Now, allow us to tell that aforementioned tale.
Our first CO destination: Colorado Springs. At this point in our journey, we were pretty far removed from any place that either of us have ever called “home” (New York, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Hawaii… take your pick). Perhaps we were putting out some pitiful, homeless people vibes, because we rolled into the most welcoming (sympathetic?) “Pit Stop” scenario imaginable. Jen and Kate took us under their wings as soon as we came screeching into their driveway. They served up cold beer and homemade burgers, AND gave us free reign over the lower level of their house (and HALLELUJAH! It included a washer/dryer). Worth noting: these kind folks barely knew us. Jen is the sister of Mitch’s long-time friend Meghan who made some behind-the-scenes magic happen and VOILA! Pit Stop #12 was a success.
After we settled in for a good night’s rest, Garden of the Gods called our names. This is basically a huge playground of sandstone, red rock formations.
The name Garden of the Gods came from a conversation between two surveyors in the 1800’s when one said to his buddy, “Hey bro, pretty sick spot for a beer garden, amirite?!” And his buddy left his friend’s high five hanging and responded, “Nah, homie. This place is too nice for a beer garden. It’s like…like a GOD GARDEN, lolz.” And here we are. (True story, fake dialogue).
You can wind around the perfectly paved roads, hike the trails, and rock climb if you’re fancy (we ain’t fancy). We opted to drive and then do a few short hikes; nothing too strenuous. Nevertheless, Mitch came prepared:
Next stop: Pikes Peak. That’s the 14,000 foot monster mountain towering over downtown Colorado Springs. We debated whether we had time to explore it after wrapping up at Garden of the Gods that afternoon, and ultimately decided to go for it. We did the self-driving tour (the Cog Railway would’ve been marvelous had it been running), and we were able to sneak into the gates as the last car allowed in for the day. Whew! The staff warned us that everyone is required to be off the mountain by 5pm on the dot, which allowed us two hours to enjoy the scenery and soak it all in. Floor it, Odie!
The climb was beautiful! One minor bummer: the tip top of the peak was closed due to winter conditions, so we had to U-turn at 11,000 feet. No biggie. Still some incredible views…
…and perfect selfie-taking conditions.
(RIP lost selfie stick, you are greatly missed by one of us).
Fun fact: The song “America The Beautiful” was inspired by Pikes Peak.
We rolled off that mountain like rockstars at 4:58pm.
Let’s keep this minivan party rolling! Royal Gorge Bridge was our next stop.
There’s the view from a bridge crossing 955 feet above the Arkansas River. Allow me to let my Arkansan roots show when I say: That right there is a big honkin’ gorge, ya’ll!* It was windy, cold, and rainy, and the bridge was slippery. Only one of us had the guts to walk out to the middle of it…I won’t say which one.
*Side note: prior to posting this blog, I genuinely asked Mitch if “big honkin'” was uniquely southern, or if he grew up saying it in NY too. He laughed pretty hard, so I assume it is indeed a southern thang.
Over the next couple of days, we tried to squeeze in as many uniquely Colorado Springs experiences as we could. That included driving down a dirt road through a haunted tunnel, playing pinball in a retro penny arcade, hiking to a couple of waterfalls, and having our Pit Stop hosts show us the best breweries in town. In the wee hours of the morning, we headed out to our next adventure.
We’ve mentioned this before, but Rogue Trip’s route around the country was precisely laid out so that we’d have perfect weather all year long (thanks, Mitch!). We factored in two weeks of “wintertime” in Colorado and packed accordingly. Winter means snow, and snow means SKIING, so strap on the awkward-walking boots, ’cause we’re hitting the slopes!
Jen was keen to join Rogue Trip: Ski Adventure Edition, so we caravanned to the mountain together for a full day on the slopes before she headed back home.
If you’re keeping up with our budget, it’s worth mentioning that this ski trip was the priciest activity for us by far at $400 for 2 lift tickets and ski rentals. We pre-planned for that and factored it into our estimates, so it didn’t throw things out of whack for us. As Tom and Donna taught us all, it’s important to TREAT YO’SELF!
And the treatin’ didn’t stop there! We went on to cash in one of our free Hotels.com nights at the ski-in/ski-out resort Beaver Creek Lodge. PRO TIP: Once you book 10 nights worth of hotels through Hotels.com, you get 1 night free, so back when Rogue Trip was just a spark of an idea, we started racking up those hotel bookings and hoarding the free nights. It’s paying off nicely now. Side note: if anyone would like me to book their upcoming hotel rooms for them, I gotchu.
