasty, and I only ate half. I sat at a table with three other folks, a nice couple from Scottsdale and a doctor who lives in New York but had worked for a while in Denver. Nice folks.

Most folks went to the museum after eating, but by the time I was done, it was getting pretty late and I elected to pass on the museum. I wasn’t alone – our little LOCO breakaway group was still there. We let Wayne lead us back to the hotel. We weren’t going a million miles an hour, so I enjoyed the drive a bit more. We were a small group now; the most common car was the Evora, and all three were yellow.

Tonight’s agenda at the hotel was a buffet dinner and a virtual tour through Classic Team Lotus.

The buffet was in the same room as last night’s banquet. I figured I’d just sit at the same table as last night, but the seating chart by the door was a bit different. I’m not sure it was the same chart. Did I miss seeing two of these things? My table from last night was full tonight, so I looked for another table that had some open slots. Again, I wasn’t carrying a writing utensil, so couldn’t write my name in the appropriate blank.

I found myself sitting next to Richard and his wife, Sandy, who I visited with last night. After I sat down, a couple came in and claimed two empty chairs and went off searching for food and/or drink. While they were gone, another couple came in. They were chagrined to find that there all the seats but one were taken. They had signed up on the chart to sit here. As I hadn’t, I told them to take my seat. They insisted that I remain where I was and they found another table. I felt a little bad.

The entertainment this evening was a virtual tour of Classic Team Lotus. Richard Parramint did the tour for us, which was quite kind of him, as it was about one in the morning his time. As is usual with these things, it took a few minutes to get through the technical difficulties, but once he got going, all was good. They’re working on quite an interesting bunch of cars at the moment. But then again, I’m sure they’re always working on an interesting bunch of cars.

This is the end of the festivities for most LOG attendees. I, however, have one more day: the track day at Utah Motorsports Campus.

To that end, we had a drivers meeting in one of the conference rooms after the buffet. It’s not the same sort of drivers meeting we get at the track and not a substitution for that meeting. Here, we were handed our tech forms, told when to arrive at the track, got a count of cars by group (novice, intermediate, advanced) and based on that data decided to combine advanced and intermediate. I applauded this move. With three groups, we’d be having 20-minute sessions. I much prefer 30-minute sessions as a much smaller portion of your time is spent on in and out laps.

Our friend Speedy Gonzales ran the meeting. He made a point to stress, repeatedly, that we shouldn’t try to impress the instructors. He told us he had hundreds of hours racing Formula Fords, and nothing we could do would impress him or the instructors, and may, in fact, just scare them. So we were supposed to be on our best behavior. I wasn’t too concerned with this topic, as I won’t be needing an instructor and I always try to be on my best behavior when I’m on the track.

The last thing we were told was to get a good night’s sleep. I’m down for that!

LOG 40, Day 2

Saturday, September 11

I began the day with a breakfast sandwich from the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, which I ate at a tableful of fellow LOCOs.

The first activity on today’s agenda was the group panoramic photo and Concours. We’d drive from the hotel to a local high school parking lot. But first, everybody was out cleaning up their cars. It rained yesterday evening, so it was mostly a matter of wiping the cars dry. My car, somehow, was already dry and still quite dirty. Is there something about my car that makes any water on it dry unnaturally quickly, leaving only the water spots?

I really don’t care that much if my car is dirty. I often joke that, whenever I take it to, say, Cars & Coffee, I’m always in the running for the Dirtiest Car in Show award. Half a dozen people must have asked me, “Aren’t you going to wash it?” Nope!

We independently headed for our photo at Cottonwood High School. Arriving there, we more or less randomly parked at the west end of the lot. This felt a lot like your typical Cars & Coffee, except that almost every car was a Lotus. While we wandered around, checking out the cars, asking the owners about their customizations, and deciding who gets our votes in the various classes, it started to rain lightly. My car was no longer noticeably dirtier than anybody else’s, and I’ll admit to experiencing a bit of schadenfreude in so many people wasting so much effort cleaning their cars.

After a fair amount of socializing, we were told to go to the east end of the lot, with the newer cars (Elise/Exige/Evora) in one line and the older cars in another. Many of us are independent thinkers and eschewed neat lines. Let’s just say it looked a lot like people trying to get out of a parking lot after a concert, and it took about as long.

