Elks Extravaganza Part II: The Devil’s Punchbowl
As soon as the high country opens up for the summer there are so many trails to run, hike and bike, mountains to climb, rivers and lakes to fish, the list goes on and on, growing longer every year as I pinpoint more places to visit. But many times I can’t resist going back to some of my old favorites. Riding the road from Marble to the Crystal Mill is one of them. We did it again this past weekend. Sandwiched between the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the north and the Raggeds to the south, the scenery is, of course, breathtakingly beautiful. The road travels alongside the clear waters of the Crystal River along to the Crystal Mill, one of the most photographed locations in Colorado. Though double track, the ride is still fun what with dodging big puddles and a couple of short climbs thrown in here and there. It can be quite wet and muddy but somehow getting filthy makes me feel like I worked harder.
Sometimes we continue on from the ghost town of Crystal City to complete the Lead King Loop. Knowing it would be busy on the 4th July weekend we opted instead to visit the ominous sounding Devil’s Punchbowl, a few miles beyond Crystal on the ‘road’ to Crested Butte. Schofield Pass was still closed due to snow and so we had the road pretty much to ourselves. As we all know, punchbowl’s normally hold very tasty alcoholic concoctions of which I tend to consume rather copious amounts. Not this one. Being the Devil’s it was full of narrow, rough and rocky shelf roads, big and scary drop offs, steep climbs, raging torrents and piles of snow and avalanche debris. History recounts of more than a dozen deaths as vehicles have peeled off this, one of the most dangerous 4WD roads in the state. Sipping, not guzzling was definitely the MO here. Riding was slow with eyes glued to the road and hands gripped to the brakes.
As we tentatively peered over the edge down towards the river below, a beat up kayak stuck beneath a pile of logs caught the eye. No sign of a ‘maytagged’ kayaker who hopefully made it out of the washing machine before going through the full spin cycle. As the river enters the punchbowl from Schofield Park it plunges almost 1,000 feet before leveling out. An awe inspiring sight, it leaves you with no illusions as to the power and force of water especially running high as it was that day. On our return, passing through Crystal we stopped in at Roger Neal’s cabin. Having spent every summer since 1948 in Crystal, Roger knows the history of the area well. He told us the Mill, built in 1893, was actually a compressor station driven by a water turbine, providing compressed air to nearby silver mines. After our little history lesson and with thunderheads building we quickly headed on back to Marble.