The Ouray Ice Festival Begins Today In Ouray, Colorado

The Ouray Ice Festival begins todayNorth America’s largest ice climbing competition gets underway in Colorado today with the start of the Ouray Ice Festival. The event is held annually at the Ouray Ice Park and pits the best climbers in the world against one another in a host of challenges designed to test their strength and skill.

Using ice axes in each hand and crampons on their boots, competitors will attempt to climb a variety of routes along a frozen waterfall located inside the Ice Park. They’ll each be timed on how quickly they are able to finish their routes, with the fastest climber earning the victory. Considering there will be $16,000 of prize money up for grabs across several events and categories, you can bet the competition will be intense.

Ice climbing is certainly not for the faint of heart. It requires nerves of steel to take part in this sport, as climbers ascend nearly vertical sections of frozen water. They use specially designed climbing axes to chip into the ice, creating handholds they can use to lift themselves up. Meanwhile, the crampons on their boots can be kicked into the ice to create support that can be used to step up to higher levels. They complete the climb by pulling themselves up with the axes while kicking into the ice with their feet. The entire time they have to pay close attention to the ice to ensure it is solid and stable enough to continue along the route.The Ouray Ice Park is one of the best places in the world to actually go ice climbing. Located in a natural gorge just outside the town of Ouray, the park features more than 200 climbing routes, most just a short distance from the entrance. Those excellent conditions make the Ice Park a huge draw for climbers from across the globe. It doesn’t hurt that entry is absolutely free thanks to extensive fund raising during the Ice Festival.

If you’re interested in trying ice climbing for yourself, walk-up climbing is available at the Festival from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting today and running through the weekend. There are also a number of clinics designed to help hone your skills and a gear expo to show off the latest climbing equipment. Numerous competitions, film screenings, award ceremonies and other fun events will also take place over the course of the weekend, giving spectators a chance to learn more about the sport and the men and women who take part in it. For a complete schedule of events, click here.

[Photo Credit: Ouray Ice Park]

A Summer Road Trip Through Southwest Colorado

wine While usually thought of as a winter destination, Colorado has a lot to offer the summer traveler. For the itinerary below, I’d suggest touring the U.S. state via car, allotting at least two weeks, although three or four would be better.

Denver

Although this is technically central Colorado, it’s an excellent starting point for your road trip, especially since you’ll most likely be flying into there. The city is full of great activities that can be enjoyed during the summer, like exploring the numerous museums, taking in a comedy show at Comedy Works, strolling down 16th Street Mall or around the trendy Larimer Square. My top suggestion for a great summer experience in Denver, is sampling some of the artisanal flavors of the city. Visit D’Vine Wine, a boutique winery offering inexpensive vino tastings of unusual blends, and The Truffle Cheese Shop, where you’ll be able to try free samples of rare cheeses and cured meats. For those interested in uniquely flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Marketplace EVOO features a giant tasting room, where the owner will help you put together and try the perfect blends. If you’re hungry, Biker Jim’s serves up exotic meat hot dogs, like elk, rattlesnake and pheasant, while the numerous local breweries can give you a taste of Denver’s famous beer scene.golden city brewery Golden

Located 30 minutes west of Denver, this tiny town may look unassuming, but there are actually a lot of worthwhile activities in the area. For some adventure and culture, tubing down Clear Creek is a popular local activity. Moreover, a trip to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre offers picturesque hiking trails of moderate intensity, with opportunities to get close to the glowing red rocks. Additionally, Golden is the home of the Coor’s brewery, which gives tours Thursday through Monday. I would recommend, however, going to the 2nd largest brewery, and only other brewery, in town, The Golden City Brewery. It’s tiny, and housed in an old carriage house. They serve delicious wraps, and you can order a flight of their brews for about $6. At night, drive up Zion Mountain for an all-encompassing view of the city and surrounding areas lit up in the dark.

waterfall Breckenridge

About 90 minutes west of Golden you’ll find the charming mountain town of Breckenridge. This is one of my favorite cities – not only in Colorado, but also in the world. Summer travelers will love the endless amount of hiking trails available, to lakes, peaks, gorges and waterfalls. Furthermore, the town has an endless amount of boutique shops selling food, art, clothing, accessories, massages and gear. A stop at Breckenridge Distillery, the highest distillery in the world, is a must, as you can try free samples of their vodka, bourbon and bitters. I’d also suggest buying some elk and buffalo jerky from Climax Jerky, to sample some local flavor.

