Colorado – "The Spliff State"

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May 25th 2014
Published: May 25th 2014
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We travel from Taos in New Mexico to Colorado as we are near the time when we meet up with Pete (Caroline’s Step Father) who we will travel with from Denver to Salt Lake City. We have arranged to do this part of our Road Trip by hiring a RV. As it’s the Saturday before Easter the traffic out of Taos is pretty heavy but thins out after a while.

As we enter Southern Colorado we are impressed by the landscape. In the distance are mountains covered in snow. The towns and villages seem to have a lot of charm and history – more like the Wild West as we imagine it. The ranches are pretty large with more cattle here then we saw in Texas. There are more wild horses here too. We see what we think are Marmots but they are called Prairie Dogs here.

Great Sand Dune National Park

After 2 hours we arrive at the Great Sand Dune National Park & Reserve. The scenery is spectacular as is the size of the Dunes against a back drop of the snow covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains; amazing. We stop at the Visitor centre (entry is free today – normally $3 each). A good Easter present!

After getting some information on the area and how and why the sand dune exists at all, we make for a hike up the dunes from the nearest parking area. We have to cross a small stream being created by the melting snow which passes between the car park area and the Dunes which rise up to 700 ft. The sand is pretty pristine and the colours subtly change with the sunlight and clouds casting their shadows on the dunes.

As its holiday time there are quite a few hikers on the dunes, a few kite fliers and some skateboarders taking on some of the steep dune runs that exist. The Campground is full.

The sun is out but the temperature with the breeze across the dunes makes it feel cool. After walking for a while M decides that due to time constraints and the impact of walking in the sand on his knees with no supports on, to go further will be difficult so C goes ahead to try and reach the summit while he stays behind and watches the snowboarders & takes pictures.

The walk to the top normally takes 2 hours but C does it in about 1hr 15 mins. Well done to her – but she returns with photo’s of the other side (more dunes!), and loads of sand in her shoes and hair. By the time we make our way back to the car, the number of people around has increased. The stream area now has a seaside holiday feel about it with families with buckets and spades and kids in swimwear playing. Clearly folks were here to have a great time.

We head onto Manitou Springs where we will stop overnight, but not before a pit stop for something to eat at All Gon Cafe in Fort Garland (a really small village). It’s a great place – ideal for the Triple D Food Show on Food Network TV – and it’s packed at 2pm.

Manitou Springs

We arrive at Manitou Springs for the night at the Americas Best Value Inn in the centre of the town which we have as a freebee due to the reward points we have collected using to book our various motels so far. They get us good deals anyway – so this is a real bonus. It’s a small quaint US holiday town next to Colorado Springs.

We are recommended to go to the Keg for dinner as it’s a good drinking hole that does food. It has a great atmosphere, nice music and great local beers and we try their signature dishes – Mixed Berry Salad (with blue cheese and teriyaki chicken) & the Buffalo Burger with cheese & grilled onions. It’s all good stuff and we go to bed happy bunnies.

The next morning we had hoped to see the Manitou Cliff Dwellings but learn just before we go that it’s a bit of a reconstruction and that the pueblo people did not actually live there – what a fraud - so we go straight to the ‘Garden of the Gods’ – great marketing speak for a rather nice area of the town which has red rock formations eroded over time into nice shapes. With Pikes Peak covered in snow for a back drop the scene is quite nice. It’s a nice detour and we get some pictures. The red rocks of Arizona are much better though and so are those of Arches and Canyonlands as we soon discover….. Read on.

‘The Road Trip’ in an RV with Pete – Part 1

Denver & Boulder

We make for Denver to meet Pete who joining us for 6 weeks of the road trip. A brave decision by all of us as we are not quite sure how things will work out living together for this time in an RV. Shades of 3 men in a boat. However, we hope are all grown up enough to compromise, chip in and make a fun trip of it.

We get to the hotel at about 11.30 am but can’t check in till 1pm and as we have the car till 5pm we meet up with Pete and drive to Boulder to have a look around. He’s been here for about 2 days already getting over jetlag etc.

It’s Easter Sunday and the traffic is pretty heavy. We do the 30 miles to Boulder in about an hour. We mainly spend time around the Pearle Street Mall – much of which is pedestrianized. It’s pretty colourful and as its Easter Sunday lots of students (it’s famous for its local college) and families are out and about. There are buskers and street performers adding to the scene.

The other hangout for college students is by the campus – an area called the Hill which looks interesting but we don’t quite make it there in the end.

