Welcome back! In this entry I will share some of our experiences in Colorado City, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and give you all an update on the ongoing truck saga. Regardless of the annoyances of our transportation issues, this was one of my favorite legs of our trip so far this year. We have really enjoyed the beauty of Colorado. In an upcoming post (or perhaps series of posts), I want to do a “best of” as we approach our one year anniversary on the road. Some people predicted we’d be ready to settle back down after our first year, and I have to say I don’t see any signs of that yet.
Colorado Springs has all the big city amenities but with plenty of recreational activity available. Our most favorite thing there was visiting Pike’s Peak, the mountain that inspired the song “America the Beautiful”. So fitting for a July 4th weekend! It was absolutely breathtaking all the way up. At times I had vertigo as we drove the switchbacks with no guardrails. When you reach the Peak, there is a visitor center that is famous for their high altitude donuts. We saw lots of wildlife – Big-horn Sheep, Elk, rabbits, marmots, etc.
They do have a cog train that you can ride if you don’t want to make the drive. You also need reservations to go to the peak at this time of year, otherwise you have to stop at mile 16 and take the bus to the top. We lucked up with a pretty clear view, as it can often be foggy there.
The next day we hiked the Seven Bridges Trail, which is exactly the way it sounds – it’s a beautiful wooded trail that follows a river all the way to the top. You cross over seven bridges to get there and see many small waterfalls along the way. The butterflies were out at full force, as were the wild flowers and roses. This was a fairly busy trail due to it being a Sunday, but there was good trail etiquette on display and lots of families with small children out enjoying their day. As a bonus, you will drive right by Helen Hunt falls!
We did stop by Garden of the Gods, and it is a beautiful park. Having just been to red rock country for the past few months, it was a little underwhelming for us. I can see why it’s special nestled in the area it’s in, and I do highly recommend it if you are in the area. I also should add we didn’t get to experience much of a hike so I might have felt differently if we had. The thunderstorms took over and we just never made it back over. It was also overly busy which to me took a way from the whole experience. Not just people everywhere, but also people on Segway tours, etc. If we come back during a less busy season, I will give it a second chance.
We took the hour drive to Cripple Creek, which is an old mining town that had over 50,000 people living there in it’s hey day. The town is pretty much casino after casino which isn’t our thing. The historical buildings and their architecture is still worth a stroll through, they have many old murals that are neat as well. We did take a tour of the Molly Kathleen Mine Tour, which we both enjoyed.
The Molly Kathleen Mine was named after the woman who discovered it, which back in that day there were lots of superstitious ideas of women and gold mines. For example, if the miners knew a woman walked across the land at the top they would all leave and go home for the day. So to say she was a rare pioneer is an understatement. It’s a vertical mine shaft 1000 feet down, and when they put you on the elevator you are up close and personal with about 4 other strangers. The guide was very interesting, he was on the first ever paranormal ghost show on discovery, and he also owned his own gold mine which he worked in after his tours into the early hours of each morning. We had demonstrations of equipment, a lot of history of the mine and the innovations that continued during it’s operations.
For July 4, we headed up to Red Rocks Amphitheater. It has been on my list to see a concert here at least once in my lifetime. If you are in the know, The Blues Traveler has played the 4th of July here since the nineties with only two exceptions. So it was kind of neat to not just see a show, but be part of a local tradition as well. It also brought in a mostly older crowd, which stayed pretty tame for the evening. We were able to see the Denver fireworks taking place far off in the valley, and it just made for a nice summer night.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This part of the trip I had been anticipating for months. It’s a place I have always wanted to visit, and it was going to be even more special to share it with one of our kids. Our son and his girlfriend flew into Denver, and we all made the trek to Estes Park mostly after dark due to the timing of the flights.
If you are interested in visiting in the summer pay close attention to the reservation system for Rocky Mountain National Park. Out of all the National Parks we’ve visited, it is the most confusing and you must investigate the details. For July passes, I logged on Jun 1 at the time they were first available and barely made out with our passes because they go that quickly. They have lotteries the day before you visit, and after 3pm you can enter the some parts of the park without them, but it would be very limiting to your visit not to get them at the first available opportunity.
