RV Life – A Trial Run, Part 4 (The Rocky Mountains)

Colorado Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

The North American Rockies stretch for 3,000 miles across Canada and the United States.

This treasured natural wonder has lured explorers, pioneers, and adventure seekers throughout the ages.

Rocky Mountains

Literature, music, and movies have a well established romance with the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Familiar names and stories stir the imagination. John Denver, G.A. Henty, and Jeremiah Johnson, portray a gloriously beautiful, yet ruggedly unforgiving environment high above the boring, regular life down below.

Cheri has traveled to Colorado dozens of times since childhood. Her Grandmother Lena lived in Buena Vista for years, so family vacations across the beautiful distance brought her back to the Collegiate Valley many times. Images of majestic Mount Princeton fill her mind whenever she recalls those days. “My mountain“, she calls it.

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The time we spent in and around Buena included visits to Cheri’s favorite old spots. She shared fond memories and funny stories from days gone by. We drove by Grandma’s old house, largely unchanged since the last time she saw it in 1999.

Colorado - Buena Vista - Mt Princeton
Mount Princeton in the Collegiate Valley of Colorado. Rest in peace, Lena.

With a soft smile, she described memories of standing at the kitchen sink gazing out the window at her mountain.

We went to Lena’s resting place in the Mount Olivet Cemetery where the lovely mountain stands tall in full view.

She paid her respects, placing some flowers of grandma’s favorite color.

Cheri told the story of “Hairbrush Lena“, a term of endearment used to describe how quickly Lena could deliver a disciplinary smack on your backside with a hairbrush if you stepped out of line!

Colorado - Cottonwood Pass
Misty mountains in Cottonwood Pass, 12,126 ft.

We drove the rugged, old County Road 306 all the way up to Cottonwood Pass, over 12,000 feet above sea level.

Literally in the clouds, we stepped-out into a chilly, misty environment and snapped a few photos before heading back down.

Colorado - Cottonwood Lake
Cottonwood Lake. Pristine waters offer peace and solitude.

We found Cottonwood Lake and enjoyed a pleasant walk along the water’s edge as Cheri told the story of her kid brother catching a monster lake trout there.

Just three years old and using a Snoopy rod & reel, he pulled-in a fish nearly as big as himself.

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We left Buena Vista destined for Colorado Springs. US Highway 285 continues northeast through the Collegiate Valley to meet-up with US-24 at Antero Junction. The drive across central Colorado on 24 Highway is “beautiful distance” at its best.

Colorado - Wilkerson Pass
The westward view at Wilkerson Pass. Mt. Princeton looms in the distance.

A vast valley of rolling plains sprawls for a hundred miles in-between tall mountain ranges.

We stopped at Wilkerson Pass, a 9500-foot summit where massive Pike’s Peak dominates the eastern horizon some 60 miles away.

We spent the next couple of days in the Colorado Springs Area enjoying two of the most popular tourist activities around …

Pikes Peak - Garden of the Gods
Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods. Photo by RescueWarrior.

Garden of the Gods

A registered National Landmark, this rock garden of natural sandstone formations is among the most visited attractions in the region.

The contrast of red rocks against a brilliant blue sky and the towering snow-covered Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s most photographed sites.

Colorado - Pikes Peak Summit
The view from Pikes Peak Summit. How high? Learn More

Pikes Peak Cog Railway

A 3.5-hour journey to the top of the mountain aboard a historical cog railway train.

Since 1891 sightseers have been inspired by this unique climb to over 14,000 feet.

The ride to the summit of Pike’s Peak was truly remarkable, providing a top-of-the-world perspective. Mountain tops fill the horizon all around as the high plains fall away to the east for hundreds of miles.

We were glad when the time came to board the train for the ride back down, not because we were ready to leave, but because we were both not feeling well. Altitude sickness is a real thing for many people, and we were feeling it. Queasy, dizzy, and a pounding headache, it felt like a cheap tequila hangover. By the time we reached the bottom the feeling was gone. Strange.

Poor planning put us in a tight spot that night. We didn’t realize there was a major convention going on that weekend in the Colorado Springs area. Every campground we called was booked solid. There were no camp sites available anywhere nearby, so we opted for the Walmart solution.

This is not ideal, and I don’t recommend it except as a last resort. We pulled-in to a large Walmart parking lot and parked the RV along the back row for the night. We weren’t alone, as there were about a dozen other RVs “camped out” there. In a situation like that, an onboard generator is essential if you require power. Fortunately, the Four Winds C-class we had rented was well-equipped.

Since there were no camp sites to be found, we decided to leave Colorado Springs early. We had reservations booked at our next location, so we called ahead to adjust our stay. We were able to add only one day to our stay, so we had some time to kill before arriving at our next destination, Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Most people enter Rocky Mountain National Park from the east side, through the town of Estes Park. But our plan was to come in from the west, because we wanted to continue eastward towards home after seeing the park. Since we had time on our hands we decided to take a longer and more scenic route to get there. We traveled north on I-25 along the Front Range of the Rockies between Colorado Springs and Denver. At Denver, we turned west onto I-70 and began the climb back up into the high country.

Colorado - Lookout Mountain - Buffalo Bill
The view from Buffalo Bill’s resting place.

At Golden, Colorado we stopped at Buffalo Bill’s Grave and Overlook.

The museum and gift shop offer a unique perspective on the history of the American West.

We continued west on I-70, turning onto US-40 north to climb higher and higher into the Rocky Mountains. The drive was slow-going, but striking. Switchbacks and slope-hugging roads displayed incredible vistas all the way.

As the sun began to set behind the peaks, we arrived at the popular ski town of Winter Park. Once again, poor planning forced us to find a suitable parking place as there were no camp sites available in the area. Fortune offered a small favor when we found a light pole just outside of town with a live power outlet. We plugged-in for the night, sleeping hard in the remote, pitch-black silence.

I got up early the next morning to figure out the day. We were only about 45 minutes away from the campground, so we still had some time to burn before we could get checked-in.

Colorado Mountain Highway
A Colorado mountain highway. Photo by Tanner Marquis.

We decided to take a leisurely day trip about 2 hours further northwest on US-40 to another well-known ski town, Steamboat Springs.

Besides the opportunity to see more beautiful horizons along the way, the added drive time plus the time to explore the town would be just about perfect.

Steamboat Springs offers a genuine mountain town experience, where western heritage combines with modern outdoor adventure. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at the historic Old Town Pub and browsed the many shops and galleries of the old city center. A variety of merchandise called out for tourist dollars, ranging from incredible Remington bronze art priced at 5-figures to a 50-cent postcard. I opted for the $3 dollar refrigerator magnet!

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At the town of Granby, US-40 joins-up with US-34. From there, we pressed northward to the camp site. We stopped for scenic views along the shores of beautiful mountain lakes along the western edge of the Arapaho National Recreation Area.

Grand Lake was our destination.

Colorado - Mountain Sunset - Alpen Rose
Low light makes this a poor photo, but the Alpenglow shines through.

I parked the RV in a secluded spot on the back loop of the Elk Creek RV Resort and enjoyed unobstructed views of Ptarmigan Mountain and Andrews Peak.

As the sun went down that evening we were treated to a visual display of color when the mountains were bathed in Alpenglow, a sunset phenomenon that produces a brilliant, rosy pink “glow” across the horizon. Spectacular!

Another perfect night for wine and firelight.

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Steve Coryell