My Colorado Trip – July 2011

This blog is about my trip to Colorado from Saturday 7/23 to Monday 8/1.  I hope you find it interesting and fascinating!  I spent 8 days and drove 2000 miles through Colorado.  I had so much fun!  It was almost magical, in fact!  I got to see wild horses!  I hiked Hanging Lake!  I met so many nice people I swore I had an angel  with me.  

My Itinerary went something like this:

  • 7/23  Denver.  WeMet with my friends Brett and Don.  Went to see Don’s band playing at Firehouse Grill in Denver. 
  • 7/24  16th Str Mall, Red Rocks, Garden Of The Gods, Seven Falls. 
  • 7/25  Anasazi Cliff Dwellings, Pikes Peak, Prairies, Buena Vista. 
  • 7/26  Cottonwood Pass, Gunnison, Montrose, Ouray, Durango, Ashley
  • 7/27  Durango Downtown, Mesa Verde, Dove Creek, Telluride
  • 7/28  Telluride, Bridal Veil Falls, Norwood, Grand Junction
  • 7/29  DeBeque, Wayne, Rifle Falls
  • 7/30  Rifle Falls, Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake
  • 7/31  Mt Evans, Evergreen, Jimmy
  • 8/01  Bonus day in Philadelphia with John

 

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Saturday 7/23 Denver – Don and Brett – Firehouse

I contacted my 2 cyberjammin (musician) friends that live near Denver in advance to find out if they were playing anywhere on the night of the 23rd.  Don’s band, Vivid Black was playing right in Denver at a place called The Firehouse Grill, maybe 30 minutes from the airport.  The airport is out in the middle of nowhere.  Brett’s band had a rare night off so Brett decided to drive an hour south to come and hang out with Don and myself.  So for the first night in Denver I made reservations with a hotel nearby to where Don’s band was playing in Denver.  I got my rental car and headed to my hotel to change clothes, freshen up and learn my way around so I could find it from the bar.  I was starving but figured I would eat at the bar.  I got to the bar and found Brett and Don outside while the band was taking a break.  It was great to see them both.  I had seen them both back in May when I was there before but they hadn’t seen each other in quite a while.  It was great to hang out and I love Vivid Black!  They’re a high energy, entertaining band.  I stayed till closing time.  The kitchen was closed so I was really hungry.  I said my goodbyes and headed back toward my hotel, grabbing Taco Bell on the way.

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Sunday 7/24 – 16th Str Mall, Red Rocks, Garden Of The Gods

I got up around 9:00AM, took a shower and headed for Starbucks.  Starbucks was the one thing I splurged on when I could.  I love me a Macchiato.  I sat outside in the fresh air and used the wi-fi.  After my coffee and croissant I headed to downtown Denver’s 16th Str Mall.  What a cool place!  It’s a big pedestrian area with shops and food etc.  There is a trolley but no cars.  I had to learn not to walk in the trolley tracks.  (almost got run over)  There is an old piano painted all funky every block or so and people just go up and play them or sit on the bench and hang out with their friends.  I heard 3 or 4 people playing them and stopped to listen.  There are a couple of built-in Chess game boards for people to play and hang out too.  Kiosks have all the upcoming shows posted. I walked around that area for a while then I drove west to Red Rocks Amphitheater.  Red Rocks was really cool.  Many legendary musicians have performed there.  It’s literally red rocks forming a natural amphitheater.  It’s beautiful!  They have a  museum there featuring the artists that have played there and some memorabilia.  The band Chicago was setting up to play that night while I was there, but I didn’t feel like sticking around, so I headed onward to Colorado Springs.  The drive south from Denver to Colorado Springs is awe-inspiring!  The Rocky Mountains are right there to the west side.  There is still snow on the tallest peaks.  To my left I saw the strangest looking single mountain with a big rock on the top of it!  I took a picture of it and saw signs for Castle Rock, so when I got home, I looked it up and it is a natural formation created from volcanic activity.  It’s called a butte. Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs sit fairly close together.  Some refer to it as The Springs.  I saw Garden Of The Gods before it got dark and then I drove up to the entrance of Seven Falls but it was too late to get my money’s worth, so I found a place to relax for a while.  I sat outside of a McDonald’s in the kid’s play area, had a milkshake and used the wi-fi for a while.

