Sunday, August 25, 2013

Colorado, part 1

Colorado has never really been on my radar, at least until the last several months, when it suddenly seems like everyone I know has either recently gotten a job there or taken a vacation there.

We were originally planning on going to the Grand Canyon and visiting our friends K and D (surprise!) in New Mexico this summer, but too much life and work got in the way and we realized we didn't have time for that.  Instead we decided to go to Colorado (it seems the thing to do) and camp in Rocky Mountain National Park.  There were a few cities we wanted to visit too, but the trip was largely unplanned, and that was a bit frustrating for me at times, since I really thrive on plans.

Gearing up for the big trip, we celebrated Will's birthday a little bit early:



And then we went to Illinois to run the Howl.

Afterwards, I was feeling kind of rough:


The next day drove to Peoria, which wasn't really on the way, but we got a chance to see my family and celebrate Will's birthday (and mine) with them.  

More cupcakes


Then we left for an epic drive west.   We spread the trip out over 2 days but did the bulk of driving on the first.  Will did really well, even though Iowa and Nebraska are hell of boring.

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Will's actual birthday lunch: rice and beans and apple juice at Chipotle in some random town.

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This was about the most exciting thing we saw for the first 13 hours of the trip.

Once we arrived in Colorado, our first stop was Fort Collins.  I have been somewhat obsessed with Fort Collins ever since I read a newspaper article proposing that it might be the happiest place on earth (and other corroborating evidence suggesting excessive happiness in Fort Collins).  

Fort Collins

We ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near the Colorado State University campus called the Rainbow Restaurant.  It was so good that we thought we might move to Fort Collins just for that.  They had a children's menu, and for the first time in his life, Will selected something from it (a grilled cheese with a side of vegetables), and actually ate some of it.  

I want grilled cheese

Fort Collins did seem to be a fairly happy place.  Everybody was nice and lots of people were riding bikes.  It reminded me of Champaign-Urbana, except in the mountains, and with no humidity to shield you from the blazing sun and dizzyingly oppressive heat.  

I could have spent the rest of the trip just driving around Fort Collins looking at real estate, but we had other places to go.  We headed on to Horsetooth Resevoir, just outside of the city.  We camped there overnight.  I felt like Horsetooth was the cleanest place we'd ever camped, and I don't just mean lack of trash.  Something about the dryness and absence of humidity just made everything seem crisp and scoured.  It got chilly at night, and that was a welcome relief to 90 degrees at ~5400 ft elevation.


We hiked down a little path from our campsite to the reservoir, and Will wanted to get in the water.

Wizard sticks

Short hike


Horsetooth Reservoir


We made pasta on the camp stove, and I finally got to enjoy the home-brewed apricot beer that our friend Eric gave me at Howl.  Best beer ever!  Thanks, Eric!

Eric's Beer

The next morning we hiked to Horsetooth Falls.  The hike was very pretty, and manageable enough for a newly 4-year old, but the falls themselves were not so impressive.  Didn't matter.  It's about the journey.

Horsetooth Falls Trail



Horsetooth Falls Trail

Horsetooth Falls

When we left the Fort Collins area and headed on towards Rocky Mountain National Park, I was feeling a bit bewildered.  We hadn't seen many of the things that are supposed to make Fort Collins the happiest place on earth, and although the surrounding mountains were rugged and beautiful, there seemed to be a certain sadness behind them.  The mountains I'm more accustomed to are the Smoky Mountains (green!), the mountains of the Pacific Northwest (green! gray! blue! snow-capped!), and volcanic islands like Ometepe (greenest green!).  The Rockies, obviously, are rocky.  Brown and red.  Scrubby.  It seemed like the kind of landscape where tumbleweeds would blow through and you might find scorpions, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas underfoot.  These mountains were nice but made me feel kind of lonely.  I needed more green.  I wasn't sure that I loved them.  And I had really expected to love them.

Things began to turn around as we got closer and closer to Rocky Mountain National Park (thank goodness for the sea-bands, which kept me from throwing up).  In fact, as soon as we entered the park, we were completely wow-ed by this view:

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Melissa taking a picture of Rob taking a picture of the Rockies.

