For the most part, I’m really pleased with how we planned and executed our roadtrip. We took months of scheming and dreaming and, in the end, actually whittled it down into a feasible itinerary that was chockablock with incredible sights yet still abided by the constraints of reality.
If I had to pick one place, though, that I wish we’d spent more time in, it would be Boulder. I’ve already mentioned how much I loved the rest of Colorado – Boulder really pushed it over the top (mountain joke? eh, that’s a stretch).
We were drawn to town by the Celestial Seasonings tea headquarters where we met the lovely Ariel, the latest (but certainly not the last) in the line of incredible and hilarious tour guides.
Unexpected bonus: apparently, the magical tea blends at Celestial Seasonings are irresistible to the local wildlife, and the grounds of the headquarters are absolutely crawling with prairie dogs.
We furiously snapped a few photos as we drove (slowly) along the entrance road, and laughed pretty hard over this little fellow when we zoomed in afterwards and noticed his jaunty prance:
The tour was amazing (not to mention the tea tastings!) and also free, but super secret, so you’ll just have to go and try it for yourself.
Beautiful Boulder was just a brief stop along the road for us – a quick pass through after our full day in Golden – but what a gorgeous road it was!
I’m pretty sure those clouds were hand painted in there by Bob Ross himself.
Boulder has so much to offer that we weren’t able to check out on this trip – the University of Colorado, for one, and an incredible arts, music, and coffee scene.
I’ll be back for you someday, Boulder – you’re my only Colorado regret!*
*Actually, missing Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my biggest Colorado regret. We stayed overnight in the town of Montrose and yet had no idea that we were a few miles from THIS! Sigh.
I was so excited to finally get into the heart of Colorado. We spent our first few days around the edges, but finally dove deep into the center of the state to immerse ourselves in mountain life.
No visit to the Centennial State would be complete without a stop in its capital, Denver, but except for a brief overnight stop, we decided to forego the Mile High City to spend more time in its little sidekick, Golden.
We met my aunt bright and early at her ranch up in the hills outside of Golden.
(Finally, an answer to “Where did your hair come from?!”)
The last time I’d seen her was almost three years previously, when she visited the Outer Banks. I think my face at my first true glimpse of the Rocky Mountains was similar to my aunt’s when she saw the ocean!
We stopped on a highway overpass that provided a perfectly-framed view of the Rockies, before traveling on to find some fuzzy friends.
Before you start singing “Oh give me a hooome, where the buffalo roooam…” – a brief lesson in proper terminology: it took me a long time, but I now know that these are, in fact, American bison.
HOWEVER, I’m not gonna kick the habit just yet. According to the trustiest of all sources (Wikipedia)… The name “buffalo” is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term “buffalo”, dates to 1625 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal. It thus has a much longer history than the term “bison”, which was first recorded in 1774.
This calls for a close up.
Speaking of Buffalo, our next stop was Bill.
My dad and aunt grew up on Lookout Mountain, which is the site of Buffalo Bill’s grave (a semi-controversial claim if you ask Cody, Wyoming, but I’ll side with the Coloradans).
We tipped our imaginary Stetsons to the man himself, had a little fun with the cut-outs, and saddled up again.
As rad as Buffalo Bill is, the most special stop on Lookout was when my aunt took us to see the house that she, my dad, and their family had grown up in. It was really cool to visit a place that had been such a formative part of my dad’s life.
After my aunt gave us a tour of their childhood haunts and elementary school, we started the drive down, but pulled over once or twice to get a glimpse of North and South Table Mountain.
You can also get a great view of Denver from Lookout, rising up out of the completely flat surroundings.
We ventured into the heart of downtown Golden for lunch at my aunt and uncle’s favorite pub, and followed with a little walk along Clear Creek.
I love this welcome arch that stretches over the main street through town! Signs like this used to be common in small towns set along railroad lines in the early 1900s, and Golden’s is one of the few remaining.
This one was built in 1949 and has been renovated a few times since then (it was originally lit with actual neon letters).
Even though the western states are the youngest ones in the country, they still have a lot of heritage!
What’s that you say? You’d like to see the creepiest Coors advert ever made? Why, sure!
“But Julie, you hate Coors Light!” That’s true, I do. It’s a scourge upon the earth. As it turns out, though, Coors Banquet is not bad at all, and comes in a delightfully vintage-looking pale yellow can.
If you visit Golden, don’t skip this tour. It’s free… and you get free beer at the end. ALL FREE. It’s a no-brainer!
In a final race against the darkening sky, we scooted over to Morrison, Colorado – the home of Red Rocks – to take in the views from the famous amphitheatre just as the sun was setting.
While I would LOVE to see a concert here someday, it was also incredible to take in the spectacle when it was quiet, still, and nearly empty.
Golden felt like a bit of a turning point – the day where we really started getting into the heart of our roadtrip.
The scenic drives, beautiful vistas, and exciting stops of the previous week were all amazing, but adding a dash of roots and family into the mix while taking it a bit slower made for a really meaningful stop along the road.
After our brief dip back into Utah to visit Arches National Park, the next leg of our roadtrip itinerary took us straight across Colorado, from its western border to Denver.
We moseyed eastward along Route 70 and took the time to check out a few of the towns that top even Telluride in the ski-town hall of fame.
Vail and Breckenridge were both really neat stops in their own right, but were nearly impossible to photograph nicely at this time of year. With ski season due to start any day (but Mother Nature lagging considerably behind), the grass was brown and the trees were bare, without that first beautiful redeeming snowfall to pretty things up.
In fact, I have so few good photos that this should probably be a Roadtrip Postcards post… but the title was already long enough.
As with Telluride, Vail and Breck were almost ghostly in how quiet and empty they were. We were able to wander freely, spending a few hours in each before moving on down the road.
I loved the Alpine feel of Vail, differentiated from all the other picturesque little Colorado towns nestled between soaring peaks by beautiful timbered architecture and a distinct Euro vibe.
As an unexpected bonus, we ate lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint attached to the public parking garage… and it was some of the best Mex I’ve ever had. I even checked with the resident smartypants.
Breckenridge was only about forty minutes down the highway from Vail and provided the perfect setting for us to walk off all those tacos.
I’m pretty sure I saw more Subarus during our few hours in Breck than I did during our entire year in London. It was heaven (and oh, past Julie, just wait until you get to Oregon!).
Just when we started to hit the afternoon slump, we found the official winner of Most Adorable Starbucks in the Whole Entire World.
I either want to live in that Starbucks or turn it into an old-timey post office. #dreamsmall
Despite the lack of summer greenery or pristine winter snow, the Rockies provide an incredible backdrop to this mountain town.
(Fun fact: these mountains are technically the Tenmile Range, which is part of the Mosquito Range, which is part of the Rockies. The Tenmile Range is home to Pacific Tarn, which at over 13,000 ft / over 4000 m is the highest named lake in the US. Who doesn’t love a good tarn?)
We stuck to observing the mountains rather than heading up into them, but I’m sure we would have found legions of support had we decided to venture upwards. These people take their ski culture seriously!
As with Vail’s amazing Mexican grub, Breckenridge gave us an unexpected gift in the form of the Mecca of all tea shops, and the best pair of socks I’ve ever owned. Amity and I each bought a pair and I don’t know that all our toes would have survived the rest of the roadtrip without them.
Breckenridge sent us off into the sunset with a wave and an unbelievable cloud display.