When I was a kid, my parents often took my brother and me to Colorado in the summers for camping trips, giving us an alpine outdoor experience different from what we could find near my hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona.
With our camper in tow, we’d hit the road north through Four Corners and into the Rocky Mountains. I distinctly remember the waterfalls I could see from a distance as we traveled up through the cool, crisp air.
Recently I was back in Colorado for a work trip, and I managed to spend a little extra time getting back into the heart of the state. My friend has a condo in Winter Park and has been inviting me to come stay for years. So I brought my new husband, who has never been to that part of the country, and finally did.
Our drive started out early Saturday morning, just after the sun came up in Denver. After grabbing a cup of coffee and hitting the road, we soon saw a small heard of elk out for their morning meal. We cruised west, gaining elevation as each turn presented another breathtaking view.
Once we arrived in Winter Park, the plan for the day was to hit Lake Granby, where our friend has a sailboat. With a broken motor and no wind, we ended up doing a lot of paddling, but it didn’t even faze us. The sun was out, the sky was blue (although a storm played on the mountaintops far in the distance), and the pine trees dotting the shoreline were beautiful. We were in no hurry, figuratively and quite literally.
After floating for a few hours, we got back to the marina and drove to the Spotted Cow for some fresh homemade ice cream.
Saturday night we made it to the rodeo, complete with barrel racing, bull riding and, of course, mutton bustin’. We watched the sun go down behind American flags at the stadium surrounded by a 360-degree view of different mountain ranges. The stars came out for an epic show and the weather went from warm to just chilly enough for a light jacket.
On Sunday morning, it was another early day. We stopped for breakfast at a local café to fuel up and headed north toward Grand, the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. And although we had seen some beautiful views the previous day, they couldn’t prepare us for what was to come. Out of all the times I’d been to Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park was still on my list of places to visit.
We paid our entrance fee to the park ranger and thanked him after he handed us a paper map. We’d need it, since cell service in the park is limited. We began to feel awe for Colorado’s nature as we traveled on Trail Ridge Road, which took us all the way up to 12,183 feet near Mt. Chapin, then back down and out through Estes Park. The change in landscape during the two-hour drive is incredible, moving up from pine trees to tundra and glaciers. Each time we got out of the car it was clear we were in a completely new place. The trees, the soil, the rocks were all different as we made our way through. Photos couldn’t do the land justice or truly portray the overwhelming and humbling stature of the view.
Visiting Colorado and breathing the air is worth the trip, even if it’s a short one. They don’t call it ColoRADo for nothing.