National Park Counter: 6
First of all, I logged in today and see that I have likes and views! If you all see this, thank you! I did not actually expect anyone to have stumbled upon my humble site yet! I have not posted it on any of my social media places yet, so even my friends and family have yet to see this!
So, very soon after getting back from the trip to Northern Georgia I was off again! The genesis of this trip was an idea to do a solo trip on my own. I had never done that. I was sitting at a Rays game with a trumpet player colleague and good pal of mine and was discussing this plan with him. (I had pegged down Colorado but I was thinking more in the fall.) He told me he and his wife were planning on going out to Colorado to visit a pal out there in June and I should tag along for part of the trip! I thought about it for a couple days and booked it! We would be flying separately and I was still going to be doing part of this trip on my own, and was excited about it!
I believe I flew in on Tuesday. A couple things immediately came to my attention as not meeting expectations, First of all, it was about 9 million degrees out. Secondly, I was not entirely sure I had not mistakenly landed in Kansas and thirdly, WHERE WERE THE MOUNTAINS?! Contrary to popular belief Denver is actually not in the mountains. There are mountains past Denver, but Denver is not in the mountains at all. Mind blown! So, I hopped in the lyft to get to a car rental place in Denver proper. Protip: it is sometimes MUCH cheaper to rent from a site far enough removed from an airport to get around their sphere of fee influence. In this case it was like more than a 100 dollar difference, even with 60 bucks in lyft rides! Anyway, I got my rental car and it was go time!
From Denver I stopped for a case of water (you will drink water like its going out of style out there) and drove straight to Estes Park. This was actually unplanned but I was to be staying that evening in an airbnb in Boulder and could not get in until sometime later in the afternoon and I had several hours to spare, so I thought, hmm…let’s check out this Rocky Mountain National Park thing! The drive between Boulder and Estes Park was pretty damn cool. It basically follows a small river, through a canyon with no cell signal for large swaths of the drive. And when you get over the last hill going into Estes Park what a view! At an elevation of around 7500 feet or so and surrounded by these huge peaks it was quite the sight! Even though I had a few hours to kill, of course that wasn’t much time to do anything. I drove up the main road, Trail Ridge Road, through the park all the way up to its highest spot at just over 12000 feet. I jogged to the top of a hill at 12005 and surprisingly had no elevation problems! As a reminder of what a small world it can be, there was a lady working in the visitor center at that spot who actually lives nor far from me here in St. Petersburg, FL and had even seen a performance of the big band I play with! So then I headed back down toward Boulder.
After getting unloaded at the airbnb I found myself in downtown Boulder to get some supplies and grab a couple beers at a local bar. Be sure to check out Midnight Sun and Pub in downtown. Boulder is a cool little place to visit for sure! The next morning, Wednesday, I got up and it was hiking time! So that airbnb I picked wasn’t just any random airbnb, I picked it for its location within walking distance of the trailhead for Bear Peak, an 8500 feet elevation mountain that I wanted to hike. The hike started off not too exciting. I did the NCAR trail which is mainly a fireroad and the first 30 minutes or so (and last 30 minutes or so) are just in the blazing sun. Once in the forested area it is much nicer! I did attempt the summit trail, but I was alone, and there did not seem to be many people at all and I shied away. I also had to meet up with the friends in Denver in the afternoon so I couldn’t dilly dally. I do regret not finishing that peak and it might be on a return trip some day! But anyway, I did hike the entire length of the fire road and got some pretty killer views at the top, including of Denver which was a decent distance away! On the way down I took a side trail up another area of the mountain toward a Batcave. Seriously. It was a cave for bats! That was a pretty fun trail with some scrambling. I believe it is called Mallory Trail or Mallory Cave. I found a hiking buddy and I am glad I did because I think I would have got lost…and I think she was a little lost as well, but with both of us paying attention to the land we got up there and back down. Despite the boring fire road part, this was a really cool hiking area for sure!
