Wow! Thank you for taking the time to read through my very long, very thorough recount of The Great American Road Trip. I am always striving to be a better writer, and this series has given me the opportunity to practice. I appreciate so much that you took the time to read it!
In case you missed it, here are the past blog posts I wrote: St. Louis, Albuquerque, Tucson, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Sequoia National Park, and Moab.
Our vacation is soon coming to a close, but luckily we planned to end it on a positive note: Denver.
Once upon a time, years ago, my parents tried to entice us to go on a vacation to Colorado. We never really went on big “family vacations”, so it would have definitely been a treat. Except on the vacations we did go on (mainly, a weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks about one thousand times), the majority of the time ended up with my sisters and I being bratty and fighting. And screaming. And crying. It’s the German-Italian way, I guess. In fact, one time I spent so long (loudly) crying in a bathroom, someone in an adjacent hotel room called the cops on us.
So, I politely declined going on what would have been my first real experience in the mountains. And I am glad I did, for a few reasons. One – my first hike in the mountains then got to be in the Alps, while studying abroad in Vienna (which is way better, tbh). And second, my first trip to Denver then got to be with David. It was our first actual vacation together and was as magical as mountain vacations make, and so any time we get to go back is just romantic and good.
(My family all still went to Colorado and had fun without me, I’m only kind of a jerk.)
David and I have been to Denver twice previously and each time we drove. Except, we always have driven the opposite direction. First through our flat and boring state and onto the next, arguably, much flatter and more boring Kansas. This is my first ever time driving straight across Colorado.
Do you see where this is going?
As mentioned in practically each blog post before this, it is time I hyperventilate yet again about a terrifying drive through a mountain range. This time, the Rockies.
At first, it’s honestly not as bad as I originally thought it’d be. We wind along the Colorado River at the base of each peak, zooming along very manageable inclines and popping in and out of tunnels. Until, that is, we hit Vail and all of the sudden we are in the heart of the Rockies and everything is up hill. The rental car can’t handle the up’s, and we have to stay in the truck lane as I bang on the steering wheel.
“Go little rental car! Go!!!”
Eventually we do make it to our Airbnb without any incidents, aside from probably high blood pressure. I take a quick shower to wash off all of the Moab, and we head out to one of our favorite Denver restaurants: City o’ City. We are overwhelmed with vegan options and finish the night off with a Moscow Mule.
The next day is cool and cloudy, which is a refreshing change from the former two weeks of hot desert hiking. The only bummer to the clouds is that, according to our weather app, it looks like they want to stick around and possibly unleash a storm. Prior to even departing for this trip, we had made plans to end our time in Denver by summiting our first 14’er. Lightning will definitely be a determining factor.
In the meantime, we choose to do one of our favorite, highly trafficked loops at Roxborough State Park. The Fountain Valley Trail is an easy and well-maintained 2.3 miles loop that offers stunning views of some of Colorado’s gorgeous red sandstone.
We’ve done this hike twice before, and I hop out of the car ready to go. After a lot of new places, I’m happy to be on a familiar trail. We walk along the fresh grade and enjoy the wildflowers and conversation. Due to the foreboding clouds, we seem to be the only people in the park.
Similar to both hikes in Tucson and Los Angeles, along the pathway we see signs to watch out for rattlesnakes. I figure, we haven’t seen any up until this point so we are probably in the clear. Plus it’s cold and cloudy out and snakes like to sunbathe. We round our last corner, about .2 miles from the end of the hike when –
I put my arm in front of David like a mom does to her kid at a sudden traffic stop. Turns out, he didn’t even see it at first because he is color blind!
Lazily sprawled across the pathway is a fat, long rattlesnake. He doesn’t even lift his head up, despite our alarming approach. I try not to freak out and, honestly, do a poor job at it. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, but rattlers while hiking have always seemed like one of the most realistic threat to my safety. Especially, perhaps, due to being partially deaf in my right ear.
So what do I do? I somewhat bravely take a photo of it from very far away, then turn around and proceed to run the entire 2 mile loop BACKWARDS.
Ever since I started getting more into hiking – this was the moment that frequently entered my Google searches and my nightmares.
Snake. A rattlesnake. A big, three-foot snek just derping out in my universe. It’s the first one I have ever seen in real life and, though I do panic, I find myself still loving him as I do all animals. I’m not surprised, as I basically came out of the womb an animal advocate. It’s in my DNA. I dub him rattle-worm and still wish to never see him or his brothers ever again, thanks.
Our leisurely sentimental hike turned impromptu cardio work-out leads us back to more vegan food, this time at Watercourse Foods. I sip wine, eat seitan covered in hot sauce, and watch the weather app like a baseball game. We agree we are at least gonna try and hike the 14’er in the morning, and head back to the Airbnb for some early sleep.
And so BLEP BLEP, my alarm goes off again. It’s 3:30 AM. Time to go hike!
Instead, I try and grow smaller. Into a cocoon spun of blankets. It sounds cliche, but my brain is firing every deterrent at me possible. It’s going to rain on you! You won’t make it! I’m listening to it all, falling back asleep, until David pokes me and won’t let me and demands I get up. He’s great.
So we’re up, with day-old coffee in the car cup holder and tofu leftovers for breakfast. We drive the hour or so it takes to get to the trail head. As we do, the sun comes up and promises us that she will keep us dry. We zig-zag up the inclines and drive past power plants and big lakes that have no place up on the mountain. It’s all very Stranger Things.
We reach the trail head by 4:30 AM, and we can the two peaks clearly. Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt both sit right next to one another, connected only by the Sawtooth Ridge. The path for Mt. Bierstadt is simply defined by a boardwalk through some marsh, and we head off, following the gobs of other people who are also attempting to summit today. Mt. Bierstadt is one of Colorado’s most popular 14’ers.
The boardwalk is icy but there is relatively no incline to begin with. Where we are going to end up is muuuuuuch, much higher than we are now though, so this is foreboding of how steep the trail is about to get. After about an hour or so of mild switchbacks, the trail halts at a plateau with beautiful views… And then transitions from sand to rock, and the incline dramatically increases.
Altitude is a trickster. It’s at this point that both of our Missourian lungs start to remind us that we are essentially sea level creatures, but it’s still easy to forget and I begin feeling disheartened that I am out of shape. We play leap frog with a handful of other non-locals who are having trouble handling the air, and my competitive nature is secretly growing angry at them. Each time they pass me, I have to start up again only to make it 10 feet farther.
After much stop-and-go, we reach the final climb of Bierstadt which is a rock scramble. It’s a short way up, but still tricky, especially given there is sill frost and snow on the ground. You could definitely slip and fall to your death. No pressure!
But! We don’t. And after about 3 hours, we summit Mt. Bierstadt. Our first 14’er!
After an additional few hours down, much of which was used for me to take photos of wildflowers, we make it to our rental car. It’s pretty amazing to see where we just descended from – you can’t even see people on the summit from this far away.
Once finished with our hike, we make our way to El Dorado Springs Swimming Pool. Ever since the beach in Los Angeles, I’ve had a craving to spend more time in the sun and so I scouted this place out. The pool actually sits right next to a mountain and is spring fed. We ease our sore bodies into the water and try not to freeze to death, while watching little kids do Fortnite dances on the diving board.
We fall asleep early, and with that our vacation is over.