T008 Colorado 2005


With each outside turn Ruth leaned to the left silently applying body English to will the Trek away from the road edge and the uncomfortably close cliff just past the white line. Going up Trail Ridge Road hadn’t seemed too bad since the steep grade slowed us a bit and the cliff edges seemed further away. Now once past the Continental divide gravity seemed to not only be pulling us downhill but to the right and closer to the cliff edge. Sharp short brake applications to control speed added to the uneasy feeling and brought forth “No cars, could you drive in the center of the road.” The ride down from 12,000 feet through tight hairpin switchbacks provided a dramatic finish to our first day’s introduction to the Rockies. We’d lucked out and had caught a window between early winter storms when the National Park had reopened Trail Ridge Road, one of the highest paved roads in the USA.

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Heading toward the National Park, road builders had taken advantage of the steep canyon the Big Thompson River had cut into the mountains. The steep canyon provided a degree of comfort as the road worked its way along the river edge and canyon walls. Things changed as we passed Estes Park and entered the National Park. We lost the river and comfort of canyon on both sides. Now the road snaked its way up and excitement rose as we watched trees grow shorter as we went higher. The Trek’s huge front window always pointed upward and displayed intense blue sky above glimpses of snow above the tree line. Frequent stops to take in the view and observe up close the change in vegetation helped our transition in altitude as we climbed 7,000 feet.

At the summit the clean air gave the feeling that we could see forever. Because of the thin air we were panting just walking a short distance as we took in the unique artic tundra environment. Being in shirtsleeves was comfortable in the bright intense sun and made the pristine snow seem slightly out of place, but not enough to prevent me from stopping, to make and throw a snowball.

Descending we’d take drinks of water to ease pressure on our eardrums when we had the courage to let fingers release the steering wheel or armrest. Us “flatlanders” were learning how to deal with high altitudes.

A coyote was our only neighbor in the RV park at Grand Lake as we snuggled in for a few days to let the weather that again closed Trail Ridge Road pass over the mountains on its eastward passage. It was fun to compare the arrival mountain picture we took to the now heavily snow covered mountain that greeted us in the morning. The change was dramatic. The RV park had made it clear that we could stay just two nights since they were closing for the winter as soon as we left.

Grand Lake looked a bit like an old west town taken over by interesting restaurants and unique shops. Town felt comfortable. A look at the free, very slick Grand Lake magazine gave insight to what was happening. The magazine was filled with contractor ads and stories showcasing the high-ticket homes they had constructed.

Rain and fog covered the west side of the front range as we left Grand Lake. The Trek turned to a nice mud color as we crossed back over to Denver. Now on the warm sunny side of the mountains we badly needed a Trek wash, the first in our year of ownership. We found a do it yourself car wash with a big bay that handled the Trek. We had a ball learning how to juggle inserting quarters and run the washing wand to clean a 28’ long by 12’ high RV. Bottom line: bring a lot of quarters.

The attraction was unexplainable. Without hesitation we signed up to stay a week in Denver. It was time to get a city fix. We picked up a rental car and went off exploring. Golden, a suburb of Denver caught, our eye and then captured our hearts. We wandered into the 12th Street Bakery, had trouble selecting from all the mouthwatering rolls and then sat listening and watching the locals interact. We’d found the morning center of town.

In the time it took to get our Quilt Museum tickets in Golden we learned that our volunteer was doing community service to get food stamps. She explained she’d soon be running her own company. She’d found an Internet company that would sell her product that she in turn was going to sell on her own web site. We didn’t have the heart to try to talk her out of her plan. Instead we enjoyed the museum’s unique collection of quilts.

Across from the Quilt Museum a unique drug store serves as another magnet drawing people to downtown Golden. Normal drug store stuff works it way around things like recreated coke machines from the 40’s and 50’s, old fashion juke boxes now designed to play CDs, parking meters and other odd items. Outside we walked some of the city streets enjoying the mix of small charming homes. For us Golden, on the edge of Denver, was one of the rare towns we’ve visited where we thought we could live.

Walking a mountain top trail we discovered Colorado’s passion for physical fitness and their love of mountain bikes. We headed down a rough trail stepping aside at frequent intervals as mountain bikers pedaled their way up. We were hiking to the grave of Buffalo Bill and his wife. We also enjoyed the museum dedicated to his fascinating life. It was his desire to be buried on the mountain. However, there was a controversy, as Nebraska wanted his body because he was born there and Wyoming wanted him because he founded Cody.