When we finally made it to our RV park around 9 pm, we found I had made a grave error. I left the refrigerator unlocked all day. Typically on moving day, I prepare the interior while Ed dumps our tanks and disconnects the utilities. We both have a very detailed check list that we built in the Microsoft To Do app. After a year on the road, we’ve both gotten lax with the list because we have a routine down. The fridge is typically the last thing I do before I pull in all the slides. I was probably just distracted because I was excited, but by the time we discovered it the doors were all open, there were cracked eggs drying on the floors, there was a soupy substance filling our bottom freezer because the ice had all melted and blended with other spilled food. We lost all our groceries including some of the homemade treats I spent quite a while making before our son’s arrival. So, we were up cleaning it all out until about 1 am. Luckily, the rest of the trip went well, but I am still kicking myself on that one. On the positive side, the fridge got cleaned out I guess!
I had planned to do the Emerald lake hike the first day, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. Normally, if you get up and do things in the morning, there is a shower or thunderstorm in the afternoon. They don’t last long usually, maybe an hour tops. Bring a raincoat, you’ll be fine. But on this day it rained about the whole day. We decided to use that day to do some scenic drives.
First, we stopped in town and had a bite at Penelope’s. I don’t always write about the restaurants we visit, but this was probably a favorite of our group the entire time we were in Estes Park. It’s a great burger place that also has game burgers for those that are inclined. It was reasonably priced and delicious – a must do if you are visiting! For finer dining, we enjoyed The Dunraven and would highly recommend the Brussels Sprout appetizer.
We then started out with Falls River Road, which is unpaved and goes for about 11 miles. We saw a huge elk and enjoyed watching the view change as we climbed into the mountains. We also were able to stop and see Chasm Falls, which I would put in the top 3 of the waterfalls we saw while we were in the park. We then went up on top of the mountain to the Alpine Visitor center where there was a big Elk Herd. We put on our rain coats and did a short hike to a peak.
Then we drove down Trail Ridge Road and took it all the way to Grand Lake. We made many stops, including one at Lake Irene where we were able to watch a cow moose and her calf for a good 30 minutes or so. The pictures look a bit closer than we actually were due to the zoom, and we were careful not to annoy them.
The Western part of the park is less visited, we saw a bull moose further down the road and many more Elk and Deer. It’s a good hour and thirty minutes to Grand lake from Estes Park, but I am glad we took a day to look around at that end. We ended the day at the Roof-Top Rodeo at the Estes Park Fairgrounds. Our son has liked to go to rodeos ever since we took him to one in Cody, WY on our trip to Yellowstone a few years back, so I was happy to find this available.
The next day we stopped for a bit at the Alluvial Fan, which is another nice waterfall but spent the majority of our time at Emerald Lake trail. This takes you by three alpine lakes and many great water features on the way up. This is considered one of the most popular trails in the park, and for good reason. It’s a tad challenging, partially due to the elevation and partially because it’s uphill all the way to the top. We stopped and rested and took in each lake. The first, Nymph Lake, had mud puppies galore, which none of us had ever seen before. Our son attempted to catch one, which was equally comedic as it was unsuccessful. Nymph was more of a pond with lily pads and ducks.
The second was Dream lake, and we stood watching all the large trout and taking in the dramatic views. The most beautiful of the three was Emerald Lake and we spent a bit of time just sitting on rocks and looking around in awe. It didn’t seem like it should even exist here in the US.
We took the next few days checking out the town, we took the tram for example, and then would enter the park later in the evening for small hikes (such as the must do Alberta Falls – go in the evening when you have it mostly to yourself). We especially enjoyed frequenting Sheep Lake each morning and evening because of the wildlife viewing opportunities. The sheep are known to come down the mountain between the hours of 9-3 (clear of their predator’s hunting hours) but we never caught up with them. We did see bull moose every time, sometimes even in the lake and one evening we saw a coyote near the entrance.
We had a fishing trip booked later in the week with Estes Anglers, and if you even remotely like fishing I highly recommend them. Our guides Matt and Steven were fishing savants, they know exactly where the fish are and what to use to catch them. Ed and I were paired up with Matt, who on two occasions went to demonstrate a technique to me with my pole and would cast once and come back with a fish almost unintentionally. I was in awe of him. I don’t even know how many I caught, it was a lot (10?)- I got three varieties my first day – Brown, Brooke, and Rainbow Trout. I was secretly hoping for the grand slam (all four species of trout in one day) but the cutthroat were elusive that day.
