State number 8: Colorado
The drive down from Wyoming to Colorado is one across an interstate, which we do not do often, and is honestly quite boring. We have a few errands to run as we are approaching a big city – the city of Denver. As always there are shopping areas a plenty, including a premium outlet, so we start our hunt for new shoes and sandals… all this climbing rocks and running in the dirt is really taking its toll on the shoes we came out with, so both boys score a great deal and the playground is an extra bonus.
From Denver we move on to Boulder, which is the town next door, but really the gateway to the mountains. It is very cool to drive towards the mountains and see bits of snow again in the blazing sun. We hit some more shops before trying to find a place to sleep, but as Boulder does not allow overnight parking end up in the next town over at the fairground campground. Still a good deal, mostly because of the shower that’s included… it was again a while ago 😉.
The next day Boulder is properly on the list; Sven rides out there by bike (this time only a bullsnake crossed his path…), as we get to a place where we are planning to put the kayak in the water and float down the creek. Unfortunately the water level turns out too low (which is funny as we were concerned for the water to bee too rough), and we decide to go with plan B: A cycle trip through town. Boulder is a great town to cycle with a very hippie like vibe and tons of bikepaths. The going is relaxed, there are plenty of playgrounds and water fountains along the way, and we decide to splurge and go out for lunch.
As we leave Boulder, there is only one direction we can go in; NEDERLAND. A small town up in the mountains, which gives us a small energy boost as it is very rare to see our home country spelled correctly on a sign that big! We boondock for the night, to compensate for lunch of course…
Rocky Mountains National Park
While we of course are already in the Rocky Mountains, a part of them up northwest from Denver is actually an official National Park. To reduce the number of people in the park, they are working with a permit system that will allow you access but unfortunately these permits are sold out especially in the weekends (which was exactly when we wanted to visit). Another option is to have a campsite booking, and we luckily managed to snag the last spot on Sunday at Moraine Campground.
This means we have an extra day to spend, and we decide to go into Estes Park, which is the gateway town to the National Park. It is a lovely town, the market is set up, we do another big grocery and gas run and try to get our American Airlines trip credit to work for us. 2 hours of calling later we are halfway there (1 ticket booked with the credit, 1 still pending many weird rules and issues we will not bother you with, but frustrations are high), and need to call it a night.
To avoid the crowds, we got up very early the next morning, drove out to the entrance and up in the most congested part (as it is a dead end road up the mountain) of the park. A fantastically organized shuttle service whisked us away to the top to start a big loop hike into the mountains.
In total, we ended up hiking some 9kms, through the best landscapes the mountains have to offer. For more than half of it we hardly saw a soul (remember, Americans don’t like walking as much), which made it a very private experience. Crossing dozens of streams, taking in several lakes, climbing rocky paths and rolling down again like the cascades along the way. The boys did great on this long hike, and were thoroughly entertained by all the wildlife we ran into, from woodpeckers to curious ground squirrels. No moose or bear, so they remain on the list, but we did get greeted by a large herd of elk and their boss when we drove back to the campsite. It is almost mating season so the bulls are extra territorial, which was very cool to watch (from a safe distance thank you very much 😊).
The second day in the park we drive towards the old fall river road, the former road that the Ute Natives took when traveling the mountain range and following the migrations. The road is a one way road for vehicles with a maximum length of 25ft (which is us 😊) and all gravel. The many switchbacks are very cool to do, and takes us high up to the Alpine visitor center, supposedly the highest visitor center of the NPS at a whopping 11,395ft! Before we arrive there we climb up Marmot Point for a panoramic view over the mountains and a small photo shoot with the resident marmot that lives along the trail… We make our way down and hike the Coyote Valley trail towards the picnic area, for a good lunch before we start a long drive across Colorado.
Crossing the state through Aspen
The road is lengthy but takes us towards another stunner; Independence Pass. Open only a few months per year, it is a pass up and over the mountain towards the fancy ski resort of Aspen. As it is the end of the day, we dry camp along the pass where we park our RV right alongside a picturesque stream. The boys do their thing, throwing rocks in the water and creating yet another monster truck track in the dirt, while we get dinner ready. This is truly one of the greatest things about the US with an RV, some of the most beautiful places we have slept are completely FREE and such a cool experience! It saves a ton of money and gives you a real sense of being one with nature, which is something we truly love.
