Tag Archives: Colorado

The Sabbatical 2021

We took a six week sabbatical this fall to refresh and rejuvenate; most of the time was spent in Colorado but we visited five states in total – lots of hiking (LOTS), lots of family time, and a lot of aimless wandering. It was just what the doctor ordered and it was deeply enjoyable. It was incredibly special to catch the last of the summer flowers and the start of the fall colors. Turns out, shoulder season was perfect for us! We’re sad the trip is over but we look forward to new adventures in the near future.

Special thanks to Hilton, Delta, and United for pretty much sponsoring our trip. We saved a lot of money churning credit cards for miles / points and most of our trip was free. This is probably one of the biggest changes in our travels – we normally stay in Airbnbs but Airbnb has become: expensive, unfriendly, filled with rules, and a hassle. It feels like we rode the Airbnb train during the golden age and had an incredible amount of positive experiences so Airbnb is now relegated as a just another story in our book of travels.

We had some pretty big surprises ; some are easy to describe and others are really hard:

  • We were pleasantly surprised to see mountain flowers in the wild! We thought for sure the season was over so it was a nice surprise when we saw lots of fireweed, lupine, indian paint brushes, and so on. What a treat!
  • The weather was pretty much perfect every day. We had two days of rain and the rain + clouds made for some beautiful mountain scenery so the rain wasn’t even bad.
  • We hit some fall colors around Silverton and Denver right around the peak time and it was stellar – up there with the fall colors in the Smokey Mountains NP.
  • The Uintas area a hidden gem! Our time in the Uintas was incredible and an absolute joy. The complete lack of people, very accessible trails for families with small children, the stunning scenery, and perfectly still mornings made for some unforgettable experiences. Our visit to the Uintas ranks up there as the best part of the trip.
  • The most amazing food we had the entire trip was found in a Mexican grocery store housed in a former gas station in Cortez, CO. It was clear the tacos, tamales, and everything else we ate was home made by the family running running the store. It happened to be Taco Tuesday the food was shockingly good. The next best food was a BBQ place we stumbled upon in Colorado Springs of all places. Absolutely incredible BBQ.
  • The forest fire smoke wasn’t that bad! Towards the end of the trip the smoke seemed to go away completely.
  • Colorado is full, chock full, of people. It was surprisingly hard to get around, even in rural areas. As an example, it ended up taking an extra 45min to get between Chimney Rock and Alamosa because of people hauling campers, trailers, and boats going slowly.
  • The number of older people out traveling is astonishing. None of them are in a hurry and many seem perfectly content standing in egress paths, driving 10mph below the speed limit, and chatting with service workers when there are a line of people trying to get out of a store. I’m not sure if Colorado attracts these types?
  • COVID is still a thing and we still had to make accommodation for COVID restrictions.
  • Staff shortages are felt even in rural areas. There were a number of places that were entirely closed or had reduced hours.
  • The wealthy in this country are really wealthy. Labor shortages in the services seemed to be more common in the really wealthy areas which is no surprise; it’s probably hard for anyone below the 5-10% to compete in the housing markets where people commute using their private jets.
  • The wealthy areas had a very strange feel, kind of like a museum or an art gallery – “people look at and use these areas but only some are allowed behind the rope” kind of feel. As an example: Park City, Aspen, and Telluride and some other cities have pretty big highways leading to the cities for all the service workers to flood in and out in the mornings and evenings since these people clearly can’t live in those areas. It’s just odd to be driving on a major highway to a town of 7,000 people surrounded by vehicles with decals showing cleaning, landscaping, building, contracting, and other services.
  • Sunrise and sunset in San Diego are nearly impossible to beat. Just so beautiful
  • Our trend of bad stuff happening to areas we visits continues. A forest fire broke out shortly after we visited Silverthorne.

Some trip stats:

  • 3 flights
  • 5 states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California)
    • 8 days in Utah
    • 7 days in California
    • 22 days in Colorado
  • 8 National Parks and Monuments: Dinosaur NP, Colorado NM, Mesa Verde NP, Gunnison NP, Chimney Rock NM, Florissant NM, Great Sand Dunes NP, Cabrillio NM
  • 28 free hotel nights
  • 37 days on the road
  • 4,100 road miles
  • ~12,000 photos
  • Only two days of rain
  • Many climates: alpine, desert, sand dunes, mountains, plains, alpine plains, temperate, and even lush forest.

Probably the biggest surprise was the Uinta mountains in Utah. Fantastic hiking, complete lack of people, and gorgeous scenery. Of all the places we visited on this trip it’s the place we enjoyed the most and look forward to visiting again.

The downsides were pretty surprising. There are a ton of people all over Colorado doing all sorts of outdoor activities. It’s impossible to get away from people. Time entry for the national parks, monuments, and busy sites is a major bummer. This is the first time I’ve felt that the “outdoors are closed”. We planned ahead and were able to see and visit a lot of the places we wanted but we didn’t get to see everything. It’s sad because I feel like I might be in the last generation of Americans who could use the national parks, monuments, and other federal lands to the fullest extent.

Six weeks is a long time so I have multiple posts:

I also have my favorite photos from the trip in the album below.

