After 13 days of seeing some of the best that Colorado has to offer, it was finally time to wrap up this project. But our 14th day wouldn’t be an easy one…
Once again, we’d begin our day well before the sun came up so we’d have time to hike our last two 14ers and finish everything else that was still on our list. Occasionally through breaks in the trees we’d catch a glimpse of the crescent moon above. That eventually gave way to great views of the sunrise. With the morning light we began seeing beautiful patches of wildflowers. This was definitely one of the best sunrises of our project.
When we finally reached treeline we could tell it was going to be another chilly, windy day up high. The pleasant nature of the hike up to this point was replaced by cold chills in our bodies and struggling just to hike in the wind.
When we finally reached the summit of the 13th 14er of the project, Mount Shavano, we were able to find a sunny spot out of the wind to hunker down and enjoy a quick nip from the flask! And just like that, the last 14ers of our project was only one mile away! But that mile included a 600’ descent, followed by a 500’ ascent, and was all along a rocky ridge getting hit by the wind.
At the top of our 14th and final 14er, Tabeguache Peak, we hunkered down out of the wind again to enjoy one more sip of bourbon and think about what we’d accomplished. But, you can’t linger on the summit forever. So, we made our way back over to the summit of Mount Shavano to begin our descent.
We were pretty glad to get back down below treeline because we finally got out of the winds that had hammered us for several hours. Plus, we got to enjoy all of the beautiful flowers! Of course, we had to feature several of them. First up, was our 12th featured wildflower—the Blue Gentian! Not too far from the Blue Gentian was our 13th featured wildflower—the Bittercress.
Of course, we had to save the best for last—you guess it, Colorado’s state flower—the Columbine is our 14th featured wildflower! You can’t talk about Colorado wildflowers without images of this iconic flower being the first thing that come to mind. These flowers are found throughout the higher elevations of the state. So, we saw plenty of them as we hiked up 14ers. There are about 70 species of Columbines, with about a third of those native to North America. Colorado’s state flower is the beautiful white and lavender Rocky Mountain Columbine.
For our 14th scenic drive we chose the scenic 55-mile stretch of Highways 24 and 285 between Leadville and Poncha Springs. We split the drive over days 13 and 14 as we made our way south. This gorgeous drive takes you along 14 of Colorado’s 14ers, including the highest point in the state, Mount Elbert. This is one of the most scenic drives in the entire state!
By this point, it had already been a long day. But, it was time to head into the nearby town of Salida and try to finish off the remaining items of our project!
First, we were obviously in dire need of some coffee. All of these 4am wakeup calls, long hiking days, and miles on the road were definitely taking their toll. So, we headed to our 13th featured coffeeshop—Sacred Grounds Coffee. This charming little coffee shop focuses on one thing—great coffee! Since their entire building burned down back in 2005, owner Bryan Joslin didn’t waste any time rebuilding and realizing his dream of roasting his own coffee. Our quad americanos were just what we needed for a mid-day pick-me-up!
And just in case those americanos weren’t enough, we headed straight to our 14th and final featured coffeeshop—Brown Dog Coffee Company. Brown Dog has been serving the area with its locations in Salida and Buena Vista since about 1995 and both locations make for a perfect stop after a big day in the mountains. It was a warm day, so we decided to enjoy a little ice cream with our coffee. Can’t go wrong there!
Next up was our 14th water feature, but on our way there we ran into a YouTube fan, Nancy, and her son. They gave us their views on what makes Salida such a great place to live. After parting ways we continued on to our last water feature—the Arkansas River. This beautiful river flow through the entire Sawatch corridor from Leadville to Salida and beyond. It offers plenty of amazing views and opportunities for kayaking, fishing, swimming, and more.
Well, if you know anything about us by now, you probably could have guessed that we’d end this project with a few celebratory drinks at our last brewery and distillery. So, next up was the final brewery of our project—Elevation Brewing Company. There’s really no better place to experience a brewery than going straight to the taproom to experience all they have to offer and even taste beers that don’t make it to stores. Now-a-days, it’s hard for a brewery to stand out in Colorado since there’s just so many of them. Yet, Elevation has always stood out as one of our favorites in the state!
And with that, we had just one more distillery to left to complete our entire project. We headed to our 14th and final distillery—Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. After spotting a few open seats, we bellied up to the bar. As luck would have it we were sitting right next to the jack-of-all-trades—the owner, distillery, mayor of Salida, and probably many other things—Mr. P.T. Woods himself!
PT had an amazing passion for the whiskey and other spirits he produces as well as a great desire to make his town a better place for everyone. He invited us into the distilling and aging area in the back for a private tour and sampling of some whiskies straight out of the barrels. We lost track of time, but likely spent hours back there listening to him share the story of how his distillery began, the whiskies he’s excited about, and anything else he felt like sharing. Eventually, we had to part ways. It was getting late and we had been awake since 4am.
When we started this project we couldn’t predict the experiences we would have or how it would end, but I don’t think we could have scripted a better ending than our experience at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery—our 98th Colorado feature.
If you know anything about Mandy there’s a little game she likes to play after photography workshops, guided backpacking trips, big projects, or just whenever the heck she feels like it. She asks people to reflect upon the experience and come up with a Highlight, a Lowlight, and something they’re Grateful for.
Highlight—Definitely visiting all of the new places I’d never been before. I first moved to Colorado in Fall 2011 and still have a lifetime’s worth of things to see here. I’ve been all of Colorado’s 14ers, but haven’t been to a lot of the distilleries, breweries, coffeeshops, and other places we visited.
Lowlight—My lowlight was when the project ended. I’d love to just keep playing tourist in this beautiful state!
Grateful—I’m grateful that Mandy would even trust me to plan something like this and agree to join me on it! You’d think she would have learned her lesson after letting me plan our 13-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon…
Highlight—Completing the 14th 14er. Even though each an every summit was a victory for me, when I hit that seemingly impossible goal, and got to check it off, I just felt complete.
Lowlight—The exhaustion. Not only did we have a ton of early, early… early mornings – even on our days off we were traveling and checking things off our list.
Grateful—That Kendrick is constantly showing me things I don’t think I can do. When he first suggested the project I thought “have fun without me!” – but then, he drug me along and now I can say I did it!
So, after 14 days our project totals are:
14 of Everything!
So, here’s to a lifetime of exploring Colorful Colorado…