A Travellerspoint blog

On the Brink

sunny 31 °C

Up early again - I am one for punishing myself! The reason this time? Well I need to get to Denver this afternoon and i want to make the most of my morning in the National Park.

I took the Park guide's advice and made my way to the base of the Old Fall River Road. The Old Fall River Road is a direct track that traverses the side of the mountain to Medicine Bow Curve at 12,000ft. The guide was right, the views up the track were stunning. They also had to be earned. My poor little car chugged and turned on the track and we everso carefully made our way up the mountain's side. Within minutes of being on the trecherously narrow one-way road the car was caked in the thin layer of dust. After two hours or so of climbing I reached the summit and the views over the Neota Wilderness were absolutely spectacular! I ate lunch and napped on a bench that sat at the mountain's side. Food and nap done I made my descent. On the way down I stopped to snap herd of majestic elk, their antler silhouetted against the crisp and cloudless blue sky. It took me perhaps half the time to make the descent and I was soon back on US 36 heading back to Denver via Boulder .. or so I thought. Well of course I managed to take a wrong turn and totally unawares of where I was until I crossed the city marker, was back in Estes Park, the completely wrong direction! I suppose I could have gone lost in worse places with less spectacular scenery!

I arrived at my friend's house in Denver and we dropped my stuff before heading out again. We went over to one of her friend's houses for dinner. I've noticed something about young people in America. They all seem to have pet dogs and often more than one. It was the case with the frat houses in Boulder and its the same here in Denver. Over dinner we got chatting about quintessentially American things I want to do or see whilst in the United States. Of course, buying and carrying a handgun happens to be one of them! "All you have to do is get a State ID," said one of the dinner guests. "Really? Is that easy?" "Sure it easy. Then you can carry it around in your car loaded with a round in barrel as in the State of Colorado the car is considered a part of the home." "You're kidding right?!" "Nope." Well this just has to be done, so my friend and I got planning my handgun purchase. We would need to go to the 'DMV' to get an ID and then visit a gun shop obviously.

I'm heading up to the mountains later in my trip and will be camping, excpet I have no tent. A late stop off at a 24 hour Wal - Mart was in order, as was an $18 tent.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 15:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain National Park

sunny 30 °C

I left Boulder north on US 36 and travelled parallel to the rocky peaks for about an hour before turning west into the mountain range and the town of Estes Park, a gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. After stopping off at a Safeway (yes the supermarket actually still exists here!) I made for the National Park entrance. I stumped up $80 for an annual pass to all federal recreational grounds. As I'm planning to visit a number of National Parks and it costs $25 on average a time to enter one, this should work out well. Upon entering the Park I went by the Moraine Park Visitor Centre. The volunteer staff are very well informed and they guide I spoke to recommended a scenic hike for me to do this afternoon and an apparently stunning drive for tomorrow morning.

I ate lunch and wrote postcards at a spectacular mountain outlook and then drove up to be blissful Bear Lake to begin my 9 mile loop hike to Mills Lake. The hike was pretty straightforwards and gave an abundance of stops to take photos and just enjoy where I was. For some reason I had expected the Rockies to resemble the rolling green mountains I visited when I treked the Ecuadorian Andes four years ago. Far from it. Here in Colorado the Rockies are dark and bruding, with pine trees lining the horizon and large granite boulders erupt from the earth where they don't.

The one thing that I will really remember from this hike? The air is saturated with the smell of pines. I don't think I'll have to wash these clothes for quite some time now. There is a great thing about these National Parks, or rather should that be Americans? They are spectacuarly stunning and of course attract many visitors in summer. You might think that would be an annoyance? Well most Americans don't tend to wander more than 50m from their vehicles, so escaping the bustle is really quite easy. I was back at Bear Lake late in the late afternoon and made my return to Estes Park and my first visit to the hostel where I would be spending the night. It was a nice little place. The only word of caution given to me by the lady who runs the place? A bear strolled up the exterior stairs to the front door last night, "so we try to keep it shut at night." Good plan!

I'm absolutely exhausted from today and definitely need my rest.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 15:07 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Flat Iron No.1

sunny 28 °C

Today I hiked up the Front Range's No.1 flat iron. The climb to 7,132ft on the 3 mile path was definitely more strenuous than I was expecting and took much longer also. The view at the summit treated spectacular views over Boulder and towards Denver. I spent some time just eating lunch and reading.

