That said, I'm getting a new feel for how much I truly do love to travel. Traveling never lets me down. When I get out there, no matter how much I've built up a trip in my head, I still have incredible experiences even if they don't live up to what I expected. That is to say, I'm always pleasantly surprised because I always find something new, whether or not it's what I thought I might find. And I come back vibrating with a new energy and enthusiasm about this place I've just seen, ranting and raving about it like I'm the first person to discover that place. And I feel so alive.
Here's Colorado. My friend from Carbondale planned out a whirlwind trip for us, showing me the finest her state has to offer, taking me to some of the highest places in the state and sometimes even in N. America. We did a lot of driving and winging it when we needed to, shifting plans to accommodate our whims, having adventures and close shaves, climbing mountains and taking pictures to prove it.
On the list of sites:
We first hit Downtown Denver, then caught a show at Red Rocks Ampitheater (holy crap, what a beautiful venue), Sound Tribe Sector 9. They put on a fantastic show. The next day we drove over Independence Pass then came through Aspen on our way back to her hometown, stopping briefly at a wine, beer and spirits tasting close to where my AirBnb was on the last trip. We found a nice local cider, picked up some food and then went back to her place where I cooked us some steaks.
The following day, we took a yoga class at True Nature, a beautiful yoga studio and meditation center, which was followed by a singing bowl and gong meditation for an hour and change. Then she took us back to Snowmass Village to hike the Rim Trail, a hike that was offered during Wanderlust but that I didn't take. It was cool to be back in the village and the hike was a perfect way to acclimate to the elevation. It features a pretty steep uphill climb for the first half hour to this ying yang feature:
...followed by an easy jaunt along the ridge with sweeping views on all sides and a few more climbs bringing you to an elevation of about 10,500 feet. After the hike we wound our way down to Aspen to have dinner at Pyramid Bistro and catch a show at Belly Up.
The next day, after a yoga class at another yoga studio, Kula, we got on the road again. Back over Independence Pass to head down to The Great Sand Dunes and eventually back up to Breckenridge to crash for the night before heading up to the trail head for Grays and Torreys Peaks, the 14ers we had chosen to hike, doing a double summit in one day because we could. On the way over Independence Pass again, crossing the continental divide yet again, we stopped to view Mt. Elbert, the highest of the 14ers. Note the fall foliage which had begun changing color in between this ride and the first one.
Then we got on our way past Salida and Buena Vista, down the longest stretch of straight road I've been on since driving to the Outer Banks of NC on Hwy 70. But what awaited us was nothing short of amazing. The sand dunes can be seen from miles away, butting up against the mountain range, and boast the tallest sand dune in N. America. When you're upon them, they dominate the landscape, and what a weird landscape:
After playing around for a while, kicking up sand and acting like kids, and just enjoying the surroundings and the quietude (it was seriously dramatic how quiet it was when the wind wasn't blowing...it felt like a sensory deprivation tank or something), we sat and debated our options for the rest of the evening. We were trying to make it as close as possible to the trail head at Grays Peak that night so we could set out and be on the trail as early as possible the next morning. Originally, the plan had been make it all the way to Leadville or even Frisco, and we had been leaning toward Leadville for most of the day as we had lost some time getting out of The Roaring Fork Valley later than expected that morning, so everything had shifted. It was already going to take us almost four hours to get back up to Leadville and it was early evening at that point. It was so long of a ride we almost considered going all the way back to Carbondale to stay at her place that night.
We scrapped that though because we hadn't even eaten dinner yet. We had our eyes on a steak restaurant in Leadville called Quincy's that only serves steak for $9.95 (seriously, the only decision you have to make is how you want it cooked and how you want your baked potato). Luckily, the restaurant had a location in Salida that was closer so once we got back out on the highway it looked liked we just might make it there before closing and have only an hour and a half left on our journey to Leadville.
We still made it to Leadville after all the hotels had already closed their front desks for the night and had to hit a couple of them before we found one that would book rooms after hours...and of course, we got the last one at the first place that would open up for us. Good thing too because it was midnight at this point and we had to be up at 6am the next morning!
The following morning, we packed up and got on our way, with a short stop for breakfast in Frisco, making it to the trail head by 8 and setting out around 8:30. The weather was dreary, cold and windy. Not a good prognosis for a day hike but we were prepared. Or at least I thought I was. My sweater, scarf and hat would eventually prove worthless against biting temps in the 30s, steady 40 mph winds and, yes, freaking snow and sleet. The climb was a bit brutal as such and we had driven up to 11,000 feet or so, so we still had about 3,000 feet of rise before we reached the top. At one point I had to borrow a layer of clothing from my friend. Every 10 minutes or so, I'd have to stop and catch my breath and the higher we got, the longer I had to stop before I felt I could go on.
