A Tale of Two Cities: Denver & Boulder

After saying goodbye to the beautiful mountainous terrain of Grand Lake, my boyfriend and I made our way to Denver, where we spent a day and a night.  Afterwards, we headed off to Boulder, Colorado.  Here will be a tale of our time spent in the two cities.

Surrendering to Denver

I must warn my readers, before beginning the tale of Denver, that since I only spent a day and night in the city, I do not have a very thorough idea of Denver.  My experience there was mostly that of boredom and anxiety.  Boredom because we stayed in our hotel for half of our time there, and anxiety because the interstate was hellishly hectic.  I have driven on the interstates around Chicago, a city that has a significantly larger population than Denver; however, for some reason I found driving on the interstates around Denver was much more stressful than around Chicago.  I decided to attribute it to the higher speed limit outside of Denver; the speed limit on the interstates in Colorado is 75 mph.  I also experienced anxiety in Denver when my boyfriend and I had to use the Ubers in the area.

We decided to go out for some drinks at a bar that we had read about online.  Supposedly, the bar was “4/20 friendly”, which means (for all you non-smokers) that we would be able to smoke that mary jane outside of the bar.  The bar we decided upon was Sancho’s Broken Arrow.  We did, in fact, get away with smoking in the bar’s outdoor area, and there was some cool live music playing.  The band was a little weird, but it was fun.  The atmosphere was one I could get down with again.  Back to the Uber rides, though… Our ride to the bar was a little nerve-racking.  The driver almost rear-ended someone twice, and he was driving like a total moron the whole time we were with him.  On our ride back to our hotel from the bar, we had an equally-terrifying Uber driver.  He was flying down the interstate, getting right up on the tail of the drivers in front of him.  I about pissed my pants.  So a word of caution: prepare for crazy Uber drivers if in Denver.

I can’t help but say that I was happy to get out of Denver when we did.  The hotel we stayed in was far from downtown, by the airport, which meant we had to drive on the interstate to get everywhere and, as I said before, the interstate was incredibly stressful to drive on, in my opinion.  So, excitingly for me, we left Denver and began our journey to Boulder.

We are the beholders of Boulder

Arriving to Boulder, Colorado was like waking up from a bad dream, with Denver being the nightmare.  Boulder was much more low-key.  It has a population of around 108,000 people, which is comparable to the population of my hometown.  I could undoubtedly see myself living in the city someday.  We stayed in Boulder for a couple of days, with free room and board at my boyfriend’s friend and girlfriend’s house.  My boyfriend knows at least 5 people who live in the city, so we had some folks to chill with during our stay.

Before reaching his friend’s house, we had to kill some time, as we reached Boulder before his friend had left work for the day.  We drove around the city for a while – around downtown specifically, where we took a little stroll.  Afterwards we drove towards the edge of Boulder, where there was a mountain to drive up, and so we did drive up the mountain.  While climbing towards the top of the giant rocky hill, we noticed an area where you could park next to the road.  Others were parked in the lot, so we figured we’d check it out, take some pictures, and be on our merry way.  However, to our surprise, there was a trail off the road to walk and bike on, which followed an attractive little river dubbed Boulder Creek.  The trail – Boulder Canyon Trail – was next to a rocky landscape, which to our delight, featured a dude climbing up a giant cliff, appearing teeny tiny to us at the foot of the cliff.  We strolled along the path for quite some time (after admiring the climber’s skills) before deciding to turn around and walk back to the parking lot.  The trail we were on is located off of Boulder Canyon Dr.  We were walking on the Boulder Creek Path specifically.  After our short hike, we were ready to party.

We were in Boulder over 4/20, and on the night of the adored holiday we decided to hit a bar where a couple of my boyfriend’s amigos were playing in a band for one of the sets.  It was a good time, indeed.  The bar we visited is called the Darkhorse.  It was an interesting place to spend time and kick back some drinks while listening to live music.  The best part about the bar was the peculiar mechanical trinkets all over the walls.  I’m not sure how to describe them, but they were moving on their own – creepy, but oh so fun.  However, you can not get away with smoking weed in the bar’s smoking area very easily.  They will threaten to kick you out; however, they won’t kick you out the first time they catch you – at least, in my experience.  Another thing to mention about drinking alcohol in Colorado in general: alcohol is taxed higher in Colorado than in Illinois (excluding Chicago).  Therefore, drinking at the bar seemed to be a little more expensive in Colorado than in my home state.