During this operation, the rain really started coming down. A number of cars didn’t have tops; umbrellas were deployed. Some people looked pretty miserable. It was a quick shower, then gone.

As soon as we were all shifted, we were moved back to the west end of the parking lot, arranged by model in a big fan in front of a scissor lift. This took even longer than it took to make the first shift. The photographer, atop the lift, directed traffic. Once all the cars were in place, we took a picture with everybody standing behind their cars, and one with no people.

The photographer starts on his left and works around to his right. When he snapped the first shot, two guys up front start running behind the lift to the other side in an attempt to be in the picture twice. I’d have had trouble doing it but these guys never had a chance. It would have been nice if they’d pulled it off, though.

As I said, this was also the Concours. I don’t take these too seriously, it’s not really my thing. But some people are pretty into it. So I was somewhat amused at how many people spent so much time looking my car over. The odometer topped 91,000 miles on the way out here, and the more than fifty track days haven’t been kind to the finish. The nose is terribly pitted, paint is coming off the tow ring, I’ve worn holes through the fiberglass, in the back there’s the damage from the loose battery, and the big chunk taken out by the incident with the dolly.

More than one person said it adds character. One guy said he’d vote for it if he had a ballot (he didn’t have one, some issue when he checked in). I always figured I’d be the last car to get votes in a Concours, but I’m a bit curious if somebody voted for me because of all my battle scars.

Those 91k miles are well above the average for an Elise, but I have nowhere near the most. I talked to one guy from San Diego with a long commute (daily from San Diego to 29 Palms?) who has put more than 120k on his, and somebody told me there was a guy here from Michigan with 160k. I’d have liked to have chatted with him.

All morning I pondered which self-directed drive to take. The local chapter had devised about ten of them. I was thinking I’d like to head to Antelope Island. I asked several others where they were going, many were non-commital, and nobody seemed that interested in Antelope Island. In the end, I stayed in the high school parking lot until there were only a dozen or so cars left.

The agenda for the evening was a cash bar at 5, a banquet at 6. I got dressed up for it, wearing a sport coat for the first time since LOG 35. I had a couple of Lotus Lagers and struck up a rather lengthy conversation with Richard, a very pleasant man who laughed at all my jokes.

When it was time to have a seat in the banquet room, I saw that there was a seating chart. Evidently, I was supposed to pick my seat when I checked in yesterday. Nobody told me. Here it was, almost completely filled in. I found an empty seat at a table in the back, but I didn’t have a pen and didn’t put my name in the blank on the chart.

Due to various travel restrictions, the guests we had planned on having in the room couldn’t make it. Instead, we got a short video with Richard Parramint talking to two Lotus mechanics from the F1 glory days. They told some funny stories of the practical jokes they used to play on the other teams.

Next up was the awards ceremony. Ross got the task of announcing the names. This went well for about two minutes. Instead of announcing the names of the winners, they used their LOG registration numbers. To add to the confusion, they somehow cross-threaded the awards and classes. That is, they’d announce a Seven owner as the winning Elan. They managed to get it squared away eventually; names in their proper categories. Ross handled it as well as anybody could have.

I didn’t count, but it seemed to me that more than half the winners were LOCOs. I’m sure it wasn’t that many. We are particularly well-represented here this weekend, though, and Lotus Colorado took more than our share of trophies home. About the only ones we weren’t in the running for were longest drive and best personalized plate.

Tomorrow I think I’ll take the guided drive down to the ghost town.

LOG 40, Day 1

Every year, unless there’s a pandemic, anyway, Lotus Ltd, the national Lotus owners group, holds a Lotus Owners Gathering. These events are hosted by whatever local chapter wants to step up to the plate. The only LOG I’ve attended so far was the one we hosted in Colorado Springs. Most often, they’re deep in the Eastern time zone and I’ve been reluctant to make the drive. In 2020, the fine folks in Salt Lake City took on the challenge. COVID saw that challenge and said, “Not this year!” so it was postponed to 2021, where we begin our story.

I wasn’t the only one from Lotus Colorado, as you might expect. The LOCO gang is pretty devoted to group drives, so a two-day drive was organized for the trip to SLC and there was a choice of two drives for the return trip, one of which was several days and hits several national parks, including a visit to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I just started a new job and had to minimize time off, so I did the travel on my own.

