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Published: August 27th 2015
We trundled on through Nebraska and finally into Colorado. We spent three very enjoyable days in Fort Collins with John's cousin Donald and his wife Nancie. Then three nights in Loveland, with days in Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park. One night in Golden and then our as-yet-unnamed RV made it over the Front Range to Salida, where last evening we celebrated Brady and Susie's second wedding anniversary, only a day late, with excellent pizzas and salads.
(I realized how silly, maybe pompous, it is for me to make generalizations about the individual states based on our narrow drive through. But Nebraska did seem more "rugged" than Iowa.)
Because of several quirks with the RV, we felt it wiser to go to campgrounds when the temperatures hit 50 or below. At a campground in Gothenburg, NE, it felt very cozy when sporadic rain became steady in the afternoon, and the thunder was loud.
We had a new step motor installed in North Platte, which solved one of the various problems which have cropped up. Then a very good breakfast at an airport diner. Next we tried to fill our propane tanks, and after several miles and two false starts, finally located a dealer who did it.
A highlight happened in Kearney, where we had fresh blueberry lemon muffins at a charming place, Chapman Swift's Coffee House. Because of the quirks with the RV, we felt it wiser to go to campgrounds when the temperatures hit 50 or below.
On the 17th, we at last entered the far northeast corner of Colorado. I had been recalling a wonderful book I read a few years back, Plainsong by Kent Haruf. A good story, but more than that, the setting of eastern Colorado plains left a very powerful imprint on me. I was eager to experience that area (though his "town" is fictional) and was also interested to learn that he died in 2013 in Salida, where we are headed!
In Colorado, we immediately seemed to gain elevation, moving from agricultural areas to high plains with not much growing. We checked the only campground in Sterling, and it was really dismal, so we drove about 15 miles out of town to North Sterling Reservoir State Park. It was a very nice spot, and we enjoyed walking around the park. We were awakened at 1:30 A.M. by strong winds and continuous lightning to the north of us, yet we could see zillions of stars directly overhead. John says that's possible because we can see so wonderfully far out here.
Next morning, we continued toward Fort Collins along a very sparsely populated state road. We stopped for coffee and coconut cream pie at Pawnee Station in Raymer. The nice, chatty new owner told us he had worked in oil fields, and they had been fracking there for decades. I was puzzled about how far school buses had to travel to the schools there, and he said they go 25 - 30 miles, nearly to the Nebraska/Wyoming border. I saw one antelope along the road; my wildlife sightings are quite sparse to date. Development increased dramatically as we approached Fort Collins.
It took awhile to get settled at Groves' because Donald enlisted a neighbor, an expert electrician, to help solve our refrigerator problems. What a relief to learn what works what! Their grandson Jesse comes over before his middle school football practice this month; practice the day before had consisted of learning how to put on their drone-age helmets. Donald drove us through the town of Fort Collins and the Colorado State University campus. We walked in a lovely botanic garden, with a splendid circular design. A cozy evening, with Nancie nicely appreciating Mike and Jill's wedding photos.
Next day, Nancie made oatmeal, our first of the trip! (when we tent-camped, we had oatmeal almost every day. Are motorhomes too luxurious?) Palisade peaches are in season, and we enjoyed peach cake. Donald took John and me to Jax, a gigantic sporting goods store. It is huge; among other offerings, it has an indoor archery range, and you can have your arrows made to order! We picked up Jesse and strolled in town. Jesse is a born salesman and encouraged me to buy things at a kitchen store. Joined by Nancie and their granddaughter Ava, we lunched at Silver Diner. Although the diner is renowned for cinnamon rolls, some of us resisted. After lunch, the men and kids went to a park while Nancie and I went to My Sister Knits, to "just look" at yarn options. Well... It is such fun to have people get all excited about helping you choose yarn, quite unlike JoAnn's. At supper, their friend Barbara visited. She is a CDC expert in Lyme disease, which is such a problem at home in NH.
On Thursday, John and I drove into town and took a long walk, then had a pleasant coffee at "Mugs." After a midday rest, we all went to Horsetooth Reservoir for a ride in their motorboat. It was great fun to speed along the many miles of the reservoir, and there were plenty of boats and folks around, probably some being CSU students enjoying their last few days of summer. Nancie waterskied - impressive. For supper, we heated up the last of the (frozen) chicken from Mike and Jill's "unrehearsal" dinner. I learned that I should have accepted Nancie's offer to cook the small potatoes in her pressure cooker; because of the altitude, it took forever for them to cook.
The next day was slow, but we need them sometimes. It had been wonderful to spend time with the Groves, hearing about their extensive travels, watching their nice interactions with their children and grandchildren, sharing hobbies (e.g., each morning John and Donald planted themselves at the kitchen counter with coffee and their computers).
