Colorado - Denver,Vail, Aspen, Colorado Springs
What she thought
I'm not a fan of things that lack character. I like for a place to have it's own personality. I want things to wow me and leave me speechless. That doesn't mean something has to be the biggest or best, it just has to wow me.
Colorado wowed me AND it did it with the biggest and the best. From the raging Colorado river, to Red Rocks Park and Garden of the Gods, from a majestic snow covered peak standing alone against the perfect blue sky to an entire range still covered in snow and snow skiers, Colorado means business. It will take your breath away at every turn. With 53 "fourteeners", it will literally take your breath away too!!
A fourteener is a mountain with a peak exceeding 14,000 ft and yes, you read it right, Colorado has 53 of those suckers! (I guess there are technically 7 more but they aren't included in the main ones because of something to do with topographic elevation and topographic prominence which has something to do with the summit and none of this matters because I won't be seeing the summit of any of them except for in pictures or if a train takes me to the top!!)
Here's a recap of our Colorado adventure:
First of all, a million thanks to our tour guides Dana and Brad. You spoiled us beyond belief and we are so so grateful.
Dana picked us up at the airport and we hit the ground running. First stop - Vail, by way of Loveland Pass, located on the Continental Divide with an elevation of 11,990 ft. (Yes, I found myself on the Continental Divide. Parrothead moment. The song was in my head for the rest of the trip! Especially when our train car was called Leadville.) It is the highest mountain pass in the world that regularly stays open during a snowy winter season.
The Loveland Ski area is located to the east of the pass and the Arapahoe Basin is on the west. The Arapahoe Basin is know for having an extended ski season, sometimes lasting into July and the skiers and snowboarders were still enjoying the snow while we were there in late May! It actually snowed on us just a tiny bit. It was exciting to leave Florida/90 degrees and just a few hours later be knee deep in snow! After Loveland Pass it was on to Vail.
Vail is the third largest resort in North America behind Whistler and Big Sky. It also boasts being the largest single-mountain resort in the US. Since it was off season it wasn't busy but it was still beautiful. Vail Village is modeled after the Swiss ski village of Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. All of the Swiss influences were really neat and I'm sure when it's covered in snow it's magical.
Our hotel, Vail Cascade, was close to the village and a stream ran right by our balcony. The hotel had a heated pool and fire pits with rocking chairs around them (more my style if it's cold). The stream sounded amazing and even though it was chilly, we all voted to leave the doors open to enjoy the sound while we slept. I loved it!
While in Vail we decided to do an easy hike up to a waterfall. I almost died, we think we weren't on the right trail and we are sure we saw a tiger track. Ok, truthfully, I just couldn't get my breath (altitude), we were on the right trail for most of the way and it probably wasn't a tiger track. The jury is still out. Now off to Aspen. Let's see how it compares.
The drive from Vail to Aspen was A. MAZ. ING. We drove past red rocks dotted with green vegetation and hoped to see some big horn sheep. (We did see a few on the side of the road on the way out of Denver but none on this part of the trip). We drove through massive canyons carved out by the force of the river and considered exiting off at "Grizzly Creek" and "No Name".
After making our turn south toward Aspen we were greeted by Mt. Sopris. This was probably the biggest "wow" moment for all of us because we were in no way expecting it. All of the sudden this lone snowcapped mountain was sitting in front of us, surrounded by meadows and wildflowers and just like that we were in completely different scenery.
Next stop - Aspen, the top of the rockies. Unlike Vail, which was formed as a ski town, Aspen got it's start with mining. Silver mining to be exact. After a collapse of the silver market Aspen had a downturn in it's fortunes and it wasn't until nearby Aspen mountain was developed into a ski mountain that they found their way again.
Aspen is now the most expensive place to buy real estate in the US. Guess I won't be moving to Aspen any time soon. We weren't there for that anyway, we needed to find a gondola.
The gondola takes you to the top of Aspen mountain at 11,200 ft. and there's one heck of a view of Aspen, Snowmass and beyond. Here's a link to their webcam that provides continuously updated panoramas from the peak: http://aspen.roundshot.com/aspen/
and one more from a nearby mountain:
When we made it into town it was partly cloudy, still had blue skies popping through. By the time we started up the gondola it was overcast. At the top of the mountain the snow, or sleet, maybe, started. Then a storm with lightning rolled in that kept us on the summit for a little longer. They don't run the gondola if lightning is nearby.... right..... that's why we saw lightning while we were on the gondola headed down!! yikes! Just goes to show you can't always predict these things. The ride was still awesome though and again, it was neat to see some different weather!
We finished our day off with the long ride back to Denver which took us back through those amazing canyons and back through Vail. While scanning the map I realized that the awesome river we had been driving beside earlier in the day was actually the Colorado River!! Duh. I felt like I needed to experience it a little more, up close and personal.
Dana obliged and we pulled over at a rest area along the river bank. I was so excited! We saw kayakers too! It was surprisingly quiet on the bank, even though the highway was close by and the river was rushing in front of us. I decided I love rivers while I was in Colorado. But not just any old river, rivers like this one, ones that are called "mighty" and also ones you could fly fish in. Maybe I need a new hobby.....
Weird thing happened in Vail since we left. It snowed!! It was fairly warm when we left but coming back through it got down to 29 and had snowed! The white snow looked so beautiful against the red rocks as we came back through the White River National Forest. (Our elevation at that point - 11,067 ft. wow.) Still kept our eye out for some big horn sheep and Dana even asked some people if they had spotted any but no such luck.
Day 3 - The red rocks of the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak and a neat waterfall. We had a train ride reserved on the cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak but we had time to make a stop at the Garden of the Gods first.
