Colorado – Days 1-5: Cliff Dwellings, Mountains, and Unexpected Snowstorms

Brittany Swanson   March 26, 2016   Comments Off on Colorado – Days 1-5: Cliff Dwellings, Mountains, and Unexpected Snowstorms

My first day in Colorado I went to Mesa Verde National Park. I hiked the Point Lookout Trail. It took me about forty minutes to get to the top and about twenty-five to get back down. I sat at the top and read a story for a while, but eventually the wind made my hands were super cold so I put away the story and headed back down. The hike was pretty chill. The elevation rise is mostly in the first twenty or so minutes and then it levels off at the top. The views were amazing. It was 360 degrees of mountains and valleys. It was really quite incredible.

View from the top of Point Lookout Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

View from the top of Point Lookout Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

After my hike I continued driving along the park road and stopping at different viewpoints. I hadn’t realized Mesa Verde was another Pueblo dwelling site until I got there. I wanted to hike down to see the Spruce Tree House, but there was a sign saying the trail was closed for the winter, despite the fact that it was super nice out. Lame.

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

Instead I drove the Mesa Top Loop and stopped at a few of the viewpoints along that drive. One of the viewpoints was super awesome. It was on a cliff and across the ravine, on the facing cliff I could see a number of different dwellings built right into the cliffs. It was so freaking cool. I still liked the Pueblo dwellings and overall experience at Chaco Culture Natural Historical Park better, but the dwellings built into the cliff are definitely a sight to see.

The following day I drove through the San Juan, Rio Grande, and San Isabel National Forests. Such a pretty drive. I made it to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs a couple hours before sunset. The Garden of the Gods park is beautiful. There are all these really cool rock formations and lots of people were rock climbing which looked fun. I wandered around and then found a spot to hang out and journal for a bit. I had planned to write some postcards, but decided I hadn’t been spending enough time hanging out with myself lately, so I did that instead.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO.

That night my host took me on a driving tour of Old Colorado Springs and then we walked around Manitou, an artsy area, for a bit before we had dinner and went back home. We powered through a few episodes of FRIENDS on Netflix before calling it a night.

Since I rerouted my trip (for like the fourth time) so I could see Alex in Minnesota for my birthday I was cutting my time in Denver a little shorter than I might have liked. I only had one day/night in Denver. I Googled things to do in Denver and nothing really struck my fancy, but I’d always wanted to go to Rocky Mountain National Park, so I decided to spend my day in Denver in the Rockies.

Best decision I could have made. On the drive into the Rockies I went through a town called Estes Park. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life. The mountains completely surround the town and there’s a lake that reflects the mountains. It’s just, breathtaking.

Estes Park, CO.

Estes Park, CO.

When I got into the Rockies I didn’t even see the five deer until I was right next to them, they were so perfectly camouflaged with the scenery around them. There was a bit of snow up in the mountains, go figure, so I decided to stick to smaller trails around some lakes, figuring the views would be pretty stellar. I was not disappointed. I started with a jaunt around Lake Sprague. I stopped about five or so minutes in because there were benches on a bridge and the view was just outstanding.

 

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

I sat there for like an hour and a half filling out postcards. Unfortunately, at one point the wind picked up and took some of my postcards with it. I immediately jumped up to rescue them forgetting that I was sitting on another stack… The stack I had been sitting on also blew in the wind and I had to jump off the bridge (don’t worry, it was only a couple feet) and into a snow bank to rescue them. Thankfully, the postcards had stuck into the snowbank so once I was down on that level it was easy to retrieve them.

After writing a bunch of postcards I finished my walk around the lake and managed to avoid stepping into any of the numerous puddles that lined the walkway. Next I headed over to Bear Lake. The trail there was covered in compacted snow and quite slick. I slowly made my way to see the view from the lake. It wasn’t as good as the Sprague Lake one had been, and I didn’t fancy breaking a leg or something on the icy snow, so I just headed back to my car rather than finish the loop around the lake. On the way I saw a girl fall really hard on her butt. Like, her feet flew out from under her and went over her head, fell on her butt. I asked her if she was ok, but I don’t think she spoke English, because she didn’t seem to know I was talking to her.

