Meadow Mountain loaded with wild daises, great views
I’ll bet few people around here remember when Minturn was hailed as the Lettuce Capital of the United States. I sure don’t.
That was back in the 1920s, and it’s hard to say whether the United States considered Minturn the Lettuce Capital, or whether Minturn considered itself the Lettuce Capital.
Nonetheless, Meadow Mountain, near the junction of Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 24 at the Minturn exit was once home to the Evercrisp Lettuce Company. I don’t know about the company, but the mountain is aptly named.
Evercrisp eventually realized it could grow lettuce year-round in California, so it left Colorado and these beautiful mountain meadows behind. Thus, Meadow Mountain remains a broad mountain of expansive, grassy meadows loaded with wild daises and other assorted flora and fauna.
In 1960, the U.S. Forest Service first surveyed this picturesque area. They had to, based on its review of Vail Associates’ application to build the Vail ski area nearby. Vail officially opened in 1962, and two years later, in 1964, Jack Oleson, a cattle rancher from Avon, bought an immense swath of land encompassing Meadow Mountain and Grouse Creek directly to its south.
Between 1966 and 1969, Oleson developed these meadows as a small ski area. Vail Associates, however, did not want competition so close to its new base mountain at Vail, a couple miles to the east, and bought him out after the 1969–70 ski season. The Forest Service purchased the property from Vail Associates in 1971.
Today, it’s used extensively as a backcountry cross-country ski and snowboard area in the winter, as well as a heck of a sledding hill. During the summer months, an old Forest Service road meanders around, across and through these meadows to a “line shack” near the top of the mountain.
What’s a line shack? Well, my old handy-dandy edition of Cowboy Bob’s Dictionary says it’s “a cabin for use of cowhands when out patrolling the boundary line of the ranch for cattle that may have strayed over the line.”
Meadow Mountain Trail begins just south of the White River National Forest Holy Cross Ranger Station off U.S. 24 and ends at the aforementioned line shack and top of the Whiskey Creek trail. I don’t have to refer to Cowboy Bob’s dictionary to figure that one out.
Along the way, relics of old cabins and corrals still exist, reminding visitors of its past. Those open meadows predominate the lower stretch of this trail, with some aspen and spruce-fir forest appearing near the top.
The line shack lies at the end of the trail. It offers a good place for lunch and a vantage point for spectacular views of the Gore Range as well as Beaver Creek Ski area to the west.
Evidence of old ski runs shows that this was once a ski area, but hiking through this high-altitude paradise allows one to ponder the great John Muir quote printed on the kiosk back at the trail head: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
Do I hear an “Amen” on that?
It’s not just for hikers, though. Apparently, mountain bicyclists love this terrain, too. According to http://www.singletracks.com, an excellent mountain-biking website, the average rating for this intermediate 13-mile-long single-track trail is 4.5 out of 5. The day I hiked this trail, I saw only three other people hiking, one running, and no one riding a bike.
To reach this area, take I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville and U.S. 24. Turn right (south) off the exit. Just beyond the interstate, you’ll find a large parking lot on the right (west). The trail begins from the south end of the parking lot near an old white house used for storage and lodging for Forest Service employees.
Hiking, biking and horseback riding are allowed on this trail, while motorized vehicles are not. If you’re riding a horse, you probably already know certified weed-free hay is a requirement. Dogs are welcome, but must be under leash or voice control at all times. Please restrain your pet from chasing wildlife. It’s tough enough out there with it so dry, dry, dry.
Backpacking and camping are allowed here, as long as you don’t camp within 100 feet of a stream or lake. Keep in mind; fire danger is extremely high this year throughout our state and region. Obviously, fireworks are not allowed, but neither are open campfires. In fact, the entire White River National Forest has a ban on open campfires, as do most areas in Colorado.