Friday, September 10

I left the house at 6 am and headed up I-70 to Silverthorne. Yes, this is a violation of Rule #1. There is a fairly limited number of routes from Denver to Salt Lake City. Most people tend to use I-80. I-70 is another choice. Other than interstates, your choice is pretty much down to Trail Ridge Road and Poudre Canyon. Both are nice drives, but each would add a significant amount of time to the trip.

Between the two interstates, the next most obvious route is US 40. It covers the vast majority of miles between the two terminals, with a short stint on I-70 on the Denver end and I-80 on the SLC end. I drive the section of US 40 between its intersection with I-70 and the western end of Trail Ridge Road in Granby fairly often. A variation of this trip would be to forego Berthoud Pass and continue on I-70 to Silverthorne. From there, take CO 9 north to Kremmling. That’s a new road for me, so I went that way.

I stopped for breakfast at a bagel place in Silverthorne. There, I had a short visit with a couple visiting the area from Portland. They began the conversation by saying that they liked my car because it matches the colors of the University of Oregon.

From the top of Hoosier Pass south of Breckenridge to Kremmling, CO 9 runs downhill beside the Blue River, a tributary of the Colorado. There are two dams on the Blue, Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, dividing the valley into thirds. The twenty miles from Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir runs along a spectacular string of 12 and 13,000 peaks run to our left. After Green Mountain Reservoir, the valley flattens and widens. Here, trees are only growing on the slopes and the valley floor is fairly barren. North from Kremmling, we climb along Muddy Creek, which is dammed by Wolford Mountain Reservoir just a couple miles from town. Thirty miles up the road we reach Muddy Pass and the junction with CO 14.

John C. Frémont explored this area in 1844, crossing Muddy Pass, heading south. He wanted to search for the unknown source of the Colorado River but “a mob of Arapahoes in war paint” appeared from the east. His men swam their horses across the river and hustled up the Blue River to where Dillon Reservoir is. With Arapahoes everywhere in the woods now (who were actually looking to pick a fight with the Utes), they hurried up Hoosier Pass. Twelve years later, Frémont was the first Republican candidate for president.

Passing the junction with CO 14, we start to climb the eastern side of Rabbit Ears Pass. Typically, the top of a pass is a crest. Here it’s a plateau. The road runs nearly level at about 9,400′ for about four and a half miles. Drop down the west side of Rabbit Ears to Steamboat Springs, and onto the Colorado Plateau, which we’ll cross for most of the rest of the day.

Life Elevated

We follow US 40 west until Heber City, Utah. Traffic was about as light as I expected until I got to Vernal, where I had lunch. I was not terribly happy with the traffic from Vernal to Heber City. The road is nice enough: a good surface, with just about every significant climb having a passing lane. But the traffic west of Vernal was not to my liking. Lots of trucks running in both directions. I don’t know what they’re carrying, but they’re the ones that look like inverted cones, running in tandem, 38-wheelers.

Between Starvation State Park and Strawberry Reservoir, I just missed a rain squall. I’d have rather driven through the squall than missed it: the road was wet and the big trucks kicked up huge clouds of spray. So much for having a clean car.

At Heber City, Google wants me to go to I-80, but I’d rather not. Instead, I find a route through Wasatch Mountain State Park. I enjoyed this little trek: Pine Canyon Drive, S Guardsman Pass Road, and Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. Those first two were narrow, steep, and windy with no center stripe and a 15mph speed limit. Which is about right: I encountered a deer and a Bighorn Sheep ewe standing on the road.

I pulled into the hotel parking lot at 4:20 and was directed where to park: drive under the limbo pole, past the Evoras and Elans and Europas, into the upper part of the lot with the Exiges and finally my Elise brethren. I wasn’t the last to arrive, but nearly so. As usual, I have the dirtiest car in the group. Everybody who needed it washed their cars at the hotel. I barely had time to check into LOG and into the hotel before it was time for the Gathering of Lotus Owners.

Out in a tent on the back lawn, we had some food and a cash bar. Soft taco fixins, chips and various dips. A local brewery made a Lotus Lager available. I think it was more like an amber ale. I like amber ales, so I had two Lotus Lagers. Somehow, I managed to gather with other LOCOs, which I don’t have to drive 600 miles to do. I resolved to mingle as much as possible with people who haven’t already heard all my stories.