We drove the few miles to Loveland, and set up there. We had not realized that the strange haze over the Rockies was not just haze, but smoke from the dreadful wildfires in Washington and Oregon. The sunrises and sunsets were weird and vivid, with a bright-colored sun fogged over. It seemed so strange to look west and barely see dim outlines of enormous mountains that we knew were there. Loveland was preparing for their stage of the Pro Bike Challenge Race, which would also be in Fort Collins the next day.
Saturday was our day for Boulder. We enjoyed the fact that the architecture at the University of Colorado's many huge buildings was similar, a pinkish stone. We walked along the Boulder Canal Path, although nowhere near its 16 mile length through the middle of town. We walked along the Pearl Street Mall, which is many blocks long and pedestrian-only for six of them. Getting too warm, we decided to eat lunch. And the restaurant John chose happened to be the same restaurant where Amy and I ate last October! They even happened to seat us at the same table. This time, however, I only had two mini-margaritas instead of two full-size ones...
It was still fairly early, so we opted for a long route back to Loveland, and what a good choice! We drove along the Boulder River Canyon to Nederland, and then north along the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park to Estes Park, and back east through Big Thompson Canyon to Loveland. Along the river, on this hot sunny day, there were hundreds of (probably CU) kids with tubes or just swimming in the river, as well as many, many bicyclists. I had expected not to see many homes or people along our whole route that afternoon, and was I ever mistaken. In fact, I have been surprised at how much settlement I have seen as we travel along the Front Range, in comparison with the plains to the east. The road from Nederland to Estes Park is actually part of the Peak to Peak Highway, although it was not as dramatic as that name suggests. Estes Park was jam-packed with Saturday visitors and tourist attractions, so we hurried through. A few decades ago, there was an enormous flood in Big Thompson Canyon (John says 13 - 14 inches of rain) and they are still rebuilding.
We were dubious about seeing well at Rocky Mountain National Park because of the smoke, but close to the mountains was clear enough. We drove back to Estes Park, then the 23 miles to Alpine Lodge, along the "highest continuously paved road." The views were dramatic, and once we got to the tundra, some of the road was scary for me. At a stop, a girl pulled up next to us and commented on our NH license plate - they're pretty rare out here. She had gone to UNH! Now works in the park, and said she had trouble with the road at first but got used to it. The Lodge was really crowded, with hundreds of people enjoying the drive (and buying souvenirs, and eating snacks). It would have been interesting to continue along the road to the headwaters of the Colorado River, which will play such a prominent role in our travels out here, but we chose not to.
Monday was our day of strange map encounters. First, in Loveland, we aimed for a tourist info center there and ended up driving around and around in a few malls. John was pleased with the info he finally got, though; he is uneasy about challenging the RV with some of the Colorado mountain passes. Then, when we got to Golden, we were unable to get a spot at the in-town campground and had to go several miles out to a very fancy one. The maps we had gotten at their Chamber of Commerce confused us, and the people at the campground couldn't give us directions from town. (huh?) Anyway, at last we got set up, in a totally unshaded spot, and quickly turned on the air conditioner.
We drove back into town and it was wonderful, although the high temperature kept us from much walking. The Clear Creek runs through town, and we spent several delightful minutes watching many folks tubing on the creek. We stopped at a bar and had beers to calm our parched throats. Coors, of course, because we were only a couple of blocks from the Coors Brewery, the only Coors Brewery, and immense for sure. John found the top-rated eatery in town, and off we strolled to Bob's Atomic Burgers. Cool place! The menu options are printed on a paper bag with two open sides. You mark your choices, hand the bag to the cashier, and after awhile your burger is delivered to your table. The burgers were delicious, and so were our sweet potato fries.
En route back to our unshaded RV, we spotted a sign for Red Rocks. John had earlier mentioned that he would like to see the amphitheater, though we didn't know where it was. Well, we found the route, and we did see it! Only a few miles past our campground, though out away from other structures. There was a steady stream of traffic as we neared there, and we learned that the concert that night was Incubus and Deltones. Whatever. We couldn't get a decent photo because of the sun behind it and the haze, but now we know that it is as neat as we expected.
Tuesday, we drove to Salida, where Susie and Brady live, with their dog Huck. The drive over the Front Range was not as challenging for the RV as we had feared. The road was quite wide and well-graded, although the long upward climbs were impressive. We stopped for a walk and coffee in Fairplay, and then proceeded to our campground.
When I was here last October, I had seen the campgrounds right next to the Arkansas River, and was very eager to stay in one. And here we are! In the last few hours, it has been cool and even sprinkly, so I have not yet fulfilled my ambition to sit next to the River and twiddle my thumbs, but that should happen. In the evening, we drove to Susie and Brady's house, and then walked into town to Amicas Pizza for their anniversary dinner. The food was excellent! Brady has just started his second year of teaching, and so far, so good. They really are a wonderful couple, and they are carving out a wonderful life for themselves here.
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