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Monday 7/25 – Seven Falls, Cliff Dwellings, Pike’s Peak, Buena Vista

I decided not to spend the money and time to go into the Seven Falls fee area.  Seemed like a tourist trap and there’s plenty of falls I can see for free.  I drove through the state forest area and stopped to hike a couple of paths and saw some of the falls on the way.  It was a nice drive.  Then I went to see the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs.  That was very cool.  Since my return I’ve learn that these are replicas built for tourism.  The Anasazi’s never lived in Manitou Springs.  Later in my trip I saw Mesa Verde, which is the real thing, but I still enjoyed the replicas in Manitou Springs.  As I was leaving there, I saw a sign for Cave In The Winds and drove up to see what it was about.  Nice view of a huge canyon but when I got there, it too was a tourist trap.  They wanted a bunch of money and it was too crowded so I skipped the cave and got on to driving up to the top of Pike’s Peak.  Pike’s Peak is one of 54 “14ers” in Co.  That means they are over 14,000 ft high elevation.  It’s quite an experience to be up that high looking down on the huge Rocky Mountain Range.  It’s cold up there and a little bit hard to breathe.  I had acclimated myself to the altitude and drank plenty of water though and I didn’t get altitude sickness!  At the end of the trip to the summit and back down there is a mandatory brake check and I passed!  You have to use your gears and not ride your brakes, I guess. 

After that, I took Rt 24 west through the mountains that eventually turned into grasslands.  I think they call that area “The Parks.”  It’s the plains or prarielands of Co.  Flat and grassy with a few hills popping up here and there.  It’s pretty in it’s own way, but I prefer to be in the mountains.  I stopped at an old pioneer farm in Florissant Fossil Beds but I didn’t see any fossil excavating.  After Florissant the scenery changes and you start climbing back into the mountains.  I got a beautiful view of The Collegiate Peaks on the way into Buena Vista.  Buena Vista is appropriately named.  The town sits in a little valley with the most awesome view of the mountains on both sides and the Arkansas river flowing nearby.  (At least I think was the Arkansas.)  I got into town around 5:00 and went straight to a little bar in the downtown area.  I had a great time in that bar!  I was chatting with the bartender and her boyfriend who was sitting next to me.  They helped me plan a more scenic route towards Durango than the one I had planned.  They invited me to stay the night at their place and then a group of young good-looking rafting guides came in!  lol!  I drank some beers and played a couple of games of pool.  I really enjoyed my time in Buena Vista!  What a cool little town!

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Tuesday 7/26 – Buena Vista, Cottonwood Pass, Gunnison, Montrose, Ouray, Durango

I got up early at Tonya’s house and went to the local cafe for coffee and then I found the campground they had told me about the night before so I could wash up.  I didn’t want to impose on them for a shower and I was sort of enjoying the hobo experience.  They told me to take the road at the end of town that drives along the river.  It will go through some old railroad tunnels and then look for a big rock they call “elephant rock.”  They said you can’t miss it, it’s a huge rock.  Right after the rock is the free campground area.  It was a beautiful ride!  The Collegiate Peaks on one side and more Rockies on the other side.  The tunnels were really cool!  I saw a deer on the way and I saw people rock climbing on the “hills.”  I knew there was white water rafting nearby because that’s what the guys did around there.  The river was really pretty.  I’d like to go back to Buena Vista someday.  Cool town! 

After I washed up I headed on my way through Cottonwood Pass, Taylor reservoir and Gunnison Nat’l Forrest.  The ride into the mountains was really pretty and then it turned into prairies again for a short time before coming to the town of Montrose.  I had lunch at an interesting diner in Montrose, got wi-fi for a bit and took a rest walking around the town, then I headed for Durango by way of Ouray.  The scenery got more and more beautiful as I went!  The ride through Ouray was one of my favorites.  It was raining and it was a bit of a scary drive.  I almost hit a deer!  Since returning home, I’ve learned that the stretch of road I was driving is called “The Million dollar Highway.” 

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_550

“Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles (19 km) south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin “S” curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains. During this ascent, the remains of the Idarado Mine are visible.”  It was truly an awesome ride but I had no idea it was special.

 I got to Durango and met up with Ashley at about 6:oopm.  I had contacted her on http://couchsurfing.org a couple of nights before arriving and she agreed to host me for the night.  She was a lot of fun!  She and her friends were playing a game of soccer when I got there.  After the game, we went out for Mexican food and then went back to her place which was right downtown Durango. 

