We are just loving Colorado! Loving it! In fact, I've been meaning to post this for quite a while, but we've just been too busy enjoying ourselves in Colorado. This post is going to be a long one.
We left Batavia after a quick stop to take care of some business, heading west through the Great Plains, with our sights on Colorado. After three days of driving and rolling into town in the middle of Labor Day weekend, we were lucky to find an available campsite at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. Fairgrounds, you say? Sounds less than ideal? Turns out it was great! It's not a destination, but the facilities are new and clean, the staff is friendly, and you can't beat the location. We also met a great guy towing an A-frame camper with his diesel VW Golf! We compared notes and shared tours of our tiny homes. He even gave us a delicious beer from his hometown brewers, Cigar City Brewing. Thanks again!
We spent our first afternoon and evening exploring the college town of Boulder. We walked the Pearl Street pedestrian mall, taking in the musicians, street performers, and kids returning to college. We stopped for an early dinner and a local brew. From there we headed west into the mountains, quickly leaving the cities behind. We drove until sunset and then headed back to camp.
The following day was Labor Day and it was a perfect day for exploring the Denver area. We drove and walked the city a bit before going to Watercourse for lunch. I was so excited to see that it is right across the street from Hamburger Mary's, my favorite burger spot in Chicago!
After lunch we went to Red Rocks park and amphitheater where we saw part of the sound check for the band OneRepublic. Following Red Rocks, we headed to Mt. Evans, the home to the highest paved road in the country. It took a while, but we eventually climbed the winding road, past the tree line, and up to 14,295 feet. It was a scary drive, but the views were with it. Plus a pack of mountain goats walked right in front of us! There was a burned down restaurant at the top that we also explored. We took the scenic route back to camp and through the town of Golden.
We spent Tuesday at Rocky Mountain National Park and had the most wonderful time! I don't remember it being so beautiful, but it really blew us away this time. Because we were still testing ourselves at altitude, we only did one short hike to Nymph and Dream Lakes. Absolutely beautiful! Dream Lake has to be the most perfectly picturesque mountain lake I have ever seen. After that we drove up to the Alpine Visitor Center, stopped for hot beverages, and then headed out of the park.
At the recommendation of a friend we stopped at the super delicious pizza place, Lucky Pie Pizza & Taphouse in Louisville. The pizza and beer were beyond delicious. Furthermore, our server was so sweet and shares our love of road tripping and is currently on her own grand adventure. We stopped next door at Sweet Cow for a taste of incredible ice cream before heading back to camp, completely sated.
Colorado had sold us on the greater Denver/Boulder area, so Wednesday morning we headed south along the Front Range, landing at Lathrop State Park in the southern part of the state. This park was merely a stopping point for us along the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, but we really enjoyed it! The sites are beautiful and we were away from much of the light pollution. Ryan took the telescope out and didn't quite get the photography software working properly, but we had a wonderful time.
Thursday was a short jaunt to Great Sand Dunes National Park, a collection of enormous sand dunes tucked behind some mountains. They look unreal. Truly magnificent. Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived just after the celebratory unveiling of the Sand Dunes quarter, so the park was packed with school buses full of people. We set up camp as the crowds thinned out and then headed to the dunes. I have rarely seen Ryan so excited. We climbed and climbed until half our water was gone and we had to turn back.
We hiked back to camp just as the clouds were becoming ominous. By the time we were done with dinner, the winds had become serious. We never did end up getting rained on, but that was probably the most significant wind we have experienced at camp this entire trip. Well beyond gusting, we would hear the wind howling down the mountains behind us before they would encompass the camper.
Friday was new tires for the camper day! For the first time since departing in April, we set an alarm and got an early start. The new tires went on without a hitch and we were traveling again by 9:30 AM.
Mesa Verde National Park was our next stop, but only after crossing the Continental Divide. I think that was the mos serious climbing we have done with the trailer and the car did magnificently, passing all sorts of vehicles while climbing. We got in early and got a secluded campsite, which we learned was the feeding grounds for all sorts of deer (sorry, no pictures, but it was so cute and they were so close!).
After setting up camp we went to the park museum to get tickets for a guided tour. Mesa Verde is significant not just because of its natural beauty, but because it is home to all sorts of cliff dwellings from the ancestral Puebloan people who lived there from approximately 1200 to 1300. There are also other sites, not built into the cliffs, but that sit atop the mesas that predate the cliff dwellings and are more similar to sites we have seen in Arizona. Because of the delicate nature of many of the archeological sites, the most significant of the sites are viewable by a Ranger-led tour.
While we waited for our tour of the Cliff Palace site, we walked through the site called Spruce Tree House, the most well preserved of the sites in the park. We climber down into the kiva, which served as the hub of family activity and religious ceremonies in the communities. In the pictures, every circular structure built into the ground is a kiva.
The Ranger who led our tour of Cliff Palace, Ranger Pete, was fantastic! We learned all about the history of the people and their connection to modern American Indian tribes, how they built everything, about their religion, and why their communities likely collapsed. We even got to peek inside one of the homes where you can seen up to the floor above and the walls are painted! The paint was vibrant white and red, as if it was painted a year ago. This was our first Ranger-guided tour at a National Park and it was $4 well spent. We highly recommend them.
After the Cliff Palace tour, we hiked the Far View sites. These are some of the sites the predate the cliff dwellings, when the communities lived and farmed on top of the mesas. Here the kivas and homes look much more like those we saw at Chaco Canyon in Arizona. We were so happy to piece together the ancient tribes, connecting what we've seen at other parks to what evolved over time at Mesa Verde.
This morning (Saturday) we left Colorado, for now, and I am writing this from Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I will post this as soon as I get a scrap of internet, but will save the Utah post for later. See you on the flip side!