As it’s lunch time we decide to try the local Lucile’s café a ‘New Orleans style’ southern food place which is packed and we have to wait for about 35 mins. Once in its Shrimp & grits and a few other southern classics. Not New Orleans by a long way but fun to try. The biscuits which were huge went amazingly well with their rhubarb jam so we actually have a doggy bag to take back some of the biscuit and jam for supper.

After a short mooch around the centre of the mall, we decide to call it a day as we have to hand the car back by 5pm at Denver International Airport. We get there just before 4pm and get the Hertz shuttle to the airport where we catch a bus to Downtown ($11 for adults, $5.50 for seniors!).

We arrive downtown and walk up the pedestrianized centre. Denver seems to be very cosmopolitan with an easy feel, with people from all over the world here. We hadn’t realised it but today it’s the 4/20 (date 20th April) celebration of when the State legalised cannabis for private use. It’s an annual event apparently and about 100,000 turn up from around the US and Canada.

There are hoards of people returning from the day long gig – it feels like the end of the Woodstock Concert in the 60’s for those who can remember that far back. Its hippies, flower power and folks in variety of gear and styles. The smell of hash in the air in pretty apparent. Interesting welcome to Denver!

The police are all around – the bike cops are all on Harley Davidson Electra Glide machines – wow! Downtown Denver seems pretty cool, but it’s like most US cities – a lot of high rise buildings. The main drag other than being pedestrianized has 2 free shuttle buses going up and down 2 lanes in the centre of the street. Rickshaw drivers also use these as do the horse and cart folk.

As it’s getting on we go for a beer to a local popular bar - $6 a pint – most expensive we’ve paid so far but we are allowed 6 taster beers before we order!

Back to the VQ motel and we check in. It’s a pretty disappointing place and in need of a lot of TLC. It’s by the Denver NFL stadium and as it’s inexpensive it’s full of youngish folks who have come for the 4/20 celebrations. The place still smells as if the party had continued here with plenty of joints having been passed around. The place is in poor condition & not great value. The first room we get offered stinks of cigarettes even though it’s a no smoking place, so we get offered another room on the 10th floor; much better room all round – with a fridge for cold beers for supper!

In the morning we get our bags re-sorted and ready for the RV road trip. Then catch the bus to the RV depot of Cruise America which is about an hour away by bus. We are shown a video as novices to the RV business and it’s really good. We then get more instructions & carry out an RV check. M takes first driving duty – phew says C!

Then it’s back to the hotel to check out, and then find what turns out to be the first of several problems; the luggage compartment key/lock doesn’t work, so it’s back to the RV place & they give us the right key this time & fix the door catch. A bit of an inconvenience none the less.

The RV is a 25 foot size one, ideal for 3 or 4 people. It has a kitchen area with microwave (but no oven), 3 ring cooker on propane gas. There’s a table and seating for 4 (with a squeeze, it’s more comfortable with only 2), there are 3 sleeping areas (one a double bed which is fixed at the back), the other above the drivers cabin (which gets made into a double) and the table & sofas collapse into another if you need it (though not sure it will take 2). There’s a toilet and shower area (a bit tight) at the back as well. Things to watch for are that it’s heavy on the gas (so ideal for the US with its cheap petrol, not Europe), it has limited views for the passenger at the back to see out of one side, it rattles a lot when driven and struggles a bit going up hills – so if we consider getting one again these are the issues we will need to consider. However, it seems a fun way to explore. The Americans are into RVs and Motorhomes in a very big way and many tow their cars or Jeeps behind – wow.

We stock up at Walmart for the basics but as time is running on and we have tickets for a baseball game we leave to get to Prospect RV Park where we are booked in. It’s pretty easy settling in – they don’t seem to have all the trimmings for an RV park that we see in other places, but the electric hook up is all we really need for the night’s stop over. It’s on the road tomorrow.

Off we go to the Baseball game – Denver Rockies vs San Francisco Giants. We are pretty lucky as we can catch a bus (number 44) from outside the RV Park to near the Baseball Ground. We also meet up with two young fans on the bus who show us the way into the ground.

It’s a great venue. The facilities are really good, the crowd control amazingly good as well – the UK could learn a lot from these guys. The atmosphere outside and inside the ground is pretty good and everyone is helpful. The stadium is a mile high & there are plenty of ‘Home runs’ as the air is thinner here. We leave at the 7th Innings as it’s getting late. The game itself was pretty good to start with then after about the 4th Innings both sides lost motivation or got bored (with the Rockies well ahead) or someone fixed the game as no runs were score till we left.