Hey, it’s Colorado’s capitol city! We celebrated our first day in Denver with a sub par sushi restaurant and a terrible movie. THEY CAN’T ALL BE WINNERS, FOLKS! We had a hilarious moment of travel amnesia when we walked out of the dark movie theater and into the Cherry Creek Mall and just stood there for a minute until Mitch asked, “Wh-…where ARE we right now?!”
Day two in Denver was April Fools Day and also the day before Mitch’s birthday. I was involved in an elaborate, top secret plan that required sneaky secret-keeping from this person I spend 100% of my time within two feet of, so some high-level restraint was required. More on that in a moment.
We started the day at the Butterfly Pavilion which is the home to some beautiful butterflies (obviously) but also SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPIDERS! One of us had the guts to hold Rosie the Tarantula, and the other one stood at a safe distance and recorded it. I won’t say who was the scaredy cat.
In the afternoon it was time for Operation: Birthday Surprise! I was spitting some elaborate alternative facts to Mitch about how we needed to pick up a family friend from the airport, and Mitch asked ZERO questions even though I was sweating and over-explaining myself, so it was a total surprise to him when we arrived at the airport and HIS MOM greeted him with a curbside hug!
(If you aren’t tearing up at this video, then check your pulse)
Mama Dukes was only in town for a few days and was excited to explore Colorado with her firstborn, so we hopped between Denver and Boulder and tried to “tourist it up” as much as we could. Here are the highlights:
Georgetown – a well-preserved Victorian town and one of America’s cutest towns according to several travel lists.
Chautauqua Trail Overlook with a view of the Flatirons
Plenty of good eats, and a birthday boy dinner complete with a personalized menu.
After we said our goodbyes to Eileen, we continued the Denver and Boulder adventures for another two days.
Our most shameful moment to round out our otherwise very pleasant Denver experience was an “easy” hike that we attempted to tackle as a quick side venture. We drove up Flagstaff Mountain and down the other side until we reached the Ethel Harrold Trailhead, and from there we got to steppin’.
All happy-go-lucky, we hiked down a steep hill to El Dorado Falls which was lovely. But then, for some reason, we decided to take a different trail on the way back up; we veered onto the Walker Ranch Loop trail which we knew would eventually get us back to our parking lot. “Oh, this trail has a few switchbacks, so it’s a little longer, but less steep. Let’s do it!” *high five*
Turns out, “a little longer” was actually 7.8 miles longer. We ended up winding all the way up to the top of the mountain. We were prepared to hike 2 miles – not 10! It was beautiful at the top, but the trail was icy and really required gear we definitely were not sporting.
We finally wound down to the parking lot, but – TWIST – it wasn’t the one where Odie was parked. At this point, we had to strategize. Two college-aged girls were walking a dog near the imposter parking lot and they had a car. We creepily waited for them to walk back towards their car, and then I batted my eyes and offered up the sweetest hitchhike request possible while trying not to scare them off. They graciously agreed to save our lives and drive us “home” to Odie–they are the heroines of this story. Some good karma is coming their way for sure. But also, ladies, if you’re reading this: Never do that again, because STRANGER DANGER! We could have been serial killers!
Ok, enough nonsense. Let’s get on with the program and cozy up in the adorable mountain town known as Estes Park. There are literally mountains every direction that you look here, and the elk are as bold as they are beautiful.
The Stanley Hotel is located in Estes Park, and we had to check this off as one of the four stops on Rogue Trip’s “The Shining” Route (more on that in a future post). This is where Stephen King once stayed, and the eerie surroundings inspired him to write The Shining.
For our purposes though, the Stanley Hotel was “home” for a couple of nights. Not in the traditional, “we’ll-pay-money-to-stay-in-your-hotel” kind of way. More in the, “we-hope-you-don’t-notice-our-van-parked-outside-and-also-we’ll-be-using-your-lobby-restrooms-to-brush-our-teeth” kind of way.
Downtown Estes Park was cute, but it’s worth mentioning that we were there at the beginning of their off-season, so many shops and restaurants closed early. Like, 4:30pm early.
We didn’t spend too much time in the town, because the real gems were a quick jaunt away in Rocky Mountain National Park. Finally, our pre-purchased National Park Pass began to show its value.
This bad boy cost us $80 and gets us into every national park all year long. Entry to the Rocky Mountain National Park alone was $20, so mark this down as another pre-planning win for us.
