Monarch Mountain title

Monarch Mountain: A blissful destination

Old Monarch Pass on Monarch Mountain
The sign announcing the Continental Divide on Monarch Mountain

Heading to Monarch Mountain

One scorching summer day, Eric said we were going to Monarch Mountain, Colo. He already had planned the trip. We were going to escape the heat in the high country, he said.

“Let’s go.”

A weekend with my husband in the mountains: This is bliss, my friends.

View from Monarch Mountain
360 degrees of the Rockies from Monarch Mountain

Visit Monarch Mountain

Monarch Mountain is mostly known for its skiing resort. However, the scenery is the best reason to visit Monarch Mountain in summer. We  found gorgeous mountain views, good food and drinks.

Playing with light

Scenery plus wildflowers plus gorgeous light equals a great time. Playing with lens flare and backlighting is one of my favorite techniques. The sun beckoned us to play and we followed.

I was thrilled to see the sun illuminating the flowers. The glow that surrounds them is so beautiful. It’s a touch of the divine.

Tenacity above Monarch Mountain’s tree line

wildflowers on Monarch Mountain
Purple wildflowers on Monarch Mountain

Once the sun disappeared at our original location, we found one more spot before the sun said good night. The place was above the tree line where the plants are unprotected from the elements. All year long, the wind batters them. In the 2018-19 ski season, the mountain received 252 inches — 21 feet! — of snow. And yet, the plants return each spring. That’s tenacity.

Riding to the top of Monarch Mountain

Roxie at the Monarch Crest admission sign on Monarch Mountain
Roxie is excited to get a senior discount.

Riding the Monarch Crest Scenic Tramway is the easiest way to reach the mountain’s top. The tramway stands at a turnoff along US Highway 50 at Monarch Pass. Buy your tickets and pick up souvenirs at the gift shop.

The 9-minute ride takes passengers to the top of the mountain in a gondola. The wind was up, even by Northwest Kansas standards. I was a bit concerned about the ride. I needn’t have been concerned. The ride was a little bumpy, but the motion wasn’t too bad. However, motion-sensitive people should take care. If you’re over 55, please make sure to ask for the senior discount.

Windblown on Monarch Mountain

No one gets used to howling wind, but we’re not exactly unused to it, either. But the winds on top of Monarch Mountain are horrible. Wind gusts have been clocked at 148 mph. That’s well into hurricane wind speeds.

Don’t let the wild winds stop you because the view is worth nearly being blown away.

We felt as if we were about to be blown off the balcony. We both had to fight to remain upright. I would never have dared to shoot video without my smartphone video rig. Without the rig, I would have lost my grip — and my phone.

Despite the wind, the view was spectacular. Mountain peaks are spread as far as the eye can see. All of them are helpfully labeled on an interpretive sign.

Be prepared for weather changes

Standing on the Continental Divide on Monarch Mountain
Eric and Roxie straddle the Continental Divide while wearing convertible pants.

Temperatures in the high country can change rapidly. At these altitudes, snow can fall in any month of the year. We came prepared.

We wore our convertible ScotteVests and convertible shorts.

Where we boarded the tramway, temperatures were in the 80s. When we reached the top, the temperature and wind chill factor made the air cold. But we were ready. When we boarded the tram, we put on sleeves to turn our vests into jackets, but we were still wearing shorts. At the top, we had to zip on the pant legs. If you look closely, our legs don’t match our shorts. Fashion faux pas aside, we were warm.

Eating gumbo in Salida
Getting a Cajun food fix at The Lost Cajun in Salida

Let’s eat!

We adore Louisiana food, but Cajun food in the Rockies is not an expected pleasure. Whether expected or not, we were excited to see The Lost Cajun in Salida, the town east of Monarch Mountain. What a treat!

The staff was so friendly and the service was so quick. Boudin balls and gumbo: Paradise. Drinking Abita Strawberry Lager: Heaven. It’s like drinking juicy fresh strawberries. Who knew we’d drink Abita in Salida?

This is bliss, my friends.

Drinking local

Elevation Beer in Poncha Springs
Cans of 8 Second and Little Mo beer at Elevation Beer Company in Poncha Springs

Given Colorado’s status as a craft beer and wine hub, we had to try the local brewery and winery.

Elevation Beer Co. and Vino Salida Wine Cellars are both in Poncha Springs, a bit west of Salida. Both Elevation and Vino Salida were relaxing, friendly places to visit.

Elevation’s 8 Second kolsch is a summer beer. We tasted lemon and banana bread notes. Delicious.

Elevation’s Apis IV is brewed with honey and definitely retains the honey taste, as well as brown sugar, root beer and raisins. It grew on me as I drank it. The beer’s name comes from the bee genus, Apis. Appropriate.

Elevation does not serve food, but a food truck is often parked outside. Outdoor seating is plentiful.

A second taste of honey

Bartender and wine glass at Vino Salida
The wine we tasted at Vino Salida Wine Cellars had some legs.

Vino Salida Wine Cellars are known for their mead (honey wine) and vermouth, as well as traditional wines. They use Colorado grapes and honey for their wine and spirits. The BeeVino Semi-Sweet was surprisingly dry with a strong honey taste. We liked the Vino Biano di Salida wine with its green apple and citrus tasting notes. Vino Salida sells its wine in bottles and pouches.

The winery offers live music Fridays and Saturdays from 5-7 p.m. and has expansive mountain views. Happy hour is 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. They serve bruschetta and small plates. We tried the cheese plate and olive selections. We recommend both.

Enjoy your own blissful Monarch Mountain weekend

When you’re looking for a mountain getaway that’s off the beaten path, try a blissful weekend of your own on Monarch Mountain.

Where to stay

We stayed at Monarch Mountain Lodge, which is just down the road from the ski resort. It’s the only lodge on the mountain. If you stay at the lodge in the summer, bring a fan because the lodge does not have air conditioning. Even in late June, we suffered. Our room opened onto a shared balcony, but our balcony door lacked any screen or any way to secure our room. Yes, insects do fly along Monarch Pass, where the hotel is located, and they were pesky. The bliss quotient was lacking.

We had to make the dubious choice between security — from both mankind and insects — and comfort. Grudgingly, we chose security and sweltered. We would stay there again, but not in the summer.

Salida does offer more places to stay than directly on Monarch Mountain.

Pro tip: Beware of altitude sickness

Monarch Mountain stands 11,960 feet high, while Salida is 7,083 feet above sea level. If you are unused to altitude, you will need to take care of your body to avoid altitude sickness. Drink plenty of liquids, but avoid alcohol and/or caffeine until you get used to thinner air. Wear lots of sunscreen because the atmosphere is thinner overhead and offers less insulation from solar radiation. Also, make sure to bring lip balm because the air is dry.

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