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Wed 7/27 – Durango, Mesa Verde, Dove Creek, Telluride

Ashley’s house was right downtown Durango.  She had already gone to work by the time I woke up.  I washed up and headed downtown to a little coffee shop for a croissant and coffee. I loved Durango!  It’s got a really cool hippie vibe to it and is surrounded by lush green -forested mountains.  I did a little shopping and took some pictures and then headed to the coffee-making facility where Ashley works to say my Thanks and Goodbyes.  She gave me a little tour on how the beans are roasted and gave me a bag of coffee to take home.  Ashley was really a nice host and I enjoyed hanging out with her and her friends.  I got on the road and headed to Mesa Verde. 

Mesa Verde is about 20 miles from the New Mexico border, 40 miles to the Arizona border and about 30 miles to the Utah border.  I still haven’t set foot in those states and thinking back, I suppose I should have, just to say I’ve been there.  The scenery and climate zone is completely different than the Durango area.  It becomes what they call “high mountain desert” in that region. The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were very interesting.  It was a long drive up to the top of the mesa with beautiful views of the Rockies.  It was getting late and I still wanted to try to see wild horses before dark, so I headed down and got on the road again after seeing a couple of the dwellings. 

I got to Dove Creek around 5:00 and took a wrong road out into the middle of nowhere before finding some people and getting perfect directions into the BLM wild horse management area.  It was miles and miles into the most remote wilderness!  There is no cell phone signal and no other human beings around for miles.  The horses live in a very harsh desert environment.  It’s supposed to be travelled in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and I was in my little rental car.  The people had told me if it looks like rain coming to get out of there cause the gullies would fill and I would fishtail on the mud.  It was scary driving out there.  I was afraid of getting stuck or having a flat tire.  It would be impossible to walk to help.  Help would be 40 miles away.  Before heading into the wilderness area, I texted my mom and a friend to tell them where I was and if they didn’t hear from me by the next day to send a search party after me. I used common sense and I was very careful and slow.  The horses were exactly where the people had told me they would be!  I saw 2 bands of horses each with their own stallion and 2 foals!  I only saw 11 horses and they say there is 35 – 60 in that area, but I was thrilled with that!  I stayed and took pictures until the storm started to get too close and I came to a gully that was about 8 ft deep and then I turned around and got out of there just before dark.  I wanted to see Telluride and stay the night there.  I ended up taking roads through the National Forrest instead of taking the main road thinking it would save me time, but it only added time and took me twice as long to get there than I had planned. 

I got into Telluride at 11:00 pm exhausted from a long day and went straight to a bar with live music.  The bar was a lot of fun.  The band was really good.  A girl who was dancing came up to me and invited me to join her group of friends.  We danced and closed that bar and then walked down the street to another bar, staying there until closing time.  It was cold out now.  I was back in the lush mountains.  I found my way a couple blocks through town to the campground where I stayed for the night.  When I got there I lied on the picnic table for a minute with eyes closed.  When I opened my eyes, I saw stars like I have never seen in my life!  I tried taking pictures but of course they didn’t come out.  It was 3:00AM.  I slept in my car and woke up twice to run the heater for a few minutes.

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Thursday 7/28 – Telluride, Bridal Veil Falls, Grand Junction

I woke up early in the Telluride campground and got my first look at the area in daylight.  It was beautiful!  The town is set up on as a main street that ends butted up to the mountains and they put the campground right there at the end of the street with Bridal Veil Falls in the background.  It was an awesome little campground.  I had my own picnic table right on the river.  I washed up and went to the office to pay for my stay and then headed to see the falls and the town in daylight.  Telluride is the coolest town!  I walked along the streets, had breakfast of pancakes at a little diner and took some pictures and then headed out.  The road going out of town followed the river and they were people white water rafting in it.  They are several roads that give access to the Uncompahgre National Forest.  I took one of them and stopped to put my feet in the water.  I love the sound of the water flowing and stayed a while to enjoy it and marvel at my surroundings.  As I headed west to get to Grand Junction the scenery slowly changed from lush green mountains to high desert country and big rock cliffs.  It was a long desolate drive on Rt 141 to Grand Junction with very few other cars or signs of life.  I was heading to Grand Junction because there is another BLM wild horse management area near there. 

As I got close to Grand Junction the scenery changed once again.  There were these huge sand dune looking mountains everywhere I looked!  They were the most bizarre thing I had seen yet on my trip!  I didn’t know what they were.  They are mountains with no plants or living things on them and they look like sandhills.  I took lots of pictures of them.  I got into Grand Junction and went to a McDonald’s to get wi-fi and figure out how to find the wild horse area.  I got directions and headed to DeBeque.  By the time I found the entrance to the BLM land it was getting dark and the road wasn’t fit for a car.  Common sense forced me to abandon the idea until next day, much to my chagrin.  I found a place to stay for the night and crashed.

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