Crater Lakes

Monday, September 6

Back at the beginning of summer, I postulated that I could visit all the lakes in James Peak Wilderness in five hikes, which could easily be done in one hiking season. I also said I didn’t really plan on doing it. And, here we are, at my fifth hike in JPW. But, because it took me two hikes to get both Forest Lakes, I’m still (at least) one hike away from bagging all the lakes.

I picked Crater Lakes this time. I should be able to get to the highest Crater Lake without too much difficulty. The two lower lakes are only a 5.8-mile round trip, and adding the upper lake only extends the hike another eight tenths and about five hundred feet of elevation gain. Yeah, so the last section of trail is a bit steep…

On my Heart Lake hike, I chatted with a volunteer about getting to Clayton Lake. I asked about the no-longer-maintained trail up the outlet. He said he preferred to go via Crater Lakes. So I wanted to get a good look at any likely places to leave the Crater Lake trail in search of his route.

I got to the parking lot at 7:30 and there was still plenty of parking available. Being a holiday, I expected more people to be here. I entered my info into the logbook and put boots on the trail at 7:44. It’s about a mile and a half to the Crater Lakes trail junction, and I was there at 8:34. It was cool; I wore my hoodie. There was a young guy with an SLR who started only a couple of minutes ahead of me. Overall our pace was almost identical – he was walking faster but stopped often to take pictures. In the end, he arrived at upper Crater Lake only a few minutes before me.

It’s about a mile from the trail junction to the lower Crater Lakes, climbing about 550 feet. But about 450 of those 550 is in the first half-mile from the trail junction up the side of the canyon. That is to say, that half-mile is a bit of a bitch.

That 450-foot climb puts you on a shelf. There are three shelves here. This lower one holds a pond, fed by the lakes above. The middle one has two lakes, a rounder northern one and a thinner southern one. The lakes are separated by a lightly forested isthmus. The small, high shelf is inundated by the upper Crater Lake. The two lower shelves are separated by only a hundred feet of elevation, but reaching the upper lake requires climbing another four hundred feet.

I get ahead of myself. When the climb up from the trail along S. Boulder Creek started leveling off, gaining the shelf, I kept an eye out for anything that looked like an easy way around the ridge to Clayton. I stopped and studied the map a couple of times but drew no conclusions.

Before I knew it, the smaller lake was off to my left. Here the trail started to split. The whole area is laced with a network of social trails, many of which lead you directly into someone’s campsite. Here I encountered two young women, early twenties. They were going to the upper lake as well. In navigating around someone’s tent, I managed to veer more toward the northern lake rather than heading up the obvious trail to my west, where I spotted SLR guy. The young ladies and I bushwacked in his direction.

Here we find ourselves at the base of our last four-hundred-foot ascent. This one starts with a quite steep climb up a loose, sandy surface. I find this stuff treacherous. I slip a lot. I made it up without too much difficulty. I was concerned about the descent, though. I really detest this stuff. Just a few yards away is a stream. It is snow-fed. There is no snow on any of the surrounding mountains, so this stream was just a trickle. It looked like it might be easier for me to go down the dry streambed with much less trepidation than this sandy shit.

At the top of this treacherous bit, the slope of the trail moderates somewhat, and the footing is much improved. The trail, hopping rocks now and then, leads to a saddle above us. This is the apex of our climb. On the saddle, we’re maybe a hundred higher than the lake. Most of the descent down to the lake is rock-hopping.

There’s a prominent rock outcropping that commands a view of the upper lake, the continental divide above it, and the small pond below it. The women took that spot. It was quite windy, they could have it. I put my hoodie back on and tried to find a large rock to sit in the lee of. SLR guy went to the outlet. On a trail on the opposite bank, I spotted a guy walking west.

I sat there for about an hour, had my lunch, enjoyed my can of beer. I had the lake to myself. Well, almost. SLR guy and the young ladies left within twenty minutes or so. Nobody new had arrived. I kept looking for the guy I spotted on the other side of the lake. Never did spot him until he popped up on my left. It probably took him an hour to circumambulate the lake.

A few minutes into the hike down, we come to the crux: descending the treacherous steep slippery shit. I elected to go down the way I came up, thinking if I didn’t like it, I could always change my mind and go down the dry streambed. I took my time. There were quite a few people working their way up, so I had many excuses to pause. A few of them were more bothered by it than I was.