wine Grand Junction

Drive three hours west, and you’ll get to Grand Junction. Here you’ll find Colorado’s undiscovered wine region. Because of its very high altitude, rich soil, cool winds and mild climate, the area is able to make some of the world’s best wines. Furthermore, the altitude allows for fruits to grow close to the sun, bringing out their intense flavors. The area here produces 70 percent to 80 percent of the state’s wine grapes, as it has the longest growing season. This is in part due to the cooling effect from nearby canyons, and milding effect from the Grand Valley. Visit Carlson’s Vineyards, a winery featuring a wide selection of wines and quirky concoctions, and Colorado’s oldest winery, Colorado Cellars Winery.

Additionally, you can partake in some of the state’s most scenic hiking at Colorado National Monument. This red rock canyon is over 200 years old, and features towering monoliths, expansive plateaus and panoramic views. It’s 450 feet tall from its base to its top, and is 5,739 feet in elevation. Common wildlife includes bighorn sheep, eagles and collared lizards.

black canyon Crawford

About 45 minutes south, you’ll come to Crawford. This is a great city to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and experience the beauty of nature. Here you’ll find the country’s newest national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are moderate hiking trails, which allow you to view the famous Black Canyon, which some say is even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Moreover, this is a great place to stay on a ranch and partake in activities like horseback riding, archery, fly-fishing, trekking and line dancing. When I went, I stayed at the Smith Fork Ranch. While a bit pricey, you’ll have all your meals and alcohol included, and the atmosphere will really help you assimilate into country culture.

canyoning Ouray

Drive an hour south, and you’ll get to the adventure-rich town of Ouray. It’s similar to Breckenridge in that it’s full of scenic hikes, boutique shops and outdoorsy locals; however, Ouray has a bit of a grittier exterior. The city was once an old mining town, which is apparent by looking at the historical buildings, many of which haven’t been changed since the late 1800s. There are many adventurous options for the summer traveler, like canyoning, off-roading, rock climbing and alpine hiking. I’d highly recommend canyoning with San Juan Mountain Guides, as you get to repel down an 80-foot waterfall into a deep, narrow slot canyon. Additionally, there are many unique food shops and boutiques in town. Stop in Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for their locally famous Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates, they take the scraps and save them to add into their homemade cookie batter. Each cookie is a surprise, as you might get nuts, toffee, caramel, turtles or other sweet possibilities depending on what was left over. By the same token, they have unique chocolates like bacon clusters with chardonnay salt and “Dark Hippie Bark,” a mix of coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. For a unique brewery experience, visit the Ourayle House, where you’ll be heckled by Hutch, the owner, who made the bar out of scrap wood in his garage.

If you’re flying back, you can make your way to the airport at Grand Junction, which is about an hour away.

Quirky Hospitality In Ouray, Colorado

john wayne's hat There are many interesting cities to visit during a trip through Colorado. While Denver has excellent artisanal shops, you can find the world’s highest distillery in Breckenridge. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, the little known town of Ouray offers various ways to receive quirky hospitality.

Quirky Restaurant: The Outlaw

Located at 610 Main Street, The Outlaw is the oldest operating restaurant in Ouray, open since early 1969 with the same sign still hanging. It has a very “Old West” feel, with a pianist playing upbeat tunes in the corner, walls of cowboy hats and a dimly lit room littered with wooden tables. While the steaks are delicious and the cocktails strong, the biggest draw to this place is the fact you can wear one of John Wayne’s hats. It’s the one located behind the bar, above the beers. During the shooting for a film, Wayne was staying in Ouray. One day, he called up The Outlaw to order some food for pickup. The owner’s wife answered, and when he said it was John Wayne calling, she responded by saying “yea right” and hung up the phone. Wayne became so enamored with her crassness; he ended up eating there everyday during the entire movie shoot.cookieQuirky Dessert Shop: Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee

Not only does Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee have unusual chocolate flavors like bacon clusters with Chardonnay salt and coconut bark with pumpkin and sunflower, it’s also home of the locally-loved Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates for the day, the staff takes the scraps and add them to their family recipe cookie batter. When customers order a Scrap Cookie, they won’t know what they’re getting until they take a bite. One thing is for sure, though, it’ll be delicious. Local tip: Buy two Scrap Cookies and have them make an ice-cream sandwich for you. While they’ll often say they don’t do it, tell them a local told you about it, and they most likely will.

ouray Quirky Brewery: Ourayle House

Also known as the “Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company,” the Ourayle House is a bizarre experience. It resides in the garage of the cranky owner, Hutch, who takes pride in making snarky comments to customers. The place looks like it’s made of scrap wood – mainly because most of it is – and old and broken sports equipment and dirty board games litter the space. If you leave your business card you can expect a rude comment to be written on the back, and if you’re a beer snob you can expect any diva-esque quotes to be written on the board behind the bar. For example, when I was there, one customer made the mistake of saying, “I only drink IPAs and Coors Light.” Of course, this was quickly noted for all to see. Hutch even has a countdown for how many “days without a beer Madonna” have passed. It’s also fun to read the unfriendly and weird signs that adorn the walls, reading things like “Welcome to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company Cheers! ‘Welcome’ being a relative term,” and “It has always been out policy to accept game meat for beer, from good hunters and careless drivers.” Hutch makes all his beer on site, and rotates his drafts to keep things interesting. You can even order based on a brew’s “sq,” meaning “slamability quotient.”

christmas b&bQuirky Accommodation: The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn

While most B&Bs have a certain unusual charm to them, Ouray’s The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn is another animal. The old Victorian home has been around since 1889, although it officially became a bed and breakfast in 1998. For those who have read “The Painted Ladies,” the property was featured in the book. It’s a very quirky accommodation, as it’s Christmas all year long here. Along with the outside and common rooms being decorated with festive decor, each guest room features a Christmas tree with seasonal accents. Along with yuletide cheer, rooms also have saunas, Jacuzzis and cable television.

A Jeep Tour Through Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway And Highway To Heaven

crystal lake When traveling through Colorado, one city I highly recommend visiting is the little known Ouray. Here, you’ll not only get to take part in various adventure sports, sip beer at quirky breweries and eat scrap cookies at Mouse’s, you’ll also be able to take a scenic jeep tour through Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway and Highway To Heaven.

When visiting Ouray, I took my jeep tour with San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours, a company I highly recommend. Our guide was funny, knowledgeable and full of interesting stories about the area and its history. The tour began with a viewing of part of the famous Million Dollar Highway, a scenic road thought to be one of the most dangerous in the United States due to its narrowness, steep cliffs and lack of guardrails. The road supposedly gets its name from a woman known as Queen Anne, who once said, “You couldn’t give me a million dollars to ride on that road again!” About halfway through the route, the tour makes a turn onto the beautiful Highway To Heaven, a picturesque path that takes you to an elevation of 13,000 feet. For a final stop, the tour visits an old ghost town in Ouray County.

For a more visual idea of the experience, check out the gallery below.

%Gallery-159717%

[Image above via Vagabondish. Gallery images via Jessie on a Journey and Davepaper]

Colorado’s Most Surprising Dessert: The Scrap Cookie

cookies While Colorado is home to many unique chocolate shops and bakeries, you usually know what you’re ordering. Even if you purchase something unusual, like wasabi ginger dark chocolate or goat cheese and crushed black pepper buttercream, the name will give you a hint as to what the ingredients are. If you visit the old mining town of Ouray, however, you can stop in Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for a more surprising kind of dessert: the Scrap Cookie.

Located at 520 Main Street, the shop is always full of locals craving delicious sweets and caffeine-filled coffees. While they have unique chocolate varieties, like bacon clusters with Chardonnay salt and coconut bark with pumpkin and sunflower, the most popular item on the menu is the Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates for the day, the staff save the scraps and mix them with their family-invented homemade cookie batter. When guests come in and order the cookie, they won’t know what kind it is until they take a bite. My Scrap Cookie ended up containing all my favorite additions, like macadamia nuts, toffee, caramel and truffle pieces.

While ordering a Scrap Cookie is $2.50, you can also purchase two cookies and have Mouse’s make it into an ice cream sandwich for about $10. I was told by my canyoning guide that they won’t always do it. However, if you say a local told you about it, they will.