They have walking trails and rock climbing but FYI, the website clearly states you can not scatter the ashes of your loved ones, or unloved ones for that matter. No scattering. Now that we've cleared that up....
I'm gonna use the word amazing again for Garden of the Gods. I kept saying I needed to invent a new word to describe how I felt about what I was seeing. I still need to do that. For now, amazing. The red sandstone reaches up out of the ground like mini mountains that are stretching up to be as tall as their neighbors. They refuse to be outdone by the mountains they lie in the shadow of. What they lack in height they make up for in color and shape and texture. They beg you to climb to the top and to try to mimic them by placing your hands on your hips and standing tall.
I feel like they are telling a story, a story of how one day everything was calm and the next the fault line in the area lost it's mind and these guys were thrust out of the ground. They seem to be forever stuck in that motion.
We were only there for a short time but I would imagine you could stay there all day just watching the sun change the colors of the rocks like a live action watercolor. Another day. For now, we have a train to catch.
Pikes Peak is named for this guy named Pike who, in 1806, tried to climb it but didn't even make it because of snow. In 1880 this guy named Simmons, you may sleep on one of his mattresses, decided the mountain needed a railroad. Done.
Very long story short.
We've all heard of Pikes Peak, right? Because it's the tallest mountain in Colorado? Nope. It's #31! There are 30 mountains taller than Pikes Peak in Colorado and I had never heard of any of the others. At this point I started feeling like my public education had failed me but that's another story.
Pikes Peak has an elevation of 14,110 ft and that makes it one of the Fourteeners.
In general the summit of Pikes Peak is about 30 degrees cooler than at the depot at the bottom of the mountain, so take a jacket. Temperature at the peak the day we were there? 17 degrees. So, once again, we go from a decent temperature to snow!
This time it was snow over our heads! We had been worried that the snow would keep us from being able to take the train at all but learned the day before that it just meant we couldn't go all the way to the summit. We considered canceling but now I'm glad we didn't. The views were still amazing and I have never seen anywhere near that amount of snow!
Even though we didn't make it to the top we did make it to 12,200 feet, pretty neat. Now on to Helen Hunt Waterfall. Not that Helen Hunt -- Helen Hunt Jackson. Nope, me either. Apparently she was an American poet and writer and was buried nearby.
The falls are only about 35 feet but you can take a short hike up to Silver Cascade Falls for a more impressive view as they drop 200 feet. From Silver Cascade Falls you also get an amazing view. The sign says its a moderate hike, it's worth it :-)
Day 4 - Red Rocks Amphitheater, some dinosaurs parts, Lookout Mountain (the other one), Mt. Evans, some deer and some buffalo.
Red Rocks Amphitheater was pretty amazing even though no concert was going on. Seems to be a pretty popular place regardless. People were picnicking, exercising and just hanging out. There was an amazing view of Denver from the stands and I can only imagine how cool it would be to see your favorite band there. They've hosted some pretty famous people, even the Beatles!
Nearby was Dinosaur Ridge. Some dinosaurs used to roam there and left some parts behind. We wouldn't know a thing about those guys if it were up to me to pick out the fossils. I can't tell a dinosaur track from a hole in the ground. Wait, is that hole in the ground a dinosaur track??? Anyway, someone figured it all out and they have signs up for people like me :-)
We passed through Golden, Colorado on the way to Lookout Mountain. Where have you heard that before? "Coors Brewing Company, Golden, Colorado". Oh yeah, that's where. You could see the brewery from the mountain along with an awesome view of Denver which is 12 miles to the east.
And last but not least, Buffalo Bill Cody is buried at the top.
From Lookout Mountain we head back west to Mt. Evans. We got to see some resident buffalo along the way :-)
Mt. Evans is a Fourteener at 14, 271 ft. but still isn't the tallest mountain in Colorado. It can boast, however, having the highest paved road in the US. The very top was still closed while we were there due to snow and ice but we did make it up to 11,062 ft. according to Jason's altitude app thingy. (Not attitude app. If there is one of those please don't tell him about it, he'll make me get it. )
The views from Mt. Evans can't be put into words and the pictures could never do it justice so you'll just have to go for yourself. I am posting some pictures though, just in case you want to see them.
On the way home Brad found some elk for us. He knew where they usually are around his old stomping grounds and sure enough, there they were! It was pretty cool!! Thanks Brad! And thanks again Dana!! Colorado was nothing short of amazing. Thanks for the Rocky Mountain High!
What he thought
One of the biggest reasons why I love to travel is the feelings unfamiliar places and people evoke. I suppose wandering around Colorado feels a bit like what it would be like to frolic with a five-hundred pound tiger. Like a wild animal, this place could kill you in the blink of an eye. There are steep cliffs, glaciers, freezing fast rivers, hungry bears, moose, bobcat, rattlesnakes, treacherous roads and unpredictable weather all around. But being here, it just feels like the tiger wants to play.
Not only does Colorado not want to kill you, it feels like it has diverted all its potential energy for destruction into the mass production of wildflowers, beautiful blue skies (sometimes), lush green forests and the most creative sculpting of land. Thank you, Colorado, for The Garden of the Gods -- I will never forget it!
Even the cold of the mountaintops is somehow tamed here. I found myself walking through three feet of snow wearing shorts (see photos below) and it was surprisingly not uncomfortable. I suppose the uneven ground helps your body generate a little more heat -- but honestly, I can't quite figure out how, even in 50 degree weather, I often found myself taking off layers to cool down.
It is easy to understand why Colorado is the least obese state in the US. Who can say no when a five-hundred pound Tiger comes to your door every day and says, "Hey -- can you come out and play? I'm going to show you the most amazing thing you have ever seen today..."