We explored some breathtaking spots within the park. We were both first-timers here, and the views did not disappoint:
We hiked to Bear Lake, Alberta falls, and Sprague Lake
El Dorado Springs
Back on the road again, and a quick stop in El Dorado Springs led us to the El Dorado Springs State Park. Our overall assessment of this park: unless you’re a rock climber, it’s ok to skip it. The springs were nice, and we enjoyed our quick, half-mile hike to Rincon Wall and back, but the views were underwhelming after just coming from Rocky Mountain National Park.
Our Vail stop was a quick one. We drove around the streets and admired all the beautiful homes. There was a pedestrian mall area that we considered meandering through, but parking was a bit of a pain so we quickly glanced around from the van and then carried on. You just lost yourself a customer, Vail! Fix yo’ parking sitch.
Time to rave on in Avon! My friend Xander who holds a special place in my heart from our Maui-dwelling days now resides in Avon and conveniently works at a ski resort; he was able to snag us some free lift tickets for Beaver Creek! It was such an incredible gift and we all three had a blast tearing up the mountain together! Check out the highlight reel (shot from my Snapchat Spectacles):
Xander is an absolute lunatic but it was great to catch up with him. Here’s hoping we cross paths again in the near future!
So long, Avon; hello, Glenwood Springs! We came here to hike and chew bubblegum, and we would never actually drive this far just to chew bubblegum. Shall we hike then? We first made our way to the Hanging Lake trailhead. The trail was marked as “difficult” and was the equivalent of climbing 80 flights of stairs. We grabbed some water and slapped on the sunscreen and headed upwards! It was steep and rocky indeed, but the entire hike was only about a mile long. The temperature changed drastically from the bottom to the top with the last quarter mile of the trail covered in ice and snow. The reward was well worth the slipping and sliding: Hanging Lake is a beautiful oasis.
The water is both clear and turquoise due to dissolving carbonate minerals, and it took all of our self-control to keep from diving in head first.
Next on the Glenwood Springs treasure map: Adventure Park!
The tram up the mountain was Mitch’s least favorite part, and I was barely even spastically shaking the thing!
Once we were at the top, we ran around like little kids and hopped on the Alpine Coaster, the Zipride, and the scariest of them all: the Canyon Swing. Mitch opted out after waiting in line with me until we got to the front, and it’s hard to fault him for it. This thing was Scary Town, USA! It propels you into the air above the mountains and then swings you back and forth getting higher each time. I was panic-laughing the entire ride. Here’s the highlight reel from the full day in Adventure Park. On the Canyon Swing clip, check out how towards the end, we swing so high that you can see the buildings on the horizon behind us:
We ended our day by relaxing in the mineral pools at Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The pools were so warm and the air was cool and the stars were out. So romantic! Well, that’s if you can block out the highway noise from just down the hill and avert your eyes from the PETCO sign burning red in the distance. We could! And we enjoyed our soak.
A two-hour detour via the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway led us to Aspen. We drove down main street and weaved all around the town, then went HGTV House Hunting for fancy homes. We did see some crazy million dollar residences including a hobbit-like home that was basically an underground lair to some Dr. Evil type – but overall we were surprised by how modest most of them were. Come on, Aspen. Show us ostentatious! Help us hate you! (We didn’t. It was a really pleasant overnight stop).
We stayed in neighboring Carbondale, which is worth mentioning because it’s where Rogue Trip officially found stardom. On an impulse, while Mitch was in our AirBnB on a conference call, I dialed up local radio station KDNK and told the DJ who answered the phone all about Rogue Trip.
She was intrigued, and immediately put me on the air with my only instruction being, “No curse words!” We talked about our favorite cities, what it’s like to live in a van, and how our Colorado stops are going so far. Ape on the Dink – the name of her show (lol) – propelled us into stardom, and the proof is in the pudding when we saw our blog traffic soar by 2 views that day.
Ok, it’s time to deflate our heads and continue this road trip like the muggles we are. To the Colorado National Monument! You are quite huge and unexpected. Our trusty park pass got us in the gates and we drove allllll around the Rim Road for 23 miles. Spectacular canyons cut deep into the sandstone and granite rock and make for some interesting rock formations and great views.
Another stop on the Ski Resort Town Tour: Telluride. We arrived pretty late in the evening and it was….a ghost town!
The town is beautiful and the mountain is BOOM! In yo’ face! But the local business pickins were slim, so we explored some dirt roads, a frozen waterfall, and eventually the local laundromat to wash and dry our dirties.
And so, our Colorado adventures have come to an end. Let me take a moment to give a shout-out to those of you who are following us on Instagram and are fully aware that we are currently deep into the state of Oregon, yet are just now posting about Colorado. Thanks for not judging our sluggishness.
UNTIL NEXT TIME!