Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Esteban wasn’t in the best condition for our last trek out to Colorado, nor is he the most comfortable for long distance highway cruising. So we rented a Kia Soul (which we nicknamed Sue Ellen), and she turned out to be the perfect little camping car for a couple. We easily fit all of our food, popup tent, camping equipment, and inflatable kayak. Sue Ellen also hit highway speeds above 65 mph, which was a big plus!

The first stop in CO was to Fort Collins, where we met up with our great friend, Angelica and her awesome Fort Collins friends.  We went to several breweries, and whiled away the evening eating, imbibing, photoboothing, and enjoying a fun bar round of Cards Against Humanity. Our time together is always too short these days, but we know how to make the most of it! We ended the night by driving up to Estes Park to get some good sleep in a hotel for a night before we began camping.

On our first crisp morning in Estes Park we went on a short drive to get a feel for the town and take a quick hike on a trail nearby.  It was a beautiful and secluded long walk and we saw no other hikers, which seemed unusual for a popular town on such a nice weekend. The way the trail ended was also rather unusual, terminating at some kind of water facility. We eventually figured out that we had ended up following the wrong signs and hiking up some kind of maintenance trail. Still, it was a serene and companionable hike, and it’s where Jeff got some of the most interesting close-ups of charred pine logs.

The horseback ride at the Rocky Mountain National Stables was a major highlight of the trip. The afternoon was cloudy and slightly rainy which worked out to be great riding weather. It wasn’t too hot, there wasn’t any intense sun or glare, and visibility was really good. Our guide was helpful and we learned about aspen trees, which together make up one of the largest and oldest living organisms on earth. They’re a clonal species, meaning there’s a tremendous root network running underground throughout a significant portion of the state. What appear to be individual trees are just offshoots of this huge, amazing network. This also means that the offshoots all change into their fall yellow at nearly exactly the same time, resulting in a glorious golden sea of leaves (again, according to our guide). We were a squidge too early to see the aspens in their saffron cloaks, but there were a couple of patches of yellow just beginning to show, and the aspens and pines made up a lovely mountain-top forest nonetheless.

A first for us this trip was dispersed camping (not to be confused with the much more advanced primitive camping). Within the grounds of national forests and under certain criteria, campers are allowed to set up an impromptu campsite (outside of designated camping areas), as long as they leave no trace. We took advantage of this little-known accessibility to enjoy the cozy solitude of a little patch of forest just off the highway. With very little nearby light pollution, Jeff was able to capture some gorgeous shots of the night sky that ended up looking more like the Northern Lights than Colorado.

One day, we took our inflatable two-person kayak out for a spin (literally!) onto Lake Estes. The current was a bit stronger than we anticipated, and since we’d forgotten to plug the drainage hole in the bottom before getting into the kayak, there were a few panicked minutes thinking we’d sprung a leak before we figured out why the water inside the kayak was rising. Jeff, however, saved the day and we proceeded further into the lake, only a bit wetter for wear. The big highlight of Lake Estes, aside from the 360-degree mountain vistas, was that the Stanley Hotel, which served as the stand-in for the fictional Overlook Hotel in the movie version of The Shining, is visible from certain points on the lake. So of course we had to get a few shots of Jeff in from of his favorite movie locale, and it helped set a spooky mood for the rest of the evening. That was the evening Jane thought she heard a bear outside the tent, but it turned out it was just scraping branches and squirrels—much preferable to bears or ghosts!

We got a lot of hiking in, including a shorter ramble around a beautiful, smaller lake, where we saw adorable baby ducks and, surprisingly, a decent number of trees that appeared to have perished in fire.

On the way home, we were lucky enough to meet up with Angelica again in Fort Collins for brunch (thank you for always making time for us, dear), before we headed back across Kansas to our home sweet home. We were making great time with Jane at the wheel for the first half of the trip, but almost the minute that Jeff took the helm, we spied a rainbow up ahead. Thinking nothing of it, other than that it was a pretty end to a long drive, we continued towards the rainbow, and home. Very soon after, we realized that we were heading towards a storm—from the back end! Undaunted, Jeff foraged ahead through the raging, blustering gale and got us home safely, as usual. It was an exciting finish to a whirlwind trip in which we ate our weight in the bulk pears and avocados we brought with us, and enjoyed some of the tastiest curry we’ve had since our trip to Thailand. Now that we’ve made it safely through the storm, we’re happy to report that we wouldn’t change a thing.

The Great Sand Dunes

To celebrate our first year of marriage, we took a road trip out west to Colorado.

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Little Esteban faced his largest challenge yet: scaling the rockies. Esteban did, in the words of Larry David, pretty good.

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The first stop in the trip was the beautiful, quiet mountain town of Frisco. This is apparently not a very popular time to be in Frisco, as a lot of the restaurants were closed, but we made do with a hotel-room picnic complete with wine and cheese. We visited a few scenic overlooks and a riverside park full of bikers and happy dogs with their humans. The air was brisk, but the weather was sunny, and we enjoyed our little taste of winter as a novelty after so many months in the tropics. After two nights in Frisco, Esteban coasted us down through the mountains to Mosca, Colorado, home of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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Located in southern central Colorado, the sand dunes are a strange and unique attraction. The dunes are the tallest in North America, with the tallest peaks over 750 feet tall. We came very close to skipping the climb altogether, since there had been some rain recently, and we had to cross a shallow but wide creek to get there. We stuck it out with reinforcements, and made it pretty far up the dunes before throwing in the towel. Although easier than our hike up Mt. Batur, it was a long hike through a ridiculous amount of sand. We saw some people sand boarding and sledding down from the highest dunes.

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Being a desert climate, and at the foot of the mountains, there’s a tremendous temperature variation in the dunes from day to night: the daytime high can be 50 degrees warmer than the overnight low. The night we camped in the park, it was rather chilly, reaching a low of about 26 degrees. We debated sleeping in the car, but our little campsite looked so cute, and the sub-Arctic tent proved quite snug. We did have a hungry deer come poking around near dusk, but it was much less frightening than a hungry bear would have been!

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