Colorado, Part One

September 10, 2010

Up at 6am to an alarm clock for the first time. Ugh! We have approximately 400 miles to drive today so best to make an early departure. The weather is sunny with a light  breeze. It would have been a wonderful kayaking day. Maybe next time.

While setting up the car and looking for my camera battery charger, Steve found the missing trailer keys. So now we have 4 sets. We’ll be going west on I 70 through flat terrain today so I’ll take this time to catch up on the Blog entries. Even though the landscape seems flat we are climbing steadily from 2000’ to 5000’ and our MPG shows it. The wind in Kansas was buffeting the trailer and Steve had to really work to keep it from swaying even with the sway bar. We crossed the Colorado border at 11:38 Mountain Time and have travelled 2289 miles. At Burlington, CO we stopped to see the Kit Carson County Carousel. This is the only hand carved carousel in the US with its original paint. It was closed for the season. I’m finding RVers are very social and take any opportunity to ask where you’re from, where you’re going or inquire about your rig. Today we stopped and talked with 2 couples, one from Pennsylvania and another from Connecticut.

From I 70 we head south and west on US 24 to Manitou Springs just west of Colorado Springs. As with Kansas, eastern Colorado is flat cattle country. So far we’d noticed that gas prices in Kentucky and Missouri were cheaper than Charlotte by about 10 cents a gallon. As we drove through Kansas, it was about the same as Charlotte. Now that we’re in the mountains the price is averaging $2.75. We continued to climb slowly from 2500’ at the border to just under 6000’ by the time we arrived at the Pikes Peak RV Center. This park is centrally located in Manitou Springs just west of Colorado Springs. The folks that run it are exceptionally friendly and helpful, even assisting Steve to park the trailer. The spaces are very close together and that is probably the only negative to staying here. We have only about 6-7’ between trailers. We decided not to even put out the awning as who wants to sit looking at your neighbors sewer connection.

Instead of sitting out, we drove to a Colorado Springs City Park that is called Garden of the Gods http://www.gardenofgods.com/home/index.cfm?flash=1 . It is 1350 acres of unusual rock formations that just suddenly appear from the landscape. It’s just beautiful! There are people out walking, biking, driving and even trails for horses. Some places you just barely fit your car through but most are wide open areas. We were there for sunset. Several folks had parked and were having picnics. We just drove and enjoyed the scenery. We’d return for photos tomorrow. On our way home, Steve stopped to help a man who had just hit a deer in the park. His bumper was down on the front tires. He was able to drive home after they secured it with a bungee cord.

September 11, 2010

Last night we slept with the windows open but didn’t realize the temperature would drop so much. About 2AM we woke up freezing. Opal had started barking earlier and to hush her up, I’d called her up on the bed. Now she was lying on all the extra blankets and not willing to move. Steve grabbed an extra cover and went over to the sofa. I curled down into the single blanket as much as I could. From then on we only cracked the windows open and Opal is banned to the sofa or her rug.

Today we planned to see Pikes Peak. Originally, we’d planned to take the Cog Railway. Then we found out that the road to the peak was in good shape and we decided to drive. I’m so glad we did. We would have missed some of the best views. There are 3 lakes on the mountain: Crystal Lake, North and South Catamont Reservoir. Fishing and non-motorized boating is allowed on the lakes. Who would ever have thought you could kayak on Pikes Peak? We don’t have time to do that this time. I guess we’ll start a next time list! There are a lot of things to see and do in this area. I’m sure we’ll be back. The road up to the peak is very windy and except for one small section, it is paved. They are supposed to have it completely paved by 2111. There are 17 places to stop for views. The peak is 14,115’.The highest I’d ever been was last year on the Beartooth Highway at 11,000’. I could feel the effort just walking slightly uphill to get back to the car. Then we noticed a group who’d hiked up that morning! Boy, did I feel like a wimp!  We could not have picked a more beautiful day. Temperature at the top was 48 which is 20 degrees cooler than at the base. At the top we met 2 men from Raleigh, NC who were on their way back east. They spotted our car tag and came over to say hi. On the way down are signs to use low gear and that hot brakes fail. We heard that there had been an accident earlier. When we got to a Visitor’s Center everyone was being stopped for a brake temperature check.

