Hop In, Honey, Sit Right By My Side
After days of twisting, canyon laden, mountain lined roads Lindsay and I found ourselves on a long, flat, straight desert drive heading towards Great Sand Dunes National Park. This was more of a Vegas to Los Angeles type drive than a Colorado drive. It felt slightly surreal as we opened the windows and enjoyed the hot, dry air. Once we got to the visitor center and checked out the exhibit inside, we parked the car and walked along the Medano Creek. As it was a Saturday the park was quite busy, with families who had set up canopies and chairs on the riverbed which was still flowing, albeit only a few inches deep. High Dune and Star Dune, rising 700 and 750 feet above the dunes base, respectively, ascend out of the creek bed seemingly up into the blue sky. It is truly a sight to behold. While we didn’t make it to the top of either peak, we did climb a bit up the edge of the dunes, stopping to smell the desert flowers hiding in the valleys of sand.
After that, it was back on the road. When I asked people to help plan my 40th Birthday Adventure, a few people had suggested we try rafting the Royal Gorge. I’ve never been white water rafting, so I figured “why not!” We reserved a spot at the Royal Gorge KOA, which was a great facility. I love staying at a KOA campground because they have great facilities including perks like washers and dryers, and WiFi. This KOA was especially hospitable, and within driving distance of the Whitewater Bar and Grill which was not only our dinner spot for the night, but also our meeting spot for the rafting adventure in the morning. We had opted for the half day, 3 hour trip, but looking back I wish we had done the full day because we had that much fun. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
I don’t often rave about a company in my blog posts but I feel like I should give credit where credit is due, and Royal Gorge Rafting gets a lot of credit. The whole experience was awesome. They are both professional and fun. We ended up in a raft powered by 4 women; Lindsay, myself, and 2 sisters and captained by a Royal Gorge staff member who was great. We got a thorough tutorial on how to maneuver the low waters of the river in August. We bumped and thrashed over Class II-IV rapids, and enjoyed every minute. Afterwards we celebrated at the grill with beers and a look at the photos from the day which had Lindsay and I in stitches. Who knew my wife could make such funny faces!
Because we can’t resist a completely out of the way scenic drive, we opted to take the Phantom Canyon Road towards Manitou Springs, which was our stop for the night. Any drive that starts out with a herd of cattle blocking the roadway is sure to be a good one. If you get a chance to check out Phantom Canyon, I’d suggest it. It’s a winding, gritty drive with some awesome scenery. And it leads right up to Cripple Creek, where we stopped to wander around a Biker Fest and buy some candy. We also stopped in at the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine for a quick tour just as the clouds opened up and it started to pour.
We made it to Manitou Springs just as the rain let up and grabbed a room at the America’s Best Value Inn, which wasn’t necessarily the best or a value, but it was a warm bed for the night. In the morning we grabbed breakfast at the Good Karma Café, filled our water bottles at some of Mantiou Springs 7 public mineral springs, and tried to find a place to watch the 2017 total solar Eclipse as we were as close to the totality line as we could get without driving several hours out of the way.
Looking back we should have planned better, because every place was sold out of eclipse glasses and most venues that had eclipse events were already booked up, except for one; The Eclipse viewing party at GOAT Patch Brewing in Colorado Springs (Thank you Facebook events for the suggestion!). So we headed off to watch the Eclipse with about a hundred other last minute planners in a brewery with 20 pairs of glasses to share. This sounds like it would be a disaster, but it was actually wonderful. Everyone shared the glasses, enjoyed good beer, and cheered at the peak of the Eclipse. We met a bunch of really great people, swapped travel stories, and got suggestions to head over to The Garden Of The God’s, which happened to be our next stop anyway.
And this was our last bit in Colorado. By the time the Eclipse had ended it was mid-day, which gave us enough time to do a nice hike around Garden of the God’s before heading back to Denver and our AirBnB. It’s a beautiful park, although full of visitors including school groups. We opted for a slightly strenuous hike, which gave us wonderful views of the landscape. We then headed back on the road and took a little detour through the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t get to see any buffalo, but we did get some stunning views of deer grazing as the sun set with the Denver skyline in the background. We pulled the car over to view the deer grazing in golden light fields with the pink sky in the backdrop and both had an overwhelming feeling of being grateful. Grateful for moments of beauty like that, grateful for our ability to travel as often as we do, grateful to travel together as a couple, grateful for each other.
And with that, we rushed off to our AirBnB to catch a few hours sleep before an early flight…
“Gotta get crankin' now, gotta get movin' now
Fasten your belt I'm takin' good care of you
Let's get outta town, Before the sun goes down…”