Enjoy!

Chris W.

Colorado 2021

Where to start. Visiting Colorado was great. The state has so much to offer – hiking, sites, sights, and all the wonderful places like the butterfly pavilion to experience made Colorado a wonderful place to visit. I can see why everyone loves Colorado. Which brings me to my next point: Colorado is overrun with people, especially retirees.

We were very fortunate to have nearly perfect weather the entire time in Colorado. We started the journey by flying into Denver and spending some time in the the metro area. I finally had a chance to hike to St. Mary’s glacier. It ended up being a really neat place to catch sunrise and we were some of the only people in the area because we started so early.

Our first destination was Aspen and I was taken back a bit about how wealthy and abnormal Aspen is compared to the normal world. We drove by the Aspen airport twice a day and it was so strange to see the many private jets. We didn’t know this was our first taste of the ‘ski town’ experience on this trip.

The Maroon Bells were beautiful, as always. We had our timed entry passes and made it up to Crater Lake a little bit after sunrise. It was very beautiful and great to have peace and quiet surrounded by stunning beauty. We turned back early as the crowds were working their way back up. We went again the next day but it was raining so we weren’t in much of a hurry. Turns out, the rain and clouds added a whole new layer of beauty to the area.

One of the bigger surprises was the immense beauty of Highway 141 between Grand Junction and Naturita. We were completely unprepared for the drive through the deep valleys and the changes from green-ish landscapes to dry desert red rocks. We had the road to ourselves and it seemed like we were the only people around to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Seeing the abandoned flume was really interesting simply because it shows the extent to which humans will go to make money; building a water flowing apparatus on a cliff wall hundreds of feet above the floor of the valley for many miles is no easy task.

We spent a good chunk of time in Ouray and visited Telluride, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and other places in the area. Ouray was super neat. It reminded me a lot of where I grew up and was dumpier than the ski towns probably because the town doesn’t have a ski hill. Most of the roads in the town were gravel! We had a couple decent meals there but Maggie’s stands out as being on of the best hamburgers we ate on the trip. There was no line when we visited (end of September) but a conversation with one of the employees revealed that they would serve 500-ish people an hour in the peak summer time and that a line would stretch for blocks in the tiny little town. Of all the little towns we visited, Ouray was one of the more neat places because of the hiking inside the town (Box Canyon), the quietness, beauty, and food options.

We managed to hit peak fall colors on the million dollar highway between Ouray and Silverton. It was one of the most spectacular views we’ve had and we’ve seen a lot of spectacular things. The reds, yellows, and colors in between were stunning.

Some other surprises:

  • Timed entry is a killer. We were unsuccessful at getting anything in Mesa Verde and the rest of the park was OK. Each park / national monument seems to do timed entry differently and it wasn’t fun to make it all work. I guess I’m the last generation who grew up being able to visit national parks when they wanted. I can’t help but think of the disenfranchisement timed entry will create since timed entry makes the outdoors closed for a lot of folks.
  • Chimney Rock National Monument is one of the newest national monuments and it showed! We were driving by so we decided to stop and we were glad we did. I’m guessing the overall experience will be a bit better in the coming years as their new facilities open up.
  • Traffic sucked. Sucked hard and pretty much sucked everywhere. Colorado has been over-run by people and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up. If the roads weren’t clogged by normal traffic (Denver, Colorado Springs, all the ski towns), there was construction, or some retiree driving 10-20mph below the speed limit in their truck pulling a camper pulling a boat pulling a car on a single lane highway.
  • The retirees were everywhere. Their complaints were hilarious. One retiree told a national park ranger that ‘they don’t do much for people’ in regards to folks afraid of heights. The park ranger took the comment and stride and reminded her that ‘it’s the outdoors’. It boggles my mind that someone thinks the national park service needs to make Mesa Verde, a place known for cliffs and cliff dwellings, a good place to go for those afraid of heights. The retirees did not seem to be in any particular hurry so they were completely happy standing in egress areas, speaking with cashiers / attendants forever, and driving super slow. One area was so clogged up with retirees driving RVs, trucks pulling campers and boats, that our 2.5hr car ride turned into 3.5hrs. I feel a particular distain for those who are oblivious or uncaring to others and the huge number of retirees slowing everything down is enough for me to think long and hard about ever going back to some of the areas we visited.

Nearly all of our stays in Colorado were at Hilton properties, primarily Hampton Inns. We churned credit cards and ended up with a lot of reward points and free is free. I generally wake up early in the morning so it was interesting to go down and see what was playing on TV; it’s been years since I’ve watched the weather channel and I had no idea it transitioned to a “the weather is good now but danger is always around the corner” type of station. It hurt my brain to watch. We seemed to be the youngest people in the hotels too; we stayed on central time so we were able to catch an early breakfast and get out before the retirees clogged everything up in the dining area and standing around.

A lot of Colorado seemed to be suffering from labor shortages as well. Things like early check in, quick restaurant service, and other places relying on services were impacted, especially up in the mountains. Some places were just flat out closed. It makes sense since wages in the service sector probably cannot pay for any standard of living or quality of life in the ski towns.