Tight hairpins and heavy weekend traffic mixed with bikers and hikers along the thin road shoulder held our attention as we carefully worked our way down the steep county road. At the outside edge of a tight hairpin around the mountain edge we found a parachutist floating at eye level about a hundred feet in front of our windshield. Updrafts had the parachutist soaring just like the raptors enjoying the rising air along the cliff. Our encounter was brief as we followed the hairpin around. A few moments later we could see the parachute high above us soaring along the cliff face.

The tornado spun lazily in a shaft of light from the skylight above. At 5 feet high it wasn’t much of a threat and intriguing to watch when a hand was inserted to disrupt the spinning airflow. The artificial tornado was just one of the many displays at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. Even the building; an IM Pei design, reflecting the feel of Rockies was pleasing to the eye and interesting to explore. We poked around downtown Boulder, enjoying the college town atmosphere, watching a movie scene being shot and then finding a great restaurant for a late lunch.

One person rolled and cut to length. The second formed the end of the candy cane and bagged it. Hammond Candy makes most of their candies without automation. We couldn’t resist making purchases at the candy store at the end of the tour.

The diesels worked hard moving the two people-jammed rail cars. Underneath, the cogwheels engaged the notched track providing positive traction as the angle increased, and we headed up historic Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Watching the beautiful scenery pass it was a treat not worrying about road and cliff edges. Trees gave way to bushes; bushes gave way to grasses that gave way to rock that disappeared under snow. We poked around at 12,000 feet enjoying the view, the cold and the uniqueness of the mountaintop. The ride down reversed the order except now we were facing the forward motion instead of our backward ride going up.

Nature worked overtime at the Garden of the Gods. Sandstone once part of a riverbed stood rotated 90 degrees and now extended skyward hundreds of feet into the air. The geological wonder of sandstone monoliths near the edge of the city has walkways through the area to make exploration easy. A fire truck seemed a bit out of place until we rounded a monolith and found the fire rescue crew high up one of the rocks preparing to lower a stretcher. A practice rescue was in process. We continued on, watching shadows lengthen and rocks redden in the setting sun.

e appeal of the Denver area hadn’t worn off so we signed up to stay a second week. Chatting with the office we asked about pizza and pizza delivery. Of course they had a menu, but then went on to mention a great local restaurant with a great eat in deal. That night we racked up a $20 bill for a great meal with drinks and still took home half of our pizza.

The day disappeared quickly as we explored downtown Denver. The Denver Art Museum’s huge expansion is an art exhibit in itself. Outside, walls tilt outward and the roof slopes upward at eye-catching angles. An exhibit inside shows scale models of the expanded museum, a computer animation of a walk through the new space and scale models of construction joints. We wandered the rest of the museum enjoying its wide selection of art. Outside, we spent the afternoon wandering Denver’s downtown area–an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.

The scenic byway up to the Estes Park starts by threading its way along a river and the steep canyon walls the river was still sculpting. The road slowly worked it way into a beautiful valley with the Front Range of the Rockies off to the west.

Some towns have problems with Canada Geese creating problems by blocking roads, bothering pedestrians and fouling the area with droppings. Estes Park has a similar problem but with elk that have lost their fear of humans. Elk have started wandering around in town; in fact, as we arrived one wandered across the street in the center of town.

As we worked our way up to Loveland Pass at 12,000 feet snow deepened on the mountains and a few ski slopes were open. Heading back toward Denver we found a tiny old home restaurant in the mountain town of Georgetown. We enjoyed lunch in what once had been the parlor according to the owner. Laughter in the street drew our attention to the window, and we watched as all of Georgetown Elementary School staged their annual Halloween parade through the center of town and then back to school.

The weather forecast started talking about a snowstorm in the mountains the day we’d been planning on leaving the RV park. Not interested in having our first snow experience in an RV occur on mountain roads, we left a day early. Our reward was dry roads, blue sky and wonderful mountain views as we headed for Grand Junction. The town looked interesting, but after our extended Denver area stay we headed for the Colorado National Monument just west of town. Again we climbed a narrow switchback strewn road. This time it was up the face of sandstone cliffs towering above the Colorado River Valley to the mesa top above. From our campsite we watched the shadow of the mesa stretch eastward across the valley. Shadows faded to dusk as lights below began to twinkle and compete with the stars above for attention. We enjoyed a quiet night on the mesa top. The next morning we worked our way down a new set of switchbacks dug into sandstone cliffs bathed in morning sunlight and headed for Utah.


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