See ya CO – can’t wait til we meet again

It was depressing to say farewell to Boulder.  We made a quick detour in Greeley, Colorado on our way out of the state, but it was to see a cousin, and we did not do any notable activities.  However, I will say that the area around the town is flat and mostly consists of fields being drilled for oil and for growing random crops.  We saw the fields while driving on a gravel road near the town, where it smelled heavily of manure.  After our detour, we left the state and began our long trip home.  I have yet to be back, but I am very much anticipating my return.

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Lonesome and Beautiful Grand Lake

In my previous post, I addressed visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the area around the park.  In this piece, I will talk about my time spent in Grand Lake, Colorado.  This blog post will be a bit shorter than my previous, as I have decided it would be best to make one post about Grand Lake and a separate post regarding my experiences in Denver and Boulder.

Gotta see ’em all

Our first stop after leaving the big piles of sand was a big lake.  A huge lake.  A Grand Lake.  On our way to Grand Lake, we made a side trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park and drove through part of the park on a scenic road until we reached the closed section of the route – due to snow, of course.  This was an awesome experience, and we were able to check another national park off of our list (my boyfriend and I hope to visit every national park).  However, I would love to actually hike in the park rather than drive through it – we just did not have the time, and the conditions were not to our liking for hiking.  A majority of the trails in the area were covered in a foot or more of snow.  As I mentioned in my last post, I did not pack for the conditions, so I was not about to go trampling through snow.  The only wildlife we saw on the drive was a fox at the entrance of the national park.  After our drive up and back down the route, we headed to that big ol’ lake.

Life is Grand

I had discovered the town of Grand Lake, Colorado when researching hotels near the Rocky Mountain National Park.  The town has a lodge we ended up staying in for a night, and it was right next door to the national park – it was perfect.  The lodge looked somewhat modern, and we told ourselves we would choose a nice place to stay for one of our nights in the state.  The lodge is called Gateway Inn.  It’s located on West Portal Rd. off of Highway 34, which is closed during the winter.  The rooms pair perfectly with the mountain scenery surrounding the town.  They resemble a room inside of a log cabin, with what appear to be handmade wooden bed frames, wooden walls, and cabin-esque decor around the room.  The lobby is also suffering from cabin fever, as is the rest of the lodge.  There is a porch area attached to the hotel, so one can just lay back outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air without leaving the hotel.

The hotel has a complimentary breakfast, s’more roasts, and a hot tub.  The hot tub is especially wonderful, as it faces the mountains.  It is a relaxing, eye-pleasing spot to watch the sunset.  My boyfriend and I did just that, and we were lucky enough to also see the moon rise directly after sunset, slowly inching from behind the mountain range into our sight.  It was quite the experience and completely unplanned.

The lodge is located within the charming town of Grand Lake, so one can easily walk from the lodge to basically any area of the town, as you most likely can from any spot in Grand Lake – it’s a pretty small town.  We ended up walking from the lodge to a bridge on Jerico Rd., which actually seems to be the dividing line of the two lakes – Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake.  The bridge itself was quite scenic.

At the time of year that we visited the town, which was in mid-April, it was practically empty, though I’m sure there are significantly more people there in the summer months, either as residents or tourists.  On our walk to the bridge, we saw perhaps two cars driving on the road, and our leisurely-paced walk took about an hour one-way.  It felt as though we had the whole town to ourselves.  It was neat, but also a little unsettling in all honesty.

After a day of walking to the lake and watching the sunset and moon rise from a hot tub, we hit the hay in our own little cabin room and made our way to Denver the next morning, where things would get a lot busier.

The Great Sand Dunes of the San Luis Valley

Last year, over the week of that beloved stoner holiday April the 20th, I had the privilege of witnessing the massive Colorado Rocky Mountains for the first time. They were awe-inspiring to say the least. They were also terrifying to drive on during the snow storm my significant other and I were so fortunate to travel through – this during the final 3 sleep-deprived hours of our continuous 17 hour trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park from Central Illinois. The Great Sand Dunes of the San Luis Valley were our first destination on the journey.

We also spent time in Denver, Boulder, and Grand Lake. In an article to come, I will discuss these other destinations. However, for this entry I will focus on the drive to Colorado from Illinois, as well as a brief mention of the return trip, and I will discuss the area around the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The Oh-So-Dreaded Drive

First off, I’d like to state the obvious when I say do NOT attempt such a long drive at 5:00 pm directly after you leave a full day of work. I also recommend traveling to Colorado in late spring or during the summer months, especially if you are driving over the Rockies from east to west and don’t have a desire to drive through a blizzard. Apparently I did not research the average weather in Colorado thoroughly before planning the trip. It was the most stressful road trip of my life. A life goal of mine was to see the Rockies, so it was all worth it in the end.