Each pause allowed me to take in the view. I found it particularly rewarding. It’s too bad we continue to suffer the extreme haze from the west coast wildfires. Looking straight up, the sky was almost its normal deep, deep blue. But looking toward the horizon, all is obscured by a brownish-yellow haze.

When I crossed the isthmus between the lakes on the way up, I didn’t appreciate how many trails there were. On the way down, I explored a little. There really are a lot of trails there. When I went to find the trail down, at least twice I thought I’d gotten onto the trail only to come across a bigger trail.

Finally back on the trail below the twin lakes, I resumed my search for likely routes to Clayton. I think there are a couple of possibilities. One of them caught my eye both times I passed it: I took a photo of it both on my way up and back down.

I’m glad I started as early as I did. It’s a relatively short hike. I made it to the upper lake a minute before 10. If parking wasn’t a consideration, I could arrive two hours later and be at the upper lake for a noon picnic. But it would have been a different experience. Instead of half an hour of solitude, I’d have been in a crowd of dozens.

I keep wondering how so many people are on the trails given the size of the parking lot. There was a lot of traffic on the Crater Lakes trail. I took a quick break at the trail junction and watched a parade of hikers go by. Below the junction with the Forest Lakes trail, it was very nearly a “conga-line hike”. And, back at the parking lot, there are plenty of empty spaces.

Almost forgot to mention: I pulled into my parking spot this morning just as a train emerged from the tunnel. First time I’ve seen one. I hear the exhaust fans on every hike, sometimes twice, and I sometimes hear a train whistle, but it was kind of cool to see one come out of the tunnel.

All in all, another glorious day along the Continental Divide.

Upper Forest Lake

Back in June, I made my first hike in the James Peak Wilderness with the goal of reaching both Forest Lakes. There was a bit more snow than I was expecting, which gave us minor navigational difficulties and we stopped at the lower lake.

Tuesday, August 31

Guessing that the parking lot at the East Portal trailhead wouldn’t be terribly crowded on a weekday late in the season, I opted for a leisurely start and didn’t leave the house until nearly 7 am, arriving at the trailhead a bit after 8. There was plenty of parking.

The day was cloudless, but not clear: we’re still getting quite a bit of haze from the wildfires on the west coast. Looking straight up, the sky was the usual vivid blue, but visibility toward the horizon was quite limited – hillsides just a mile or so distant were noticeably obscured.

The hike into the upper lake was quite pleasant. I passed one hiker not far from the trailhead and didn’t see anybody else until I was ready to leave the upper lake more than three hours later. I timed it perfectly for my purposes – my visit to the lake coincided with solitude. I had gotten it into my mind that all the trails here were crowded, except for the trails that have been closed for several years.

Upper Forest Lake is, I think, the most scenic of the lakes I’ve so far visited from this trailhead. This lake sits in a bowl beneath a 12,000′ high ridge of the Continental Divide. The slopes are a combination of sparse forest, grassy ramps, and rock outcroppings. There may be a trail around the lake, but if there isn’t, it looks like it is an easy lake to circumnavigate.

The summer season is nearing its end here. All the snow from last winter has melted, with the exception of the last vestiges of a couple of snow cornices. There is very little water flowing into the lake. One or two streambeds are visible due to the dark brown staining from the water that is now a trickle rather than a cascade. Only a few wildflowers survive: quite a few fireweed and the occasional queens crown, but the rest have all lost their petals or turned brown.

Sitting by the lake, I was wondering if there were any fish. The water looked… dead. No aquatic plants, very few insects buzzing above the surface of the water. Finally, I did spot a ten- or twelve-inch greenback cutthroat trout swimming about.

I’ve recently been better about carrying a telephoto zoom lens in case I encounter any wildlife. I decided that as long as I have the lens with me, I won’t spot any game. So I left the lens at home. That didn’t help – wildlife was nowhere to be seen. I continue to carry the GoPro in order to get a timelapse, but yet again the sky was cloudless, making a timelapse pointless. If these are my two biggest problems (and they were), it’s a good hike indeed.

I think I’d like to return here again, early in the season. I’m willing to give another mid-June hike a shot now that I have a better idea of the terrain. Even if I lose the trail, I think I can make it to the lake. (On our June hike, we reached the lower lake quite some distance from where the trail reaches the lake.)

Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake

Continuing this summer’s exploration of alpine lakes of the Front Range of Colorado outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, I decided it was time to take a stab at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Not quite at random, I selected Blue Lake, which has its trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

I hadn’t been to Brainard Lake before. Just about everybody I know who does any hiking at all has been there, so it’s about time I joined the club.

