The sun hit camp earlier than it had the previous few mornings, bringing a welcome warmth to our tents after the only night that would result in frost on their fabric.
Breakfast of Honey Bunches of Oats and refreshingly cold milk in hand, I decided to explore the stream that ran beside our camp. A few hundred feet upstream, I ran into a beaver dam - and hut - a cool discovery, even if it was obviously long-abandoned due to the lack of fresh cuttings and build-up of sediment in the pond. As if to prove how cold it had been overnight, ice on the dam glistened in the morning sun.
Despite the early morning sun, our departure from camp was slower than usual. Monte's parents - Steve @woodnick and Megan - were scheduled to leave, and after an in-tent decision during the night, Mark @IDTrucks and Emily decided that it would be a good time for them to duck out as well - some mountain biking trails in the Moab, Utah area, calling to them after nearly a week of riding in trucks over bumpy roads.
It was 11:30am when we parted ways - Dan @drr, Monte, Mike @Digiratus and I, headed west on FS-742 and then Italian Creek Road, Garfield Peak in our rear view mirrors, American Flag Mountain rising up in the distant foreground.
Garfield Peak rising up behind us.
Our destination (on the left) - American Flag Mountain, Italian Mountain rising up on the right.
The plan for the day was to do a large loop around American Flag Mountain, eventually popping ourselves out in Taylor Park - not only a location we'd visited on our last trip, but the last camp site we'd called home before that fateful day that ended the adventure. As such, we'd ultimately end up only a handful of miles from our previous night's camp, but we'd set ourselves up for another attempt at Mt. Antero - one of the drivers behind our return to Colorado!
As we drove through - and eventually up - the plain, we were dazzled by Italian Mountain, growing larger and larger in the foreground, the road winding beside a creek bearing the same name.
The further we got, the rockier the road became. Grades increased, and the mountain grew. Still, it was Italian Mountain that we were focused on - rather than the patriotic one we'd actually summit - as we passed a few "friend or foe" signs for interspersed private land.
That sign in the distance, though: "If you go any farther, you better be a friend." Yikes.
After passing through a bit of said private land - and being sure to keep to the road as we did - our ascent took us to the west and began the final climb to the saddle. There, we spotted an old mine and pulled in for a closer look. Perhaps what we'd stumbled upon was a part of the old Star Mine, a lead-zinc mine, the main structures of which were apparently a few hundred feet to our north. Whatever it was, an old boiler and stove rusted away under a collapsed roof, and a shaft into the mountain had been recently grated by the Department of Natural Resources.
While poking around, a couple drove up on a UTV, appearing to have come from one of the nearby private cabins. Unsure if they were going to ask us what we were doing - or even to leave - I think we were all a little surprised when then mentioned that if we stopped by the cabin on the way out, we could sign the guest book. While that wasn't in the cards - we were doing a loop after-all - it was a nice reminder that people out in the middle of nowhere are generally friendly, as long as those they run into are friendly and respectful as well.
As they pulled away, we too climbed into our trucks and continued up towards American Flag Mountain, the sky soon filling much of our windshields.
At 12,713 feet, American Flag Mountain might only be Colorado's 848th tallest mountain, but it was another all-time-high for us on this trip - just 8 feet higher than Pearl Pass the previous day. It was the perfect place to have lunch, chat with the few other folks who found themselves at the summit as we were arriving, and enjoy the views - even if they were just a little bit smoky.
Eventually, we found ourselves alone at the top - just the way we preferred it - and we enjoyed each others company as we lounged in our camp chairs, the wind buffeting our backs. In no real rush since we had a reasonably short day, it was 2:00pm when we finally started back down the mountain.
The initial descent - what had been our final climb - was a steep one.
As afternoon clouds - the first we'd had all trip - rolled in, the views as we continued our loop on the west side of American Flag Mountain continued to be dramatic, the smoke adding a sense of distance to the landscape before us.
While it must have been a struggle to survive, the view from this cabin would be hard to beat.
Our descent back towards Taylor Park was slower than the climb into the mountains. The trail got rockier here, certain places requiring careful line choice - and even a bit of three-wheeling - to successfully navigate. It was all good fun, I can assure you!
As our elevation dropped, more and more civilization was apparent across the landscape. Much of the land here is - or was at one time - leased for grazing, and fences crisscrossed the landscape, the road weaving through several gates in a somewhat haphazard fashion.
Civilization meant smoother roads, and before long we were passing Spring Creek Reservoir at nearly 45 mph, its banks lined with folks camping and fishing its cool, clear waters.
And soon, we were nearing the end of our loop. It was here that Grizzly Peak and Jenkins Mountain rose up in the distance. These were part of the same range that we'd see from camp later in the evening, and they were enough to bring us to a stop along the side of the road - just to admire them from a distance.
Now travelling as fast as our aired down tires would take us, we made quick work of the few miles between us and the Taylor Park Trading Post. Keen to use the restrooms, fill up propane, and see if there were any sweets to purchase, we opted for this pit stop on the way to camp. It turns out that the cell service there also afforded at least a couple of our group to catch up a bit on the news of the day... though, we wouldn't learn of this until later that evening.
From the trading post, we headed out into Taylor Park - not far from the reservoir - to one of the dozens of camp sites sprinkled along the roads. It was - in fact - the same camp site we'd stayed in our last time here; the views, flat open space, and relative privacy bringing us back for a repeat performance.
Despite our late start to the day, we'd gotten to camp right around 5:00pm in the afternoon - I hesitate to even call it evening. As the clouds yielded once again to the sun, the temps were downright balmy, and we all set about relaxing, taking care of odds and ends that could use some attention on our rigs, and chatting about wide-ranging topics that were on our minds.
Mike even took a "shower," - really just a rinse, but boy do those feel good after several dusty days on the trail!
Monte and Devin @MissBlackdawg spent some time searching for a leak in their air mattress - which had gone soft the previous night, much to their dismay.
And Dan politely asked if we all wanted to hear a bit of news he'd picked up on his phone when we'd been at the trading post, hesitant to spill the beans on what must have been hard to keep the wraps on. Of course we all wanted to hear it - and that's when he let us know that Trump had been diagnosed with COVID.
Whether that would ultimately lead to a positive or negative outcome - and in what way - we pondered for a few minutes before realizing that we could never really know - but one thing was for certain - we all agreed that it's funny how life works.
Through it all, we gazed out at the mountains, a reminder that through it all, good persists if you know where to look.
I'll never get tired of these Colorado views.
Eventually we settled into our normal evening routines of guacamole, dinner, and conversations around the fire. This time, the conversations centered around our plan for the next day - a special one, given we'd be returning to the place that ended it all last time...