For our path to the San Luis Valley, we took the route to the south, which brought us through Missouri and Kansas. On the return trip, we took the route to the north which brought us through Nebraska and Iowa. On the route to the south, there are far fewer gas stations (though we were traveling through the night, so had to find 24-hour gas stations). This was more of an issue when needing to find a restroom than it was for needing gas. At one point, we were forced to stop on the side of the road in Kansas to relieve ourselves on the roadside. This was next open fields on either side of the road in mostly darkness, being whipped fiercely by wind. I’m sure I don’t have to explain how that ended up. Most of the drive there was on two-lane highways since we were heading to the Valley, which is in the southern part of the state.

The return trip was taken from Greeley, Colorado, as we stopped in that town briefly to greet my cousin. When traveling from there back to Illinois, we were driving on interstates for almost the entire trip, and gas stations were plentiful. We also left in the morning, and there was no snow to be seen, so we were in much better shape on the return trip.

But let me elaborate on the trip to Colorado. Once we entered the rugged state, the sun began to rise, but clouds were dominating the view – we could not see any mountains. Around us was haze and it began to snow as we came closer to driving up our first mountain. The snow gradually became thicker as we inched our way up the side of a mountain, and my attention became fixed on the road. I was trying with all my might not to tumble off the side of the rocky cliff. Three hours later at the speed of a jogger, we reached our destination: the Great Sand Dunes Lodge.

We have finally arrived…

The Great Sand Dunes Lodge is located as close to the Sand Dunes as you can sleep without camping. I give the lodge 5 stars, as it was located in a beautiful setting, with a massive mountain right next door. Although it isn’t a luxury hotel, it puts you right next to the natural beauty of the area at a very affordable price. Also, you get a free breakfast, and the owners are super friendly and accommodating.

The San Luis Valley was my favorite area of Colorado without a doubt. It has a desert feel to it, but with so many colorful grasses thrown into the mix that gives it a spectacular landscape. It was candy for the eyes that I would never get bored of seeing. I was in love at first sight. I hope to buy property in the Valley someday.

In the area of the Great Sand Dunes, mountains surround you in almost every direction, forcing you to realize how prodigious and impassable they are. I couldn’t help but constantly think with wonderment about the pioneers’ first travels over the Rockies, and how nearly impossible and frightening it would be to surpass them.

We didn’t do as much hiking around the area as I’d hoped, but we did have the opportunity to hike up and around some of the Dunes. It was quite chilly during our stay, and there is a LOT of wind coming at you when on the Dunes, but my skin went numb eventually and it was an amazing hike. The Great Sand Dunes lie against a mountain range, which could also be explored if staying in the area. The Zapata Falls are close to the Dunes, though we did not make our way there. To reach them, you have to trek through water, so due to the cold temperatures we decided we would try to see the Falls on our next trip to the Valley.

Last leg of our trip in the Valley

After waking up to a beautiful view of the Valley for three glorious mornings, it was time to head up and over to Grand Lake, which will be highlighted in my next blog post. Before leaving the Valley, though, we decided to make a side trip to Hooper, Colorado – a town known for its plentiful UFO sightings. With my random interest in the unknown, I wanted to stop at the UFO Watchtower to check it out. However, it was not open for admission, which is only $2 according to their website. From afar, it appeared to be a big raised platform made of wood on which people can look to the skies for a few friendly extraterrestrials.

While in Hooper, we also wanted to experience the hot springs nearby. We visited the Great Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, which is filled with warm water from the hot springs in the area. The best part of the facility was the adults-only greenhouse which held several hot tubs (each at a different heat level), a sauna, alcoholic beverages, and sightly plants. On the way to the adults-only greenhouse, you must walk through a trippy tunnel lined with neon blue lights, which adds to the fun. The whole experience was one that I absolutely recommend if you are in the area.

Farewell, San Luis Valley

When we left the Great Sand Dunes Swimming Pool facility, we saw a camper with a sticker underneath the window which read “adult child of alien invaders”. A perfect ending to this leg of our trip. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Next stop, Grand Lake, or as my boyfriend and I still jokingly call it, Big Lake. Stay tuned for the rest of my journey to Colorado.