After our brief stay in Goodland, Kansas, we packed up and headed to Colorado. Neither Carol or I had ever spent any time in the state and were anxious to see it!
Colorado is very beautiful, and it is really difficult to pick the areas to visit – there is so much geographic diversity, encompassing both rugged mountainous terrain, vast plains, desert lands, desert canyons, and mesas.
So we decided to start our travel through the Fort Collins & Colorado Springs areas on the Rocky Mountain eastern slope foothills. From there, we had our first major test of our truck pulling the RV – up and over the Continental Divide on Interstate 70 to beautiful Grand Lake. (The Beast performed as expected!) On our last leg through Colorado, we traveled down the western slope to Rifle and finally to Grand Junction.
Fort Collins – We arrived in Fort Collins on April 28th. As we were approaching the Horsetooth Reservoir State Park campground the temperature started dropping and we had the pleasure of setting up the RV during a snowstorm!
This was our introduction to the bipolar weather of Colorado!
Fort Collins was originally founded as an Army military outpost in 1864. It has gathered many top rankings in recent years for health, well-being, and quality of life and is the home of Colorado State University.
While in the area Carol and I took a short drive down to the Loveland area and did a hike of the Devils Backbone. It is a two-mile strip of Dakota sandstone that rises from the rock and soil in a buffer zone between mountains and plains west of Loveland.
Pinnacles rising more than 200 feet above surrounding valleys are eroded into angular arches; the most famous portal is the Keyhole.
Colorado Springs – We left Fort Collins and headed to Colorado Springs, also in the foothills of the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, but about 135 miles south of Fort Collins.
At an altitude of 6,035 feet, the city stands over 1 mile above sea level, though some areas of the city are significantly higher and lower. Colorado Springs is situated near the base of one of the most famous American mountains, Pikes Peak, rising above 14,000 feet on the eastern edge of the Southern Rocky Mountains. (Click here to see our video of driving to the top!) The city is home to 24 national governing bodies of sport, the United States Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Training Center. It also is the home of the US Air Force academy.
We really enjoyed this area. We went to see the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, a cool place with 300′ towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak, drove to the top of Pike’s Peak(one of the 53 Fourteeners in Colorado), and visited the quirky, funky town of Manitou Springs and hiked through Cheyenne Mountain State park.
Another treat of our time here was that we met up with some friends who live in the Denver area, Mark & Nancy Armstrong. We met them last year while in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Mark and Nancy rented a cabin in the campground in which we were staying. They gave us a guided tour of Cripple Creek, an old gold mining town from the late 1800’s. This area then became virtually a ghost town in the 1970’s and 80’s and now is a fairly vibrant casino town. Lots of history here!
After spending two weeks in the Colorado Springs area, we headed west to the beautiful area of Grand Lake.
We drove Interstate 70 and crossed the Continental Divide of the Rockies. That was quite a pull up those mountains! However, our truck performed very well going up as well as coming down.
Thank goodness for the exhaust brake – coming down the western side of the Continental Divide is a 7% grade with a vertical descent of 2,363 feet over a distance of 8.6 miles. I never went over 35 mph and didn’t touch the brakes once! So needless to say that made us very happy.
Grand Lake – This town sits at an elevation of 8,369 feet and has the largest natural body of water in Colorado. This is also part of the Colorado River headwaters. The town is at the western entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park which surrounds the town and lake on three sides. Trail Ridge road runs through Rocky Mountain National Park and goes 45 miles over the mountains to Estes Park. However that road is not open for about 9 months out of the year(SNOW!), making Grand Lake a dead end town for most of the year. It has a year round population of only about 500 people.
Due to its elevation, (8,369 feet), Grand Lake has a subalpine climate with a short growing season, averaging just 49 days per year. Temperatures are chilly at night even through the summer months, and only three months have an average temperature of above 50 °F.
We can vouch for that as we had a major snowstorm of about two feet! I think we were being paid back for spending the winter in Fort Myers!
We again met up again with Mark and Nancy Armstrong, but this time for a different reason. Unfortunately, within a few days of them visiting us in Colorado Springs, their 14 year old dog, Leilani, a very loving Westie, passed away. Mark & Nancy have friends in Grand Lake, and they traveled to Grand Lake to bury her ashes at their friends house. They said Leilani used to love going there, so this was made her final resting place.
We couldn’t do much during the snow storm, but I got to play Pickleball at the local recreation center. It was a small but active group of excellent players. The first few games I was really “sucking wind” – it takes a while to get used to the thin air at this altitude, but I eventually adapted.
RIFLE – So after having a week of winter weather – we hit the road, continuing west to the interesting area of Rifle. We stayed in the beautiful Rifle Gap State Park. We used this as a brief stopover for a couple days, but in that time we some some amazing sights.
We took a hike just a few miles down the road to Rifle Falls. What a beautiful sight!
Right down the road from the falls was the the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery. It is a cold water hatchery producing fingerlings and catchable rainbow, Snake River cutthroat, brook, brown, and cutthroat trout.
It is also the largest state-owned and operated trout production hatchery in Colorado! Rifle Falls stocks stream sections, lakes, and reservoirs in western Colorado, and provides catchable trout for stocking along the Front range. Cutthroat trout are also raised for aerial stocking. Listening to one of the workers explain how the aerial fish stocking works was fascinating. They only use this stocking technique in hard to reach alpine lakes, rivers and streams. Amazingly, the survival rate of the fish stocked this way is very high!
Just beyond the fish hatchery, the macadam road ended and turned into the White River National Forestland. We drove the dirt road into this area and it was very beautiful. Below is a short video from our dashcam driving through a tight slot canyon area. This will give you an idea of this beauty in this are.
Grand Junction – Our last destination in our Colorado itinerary was Grand Junction, the largest town on the western slope of the Rockies in Colorado. The city is located along the Colorado river, at its confluence with the Gunnison river which comes in from the south.
The valley has amazing irrigation infrastructure and is loaded with fruit and vegetable farms, vineyards and wineries. This area is high desert, and it certainly felt good to move into a warmer area after our short “winter” in Grand Lake.
We visited the Colorado National Monument, a unique series of canyons and mesas, which overlooks the city on the west. Most of the area is surrounded by federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Another day trip for us was at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about an hour southeast of Grand Junction. Black Canyon of the Gunnison exposes a person to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.
The park contains 12 miles of the 48-mile long Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, where the canyon is so sheer and deep, that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day! This is the perfect spot for scenic drives where can you peer 2,000 feet below the often guardrail-less edge!
So this concludes our first trip through the state of Colorado. There is so much more to see than the areas we traveled through, so there will be more trips through this state. Colorado is a gem, it deserves all the accolades that people give it!
Now on to the Big 5 National Parks in Utah!