I had a small window of time in which to meet my host that evening but I really wanted to check out the town of Estes Park before I left. I figured I didn’t have enough time to do another hike/jaunt around a lake and check out the town, so I headed back into town. Estes Park is literally made up of like nine candy shops, seven shirt shops, a few miscellaneous gift shops and art galleries, and a handful of restaurants.

One of many candy stores in Estes Park, CO.

One of many candy stores in Estes Park, CO.

There were a bunch of families on Spring Break in Estes Park. Despite going into nearly every candy shop, I only managed to score one free sample of fudge and one free piece of toffee. Everywhere else was crowded with families of more than five who took forever to order… The piece of toffee I had was spicy… What. The. Heck. Super uncool. I wanted a milkshake, but they were crazy expensive and I figured I needed to eat real food. Instead, I settled for a slice of pizza. It was kind of greasy, and I wasn’t convinced the crust was cooked all the way, but it wasn’t terrible.

My fourth day in Colorado I was an idiot. My host in Denver didn’t have internet I could use because he worked on a college campus and his login information wouldn’t work on any of my devices. Rather than stay in the safety of his place in Denver and be stuck without internet for the duration of the blizzard, I decided to drive to a Starbucks in Boulder, my next stop, and get some work done.

Left: Denver, CO when I arrived at 6:34 p.m. Tuesday. Right: Denver, CO when I left at 9:09 a.m. Wednesday.

Left: Denver, CO when I arrived at 6:34 p.m. Tuesday. Right: Denver, CO when I left at 9:09 a.m. Wednesday.

Pretty much as soon as I started driving I regretted my decision. I thought it’d be better once I got to the highway, but the snow was coming down so fast, even the highways were bad. I fishtailed once on the highway and was convinced that was the end. Somehow I managed to pull out of it and the car behind me was far enough away that they didn’t hit me. Thank god I learned how to drive in Minnesota winters. Seriously.

So, I made it to the exit where the Starbucks was and was thrilled I was so close. The first couple stop lights weren’t working. It wasn’t until the fourth one I realized this meant the area had no power. No one would be at Starbucks. It wouldn’t be open. Now what would I do?!

I didn’t want to stop somewhere for fear I’d get stuck, so I Googled another Starbucks and headed there instead. They also weren’t open. Holy crap. What the hell had I been thinking?! Of course nothing would be open! It’s a freaking blizzard! Only crazy people drive in blizzards! I’m a crazy person!

I figured a Walmart had to be open. But, the nearest Walmart was too far away. I didn’t want to drive further than I had to. I started panicking. I didn’t have my Boulder host’s phone number so I messaged him on Couchsurfing and asked him to call me as soon as he got my message. I was on my way to a third Starbucks when he called.

Thankfully, he had a snow day and was home. After we hung up he texted me his address and fortunately I was only a couple miles away. I got stuck once for like thirty seconds trying to turn around and park on the side street in his neighborhood, but got out on my own and managed to park without any more issues.

I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was to get out of the car and into his warm apartment. Never ever drive in a blizzard. It’s a terrible idea.

To be fair though, I did get a lot done. My Boulder host totally had internet… I hung out in his apartment and worked on my blog for the rest of the day. That night we made dinner and watched Family Feud. I slept in the next morning and worked on my blog again the next day. The over twelve inches of snow we got the day before was at least half melted my second day there. And it was beautiful outside.

That second night we went and played trivia with some of my host’s friends. We went to a place called Moe’s Original Bar B Que. I really suck at trivia. I got the Harry Potter, and Star Trek questions right. I found this especially funny because the people hosting the trivia night were called Geeks Who Drink. Nerds for the win! I also won a free beer for knowing that Mount Washington is the highest point in the northeast. Huzzah. Our team was called the Sofa Kings because most of the people were Couchsurfers, which I thought was pretty clever. We scored seven points on the first seven rounds and ended up in seventh place. Apparently seven was our lucky number. It’s mine anyway. Overall, it was a fun night, despite my being terrible at trivia.