Colorado: snow in the springtime

After our romp through the desert region of the United States’ southwest, it was a nice twist to move to the chillier shadow of the Colorado mountains. The capital city of Denver sits just east of the Rocky Mountains and is known as mile-high city, due to its altitude. We again opted to book a room through Air BnB, retiring our tent for the foreseeable future. With our base sorted, we gave ourselves a few days to explore the city.

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Denver, and Colorado more broadly, is simply a fabulous place. We found ourselves walking for hours, I discovered the deliciousness that is a well executed ice cream sandwich (cookies and ice cream? simply heavenly), and the crisp air had a refreshing feel to it. Whenever I end up in a state’s capital city, I try to get the chance to explore the capitol building. In Denver, they run regular free tours, where you get a chance to learn a little more about the history, and to head right to the top of the building itself. The dome tours let you step outdoors and check out the view of the city. Clouds obstructed the beauty of the mountain range on the day we visited, but it was still a cool exercise.

State and the Nation

Visiting these buildings is a lot of fun, in particular because you get a little more insight into the ongoing discussion regarding the role of state and nation in the United States story. It does not take long before you start to appreciate just how different the individual states are from one another, and the contrast between the external concept of what signifies an American and the internal reality. In New Zealand, with a tiny population and relatively small geographic footprint, we still hold some disparate views of what makes a ‘kiwi’ based on where in the country we come from. In the US, this is amplified. Individual states operate in a way where they are constantly seeking to balance the rights of the state with that of the collective idea of nation. It is possible to both love the whole and to be fiercely protective of the right of the state to set its own laws and shape its own way of life. Finding how to balance this troubled America’s founding fathers, and continues to be a fundamental debate in contemporary America. Delving into the stories of the history of the state is an engaging way to reflect on the complexity of the American story.

In Colorado, the outdoors plays a central part in the reflection of self. With the jagged points of the Rockies cutting through the centre of the state, it is apparent why this would be. Historically, a place noted for its restorative abilities, it was an area associated with healing. It also played host to gold rush and war, with conflict between a multitude of peoples shaping the historic makeup of the state. Today, in the capitol building there is a prominent tribute to this history of notable women, and a reflection on the leaders who have played a role in both the building of nation and state.

In our wanderings of the city, we were at one point caught out by a snow flurry – though the novelty was enough for us to laugh through it before seeking shelter in the library (not exactly a hardship to hide in a library for a short while!).

Pike’s Peak

A key destination in Colorado for Ashby was Pike’s Peak. The site of an annual rally car race, it is a location that means little to me but can be appreciated by looking at this video from a record breaking drive in the 1980s.

While Ashby has pretty much memorised a lot of the corners after driving this track in a virtual format, snow and an under-powered rental car limited the ability to do anything more than a quiet drive to the end of the road. Unfortunately snow hampered any chance of getting to the top – so we might just need to save that for a return trip. We went as far as we could, but any further and the wind was blowing snow drifts across the road faster than it could be cleared.

We had a night in Colorado Springs, before heading east again. Leaving behind forecasts of more cold weather we took to the plains of Kansas, right in the midst of the season of thunderstorms and tornadoes.

 

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National Park Week: Traversing the Rockies and into Denver

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The first thing to note is that unless you are planning some epic hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park is not a recommended visit till the summer time. You see, it snows there – a lot. Even visiting in April we were caught out by the snow. I thought maybe some snow would still be visible on mountain peaks, instead we were driving through flurries and awestruck by frozen lakes. Really large frozen lakes.

Our intention was to drive through the National Park, a detour on our route between Grand Junction (where we stayed the night) and Denver where we had booked accomodation for a few nights. Unfortunately, we realised once we got there that this road does not open till the end of May and it did not take long for us to see why with the road closed sign ahead of a deep snow drift. However, the benefit was that we did not have to share the park with many people! The small bit we saw was beautiful and it was refreshing to layer up with the winter jacket. It does not take much to have me playing in snow, and a few snow dances took place under the flurries.

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There was not a lot we could do, but we explored where we could and popped into the visitor’s centre. Intriguingly (for Ashby at least), Colorado is home to 53 fourteeners – that is mountain peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet (4267 metres). There are a multitude of resources aimed at people attempting to climb all of these peaks, and I will not be surprised if Ashby takes the opportunity to climb at least some of these in the future. I will take charge of having the hot dinner ready for when he gets back to the bottom!

Our trip to the National Park may have been a little underwhelming, but this was one of the more spectacular drive days of our trip. Perhaps influenced by the welcome sight of snow after all of the desert, it also allowed Ashby to drive on a road he will remember for years to come. The I-70 travels east to west and across the Rocky Mountains. It is regarded as an engineering marvel (the Americans have given the world a few of those) and the Wikipedia article about it is rather informative. Thankfully, someone else has also put together a bit of a video which is worth a watch (the music is painful, but we can not have everything). We drove this route heading east (while most of the video is about going west), but you can still get an understanding of the road and driving conditions.

We drove past a multitude of ski fields, with lifts still working and people on the slopes. After our detour north to the national park, we ended up on the I-40 and crossing Berthoud Pass and the continental divide. Here, playing in the snow got a whole lot more fun as it was super deep.

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This site is notorious, particularly with the interstate being in the path of several known avalanche routes. It is also a well utilised area for outdoor activities, and there is a warming hut at the peak (not for overnight use). An activity community maintains the area, and the Friends of Berthoud Pass work hard to maintain this (more information can be found here, and it made me think particularly of my Aunty Carol and Uncle Bob).

We made it through the region and headed into Denver late Sunday afternoon. After checking in at our Air BnB for the night, we grabbed dinner and got ready for a return to city life in the state capital of Colorado.

National Park Week: Admiring the Arches

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Arches National Park

The sheer scale of Arches National Park leaves you awestruck. Even after a bombardment of beauty over the course of a week bouncing between national parks, you still find yourself staring in wonder at the precariousness of nature. With the bright blue sky and snowcapped mountains as the backdrop, it truly is a wonder to behold.

As we started to feel overwhelmed by the endless desert, Arches proved to be a capstone to the week. We arrived in the afternoon, setting off with our map to explore by car. At this particular park it is difficult to find a campsite at the best of times, so we had no chance turning up mid afternoon. We did have time to explore the park, and drove the length of the road. Ideally, it would have been nice to do a hike – perhaps next time.

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Double Arch

Like all of the National Parks we visited, Arches makes it easy to appreciate the beauty of America. Exploration and interaction are encouraged, while there is an emphasis on the importance of respecting the natural environment. This is done by offering public talks, providing easy to access information, and the continued presence of park workers who will chat with visitors. The National Park system offers a visitors the opportunity to get a taste of what is available, and encourages those who want to do more to plan a more elaborate adventure.

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All up, we were in Arches for only a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. It was a fantastic chance to round out our journey in the American Southwest… However, it was time for a new adventure. After leaving the park we had an interesting situation to ponder: what to do tomorrow? Up till this point, we had a pretty clear plan of what we wanted to see. Canyonlands National Park was just down the road and is one Ashby particularly wants to explore at some stage. Alternatively we could hightail it out of there. Out came the map book (a particularly cool wedding gift from dear friends of ours) and we pondered where to next. Result: we’re off to Colorado. That evening we drove across the border and climbed into Colorado Springs. The tent stayed in the car and we booked into a cheap hotel room. Our next stop would round out National Park Week with a dose of snow – Rocky Mountain National Park!