In the evening we went to Garden of the Gods again. it was very crowded and we had to park a distance from where we wanted to photograph. The sun dipped behind the mountain before we really got the pics we wanted. Guess we’ll have to come back here too.

September 12, 2010

Another beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 70s. What a relief from the heat and humidity. The only problem was I had a mild cold. We had decided to drive down to Canon City and the Royal Gorge today. we decided to take Opal with us as we weren’t sure how long a drive it would be. That was both good and bad. Having her kept us from  doing some of the activities at the Gorge but since we took a backroad home and wound up coming back much later, it was a good decision.

Royal Gorge is formed by the Arkansas River and is southwest of Colorado Springs by an hour. It’s a big tourist area with all the usual billboard promotions. One struck us funny. It said “Best Gunfights in Town. Daily Hangings.” We wondered if the same poor guy was hanged every day. The bridge over the canyon is the world’s highest single suspension bridge http://www.royalgorgebridge.com/Bridge.aspx . The original bridge was built in 1929 and a major rehabilitation was completed in 1983. The main span of the bridge is 880 feet above the river. There’s an incline railway down to the gorge and a tram above it. The best way to see the gorge though is on the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway. Another time perhaps.

For the drive home, we chose to do the scenic route called the Gold Belt Tour http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2109/ . From Canon City we turned onto Phantom Canyon Road toward the old gold mining towns of Victor and Cripple Creek. The road was paved for about 5 miles and then changed to a dirt road. You know how Steve just absolutely hates dirt roads! Since we weren’t expecting this, it was a very pleasant surprise. For the next 22 miles we drove through some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. There were canyon walls with passages only 1 car wide. Then there were mountains with aspens turning bright yellow against dark pines or Colorado Blue Spruce. Fantastic rock formations seemed to be at every turn. This road took us 4 hours to complete as we were hopping out to snap pics or read historical signs at every turn. I hope our photos do it justice. If you’re ever out this way, do take time to drive this scenic byway. Time had gotten away from us again so by the time we reached Victor, the sun was going down. It highlighted the clouds from underneath with a pink and purple glow. This stretched across the sky even into the East. We didn’t stop but the town looked like an interesting place to prowl. It’s still an active gold mining town. Many of the buildings looked like they were early 1900’s style. Steve said, “Look for wildlife, now that it’s dark” with in 5 minutes we saw a group of 6 or more adolescent male bighorn sheep feeding by the roadside. I was so excited that I forgot to redo the setting on my camera for low light! Steve calls this “buck fever”. Fortunately he got some pics too. We were home by 8:30pm for a quick supper and off to bed. Tomorrow is moving day again as we head to the Colorado/Utah border.

September 13, 2010

The alarm went off much to early for my liking at 6AM. Oh, how easy it is to get into this retirement mode. We have a good routine going for our moving days. I get coffee made and in our travel mugs, lock everything down and clean while Steve does the site breakdown and hooks up the trailer. We were off by 9AM along US 24 to US 285 and US 50. This takes us on a route through the mountains as an alternate to I 70. Our destination is Fruita, CO just west of Grand Junction.

We hadn’t gone too far when a magnificent view in Pike National Forest made us pull off . The mountains in the distance were the Collegiate Peaks. These are a set of 23 mountains many of which are over 14,000 feet. The two tallest ones are named Princeton and Yale.The overlook was at 9507 feet. The morning light was striking the mountains just right. Steve took out his tripod and took 7 photos to stitch together for a panorama. I do believe September in the West is my favorite season.