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Here's a less obstructed view


We drove all the way west across the park (some 40 miles) to Timber Creek Campground.  We hadn't necessarily planned on staying there (actually, we hadn't planned anything)-- it was just listed as one of the few campgrounds that still had spaces left.  Decision made.

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The drive over to Timber Creek helped solidify the magnificence of these mountains.  And there was green.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall River Road

Rocky Mountain National Park

I loved the Timber Creek campground.  It was at 8900 ft, it was windy, and at night it got cold.  Part of the difficulty of this trip is that we had to pack for about a 40-degree range of temperature variation (plus we still had all the gear and stuff we needed to run Howl).  I had packed a bunch of warm clothes for myself, but even with everything piled on, I was freezing that night when the temperature got down to the low 40's.  I was miserable-- a teeth chattering, shivering mess.  I have a  weird lack of circulation problem in my left foot, and it felt like a block of ice.  Will climbed in my sleeping bag with me for a while to cuddle with me and keep me warm.  Sweetie.  

Timber Creek Campground

I survived the night and as the sun came up the next morning, things were a little better.  

Also, it was my birthday.

Rob left early to go for a run (his first since Howl) and saw some moose grazing in the campground.

Camping with moose

He also saw some elk grazing along the road.


Will and I meanwhile enjoyed breakfast.  It was still quite cold out, so Will requested that I wrap him up in a blanket and carry him out to the picnic table so he could eat.

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Thanks for the blanket, Auntie.

While Rob was running, he investigated the Colorado River Trail and thought it would be good for a family hike.   

Rocky Mountain National Park

Will was much less interested in hiking than we were, but we made it work.  Largely through use of the Kelty backpack, which must weigh at least 50 pounds when Will is riding in it.  I can't even lift the thing, much less wear it on my back, so Rob was the one who had to shoulder that burden.

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

It was now Wednesday afternoon, and I hadn't showered since Monday morning (no showers at the campgrounds).  A shower would have been really nice after that hike (it was getting pretty warm), but I tried to just make the best of it.

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My hair is never this flat in St. Louis.

In the afternoon we drove down to Grand Lakes and investigated that area--including a bit more hiking at Adams Falls.

Grand lake

Adams Falls

Adams Falls

That night I put all my warm clothes back on (kind of dirty at this point, but want can you do), and was determined not to be freezing cold.  I was still pretty cold.  But I survived.

The next morning, it was my turn to run.  This made me deliriously happy, and I don't think I was just delirious because of
 the altitude.  I ran back to the Colorado River Trail, expecting to feel out of breath from the thin air, but really, I felt fine.  Early in the morning, I was the only person on the trail.  That was amazing but kind of freaked me out a bit because I wasn't exactly sure what to do if I met a bear.  I hoped I didn't have to find out.

Luckily, the only wildlife I saw while running along the trail was 2 amazing elk.  They were less than 10 meters away from the trail, and when I came upon them I just stopped and watched them for about 10 minutes.  They seemed kind of scared of me at first, but we just looked at each other for a while, and eventually they went back to foraging.

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We packed up to leave the park after I got back from my ~4 mile run, and although I was really eager to find some place to shower, I was sad to be leaving the park.

We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center on our way back east, and we did some souvenir shopping and hiking/sightseeing around there.

Alpine Visitor Center



Alpine Visitor Center


View of our campsite from Trail Ridge Road.

Forest Canyon

Lava Cliffs



 Stay tuned for Part 2.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WHAT AN AMAZING TRIP so far!! can't wait for PART 2!!! the pictures are incredible........ makes me yearn for another trip to see the MOUNTAINS> I SO LOVE THE MOUNTAINS> Your pictures should be in a tour guide book, along with YOUR version of what to do and where to STAY! no showers!! spose the elk didn't mind!!!>:) You all look fantastic, what a way to spend your birthday, You sure have had some 'incredible and adventurous ones'!!!! ok going to read PART 2!!! luv an hugs, mama