Due to the weather, we had discussed the possibility of turning back just to prepare ourselves for the disappointment of not being able to climb to the top. But neither of us were keen on that idea. We came to climb. If anything, we debated turning back after Grays and forfeiting the opportunity to do the double summit. But then something amazing happened. I mean, I knew it would happen, to be honest. I'm ever the optimist, so I knew we'd get some clearing. There were breaks in the clouds and the winds had them moving off extremely quickly.
As soon as we hit the final stretch, one big gap opened in the clouds and as I stepped up onto the summit, I gasped as I saw clear views for miles and miles.
This was something I didn't get with my Concepcion volcano hike at the end of February. And the rush was enough that the two of us turned to the other peak, Torreys, barely a half mile away down a path that ran along the saddle between the two peaks, and said, "Why not?" We snacked and took selfies and set out, scrambling down the side of Grays and, slowly, back up the much steeper side of Torreys. (Watch in this video when my friend pans around...the first peak you see is Grays, which we had just come off the top of; the one you see when the camera turns 180 degrees is Torreys).
At this point I was starting to notice how numb and red my hands were. I'd had them clenched inside the pockets of my jacket for too long and needed to move them around and warm them up. We paused so I could do so and then beat the last stretch of scree reaching the top to find even more spectacular views.
The hike down was slow and easy once we were off the main slope of the mountain and we saw loads more wildlife on the way down, including scurrying pikas and the yellow bellied marmot who crossed our path and then proceeded to stand up on his hind legs and watch us for five full minutes before going back to his business. My phone was dead or there'd be pictures. I only saw one mountain goat the whole time, far away on a ridge on our way up to the top. He promptly lumbered down the other side before I could snap a pic though.
At the bottom, back at the car, my head ached, probably from dehydration and not elevation sickness, but I felt great otherwise. After devouring lunch we headed back to Carbondale by way of Glenwood Canyon, looking forward to an evening of lounging and Netflix.
The final full day of the trip we blew off a lot of the planned activities in favor of trying to have a lower key day and fit in Maroon Bells which we had missed a few days back due to cramming too much in in one day. We were going to ride bikes down Glenwood Canyon and hike to Hanging Lake but neither of us thought we'd be in any mood for physical activity after hiking two 14ers in one day. So, instead Maroon Bells it was. In Aspen, you buy a bus ticket and they bus you up the valley into a protected wilderness site where you can take the picture that everyone takes:
I mean, it is pretty gorgeous. We got some interesting facts on the way up from a knowledgeable guide who knew everything from local history to local geological facts to local wildlife. When we arrived, we opted for a short loop hike through the woods to take it all in and then wandered back to the bus stop. Unfortunately, we had just missed a bus and had to wait an additional thirty minutes for the next one which set us back quite a bit (although we heard some fantastic Wild West trivia from the same guide on the way down).
That night we were trying to make it all the way back to Denver to see another concert at Red Rocks (we found out at the STS9 concert that Counting Crows were playing at Red Rocks later in the week so we bought tickets right away). Making it back there required one more trip over Independence Pass, so we loaded up on coffee in Aspen when we finally got out of Maroon Bells, then headed out. The time was dwindling away and, though Counting Crows had a few opening acts, we did the math and figured there was a slight possibility we'd miss some of their set if we didn't book it. Let's just say that Independence Pass was both thrilling and terrifying this time around.
One last stop in Breckenridge for legendary crepes my friend raved about, barely set us back in terms of travel time, because where there is usually a colossal line, there wasn't a single soul waiting. Giddy at our fortune we chowed down on crepes in the car as we made our way past Breckenridge back to I-70. We hit very few traffic snarls from there on and I finally saw the Milky Way out the car window. Arriving at Red Rocks, we found that they were between sets still. We found our seats chatted for maybe two minutes before Counting Crows walked out on stage, almost as though they were waiting for us to get there.
So, a perfect end to a near perfect last day. If not for the crummy hotel I booked outside of Denver, we'd've been totally solid (we booked a non smoking room and it turned out all they had ready when we got there was a smoking room...people can still smoke in hotel rooms??). But at the point we were so tired we just crashed. And the following morning I had gluten free buttermilk pancakes in Denver before heading off to the airport and parting with my friend.
What a trip! Crazy adventures, tall mountains, beautiful vistas, and three separate concerts. And lots of driving. Couldn't have asked for a better time and now I have reasons to go back. As I always do. And I think I might actually have a mountain climbing addiction at this point.