Our journey thru Colorado had a lot of other fun sites not already mentioned – like the Glenwood Springs cave, Colorado National Monument, Butterfly Pavilion, and had some absolutely stellar food ranging from great BBQ in Colorado Springs to wonderful tacos and tamales from a gas station converted into a Mexican grocer + small restaurant. It seemed like wherever we went there was no shortage of things to do and eat.

Overall, Colorado was great. We also don’t need to go back anytime soon since we thoroughly explored the state!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Colorado 2020

Hiking in Colorado was amazing. Just a spectacular hike with great company. The weather was perfect, the scenery was amazing, and we went at a time where the mountain flowers were out; 100% perfection.

Since I go hiking in Colorado nearly every year I could tell there were some differences due to the Rona life.

The noticeable difference started at the airport when I flew out on a Friday:

  • Fridays and Mondays the TSA pre-check line is usually quite long with business travelers. Not this time, I was the only person in the TSA pre-check line.
  • Everyone’s wearing masks and the airport is nearly empty.
  • Fellow passengers in the airport are overwhelmingly young people and families. The average age of travelers appeared to be a few years younger than my age.
  • Iceland Air’s plane was missing. Every Friday around 7PM there is a direct MSP to Iceland flight; the plane arrives to MSP the night before and is always at the same gate waiting for Friday evening. It was the same flight we took to kick off our world travels so every time I’ve been in the airport on a Friday I always get a happy reminder of our wonderful travels. The plane was missing. Probably because international travel is nearly non-existent.
  • Loading of the plane was done in smaller groups and went a hell of a lot faster than normal for some reason.
  • Middle aisle free seating on Southwest was really strange. Normally, people don’t want to sit in the middle aisle anyway but this was really, really strange since the plane was full.

A lack of business travelers was very strange. It’s only happened a few times in the past and it was always at touristy but not businessy locations, like Hawaii. The whole experience in the airport just felt surreal.

Hiking was different too. As I mentioned, the weather was absolutely perfect, the scenery was stunning, and I had, as usual, a great hiking companion. However, due to the Rona, Rocky Mountain National Park was limiting the number of visitors and slotting visitors into specific times between the hours of 6AM and 8PM. Since we weren’t able to get a slot we opted to show up before 6AM. Not a huge deal since we usually try to get to the trail head around 5:30AM to watch the sunrise on the trail.

We went to the same trailhead we’ve been to four-ish times in the past, usually no one is around or just a handful of people are around. This time there was a huge conga-line of vehicles driving into the park before 6AM and the trailhead parking lot was 2/3rds or more full with tons of people around. It was wild. People want to hike regardless of a pandemic and I guess they’ll show up at the ass-crack of dawn to go hiking.

Once we were on the trail it wasn’t different. Stunning beauty, serenity, blissful nature. Normally on the return part of the trip we start running into seas of people. Since the time slots exist we didn’t see many people at all on the return and the parking lot was full by roughly the same amount – another rather strange situation since the parking lots are usually jam packed and there are people swarming all over the trailheads.

Otherwise, everything in Colorado was great. We also went down to the Royal Gorge and enjoyed some beautiful mountain scenery along the way.

100% recommend. Would do again. A+.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Colorado 2017

It’s become a tradition to visit Colorado over Labor Day and go hiking with my brother. We returned to the same area as last year and hiked a loop of lakes on the Glacier Gorge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

One new habit Jac and I started is bringing something sweet on the trail to eat at the turnaround point; there’s nothing tastier than a nice sweet treat while hiking and it’s fun to sit in nature while snacking on something very delicious. Most people bring things like trail mix, protein bars, fruit, and other stuff but Jac and I bring things like doughnuts. I’ve never understood why someone would settle for something like trail mix or protein bars when doughnuts are available!

So, I was telling my brother about our hiking habit and my brother suggested bringing Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Since we don’t have Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Minnesota I figured it was only prudent.

Like last time, we woke up super early and and headed out. On the way to the tailhead we stopped by a 24hr Krispy Kreme and somehow ended up with a dozen doughnuts for the two of us. We were able to reached the trailhead well before dawn and were able to witness an absolutely magnificent sunrise due to all the forest fire smoke; the sky was so hazy I was able to use my zoom lens to see sun spots!

The air quality in Denver from the forest fires was pretty bad, like India / China bad. The PM2.5 particulates were deeply in the ‘unhealthy’ territory. I think it’s probably the worst air pollution I’ve been in since the world trip – I don’t miss it!

All in all, it was a great visit, a fantastic hike, and a I had a blast. It’s kind of hard not to have a good time since Colorado is awesome.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris

Colorado 2016

Man, Colorado is awesome. Once a year I try to go hiking with my brother and spend some time with his family. It’s a great chance to catch up, hang with is awesome family, and spend some time in stunning scenery.

We had planned two hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first hike, to Emerald Lake, was pretty great. There was a bit of rain but we ended up with some spectacular rainbows so it was worth it. The second hike, Peak 12,150, was rained out.

All-in-all it was a fantastic time. Once again, Colorado lives up to the hype :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.