And The Colorado Rocky Mountain High
If our travels this year had a sound track it would undoubtedly be full of John Denver songs. 2017 has been the year of the outdoors travel for us, whether road tripping through Costa Rica, hiking a 14er in Colorado, Camping in Montreal, Canada or sleeping under the West Virginia, stars we have thoroughly enjoyed nature this year.
I also turned 40 this year. Don't worry, I'm not one of those people who's terrified of aging. I actually enjoyed turning 40. It's a great age. But it's a big milestone, and every big milestone deserves a good trip somewhere fun and adventurous. So I chose the Canadian Rocky Mountains with hopes of camping and hiking in the Banff and Jasper areas. And then I found out that 2017 was the year of Canada 150, and would be a terrible time to visit. So I headed to Facebook to ask my closest friends, along with a bunch of people I probably haven't seen since High School or haven't ever actually met, where I should travel to for my birthday. The requirements included airfare under $400 for continental US flights or $600 for international and the ability to do outdoors stuff with a heavy concentration of breweries or wineries being a plus. The responses were varied, as you'd expect, with everything from Ireland to Portland (Oregon and Maine), but the suggestions for Colorado were overwhelming and pretty convincing so we found some reasonable flights out of Newark.
Since neither Lindsay or I had ever been to Colorado I again took to Facebook for suggestions. And boy did people have suggestions. Everything from white water rafting to music venues, wineries to breweries to distilleries, places to eat and hikes to try. I took every suggestions and pinned them all on a Google Map. If you've never left an entire vacation itinerary up to your Facebook friends, I would definitely suggest trying it because this vacation was perfect!
With our map of suggested places to check out, 2 suitcases filled with our various camping equipment (Thank you, Southwest for no baggage fees!), and John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" in our heads, we headed out on an epic 8 day Colorado Road Trip Adventure. Since we were going to be landing in Denver a bit late we booked an AirBnB for the first night. This was one of only 2 nights that we booked a place to sleep ahead of time. The rest of the trip we left virtually unplanned, doing whatever it was we felt like as the day progressed.
We really only had one solid day to spend in Denver itself, so after waking up we headed out to grab breakfast at a lovely little spot called The Weathervane Cafe where we enjoy iced coffees, egg sandwiches, and coconut chia pudding. After that we took an Uber to our car rental place downtown, because renting a car at DIA is ungodly expensive. We then decided to maximize our coverage of Denver's RiNo Arts District by doing a brewery tour with eTuk Tours. The tour takes you on a 3 hour ride around RiNo in a Tuk Tuk and visits 3 different breweries. This was a perfect way to get a peak at what Denver's art scene had to offer. Our guide was great, and we lucked out being the only 2 people on the tour.
The only other solid plan we made was to see a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater. If you ever have a chance to see a show at Red Rocks; do it. I honestly would have paid to see anyone there, just to check out the acoustics. Luckily we were able to catch two bands we actually enjoyed; Young The Giant and Cold War Kids. After the show we had booked a night in a Yurt at the Indian Paintbrush Campground up the road. This made for a super easy after concert drive, once I figured out how to actually get into the campsite through their after hours entrance. And it made for a stunning night as we were greeted by a herd of Colorado Mule Deer. If you know my wife, you know her affinity for deer, so this capped the night off perfectly.
After a solid nights sleep in our yurt we woke to a beautiful sunrise, enjoyed a breakfast courtesy of Mountain House freeze dried scrambled eggs, took a walk around the Bear Creek Lake Park, and packed up and headed out for some hiking. Our first hike of the day was just outside of Denver in Evergreen, Colorado. We hiked the trails to Maxwell Falls. It was a fairly easy out and back trail to a small waterfall. It wasn't an impressive waterfall, but the trails were lovely and it was a nice start to the day. Be forewarned it can be a busy trail, and the chipmunks, while super cute, are more like seagulls and will try to steal your food if you sit to have a snack.
Next up we drove over to Saint Mary's Glacier. This was a much more impressive hike. I should mention, Lindsay and I have never been above 10,000 feet before so at 10,500 feet above sea level, this hike was a bit of a challenge. It's a fairly rocky 1.5 mile round trip hike with a +460 elevation gain. Good hiking boots were needed, and we had to stop frequently to catch our breath because us flatlanders weren't accustomed to the the lack of oxygen above 10,000 feet. However, despite any challenges hiking up, the view at the top was well worth it. With a crystal clear lake, snow capped glacier, jagged rocks, twisted pines, and colorful blooming wild flowers the top of Saint Mary's was like a magical fairy land. We hiked up to the glacier so I could put my boots in the snow while wearing shorts and a t shirt.
Speaking of elevation, the next days agenda would be to drive up one of the Colorado 14ers, so once we got back to the car after the trek up a snow capped glacier we headed to our campsite at the base of Mount Evans. It was about an hour drive on some twisting roads to get to a campsite that involved pit toilets, a bear proof food storage locker, a few deer wandering around, and a fire ring with a stellar view of the night sky. Basically, our perfect campsite.
We set up camp and quickly drove back down to the town of Idaho Springs. We had decided after hiking all day that we deserved A) to soak in some hot springs and B) buy some beer. First stop was Indian Hot Springs with it's underground, gender specific and bathing suit optional, geo thermal caves. If I had to guess I'd say the water was around 110 degrees and the pools are built into the rocks in an underground cavern. We spent a few hours soaking, steaming, and relaxing together. There are some great perks to being in a same sex relationship, and being able to enjoy gender specific places as a couple is one.
Now at this point we were getting ready to call it a night, so we took a quick run into the local Safeway to grab some provisions and the beer I mentioned previously and headed back up to camp. Dinner that night consisted of an MRE, a beer, and some stuffed mushroom caps that we grilled over our fire at the campsite. Lindsay snapped some Milky Way shots while I manned the fire. I'd love to say we got a great nights sleep that night, but unfortunately we were less than prepared for the temperature to drop into the 30s combined with the decreased oxygen at 10,600 feet above sea level. It was freezing and at times hard to take a deep breath in. But we snuggled close and made it through the night together, as we always do.
When we woke up the next morning, we high fived each other for powering through our first cold night of camping on a mountain together instead of wussing out and sleeping in the car, made some hot tea, and headed out for what would be one pretty intense drive up another 4,000 feet to the summit of Mount Evans.
Mount Evans is magic. Truly. But that's a story for next week.
Until then, travel on, friends.