We followed US 50 through beautiful countryside, along the Curecanti National Recreation Area, Beaver Reservoir and through the Rockies at Monarch Pass. Monarch Pass is 11,300’ and is the Continental Divide. So now we’re adding the Curacanti NRA http://www.nps.gov/cure/index.htm to the list for another trip! What a fabulous place to kayak. I feel like I’m running out of superlatives already! We followed the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway through canyons and more mountains. Wow, we’re hungry… so a stop for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Gunnison, CO. We both decided on the lunch special which was a chimichanga. Back on the road and in search of a gas station that is an easy in, easy out for trailers. It seems whenever we let the gas get low (about 50 miles before empty) that’s when we have a hard time finding a station. As we were heading toward Grand Junction, we had an adrenaline moment. Steve had pulled out to pass a truck. We’re not sure if the suction between the 2 vehicles, an irregularity in the road or our speed caused the problem. Next thing we knew the trailer was fishtailing like crazy. It seemed like hours but probably was only 15 seconds before Steve could slow down and regain control. Lesson learned and fortunately without any harm. (I normally keep the speed below 60 mph while pulling the trailer.  I may have picked up a little too much speed while passing the truck…  sm) We were sure that the inside of the trailer would be a mess. We lucked out again. Some things had fallen out of the pantry but nothing spilled or broken. We arrived at Monument RV Park in Fruita, CO at 5PM. This is a AAA and Good Sam approved park. Our space is very level and wide enough to allow us to use the picnic table. While setting things up for the picnic table, I found Steve’s reading glasses he’d lost in Missouri. They must have fallen out of his pocket as he was putting things away under the dinette seat. We’re 2/2 in finding lost objects.This should be our last long move for a while. The trips in Utah and Arizona are mostly 3 hours or less.

September 14, 2010

This marks the start of our third week on the road. Ordinarily we’d be heading home thinking this had been a wonderful vacation. I’m still not completely out of the vacation mode. Yesterday as we were oohing and aahing at the dramatic scenery, Steve said “Can you believe this is the rest of our lives?” It’s slowly sinking in that this really is for the rest of our lives.

Grand Junction and Fruita are in the vegetable and fruit growing area of Colorado. When I think of Colorado, being a wine producing state isn’t the first thing that pops into my mind. There are a lot of wineries around here. There is a Colorado Wine Trail. If we had more time, I’m sure we’d try some. OK, put it on the Next Time list! Monument RV Resort is by far the nicest park we’ve stayed in so far. There is Colorado River State Park – Fruita Section which serves as a great place to walk Opal. We might try the campground there next time since it’s about half the price. We stopped in this morning at the Visitor’s Center to get information. The volunteer who was there was very helpful. I’m guessing she was about 75 but very young at heart. It turned out she was a kayaker too and gave us some good information about the three rivers in the area; the Colorado, the Gunnison and the Green. She also recommended a website www.eddyflower.com for information on river put-ins and routes. She was also able to recommend a good restaurant and microbrewery. Then she told us to go to Fisher’s Liquor Barn for some good advice on local wines and micro brews. Tonight I had a red ale called Retro Red from Fort Collins Brewery and Steve had Dark Lager from Durango. Both were very good.

For today’s adventure, we headed to the Colorado National Monument http://www.nps.gov/colm/. I’m not sure what determines if something is a national park versus a national monument. Maybe it’s size. The park is celebrating the 100th anniversary (1911-2011). We drove a 23 mile scenic drive through the park called the Rim Rock Trail. It is breathtaking. It took us 6 hours to drive the route. The road was cut into the hillside by the CCC and completed in 1937. We, of course, had to stop at every overlook (and some places that weren’t) for photos. We found a boondocking campground that we could do for 2-3 nights sometime. This would give us time to hike some of the backcountry trails. We met a couple at the first overlook who were from Linville, NC. There are a lot of folks who bike this road. More hills than I could ever think of doing! We saw 3 golden eagles. If this is a prelude to Bryce and the Grand Canyon, I can’t imagine what they must be like. If you are ever headed this way, this is a MUST DO scenic drive. Near the end was an overlook called Cold Shivers Point. I (being of sane mind) remained BEHIND the fence taking pics. When I looked up, Steve is crawling on all fours across a skinny strip of rock out onto the edge of the point. I said, “Steve Maier you get back here! You’re making my heart skip a beat!” Then he stood up and waved and took a picture! I took a picture of him. I thought it might be good to prove I had nothing to do with his demise. Boys will be boys!

Time to turn this off for now. There are more dirt roads and fun times planned for tomorrow.

