Disconnecting, unplugging, getting lost, taking a moment…however you want to word it, vacations always give me a chance to reboot.  Last summer, our vacation caused me to reboot so much that Dustin and I moved 700 miles to Colorado and completely changed the course of our lives.  This year, nothing quite that life changing occurred, but all of us did get a chance to disconnect, yet reconnect.

Dustin and I love Colorado, but sometimes it is a lonely place.  Making friends as you get older seems to require a lot of effort.  Our closest friends from KC require no effort, and were such a sight for sore eyes when they pulled in the drive two Fridays ago.  I’ve been looking forward to their visit for months.  This year, they even brought Honey (their dog).  I was excited to see her too!  The dogs hung out, the four of us caught up, drank some beer and ate pizza.  Last Friday night we grilled and stayed up late laughing and chatting.  It was like nothing had changed and we were sitting in Missouri.  It is nights like these that I miss the most. 

Since this was Brooke and Matt’s vacation, we didn’t just sit around Fort Collins.  We went and played in the mountains, all the while urging Brooke and Matt to make the same move we did.  Sunday, we drove up Poudre Canyon, and found a place to lie our heads at Aspenglen Campground.  Nestled next to Joe Wright Creek, the sound of the highway is drowned by the roar of the water.  Mosquitoes were held at bay, and the clouds took a night off to reveal a sparkling sky.  It was incredible to watch the stars twinkle.  It is funny how a starry sky lets you ponder all possibilities.   

Monday through Thursday we spent in the Rawah Wilderness, and Friday we spent in RMNP.  Believe what you read, mosquitoes in Rawah are horrendous and very thirsty.  Brooke, Matt and I had no fewer than 30 bites – that was wearing insect repellent.  Mother Nature seems to require a bit of payment for her beautiful places, and if I had to sacrifice a little blood to revel in Rawah’s beauty, I happily obliged.

Monday we got a late start, and didn’t make it all the way to the lakes.  We settled into the only dry ground we could find, and made camp for the night.  We hoped for no rain since a little stream flowed right by the door of the tent.  It wasn’t the most ideal spot, but Brooke and Matt’s lungs needed a break, not to mention Honey was pooped!  We stopped one time for a quick break, and Honey girl didn’t want to put back on her dog pack.  She was spent.  It was interesting to notice the difference in Dustin and I’s lung capacity and tolerance for the altitude compared to last year.  We really felt the effects of altitude on our lungs climbing Mt. Sopris, but this time the altitude didn’t seem to bother us as much. 

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Rain settled in on Tuesday and we spent most of the day under the two sportsman’s tarps.  Matt and Dustin actually devised quite a sturdy shelter out of the rain, and it proved most useful for our days in Rawah.


The places to explore in the wilderness are numerous.  Just in the small area we inhabited, we could venture to six lakes, and two more lakes were just over the ridge.  It was an ideal setting for a base camp while taking day hikes.  I could have spent many more days just exploring.  Dustin and I took Wednesday morning to poke around and see what we could.  We took in two more lakes, one which was still 90% frozen.  That particular unnamed lake rested at 11,500 feet.  The amount of snow still in the high country was remarkable.  Not all of the snow will make it into the drainages this year…

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Wildflowers were in full bloom, painting the landscape in vibrant colors of purple, pink, red and yellow.  Marmots said hello quite often, bear scat and paw prints littered the ridge, and signs of elk were everywhere where the lush vegetation grew with a fury; the growing season will be quite short this year for plant and animal species alike. 

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The fishing – well I can say it was worth carrying the extra weight of fishing gear.  We spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening, catching brookie after brookie, even though these lakes were supposed to contain greenbacks.  Unfortunately, it looks like the brook trout infiltrated and again outcompeted the greenback.  Disappointing from a a native trout restoration perspective, but great fun from a fishing perspective.  From Dustin and I’s experience, it seems brookies are much less finicky…and once you catch one, they just seem to keep coming.  I like that kind of fishing!

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Rawah had its fair share of challenges in store for us; we had three hairy river crossings, several snowfields, and threatening weather.  Hikes that normally are day hikes, are much trickier considering the high water and lingering snow.  Snow melted rapidly during the day, leading to higher creeks and rivers in the morning – keep that in mind if you plan to travel to Rawah this week.

The hike down always goes faster than the hike up, but I am starting to discover I like the climb rather than the descent.  Hiking down the mountain takes a toll on the body – it hurts.  Climbing the mountain doesn’t hurt like that!  With that said, the trail was rather moderate.  The wet conditions made it trickier than normal, but elevation gains are rather well spaced, and we only went through a few switchbacks.  Pack animals are allowed, and the trail suffers from that.  Deep ruts in the trail caused water to flow in some parts like a creek.  Not that I have anything against pack animals, it is just that you can tell the trails where they are allowed.  Their footprints make a much bigger footprint than ours…

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Friday in RMNP, we traveled from the East side of the park to the West side of the park.  The beetle kill on the west side is awful.  Grand Lake hardly has a live tree standing.  We did see where the park service has treated several areas with insecticide to help stop the beetle.  This was Matt’s first time to the park, and I don’t think he was disappointed. We came back to FoCo, grilled and spent the last few hours together enjoying one another’s company.  Saturday morning came too soon, and it was hard to watch our friends pull out of the drive.  We didn’t want them to leave.  I am counting down the days until we can all sit around and shoot the breeze again.  Thanks guys for coming to visit! 