After finishing that hike I met up with my pals in Denver. We hit an area of town called RINO which is big brewery/hipster kind of area. It is a fun spot for sure and there is some really good beer going on there! I enjoyed Ratio Beerworks, and there was a cool outdoor beer market, if you will, in that area as well. This is a neat spot to visit if you get a chance to be in Denver!
The next morning the crew got up and headed south to Colorado Springs. We had a date with a whitewater rafting company in Canon City. We used Royal Gorge Rafting and Ziplining Company. This stretch of the Arkansas river is usually pretty challenging but I understood the snow pack that winter was light so the run was mainly class III, but it was still super fun and the Royal Gorge itself was a great experience! I actually got knocked out of the raft on this one….it wasn’t my fault! We went askew and the guy across from me fell into me from across the boat…my buddy also went out there too! Despite the fear of going out in a rapid, I actually was mulling over staying in the water! This trip was HOT. It was 108 or 109 air temp…and the water was in the 60s. It felt great! But alas we had to be back in the boat to finish her up!
So all fun and games aside there was one scary moment, though, and a cautionary tail. An older lady, probably mid to late 50s, and not in great physical shape, went out in a rapid and had to be rescued…it was alarming! She ended up ok and in our raft, but she went out in a legit rapid and then managed to get caught in some rocks but in a spot where we could get to her. As fun and exhilarating as it is, don’t do it if you are not in great shape, at least not the harder, more technical runs! It was a super fun trip, I would have preferred a little more difficulty, but what can ya do?! After finishing up and grabbing lunch, we all stopped at the Garden of the Gods and did some exploring there for a couple hours. The group split again. My friends went back to Denver and I stayed in Colorado Springs. My airbnb was near a brewery with some delicious pizza called Cogstone Brewing Co., and also a city park called Palmer Park. If you ever get a chance to hit Colorado Springs, there are several other cool things to do there but I highly suggest both Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park. Both have some good outdoor activities and killer views of Pike’s Peak. Garden of the Gods will offer you the quintessential Pike’s Peak through the GoG rock formations while Palmer Park will give you the mountain looming over the city view!
I really cram things into short periods of time! My last full day in Colorado got me up super early to make the drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak. What a cool experience! Some gorgeous scenery, pretty lakes, and a pretty crazy drive up to 14K plus feet! Despite no troubles with altitude at 12K, 14k was a totally different story. I got out of the car and almost fell down! I was quite concerned! After slowly acclimating in the visitor center (BTW, the donuts they make there are well known, and they are legit!) I was ready to venture back out again. I had planned to hike about a mile down from the summit to see a particular feature down the trail…I made it a couple hundred feet and was feeling ok, but then I turned around to go back to the car and get my back. And, that was all she wrote. As soon as I started back up the spins came back. So, I just hiked around the summit for a while, taking in the views! Side note, it’s COLD and windy AF at the top of these mountains! It was 42 degree and gale force (at least) winds up top, and about 90 and fairly calm at the bottom! At the bottom of the mountain is this tourist trap called the Cave of Winds. I stopped in briefly and was on my way. I took side roads from Pike’s Peak back to Denver which took me to another hiking spot in a tiny town with no cell service.
The last night in Denver and I think we went back to the Rino area. The next day was my flight home but we weren’t done yet! We got up early and made a quick stop to visit Red Rocks Amphitheater. Super cool place! Loved the vibe and energy of the Saturday morning yoga and exercise crews there! Plus there is a museum of sorts open and free to the public inside the bowels of the Amphitheatre!
Overall impressions: Pros: Pretty much everything. The drive and experience to the top of Pike’s Peak, while not as ideal as hiking the whole thing, is a must do. RMNP is world class and a serious competitor for coolest place ever. Cons: Not many. The air is very dry. That causes lots of issues for me, but that’s about it. If anything, not a con for Colorado but a con for me, there is so much to do that it’s hard to filter out things to do to maximize enjoyment rather than number of things done, but yet, I would not have cut any of these experiences from my trip!
The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! I do not particular care for the city stuff, but the outdoor stuff is superior and Colorado is super cool to visit!