September 15, 2010

Another beautiful day with sunny skies, light clouds and a bit warmer. By mid day it was in the high 80s.Today is an unstructured day. We want to go see McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area that is immediately adjacent to the Colorado National Monument. This is a huge area under the Bureau of Land Management. There are only a few roads into this area and most of them are dirt roads. I’d picked up a brochure (imagine that!) about some dinosaur trails. The Fruita and Grand Junction area is famous for major paleontological discoveries. In Fruita there is a museum called Dinosaur Discovery. We probably won’t have time for that this trip. I’m impressed with the area and wouldn’t mind returning for a longer stay.

Being on the road isn’t all about the places you go and what you do. The RV next to us for the past 2 days was owned by a man we estimated to be in his mid 80s. He was quite arthritic and had to lean on the door heavily to get in and out. He’d told us he was heading south for the winter to Arizona. We hadn’t seen anyone else with him except a small, yappy dog. He was getting ready to leave this morning when we saw his wife who is very frail and has Alzheimer’s. He told us how he’d been caring for her. This would be their last trip together. When they get back home he’s planning on placing her in a nursing home. This evening there was a new RV in that slot. We found out the people were from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. They have been to 303 national park sites! We also found out that their home was under 3 feet of water after Katrina. It was interesting and sad too to hear about how they had to completely strip the first floor of their home to the studs and rebuild. We exchanged e-mail and address info. The wife is a big trip planner too. Just think of what two of us could concoct. We hope to meet up with them again.

We started the day by going to a place called Dinosaur Hill. There is a 1 mile trail with signs explaining the various rock layers. I should have paid more attention in Earth Science instead of passing notes to Steve’s sister about our latest heart throbs. In 1901 an almost complete skeleton of a Brontosarus was found here. The skeleton has been on display at the Field Museum in Chicago since. There is another dinosaur skeleton from here that is on display at O’Hare Airport. So the next time you have a lay over there, be sure to look for it. Just as we were starting the trail, a local lady who obviously is very knowledgeable about the area spent about 15 minutes telling us about what we would see. She then recommended a scenic route for us from Fruita to Moab for tomorrow. She recommended a Mexican restaurant in Moab as well.

Then we went to another dinosaur trail called the Fruita Paleontological Area. This is a 1.5 mile trail with over 20 signs explaining the geology and fossil finds there. We made a quick sandwich and ate as we decided what else to see. Originally we’d planned to go to the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Management Area. Seeing the wild horses last year was such a thrill, we thought we’d do it again. It was after 2PM and that would have been too far to drive. So we headed to another section of McInnis Canyon. We drove I 70 to Exit 2 then turned onto Rabbit Valley Road then onto Sidewinder Road. This was an 8 mile dirt road that led to Rattlesnake Canyon and Salt Creek Overlook. Both were just beautiful spots. The road paralleled I 70 and was only .5 miles away. I couldn’t help contrasting all the people rushing along the Interstate and missing the beautiful sights so close by. We didn’t see another person for the 3 hours we were there. At the end of the road we found a concrete picnic bench overlooking a horseshoe bend of Salt Creek. We plan to return sometime with wine, bread and cheese to watch a sunset. Obviously we aren’t the only ones who thought this was a great spot.

We’ll be posting Colorado in 2 parts as we’ll return to the southern part of the state on the way back.

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About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
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One Response to Colorado, Part One

  1. Hi guys,
    I found this blog while looking for something else entirely (I’m the social media manager for AAA Colorado and a search brought me here because you mentioned AAA in this post) and ended up reading the whole thing. Wow, I envy you so much. This sounds like the trip of a lifetime. Glad you had such a good time in Colorado. If you find yourself looking for good RV sites along the way, you can find AAA Campbooks online at http://www.AAA.com under “Travel”.
    The thing about National Parks / National Monuments: national parks are usually much bigger and get their status because they contain more than one reason for national-thingness. For example, they might have scenery, wildlife, historic value, or more, each of which would qualify the area as important on its own. National Monuments generally have just one feature of interest. But they can get upgraded – we have Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park here in Colorado which was previously a National Monument. Hope that helps!

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