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!