This evening I met up with one of the Australians who have seemingly been setting the route for me. I had already met them in Washington, Savannah, New Oleans and Austin so it was good to catch up on what had been going on since we last saw each other.

I've decided that tomorrow I'm going to drive north for two days in Rocky Mountain National Park before meeting up with a university friend in Denver.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 14:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Boulder

semi-overcast 27 °C

The first job this morning was a visit to another car rental location at another airport, this time at Denver. I made the hour and a half trip early as to avoid traffic and late fees. I returned by white Hyundai Accent and traded it over for a blue Colorado plated Hyundai Accent, which would be my company for the next three weeks as I explore the Rocky Mountains.

Once back in Boulder I drove up to the frontal range and planned to hike one three flat iron granite peaks that tower over the university city. Unfortunatey the afternoon thunder rolled in and scuppered my plans so I was left to do some shopping for my three week trip, on Boulder's open air Pearl Street market instead.

That evening, once the weather had calmed, I drove up the mountain to a point that would allow me to hike up to the continental divide. This was the first time I've driven on mountain roads and it is an experience that requires every measure of concentration - cruise control is no use there! The continental divide hiked I was back down, as similarly alert as on the way up if not more so, and treated myself to an early night.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 14:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Crossing the Panhandle Plains - Mountain Time, Twister Time

all seasons in one day 31 °C

As I intended I head out at 8am this morning and went back to the Cadillac Ranch. I now understood why there were so many insects last night, the ranch is smack bang in the middle of a cow field! I went down, with insect repellant on, and snapped away. By the time I made my way back to my car I had left my own mark in spraypaint on one of the cars.

The north western corner of Texas is known as the Panhandle Pains for a good reason. The land here is incredibly flat and there is almost nothing to be seen up to the horizon. After several hours driving I crossed the border in New Mexico (meaning I had now driven across the entire state of Texas) and with it crossed into my third timezone. I am now in Mountain Time (GMT - 7). As I cut New Mexico's north eastern corner contemplated just nipping into Oklahoma for the skae of saying I'd been there, but thought better of it once I noted petrol prices rising dramatically in the middle of nowhere. As I was finishing my journey through New Mexico I passed signs pleading me to take the next right to the "Second Largest Canyon in the United States". Seeing as in a few weeks I will be seeing the largest, this really wasn't enticing. I stopped off at a petrol station on the New Mexico/Colorado border before hitting I-25 and when I got out of the car it hit me. It was as if my whole body was sighing in relief. The air here is fresh and crisp compared to what I have been used to for the last week or so in Texas. In fact, I think this is the first time I have experienced a lack of humidity since I was in Maine. I am definitely ready to get used to this!

My car just about made it up the steep Rocky Mountain roads that twist through the first hundred miles or so of Colorado before hitting some plains. It was after an hour or so on the plains that I spotted what I am almost certain was a forming or formed tornado. The air was twisting from cloud to ground and whilst one eye was kept on the traffic ahead the other was firmly fixed in fear and fascination on the twister just a few miles north west of me. I obviously made it past it, but it wasn't the tornado I need have worried about. American drivers and apparently those in Colorado in particular are perhaps some of the most mindless I have encountered. As I came up to Colorado Springs the heavens opened in a divine retribution. Hails stones smashed onto the concrete interstate and forming flood like cannon balls and the winds lashed water off the ground. This in itself was easily more terrifying than the impeding destruction being wrecked by the tornado south of me. But, the weather wasn't enough. Even inspite of the road conditions the drivers insisted on driving bumper to bumper and I was left as a solitary voice of concern with about a kilometre between me and the car in front.

Within twenty minutes the rains had ceased and I was back on my way. I decided whilst on the road not to go to Denver, but the town of Boulder, about forty minutes north west of the State's capital. Boulder lies at the feet of the Colorado Rockies and is known as the Frontal Range. I arrived at about 7pm after another full day's driving. My hostel is pretty much smack bang in student-ville Boulder. There are genuine frat and sorority houses pretty much everywhere. Now they aren't some cheap student houses - they are huge mansion houses dominating the streets they lie on, with large Greek lettering indicating which 'frat' lives where. Watch any American Pie movie and you've pretty much visited Boulder.

Now to spend a few nights in one place!

M

Posted by MattOGrady 14:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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