My son and I both bought what we would need to fly fish moving forward, and I am planning on doing a little with him when we visit home in August. We went to the park to try them out the next day and both got our cutthroats. Not bad for some beginners, but we had some great teachers.
The last thing we did was visit the infamous Stanley Hotel for a night time spirited tour. This was Steven King’s inspiration for The Shining, they filmed parts of Dumb and Dumber there as well. I can’t tell you if it’s haunted or not, but I can tell you it is beautiful and has a fascinating history. It’s been on my bucket list to visit there forever, and I am happy that we did.
They told us many guest and staff experiences, showed us some convincing pictures. I was more interested in some of the history, it was absolutely fascinating. It started out as a camp in 1909 where the millionaire F.O. Stanley came to help him with his respiratory issues from the TB he contracted at college. They had to keep growing it because they were friends with names like the Biltmore’s and found that some of these old money families didn’t allow unmarried people under the same roof. They missed their friends and wanted visitors, so they added a men’s lodge for the unmarried men after evolving from having them tent camp on the property. A concert hall then went in for Mrs. Stanley who gave up her music career to be with her sick husband, it was built as a smaller scale version of the Boston Symphony Hall. John Phillips Sousa’s marching band came and played in it’s initial days, and Mrs. Stanley only played one night due to finding she had an enormous stagefright.
The tour guide told us that Jim Carrey came to stay while he was filming Dumb and Dumber. He requested the infamous room 217, where there was a gas explosion maiming the maid, and later where Steven King had his nightmare that became his book “The Shining”. As the story goes, he was up there for two hours, came to the front desk frantic in his boxer shorts and left to stay at the Days Inn while the staff packed up his luggage and had it sent over. For the remainder of the film, he would stay outside in the freezing weather until it was his time to film, then he would be right back outside. He’s been asked even on national TV what he experienced and will not speak of it. When it was time to film Dumb and Dumber 2 he would not sign on without being told he would not have to film any in the Stanley. He also stipulated in his contract that he would walk from the film if that detail changed.
Of course, being able to share that week with our son was magical to me, and I found myself pretty weepy after sending him off for his flight the next day. I am glad we will be home to spend time with all of our kids soon, and am especially excited to meet a new member of our family. Our grandson Briggs Andrew will be here before we know it! We love him so much already!
When I last left off, I had talked about our Truck issues as we left Durango. We did get the truck at the last minute and were able to head up to Colorado Springs. We were barely on the road with it when it started cleaning the exhaust system and continued to do so for the next 260 miles (and beyond). Engine light was back on too and we were getting the tale tell texts to get it back in the shop. We got it in the following Monday and they wanted to replace our entire exhaust system. They had 10 parts on backorder, with no idea if it was going to be 6 days or 6 months. The parts alone were $14,000, luckily still covered under warranty.
If this was a normal situation, we would have gotten a rental and just waited. Chevrolet has been good to cover those costs. In our situation, we HAVE to move. Most parks are booked tight with it being summer so we can’t always keep our site, and we can’t just rent a car that will allow us to move our house. Given our son was on his way to see us at the next stop, we decided to assess the situation after our family time.
It’s an emissions issue so the engine can go into limp mode at any time (it will let you drive about 20 MPH). We were starting to experience that by the end of the visit, getting around it by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery. When there was still no ETA on parts, and we had to white knuckle it back to Denver, we decided we had to get control over the situation. Our options were to put the RV in storage and go back east to stay until it could be fixed, or trade the truck in. Given we had an overall lack of faith the truck would be fixed after having it in the shop 6 times in 2 months, and we would loose a lot of money on our upcoming reservations, we decided to go ahead and trade it in.
That was still a tall order, 3500 dually trucks are almost impossible to find right now. We started calling every dealership in a four hour radius of Denver. We felt like with that many dealerships we might strike gold and often we are in rural areas where this would not be an option. Out of the 25-30 we called we found ONE truck at Celebration Chevrolet in Aurora. We lucked up – it was the same model and equipped the same as our existing truck. The dealership gave us a great deal on our trade in (Kelly Blue Book value with no subtractions for the needed repairs), and we were able to take home the new truck that day. This dealership was awesome to work with, it was maybe my best car buying experience to date.
I don’t know how to express to you the relief and freedom of being able to go forward again with our plan and knowing we have reliable transportation. We have now arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the perfect time to attend the Cheyenne Frontier Days and see their big annual rodeo and concert series!