When my mom and I were snowed off the Colorado Trail we ended up at a hotel called Monarch Lodge, up the mountain from Salida. I don’t know exactly how to describe the hotel to give the full experience but essentially it makes the Shining seem real. It was clearly a great hotel in the 70s or 80s, but then fell out of use and since then has been owned by a rotating door of remote owners that keep it running but make no updates or substantive changes at all. The decor hasn’t changed and you can kind of wander around and just open doors and explore; there’s a basketball court, a squash court, some arcade games, and an indoor pool that looks straight out of the original Betty and Veronica comics. We were snowed in there for days, trapped with other hikers that had been driven off the trail and the seasonal employees that were…personalities. Maybe 10 people total for the whole hotel. No wifi except in one part of the hallway and one corner of the lobby.
So obviously we had to go back! Monarch Lodge was our basecamp after I picked up my mom and brother in Denver. We did some shopping and drove out to Monarch for the night before they started the trail. Unlike when we were trapped there and the restaurant closed so we ended up eating food out of the hiker box for dinner, we had the car so were able to head into the delightful town of Salida to get dinner and that really took away from the Shining experience in the best possible way.
We divided and set up all of their food, making sure that the food they would be leaving in my car was in ursack scent blocking bags because when I googled “roof box bear” it was just videos of bears breaking into roof boxes. It was also at this point that I learned my passport was expired and I attempted to take passport photos in the flickering hall lights. During the whole process it became clear what a trusting person my brother truly is, which is an admirable quality but personally not how I would approach a backpacking trip. I think we could have told him to carry any amount and type of food and he would have believed us. To be fair it is hard to tell what’s real or not. You spend ages talking about bear safety and then explain that the sharp knife you’re bringing is exclusively for cutting blocks of cheese.
After breakfast burritos in town we headed off to CO 114, the beginning of segment 18 where they would be heading southbound. The parking lot was full of people and we were surprised to see someone set up for trail magic, and as hikers came through they said two miles north was a pancake breakfast trail magic situation. It seems the Colorado Trail is getting a little more of a support network as it gets more popular, or in the past we just weren’t on the standard hiking schedule, I don’t remember any trail magic before. We also met a woman doing what I was doing, being a support vehicle for people on the trail, and we did see her a few more times down the trail. Starting the trail was delayed by some cowboys (I guess ranchers) herding their cows across the trail and under the highway to cross to other grazing ground. Very impressed by the dogs hard at work. This is one of the interesting features of the Colorado Trail, a ton of it is on BLM grazing lands. This not only means that you are constantly walking around the corner to be startled by what you think is a bear but turns out to be a cow (usually) but having a good water purification system is unbelievably important. Especially in drought periods or long waterless stretches, those few water sources are being shared by you and the cows, and no one told the cows to go number 2 at least 200 feet from a water source.
When the cows had moved on, except for one that seemed lost, we started hiking. It was a pretty flat open stretch, and Ben thought it was pretty but we knew that compared to where they heading it was downright hideous. A nice stroll through some hills, some flowers, and then the trail started heading up hill through some pines. I went about 2.5 miles in with them and then bid them farewell as they headed off on their adventure, into the woods for (supposedly) 4 days before I would meet them in Lake City.