It was June 22, 2014 when I drove across the border from Utah into Colorado. Today, August 16, I drove across the border from Colorado into Wyoming. That’s one day short of 8 weeks I spent in CO. At that rate, with the (rather unimportant) bucket list item to visit all of the 34 states I’d not yet set foot in, it would take me 272 weeks to visit all those states, a mere 5 years, but who’s counting?
So, why so long in Colorado? Why not? Truth be told, it was a combination of reasons. Two anyway: avoid the heat of summer (I spent most of my time in the coolness of the mountains), and to take in Colorado’s abundant natural beauty.
Being more of a nature nut than a history buff, for example, I wanted to see Colorado’s scenic beauty, and there is no shortage of beauty in Colorado. I entered the state in the southwest corner near Mesa Verde, a National Park, or is it a Monument–I can’t recall right now–but it has ruins of ancient peoples that inhabited the area. So, I did get a little dose of history after all. There are several sites where one can tour ruins in Mesa Verde, but one, the Cliff Palace, was enough for me. I prefer things that are perhaps comfortably broken in as opposed to ruined. That was a little historical humor. I hope it wasn’t ruinous. Mesa Verde was also quite hot so I only spent one night there. Besides, you’ve seen one ancient Pueblo ruin you’ve seen them all. No?
Durango was my next destination. There I rode the Durango & Silverton Railroad, a train pulled by a coal-fired steam engine built in the 1880’s. The attendant in my car was very knowledgable about this history of the train and the surrounding area and gave a running commentary during the 3 hour ride so I got a little more historical info. The scenery on that trip was spectacular too.
From Durango I drove north to the Silverton area where I camped a full 14 days at Little Molas Lake, in part because it’s free to camp there, but also because it is a really beautiful spot with much beauty to explore in the surrounding area.
After Silverton I made a short drive to Ouray along route 550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway. This is a very scenic drive which is not to be missed if you’re in the area. I camped about 10 days or so outside of Ouray at a place known as Ironton Park. While not the most appealing location to camp it wasn’t bad, and like Silverton, the surrounding countryside is nothing short of spectacular. In Ouray I interviewed Pacie Merling, BrewMaster for the Ouray Brewery and who is a local born and raised in Ouray.
I had intended to travel from Ouray to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a lesser known national park, perhaps, but the weather again was too hot for me and my precious Epson inkjet printer so I headed up to the Crested Butte area which is at elevation (read cooler) and also quite lovely. Actually, I stayed near Crested Butte South, a smaller community about 7 miles south of Crested Butte. I stayed at Cement Creek Campground. One of the three businesses in town is Camp 4 Coffee where I met a few locals. One, Nicole, who is an employee at Camp 4 was born and raised in CB South. I interviewed her for my blog and hope to post that before too long. Another local I met at Camp 4 was Craig Dirgo, author of the Einstein Papers and other spy thrillers. Craig recommended some places to visit and a route to travel through the state. He sent me north to Steamboat Springs along some very scenic roads. My trip in that direction found me visiting Marble, a tiny town in a canyon off another canyon off a secondary highway. I camped outside town at lovely McClure Campground near McClure Pass and a short drive from Marble. I met a gent at the campground, Chris, who for 23 years has hitchhiked around the country living in his tent. Talk about King of the Road! I interviewed him too for a future blog post. In Marble I pulled up a seat at the bar and struck up a conversation with a fellow who introduced himself as Greg Tonozzi. Turns out he was a local, and a sculptor of some repute who works with marble from the marble quarry in Marble. Have I said the word “marble” enough? Greg consented to an interview and that too should be posted soon.
From Marble I made a quick trip to the Aspen area to take in what is reputed to be the most photographed mountains in the USA: Maroon Bells. I don’t know how anybody measures that. I mean nobody asked me how many pictures I took of them or if I took any at all.
Moving on to Steamboat Springs near the northern border of the state I set up camp at Meadows Campground, about 15 miles out of town. Just a few miles from camp I went on a hike near Rabbit Ears pass where I encountered the most insanely great wildflower displays I think I’ve ever seen. Another hike took me past Fish Creek Falls. The campground host at Meadows had just gotten the cutest little 6 week old black lab puppy that I spent a great amount of time cuddling. I became very attached to Bambi, more than I realized: I cried all the way to Kremmling after leaving her behind.
Rocky Mountain National Park was my next major destination and the last of my nature stops in Colorado. Although the campgrounds there were to me unappealing the park itself has a well deserved reputation for spectacular scenery. I didn’t like the campgrounds very much because they had been denuded of trees due to recent bark beetle activity which killed most of them. The ground was rocky with patches of weedy plants and dirt. There were a lot of people and the campsites were on top of each other without much room. The campgrounds just weren’t “foresty” enough for my tastes. I like camping where I feel like I’m in a forest, where it’s quiet, and cool, and beautiful, not where it seems like a lot of people come to sleep in a tent just for the sake of sleeping in a tent.
From RMNP I traveled to Cherry Creek Reservoir Campground in Aurora, part of the greater Denver area. It was a bit of a shock finding myself in such a bustling metropolis after all the time I’d just spent in much more remote locations. Denver reminded me of L.A. where multi-laned roads are thronged by cars, congested traffic, traffic lights seem to stay red for hours, and idiotically unsafe tailgating, lane weaving drivers abound. There, however, I was able to take care of some business which included a tune-up for PeeWee, my little Yamaha XT-250 motorcycle, faithful companion and get-about.
Colorado is but a memory now as I find myself in Wyoming outside a tiny town called Centennial, in another unattractive campground which has been denuded, most likely by the infamous bark beetle. I’m on my way to greener pastures, however, the Grand Tetons being the next major destination. I’d originally planned on buzzing through the extreme NW corner of Kansas to add it to my list of states visited, then up through Nebraska to Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park in South Dakota, then hopping up to North Dakota for a fly-by on my way to Minnesota. That would have knocked 5 states off my bucket list item, but again the weather was just looking too hot so I opted for higher elevations and cooler temps in Wyoming. Perhaps after spending some time here and maybe Montana, possibly Canada, I’ll be able to head south to visit those states after things cool down a little toward autumn after which I’ll hightail it more southerly to stay warm during the winter.
I’ll miss you, Colorado.