Wednesday, August 25

Julie joined me for this hike. She said six miles or so is her limit. The trail guide tells me that it’s a 5.1 mile round trip from the trailhead to Blue Lake and back, with only about 830′ of climb. I won’t call it an “ideal fit”, given that it’s pretty much at her limit. She tells me she’s never been to Brainard Lake, either, so a new experience for both of us.

We left my house shortly after 7am, and Google directed us up Lee Hill Drive from north Boulder. I’ve never been on this road before, so another plus. It turns out that Lee Hill Drive connects with Left Hand Canyon Drive. Not long ago, I took Left Hand Canyon Drive as a detour when Boulder Canyon was closed for construction. I didn’t realize until now, that on that day, I turned off Left Hand Canyon Drive onto James Canyon Drive, which turns into a dirt road. Left Hand Canyon Drive remains paved all the way to its junction with the Peak to Peak Highway at the metropolis of Ward.

The entrance to Brainard Lake Recreation Area is about a hundred yards north of Ward (which isn’t really visible from the Peak to Peak). It, also, is a nice paved road. So when I make a return visit to Brainard, I can drive the Lotus if I want.

We couldn’t help but notice the signs that say “Reservation Required”. This is where I admit to a failure to properly research our visit. I didn’t visit Brainard’s Forest Service website. I looked at my usual list of sites, such as ProTrails. I did find some conflicting information. One site said there was a ten-dollar entrance fee. Another said it was eleven dollars. Neither said reservations were required.

We arrived at the entrance station and greeted the ranger. “Do you have a reservation?” We did not. “Reservations are required, and they’re sold out months in advance! But I do have a few left. I can let you park in the Brainard day-use area.” We told him we were going to hike to Blue Lake. “I can’t get you into that parking area, it’s been sold out for months.” When he handed me the pass, I asked about the fee. “It’s on me today. Pay me back by having a good time!”

As it turns out, the entrance fee was neither $10 nor $11 but $14. It’s a good thing he let us in gratis, as I only had $11 on me. (Yeah, he probably could have taken a credit card.)

Brainard is using a timed-entry pass system very much like RMNP. When I got home and visited the official site, I found that some passes are still available for the dates that have been released, but just a few, and just late in the day. None would be of any use to me.

We parked in the designated lot and found the trail that leads from there to the parking lot and trailhead we really wanted to use. This adds fifteen minutes each way to the hike, so maybe another mile round trip. So now we’re pushing Julie’s limits a bit more. Oh well.

I couldn’t help but notice that, for a place that’s been sold out for months, there were very few cars. The lot where we parked was perhaps 20% full and the lot at the Mitchell Lake trailhead was about a quarter full. I guessed that, by the time we got back, we’d see full parking lots.

The trail works its way through the valley between Mount Audubon (13,229′) on the north and Little Pawnee Peak (12,466′) on the south. Mount Toll (12,979′), Paiute Peak (13,088′), and Pawnee Peak (12,943′) are at the head of the valley. Blue Lake is a fairly large lake, and the trail officially ends there. There is another, higher, lake. It’s not named on any of the maps I use, but I’ve heard it called either Little Blue Lake or Upper Blue Lake. My plan was to make it to the upper lake while Julie enjoyed the views at Blue Lake.

To get to Blue Lake, you start at the Mitchell Lake trailhead. Mitchell Lake is a bit less than a mile from the trailhead, and it’s a pretty easy hike. The trail is well-maintained, not terribly rocky, and climbs only about 200′.

Not long after passing Mitchell Lake, the trail reaches a point that overlooks the lake and the pond that’s adjacent to it on the east. This overlook is roughly where you come to the first of the ponds, this one to the north of the trail. I couldn’t help but notice that the entire slope of Mount Audubon, stretching east/west for more than a mile, is comprised of talus and/or scree. I’ve probably seen more talus than this on one hillside, but if I have, I can’t think of where I’ve seen it. I found it to be a remarkable amount of talus.

The outlet of Blue Lake is one of the feeders of Mitchell Lake, but the trail doesn’t run along the stream. I’d say that the stream is visible for most of the hike between the two lakes, but that’s not exactly true: the terrain is fairly flat here, and the stream is overgrown by willow, so you can’t really see much of it.

