National Parks Counter: 11, 12
Right off the bat, this is probably one my favorite trips, so far. I was with the Sidekick, we saw 2 national parks, almost every area of the state, and did LOTS OF COOL SHIT. Stops included: a wolf rescue, Great Sand Dunes National Park, whitewater rafting in Buena Vista, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Telluride, Denver, Breckenridge, and Golden.
So right out the gate we did something really, REALLY cool. We stopped by a now defunct wolf sanctuary. It seemed to be run by a pretty weird eccentric older guy who seriously loved those wolves! Pretty ragtag operation, but we got to actually physically interact with these guys. Some were half breeds too, but they all needed a place to sleep and someone to care for them. This was in a very small town called Guffey, elevation at a very surprising 9000 feet! Very neat experience and it was free! But we each made a donation to help out the critters!
We made our way to our base of operations for the next two evenings: Salida, CO, population like 15. Ok, not really, but it is small. The town itself is situated along the Arkansas river in a fairly ideal spot surrounded by mountains. It is about an hour and a half north of the Great Sand Dunes but also only a little south of the whitewater rafting location, and also directly on the road that we needed to take across the state in a couple days.
The Great Sand Dunes are really neat! We rented sand boards/sleds from the nearby town and went adventuring! There are plenty of hiking and mountain type opportunities there but we committed to just hanging out on these sand dunes. And they are not little humps of sand either! Super fun trying to sled down these dunes but I was terrible at it! Just terrible! Nicki was a a little better. And the children around were just whipping around these things like they were nothing. Very annoying, kid!
After a night out and about in Salida (that means the one nearby bar that was open!) we got up early to head to the Adventure Company in Buena Vista to raft a spot in the Arkansas called simply, The Numbers. This is a pretty difficult stretch, class IV and V, with a bunch of rapids in short succession, and they are just numbered instead of properly named. Now, this was late July and usually by this point the rivers have settled down a bit. Unlike the previous year’s Royal Gorge, late June and already settled down water, this summer the water was crazy high. In fact, I do not believe they could even open this stretch to rafting until a week or two before we went, so it was exciting. Best part: no raft ejections this time!
After rafting we hit the road and headed toward our evening destination in a town called Placerville, just outside of Telluride. En route we had a planned stop at another national park, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. So this place was definitely cool to look at, but there is not a terribly large amount of things to do, or even much hiking, outside of stopping at overlooks and the small treks to the edge. Don’t get me wrong, it was spectacular, but the canyon is literally almost straight down (it is called the black canyon because some parts are so narrow that sunlight doesn’t really ever make it through) and so that means not much in the way of trails. If you are the type that loves to experience cool things while driving or close to the road this is a cool one and very neat to see!
We made our way to south through a really gorgeous stretch of road that at times reminded me of the mountains in Alaska. But, I guess this is the reason they call parts of this area the Alps of America. So this is where we pulled an audible. The plan was to make a brief stop in Telluride before it got dark that evening, go to Mesa Verde National Park about an hour or two down the road the next day and then head back to Denver the following morning. After our short evening visit and dinner in Telluride, it was decided to spend the next day entirely in Telluride. Telluride is spectacular and we were both needing a more relaxed day without driving 200 miles round trip. Telluride is a ski town, but even in the summer it was cool AF. We spent the entire day there. There are a couple breweries/pubs in the town. There are, of course, some excellent hiking opportunities. We hiked a jeep road that leads to some crazy mountain road that nutty people will drive, but hikers use it as well and it goes up to a sweet tall waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls. There is also a free gondola that goes up the mountain and over to another town even a bit higher in elevation called Mountain Village (all ski resort type stuff). It was up here that I learned that high elevation and alcohol are not a great mix! An IPA up there had my head spinning like crazy, but down in Telluride, about 1000 feet lower, I was just fine. Speaking of beer, there are a couple cool spots to grab a brew! Telluride Brewing Co. is just outside of town and cannot be missed. The Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery is tucked away in a corner of Telluride proper. Some really good beers and some delicious food can be found here!
The next day we got up and headed in the general direction of Denver. It was a lengthy drive and unbeknownst to us, the time we left could not have been any later due to a thing that happened later! In preparation for this drive we found a mountain top amusement park in a town called Glenwood Springs. The drive near Glenwood Springs on I-70 is pretty amazing, basically driving at the bottom, along the river, of a deep canyon. As we got into the town it started raining quite heavily for a bit so we stopped to eat lunch. As the rain cleared we parked at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and got into the line to take the gondola up the mountain. It was about this time, or right when we got up to the park that we found out that I-70 had been entirely blocked by a mudslide from that rain! Had we been like 30 minutes later, maybe less, we would have had a SERIOUS problem. I think the interstate was closed the rest of the day and if I remember correctly the detour to get back on the way to Denver was a large number of hours. Eek! Anyway, the amusement park on the mountain top was AMAZING. The Alpine coaster…legit. That is some fun crap!
We finally made it to our AirBnb in Arvada, just outside of Denver. We hung out around Denver one of the days we had left. We checked out this area called the Mall, and outdoor corridor of shops, restaurants and the like. We did spend a day checking out Red Rocks, and then exploring Breckenridge. Breck is another really awesome ski spot. After doing some light exploration of the town, we saddled down to a beer at the Breckenridge Brewery. That Vanilla Porter is delicious, but they actually sell it here in Florida, so I had some other brews! Afterward, we did a pretty decent hike in the afternoon, something called Mohawk Lake Trail. We didn’t make it quite to the end as it was getting late, but we went pretty far and to one of the lakes nearish the end.
The wrap up of our trip was a morning spent in Golden. We found a little mountain hike and a cool bar to finish up our trip before heading to the airport, Ace Hi Tavern where the Sidekick gave a great narration using the map in the bar!
Overall impressions: Pros: Two national parks. Telluride is amazing. The white water rafting was outstanding fun. Not scenic really, but super intense! It was awesome getting up close and personal with actual damn wolves! Cons: Just a lot of driving, which cannot be helped. Maybe, as I said for the previous year, there is too much to do!
The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! If you haven’t experienced Colorado, and I don’t mean Denver either, you are missing out!