The one thing to complain about was that the beers (just Coors or Budweiser) were really expensive - $7 for a pint – the most expensive we have paid anywhere in the US. For dinner it’s Burgers for C & P while M has the traditional Rockies Hot Dog – best he has had in the US since we have been here, and we share a bag of chips which were pretty good.

Back at the Prospect RV Park we were not impressed as only one loo is open & we haven’t been given the security code to open it by the owners. We had to ask another guest who seemed terrified to give it to us. There were also no water facilities for us to fill up for showers, toilets and washing up – not sure why they charged as much $45 for the night. Also the notices around the place were pretty rude and dictatorial – not sure people come and stay here.

It’s Pete’s Birthday the next day so after a sort of ‘breakfast in bed & card’ we set off to Walmart to finish our shopping & get a lot of food including a blanket for M & C as it was freezing last night. Next the liquor store for beers (important stuff!) and we are off.

Glenwood Canyon

It snowed a bit on the way to Glenwood canyon. Pete is keen to see the Continental Divide but we couldn’t find it till we were in a tunnel where there was an innocuous sign on the side showing where it was. There was not a chance to stop and take a photo I’m afraid. Sorry Pete!

We stop for coffee at Dillon just off the I-70, it’s a ski resort & some folks are still skiing. The road takes us up to 10662 feet. All along the route the snow is at ground level, thankfully the main routes are clear so we make good time.

We arrive at Glenwood Canyon Resort for our 2 night stay. It’s out of season so the Bar & Grill are closed & there are hardly any folks around so we have free choice of site and take a stand near the river Colorado flowing by. The resort is in the Canyon which has great views. The rock formation is largely sandstone and quite special. On the rail track opposite we see the Amtrak go by one day.

On the recommendation of the people at the Resort we do the popular hike to Hanging Lake about 6 miles from the resort. It’s a hike straight up 1.2 miles and you rise 1100 feet to an amazing blue natural lake with waterfalls coming down from up the mountain and 2 into the lake. It’s a bit challenging at time as it’s our first hike for ages but we get used to it and get to the lake. It’s quite beautiful. We picnic here & feed some of the chipmunks who are pretty friendly. Pete struggles a bit especially coming down as he hasn’t been hiking for a long time. We suspect we may have put him off hiking altogether?! We also see some great bighorn sheep grazing – famous in the area.

We drive into Glenwood Springs, which is actually a sort of Spa town with natural springs and a ski resort. We go to Jimmy’s for some Propane and find that the tank is nearly full. However, as we have been having more trouble with the door we ask for some guidance being RV novices (or virgins) & Jimmy comes over and takes the thing apart and fixes the door lock for us. We offer to pay but he says a ‘Like’ on their Facebook page would be enough. Thanks Jimmy & we duly oblige.

Dinner is back at the RV as Pete is tired and doesn’t fancy the Diner in town – the only place recommended to us by the resort staff. So that’s what we do.

After a really cold night, we set off again at 9am for Moab in Utah. It’s the I-70 all the way & then the 191. We stop at Clinton for a coffee & comfort break – Starbucks comes into its own in the US generally as they are largely the best game in town – even though Cags isn’t keen on them but they are a better alternative than the rest, other than in big cities where Starbucks gets more competition. Pete has his first taste of RV driving and does pretty well.

The Landscape along the way is more canyons along the Colorado River, many mesas and buttes and snow covered hills near Arches NP where we are headed for. It makes for an interesting drive. We come off at the Rest Stop & Visitor Centre where we get some good information about the local attractions and pick up loads of leaflets. There’s also free coffee and ipads to ‘register in’ as visitors.

So into Utah state which is bursting with National & State Parks and dazzling landscape to gawp at……………….. Bring it on!!

Additional photos below
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25th May 2014

You just missed us...
we live in Woodland Park, just 14 miles west of Manitou Springs on US24. Glad to hear you love our part of the world.
25th May 2014

The Spliff State
A bit of trivia on your blog title. Last year I had a client text her estranged husband that she had given their out of control 17 year old son antidepressant. The husband angrily reacted "How dare you give our son a joint". Someone at Apple had thought it a fine joke to put into mobile phones an auto spell correct so that "Zoloft" auto corrected to "Spliff". Now I see a blog where Colorado auto corrects to...
30th May 2014

Ha, ha. Oops - the law of unintended consequences. Hopefully this one will go under the Apple radar!
26th May 2014
At a Denver Rockies baseball game.

The Rockies
One of our favorite ballparks. Wish we could have gone to the game with you.
26th May 2014

We are so glad the trip is going well. You are seeing it the right way. So eager to hear more of your impressions. Does it looks the way you thought it would and what has surprised you.

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