And, being fairly flat, there are four or five unnamed ponds along the way. This looks like ideal moose territory to me. And, overlooking the second of these ponds, we heard the snort of an animal. It was loud enough that the beast couldn’t have been very far away. Julie wondered if it might be a bear; I suggested it was probably a moose. Neither of us spotted either a bear or a moose. A few minutes later, we heard another snort. Still we couldn’t find the creature.

Nearing Blue Lake, we came across a couple of hikers asking if we’d seen the moose. Actually, this happened several times throughout the day. We’d meet hikers who asked if we’d seen the moose. One group saw two big bulls. Another saw a cow and calf. We were about the only ones who hadn’t seen moose, even though we were within earshot of their snorts. So it goes.

In due time, we reached Blue Lake, where I left Julie. The trail skirts the northern shore of the lake, climbing slightly as it goes west. The guide at ProTrails tells me, “Here the maintained trail ends, but a fairly intuitive route continues up the north shore to Upper Blue Lake.” I beg to differ. Before long, I reached a steep section of very loose footing. I nearly turned around here. I passed this bit, continuing the climb. Before long, the trail disappeared completely. Nothing intuitively obvious here.

If the trail would have been better (or more obvious), I’d have continued. If I’d have been hiking with somebody to help with route selection, I’d have continued. But alone, with no trail, I figured it would take longer than I wanted to make Julie wait for me. So I turned around.

On my way back down, I met two pairs of hikers who were thinking they’d try to reach the upper lake as well. It wasn’t my intention, but both turned around after talking to me. The first pair told me they didn’t have any off-trail experience. The second pair turned around after I pointed out the section with the loose footing. I really didn’t mean to be so discouraging.

After our picnic lunch, we headed back, all the while on the lookout for moose. There was a bit more traffic on the trail than we saw on the way up, but I would not call this a crowded trail at all.

Back at the Mitchell Lake trailhead, we saw a nearly empty parking lot. And the lot we were parked in was also not more than a quarter or a third full. Here at Brainard, the timed-entry pass system is certainly keeping the crowds down.

There are a couple more trails I’d like to hike here, so I’ll definitely be back for further visits.

It was a nice, easy hike, not too crowded. And the weather was pretty much ideal – the haze we’ve experienced the last month or so from the wildfires on the west coast was not in evidence. Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Denver Botanic Gardens

I’m trying to recall whether I’ve visited the Botanic Gardens before. I was there a few years ago for a concert, but I didn’t wander the grounds. I’m thinking I must have been there on a field trip back in elementary school, but I really don’t recall. So, for all intents and purposes, this is my first visit.

I certainly should have taken the real camera but figured all I’d do is take a bunch of pictures of plants I couldn’t identify if my life depended on it and that I’d never really look at again. So I left the SLR at home. And ended up taking a bunch of pictures of plants I can’t identify.

I will share them here for no more reason than because they’re pretty flowers. I don’t know anything about bees, but it looks like there are several different species buzzing around the place.

Heart Lake

Of the five hikes I figured it would take to reach all the named lakes in James Peak Wilderness, the hike to Heart Lake is the southernmost and the longest. It may also be the most crowded. Searching online sources for information about this hike yields a variety of conflicting information. One site says it’s 8.7 miles (round trip) to Heart Lake, another says 9.7 miles. Each gives a different number for elevation gain. I’m going with 8.8 miles and 2,061′ (net).

Saturday, August 7

This may not be the best day for a hike. In one way, it may be the worst. We’re getting the full effect of the smoke from the wildfires on the west coast. Today, according to the local news, Denver had the worst air quality of anywhere in the world. Normally, the sun is far too bright to look directly at even a few minutes after it rises. But the last few days, it was an orange disk, easily looked at. And the last few days were clear compared to today.

Gordon and Eric went with me. I picked them up at the little park and ride at the intersection of highways 72 and 93. When we passed through one of the last meadows before reaching the parking lot at the trailhead, several cars were stopped on the road. The occupants were watching a moose that was ambling eastward near the edge of the meadow. A few yards farther up the road, we spotted two deer, antlers in velvet, crossing the road. As it turns out, these three were the only large animals we spotted all day.