Written by Stephanie Mullins



Stephanie, What a wonderful report! The photos are breathtaking! I can only imagine the lonely times, but I hope that eases as time passes. You are living a dream.


Nothing better than catching up with good friends. Glad you had a great week in the high country. Great photos and great post!


Found your blog recently and have been enjoying it. Sounds like you had a great trip and some awesome pics to boot!


Stephanie, great report and photos. I really like the first one of the Brookie with his head out of the water- very cool perspective.

Stephanie and Dustin

@Howard – Yes, we are living a dream! I'm anxious to head over to your blog to check out your vacation. I have yesterday and today in civilization then it is back to the backcountry for a little volunteer work!

@Sanders – I'm sure you and Bridget can relate to missing home and friends. It was great to catch up. You need to get to Rawah and fish those lakes. The fish are starving…or so it seems.

@Marcus – Glad you found us and are enjoying! Thanks for the compliments.

@Blake – Thanks!! The scenery makes it pretty easy to take good pics.

@Jay – Dustin tries to take those shots quite a bit, sometimes they turn out and sometimes they don't. The ones that have are some of our favorite photos.


GREAT pictures and recap – I want to be in COL so badly it hurts! Maybe early September. Even though they weren't greenbacks, those were sm enice brookies.



I love the Rawah Wilderness – many great memories there at Iceberg, Sugarbowl and McIntyre. It's been a few years though. Check out the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness in coming years – this year there is too much snow. The past several years I've been heading out to Wind River Range in WY for backpacking. A fly fishing paradise! But i have to say not really as beautiful and pristine as what we have here in CO. Another great post with awesome photography – thank you. Btw, I met you both over at Anglers Roost (er, I mean St. Pete's South) a few weeks ago. Do you recall?


Regarding the mosquitos – I'll bet they are much worse this year due to the water than normal, but one word of warning about Wind Rivers, since I mentioned it previously is that it is the worst mosquito situation I've ever dealt with. A head net is a necessity at certain times of the day, which is really frustrating. Try spotting your tiny fly on the water with one of those one! I've heard that in Alaska a whole body net is needed. Do take care with the mosquitos in CO. It's rare but we do occasionally get cases of West Nile virus. I just returned from a family vacation to Yucatan Peninsula area of Mexico and during a trip into the jungle for rappeling, cenote snorkeling and zip lining managed to get stuck by a bunch of mosquitos and came home with West Nile. Mostly recovered now but it was painful.

The Sowbug

Great pics…Rawah is very cool indeed, the mosquitoes are epic there, and a stop in Walden is always interesting too.

CO is a tough nut to crack some days. Originally from SC and know exactly what you mean about those "no effort" friends. Having this funny southern accent, people here are always asking disdainfully if I'm Texas… I always answer where's that? Sometimes it may seem as if normal people are rare finds here in Denver… what with all the hipsters, potheads, and other run of the mill weirdos, Colfax Ave. is a anthropological goldmine in and of itself. Then again, spending countless hours flicking tiny bits of feather & fur at trout and posting about it on the web might appear insane to others.

Fly Waters Edge - Kevin

Wow! I wish I had the guts to pick it all up and head for Colorado. A starry Night and pondring is something all us misfits have in common. Love the pics, 2nd after the tent screams wide open spaces, love it! First 2 Brook pics are crazy good! Great post!!!!

Stephanie and Dustin

@Kevin – It was a crazy decision to come, but we love it here. We definitely through caution to the wind!

@Casey – There are so many fantastic places here in CO to visit. I don't think we could make it to them all in our lifetime!

@Bill – You need to come out and bring those great photographic skills of yours!

@Sowbug – The mosquitoes were terrible, but not as bad as Delaney Buttes. As for meeting new people, we are probably the weird ones, and eventually we'll connect with some weird types of which we approve. You know the flipping feathers at trout type…

@Mark – Bad news about your bout with West Nile. From your account, I am not sure I want to ever visit Wind Rivers…

@Josh – Thanks!

@Jeff – We've been so lucky to have two years with back to back great vacations.

@MM – Honey was so good at all the crossings. She is one heck of a trail dog.


My wife, dog and I are heading out to Rawah this upcoming August and I/we couldn't be more excited! We did the Adirondacks 2 years ago and had a blast aside from the blood sucking, welt producing black flies. Rawah mosquitoes can't be much worse, right?? 🙂

I'm hoping the wife has the same reboot you mentioned and we'll eventually end up out there.

Any recommendations for a fellow midwesterner (WI) heading to the Rawah around the same time you did?

Any insight for traveling with a dog in that area?

Any issues/restrictions with bears (food storage) I need to know about?

I'll obviously contact the ranger district before we get on the road, but wanted to see if you had any knowledge to share!

Great trip report, really enjoyed reading!

Stephanie and Dustin

Hi Bob. Rawah is where all mosquitoes are born. They are horrendous, but just below tree line. Once you get above that you are golden.

We traveled with a dog, and she did really well. We had some pretty hairy river crossings, which were even harder with a dog, but we managed. The snowpack this year is not anywhere near as high as it was that year. You might want to think of getting him/her some boots. Some of the trails have some sharp rocks.

Make sure to bring warm clothes and good rain gear. The temperature can bottom out in nothing flat. One day we were walking around in short sleeves, and the next thing you knew we were scrambling to put on our layers. Afternoon storms are the norm; good rain gear required.

We saw quite a bit of bear scat, but didn't have a sighting. As far as food storage, we took our bear canister and cached it away from camp.

Feel free to email me if you have any other questions.



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