The night turned out very cold, so the morning is a slow start for everybody, but once up, we continue our drive up the Independence Pass and on to Aspen. We try another round at ‘will we be able to book our tickets with our AA flight credit this time’ at the airport, while the boys are enjoying themselves in a park for a few hours. The answer to the AA question is of course ALMOST but still not done… incredible but true. Aspen is neat and tidy, and with that a bit artificial as well, but we can imagine what it must be like in winter for all those rich and famous that head out here to ski. Plenty of private planes coming in today as well, a strange sight after the 1,5 months we have spent here so far. We decide to move on, and take a scenic route southwest towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison. From alpine forests we hit the dry and dusty rocks that are a preparation for the red we will find in Utah.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Happy birthday Luc!
We wake up to a rainy day! We have not had many of those, so we are not sure if we should be disappointed or happy that everything cools down a bit? One thing we are very excited about however is the date: 1st of september! Luc’s 8th birthday has finally come, and he has really been looking forward to it. We start the day with presents of course, from us and the grand parents, so he could not be happier. We hike out from the campsite along the canyon ridge to the visitor center, while Sven drives out the RV, after which the switch is made and we take the full length of the park by RV while Sven busts it out on the bike. The cloudy morning adds a bit of mystery to the surroundings, and recent sightings of mountain lion and bobcat put us on high alert for some good wildlife watching. But as we would, the animals must be hiding out, and are not coming out to amaze us as we drop by different lookouts on the canyon.
We drive up north in the afternoon towards Colorado National Monument, another park with large canyons and a very cool rim drive. Here we get lucky, as a bighorn sheep family decided to wait out that rain right alongside the road in a cove in the rocks. The rainy clouds add a fairytale like vibe to it (or is it a spooky story?) and Luc manages to sum up the joy of rain and long drives on his birthday: Extra time to play with his new toys :-). After the visitor center we park the car for another birthday highlight: Cake! We got three flavors (the request was a 5-tier cake with all different flavors, we felt this was close enough) which went down very smoothly, while watching a compilation video of friends and family wishing him a happy birthday. He loved every second of it – thanks everyone for contributing! – and was again happy to move on to another long drive to the 9th state: Utah. Of course the birthday has to be wrapped up at a typical American diner with RIBS, Luc’s favorite… all in all a great day, regardless of the rain!
Utah highlight number 1: Arches National Park
The rain has cleared the next day; Hurray! Some clouds still linger, which is great as we are getting to states known for their desert like climates. With September started, temperatures should become more bearable, which is why we opted to add some more states out east before coming here, but still any cloud is very welcome. Normally the dry heat really sneaks up on you, currently the damp of the rain that fell gives the heat a bit more weight. Utah is filled with some of the nations most iconic national parks, and Arches is certainly one of them, known for its… you guessed it: ARCHES!
Having just read a Donald Duck edition where Arches is mentioned, the excitement of the hike towards Delicate Arch is of course very high. The climb is not easy, but the rewards are great once you make it to the arch that is on every Utah license plate. The rock is not slippery, like sandpaper to the touch, but the rain added some challenge in the shape of small pools and patches of mud. We run into some nice people again to talk to, so the way back feels very short and easy. Further into the park, we find Sand Dune arch, which has shade and lots of sand which makes it a perfect place for lunch (and to bust out the monstertrucks and build some tracks).
After lunch, Luc bows out of hiking to Landscape Arch, the biggest span arch of the park, but the rest makes the hike out. This part brings the joy of recent rain: Sand is still wet, and the animal tracks are abundant and clear to see. From deer to squirrel to lizards, they are easy to make out and Bo does a great job scouring the trail for new ones. The last hike of the day is the loop around the Window Arches. Especially taking the backloop back to the parking lot gives a great view of both arches together. Enough arch hiking for the day, we make our way back to Moab town to splurge on a proper campsite. It has all the trimmings, so the boys hit the pool, while mom does laundry and dad starts up dinner… *sigh* ;-).
Next week (#11 already!): More Utah highlights and another birthday!