Arriving at the trailhead, even though we were nearly an hour earlier than I was two weeks ago, again the parking lot was nearly full. It was a bit breezy, and a bit on the chilly side. I carry a light rain jacket in my pack, but there’s not enough room for me to carry anything heavier, so I almost decided to take my hoodie off and leave it in the car. But I made a sound choice, and kept it on, figuring I’d take it off before long and end up spending the day with it tied around my waist.

Visibility was very bad. I couldn’t even tell how cloudy it was. Certainly, there were clouds. The very tops of a few peaks were shrouded, but aside from that, the sky was filled with a haze somewhere between orange and brown. I don’t think we could see anything more than about three miles away. At least it didn’t smell of smoke.

I’d say that the trail to Heart Lake is the main trail through the Wilderness. The trails to all the other lakes here are spurs off this trail. In turn, we arrive at the junctions with trails to Forest Lakes, Crater Lakes, and Clayton Lake. (Arapaho Lakes are reached via a spur trail off the Forest Lakes trail.) I chatted with a volunteer later in the day who told me that the Arapaho Lakes trail was “closed” in 2008, and the Clayton Lake trail quite some time before that. I asked him specifically about Clayton Lake. He said the route of the former trail is pretty rough and that a better way is to go to Crater Lakes and contour around a ridge to Clayton Lake. So I guess I’ll visit Crater Lakes before I make any attempt on Clayton (and the Iceberg Lakes above it).

From the junction with the Forest Lakes trail to Rogers Pass Lake, the hike is a pleasant walk through forest. It runs alongside (or, at least, never far from) South Boulder Creek and never gets very steep. There are a number of passages where we had a bit of difficulty getting through mud bogs, particularly as a backpacker told me it had rained for three hours last night.

Just before I met that backpacker, I passed a group of campers. Their tents were several yards off the trail on one side and they were grouped together on the other side. At first, I thought they had a radio on. (Okay, these days probably not a radio. But some music replay device.) But it was no radio: they were in a circle, holding songbooks and singing. Two of them had small drums. That was an interesting place for a recital. As a some-times backpacker, I couldn’t help but wonder how much the drums weighed.

Rogers Pass Lake

We arrived at James Pass Lake (on some maps, I see it called James Peak Lake) at 9:30. There were dozens of people there, some who had passed us on the trail, most who had camped there.

From James Pass Lake, the trail crosses a short ridge to reach Heart Lake. Both lakes feature grassy shores and little to no talus and only sparse willow, so they could be fairly easily circumnavigated. This also means that there is precious little shelter from the wind.

Heart Lake

I was glad I didn’t leave my hoodie in the car. Not only had I not taken it off yet, but by the time we arrived at Heart Lake, I was considering digging my light rain jacket out of the pack so I could add another layer.

The trail deposits us on the windswept south side of the lake. We agreed that it wasn’t a very pleasant place for a picnic given the current conditions, so we decided to work our way around the east shore, past the outlet, and into a small copse of krummholz. Even here, it was a bit on the blustery side. We chowed down and when finished, didn’t dilly-dally. We hit the trail for the hike out.

Normally, Gordon is a much faster hiker than I am and no matter how much I try to keep up a good pace, he’s right behind me. By now, though, my legs were feeling a bit sore so I didn’t try very hard to keep up a good pace. Gordon, though, wasn’t close behind. I didn’t see him again until we were back at the trailhead. He showed up at the car with a phone full of mushroom pictures. On my hike to Arapaho Lakes, I took about a dozen fungus photos, thinking I’d spotted a nice variety. Gordon had at least a hundred pictures, and not too many were duplicates. Clearly, he was paying much more attention to the fungus among us than I was.

When I encounter a small number of hikers on the trail, it’s easy to keep track. On the hike to Arapaho Lakes, I met four other hikers when I was off the main trail. Today, I certainly would have lost track. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I saw on the order of 300 other hikers. This is about a nine-mile hike, so it’s not quite a “conga line hike”, but it’s close.

I asked some hikers I met at the Crater Lakes junction how crowded that trail was. “It’s pretty crowded.” I’m not sure I’ll do another James Peak Wilderness hike this season, but if I do, I’ll find out just how crowded the Crater Lakes trail is.

So, on a day where the air quality had the weather service telling people to stay indoors and not to exert themselves, where the haze made for some of the worst visibility I’ve ever encountered (except when raining or snowing) and resulting in some really poor photos, hiking crowded trails, and dealing with a cold wind, you might think it wasn’t any fun. But it was a good day.