Annual Christmas Tree Cutting Outing

Today was the day for our annual hike into the mountains to cut down our Christmas tree.  We’ve made the trek every year for as long as I can remember.  My wife and I started going before we had kids and continued the tradition with our kids.  Although still fun, probably the most difficult year was when my son was not quite 2 years old and my wife was 10 months pregnant with my daughter.  It was a challenge carrying the tree out of the woods and to the car by myself as my wife certainly couldn’t help carrying it that year!  We also had to carry my son part of the way as well!  But, those are all part of our memories which make this tradition memorable.

We generally go the Friday after Thanksgiving (but this year we delayed it by one day) and take refuge in the mountains while everyone else is fighting the crowds of Black Friday.  We’ve always been fortunate with the weather on this weekend and this year was no exception with temperatures in the high 50’s.

The Christmas tree cutting program is run by the US Forest Service.  Every year tree permits go on sale starting November 1st.  Tree permits must be purchased ($10) for a particular day and there is a designated cutting area in the South Platte Ranger District of Pike National Forest near Buffalo Creek.  The tree-cutting program is not destructive to the forest but gives needed room for neighboring trees to grow faster and better in the area.  The majority of the funds received from the program are used to help protect and maintain the forest resources in the cutting area.

So, we enjoy cutting down our own Christmas tree for a number of reasons:

  1. It provides a great family outing and tradition.
  2. We get to enjoy the great outdoors.
  3. We get a fresh tree that stays green throughout the entire holiday season.
  4. We are supporting the National Forest Service.

One thing you have to know about our tree cutting tradition.  I’m the one in the family that is always in search of the perfect Christmas tree.  And, if you have ever cut an ungroomed tree in the natural forest, you know there is no such thing as a perfect tree.  If you want one of those, you need to go to a tree farm!  However, searching for a near-perfect tree is part of the adventure for me.  We come across trees that are too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, too bare, too thick, bare on the right side, bare on the left side – I think you get the picture!

Another difficult thing about cutting a tree in the forest is that it’s more difficult to compare different trees.  You can’t just pick one up and set it next to another one to compare.  And, if you find one you think you may like but continue looking, you may not be able to find the first tree again to compare as you forget exactly where it was!  Last year we said we were going to bring our GPS to mark tree locations!  We thought that would also be a good idea if we came across a tree that we thought was not quite ready to be cut this year but maybe next year.  This way we could easily find it again!  However, I think that just doesn’t seem right to use such modern technology for this family tradition – it would take part of the fun out of the search!

I also think that my family thinks it is my ultimate goal to pick out a tree that is the furthest away from the car so that we have to carry the tree the furthest distance and over the roughest terrain.  We always carry the tree – we don’t want to drag it on the ground and risk messing it up.

We headed out today a little before 11:00am for our drive to Buffalo Creek.  This year was a little different as my son was not able to be with us as he is currently studying abroad in Morocco for the semester so it was just the three of us (me, my wife, and my daughter).

The picture below was taken on our drive as we headed through Pine, Colorado.  This area was affected by the Buffalo Creek fire of 1996.  A few lone trees on top of a ridge that survived the fire.

We soon arrived in the Buffalo Creek area, parked, and began our hike into the forest for our tree around 12:10pm.  I climbed a big rock to scout for trees.  I think I see some good ones in this direction!

There are some interesting rock formations in this area.

We decided to explore around a bit and climb some of the rocks.

Some great views from the top of one the large boulders.

A nice large, flat boulder to take in the view.

My daughter

My wife and my daughter

Me and my daughter

I had to do a little more climbing.

We continued on our search for our tree.  Some other interesting pictures of the plants and trees around us.

Onward into the forest searching for our perfect tree.

We had searched for a little over 3 hours looking for that perfect tree.  Last year we found such a nice, full tree that I think we were having a hard time finding one that would measure up to that one.  As usual, each tree was either too short, too tall, too thin, too bare, etc.  The sun was starting to get lower on the horizon so we needed to pick a tree soon!

We finally decided on this tree.

Our tree is in the center

Now, to start the cutting.  We all have to take a turn at cutting the tree – that’s our tradition.

Timber!  The tree is down!

Just a little trimming before we carry it out of the forest and back to the car.

My daughter and I carrying the tree back to the car.

My daughter got tired of carrying the tree so I decided to carry it myself as we didn’t have too much further to go.

We made it back to the car around 3:50pm and loaded the tree onto the car.

We headed back down the road towards Pine for dinner.  This is another part of our tradition.  For many years we stopped at the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department in Buffalo Creek just outside of the tree cutting area for hot dogs and a big piece of chocolate cake or a piece of pie.  It was nice to support the local fire department.  Although we enjoyed supporting them, we did get tired of hot dogs and the last several years now we have supported a local restaurant (Zoka’s) in Pine, Colorado.  It’s a great little restaurant in the mountains and we are still supporting a local business.  We also have more menu options other than hot dogs!

The setting sun provided some great lighting on the surrounding peaks as we headed to Pine.

We arrived at Zoka’s around 4:20pm.

Zoka’s is a great little mountain town bar and restaurant.  I love the wall murals inside of the surrounding scenery.

Of course they had their Christmas tree up inside already.

After a great dinner sitting by the woodstove in the restaurant, we headed back home to Littleton.  Another great day in the mountains and another great annual outing with the family to cut down that perfect Christmas tree!

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