While planning our summer route through Colorado our goal was to include as many stops near lakes or rivers as we could. Of course, this is summer and everyone along with their dogs, kids, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who will fit in the minivan is off to visit these very same lakes and rivers. All these vacationing folks means reservations are a must unless we want to spend the week skipping from site to site- or not getting a site at all. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I hate making reservations. I hate the finality of it all. I hate knowing that if we arrive and find it absolutely horrible, we either have to stay and suck it up, or leave and lose at least one night of pay plus the reservation fee. I really don’t know why I worry so much, because so far we have never arrived at a previously reserved campground and hated it so much that we had to leave. But still, I get anxiety every time. Well, once again I worried over nothing. I mean, just look at this lake! Who could be unhappy about spending a week on these shores?
Turquoise Lake lies just to the west of the town of Leadville, CO. At an altitude of 9,800 feet above sea level this high mountain lake offers a cool oasis from the summer heat. The lake has everything you would expect from a lake deep in the Colorado Rockies. There are towering, snow streaked mountains, sandy shores, crystal clear water, and plenty of open space for romping around on the beach and in the water for our pooch.
Here in Colorado the start of July marks the beginning of monsoon season. Basically this means that for the next two months there will be a chance of rain and storms nearly every afternoon. Our observation has been that each day starts with a bright blue sunny sky, then sometime in the mid-afternoon the clouds roll in. These clouds occasionally amount to nothing, but more often than not they lead to at least a few small showers, or sometimes a downpour accompanied by thunder and lightening. The storms seem to pop up out of nowhere, so trying to predict them based on the weather radar is impossible. The best thing to do is to be prepared for rain every afternoon. Our week at Turquoise lake was the first where we experienced the monsoons nearly everyday. Several times we got caught out in the rain, but luckily it never rains too hard or for too long. The problem is when the rain turns stormy and the thunder and lightning begin. This is what we don’t want to get caught out in. The upside to this volatile weather pattern is that we got to see the lake in all of its many moods. Sun in the morning, fluffy clouds in the early afternoon, dark clouds in the late afternoon, and finally the hazy layer of clouds that accompany a rain storm.
By far our favorite time to visit the lake was in the evening. Our after dinner walk down to the shore became a favorite way to end the day.
Our home for the week at Turquoise Lake was the Silver Dollar Campground. This is one of the eight national forest service campgrounds that ring the lake. Some sites look out over the water to the 14,000-foot peaks beyond, while others are tucked into secluded forests and meadowlands. Silver Dollar offers up large, widely spaced sites scattered among a mature lodgepole pine forest. There are no sites with water views at this campground, but from our site it was only a very short, and pleasant, ten minute walk to the shore.
It’s been awhile since we camped in an area this forested and it was a welcome change for us to be among the trees once again. The downside was that the trees blocked most of the sunlight we rely on for our energy needs. A few days in a row the generator had to come out to supplement the tiny amount of solar reaching our panels through the trees. For the first time we really understood how a portable solar panel could enhance our solar set up. The other downside was the mosquitoes. Oh man, were they fierce! In the morning and in the evening you were risking being eaten alive unless covered with multiple layers of bug spray. However, on the plus side the temperature under the trees was a cool mid-70s all week, and during that stretch in the middle of the day where the mosquitoes took a break from people munching sitting outside was very comfortable.
Since our stay at Turquoise Lake coincided with the 4th of July we took the opportunity to experience a small town holiday celebration in Leadville.
We started the day by joining the locals as they lined up along main street for the parade. Leadville is a small town with a current population of less than 3,000 and I would guess that a good amount of these folks were out for the parade.
Parades are great and all, but people watching at the parade is where its at. Many, many people were dressed up for the holiday with, red white & blue clothing, flag t-shirts and even one pair of flag motif pants. My favorite though was this family that I spotted across the street from us all sporting their handmade patriotic finery.
The parade was typical of a small town. No marching band, elaborate floats or high ranking officials. Instead we were treated to a slow moving jumble of old trucks, tractors, firetrucks, young baton throwers, and local business folks in jeeps and vans adorned with red white and blue streamers and flags. A crowd favorite was Smokey the Bear who hammed it up and showed off for the spectators. And of course there was candy. Lots, and lots of candy. Almost as much fun as watching the parade was watching the kids next to us anticipate and then pounce upon the candy as it flew through the air and landed at their feet. Tim worked hard to restrain himself with all that candy flying around. I am very proud to report that he didn’t knock any kids down in an effort to grab it all up, but instead was placated by the two pieces that landed right at his feet. Sometimes being a grown-up is no fun.
After the parade we walked up and down main street ducking in and out of the shops housed in the historic buildings that make up Leadville’s downtown. Like so many of the towns we’ve visited in Colorado, Leadville’s heritage lies in the mining industry. After the initial discovery of silver near Leadville in the mid 1870s it was established as a city in 1877, and a mere three years later had flourished into one of the world’s largest silver mining towns with a population over 40,000. Today the population is only a fraction of what it once was and the main industry in Leadville appears to be tourism related. With its status as the highest city in the United States (elevation 10,152 ft), a charming downtown designated as a national historic district, the tallest mountain in Colorado (Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft.) right in its backyard, and a bounty of natural beauty all around including lakes, forests, wilderness areas and mountains- Leadville is well situated to be a popular tourist town.
We exhausted our window shopping just in time to line up for the free BBQ at the fire station. This is definitely a small town tradition, and one that we were more than happy to participate in.
We topped off the events of the day with a fireworks display that was very nicely timed in between rain showers. Thanks for the suburb 4th of July Leadville.