Nestled between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs sits a little park called Garden of the Gods. Fantastic rock formations jut irregularly from the ground surrounded by little walkways and benches; A larger than life version of landscaping you might find in front of one of Santa Fe’s more modern buildings. Erik looked on enviously as climbers scaled the vertical walls, his own climbing shoes tucked safely away in the van. If you plan on driving around the park, be careful not to get caught in the maze of roads that seem to trap you in a sort of winding round about. After about four unintentional circuits around the park we finally escaped to be on our way. It was these magnificent rock forms that caught Billy’s eye on our instagram feed.
Never having met in real life, Erik and Billy found each other on social media simply because they both have the same Transit Connect van. Spotting our post about Garden of the Gods and realizing we were in his neck of the woods, Billy invited us for a campout. Already feeling a bit weird about following the directions of a complete stranger, it felt even weirder pulling alongside a small cluster of people to ask “Hey….are you friends of Billy?” As it turns out, they were a great group of guys!
Snacks and mountain bikes sprawled about, this was our kind of camp. Even the neighboring camper hit it off with the group and joined to talk life, bikes, and camping vehicles. Erik and the boys took a short ride to catch the sunset while Oshá started a batch of campfire cinnamon rolls. By the end of the night we were all feeling the buzz of good food, new friends, and the beauty of the mountains all around us.
Thanks Billy, Mason, Blake, and Justin for a great night!
Already in high spirits from this chance meeting, we had another just around the corner. It seems like ages ago we were in the planning stages, pestering bar guests for their travel knowledge and suggestions. Eden and Rob were incredibly compliant subjects to this questioning and pestering. It was their last night in Austin before moving back to Colorado. They started to give a few great suggestions before going so far as the leave all their contact information so we might connect with them as we go through Denver. The night after meeting up with Billy, that’s just what we did. Eden fresh out of a stressful dissertation, both exhausted from the move, and their wedding just days away, we were astounded to find them so accommodating. Rob fixed us a delicious dinner and the four of us chattered away. We fell asleep on the largest blow-up mattress I have ever seen basking in the goodness of people and convenience of a hot shower. This handsome couple just got married and are already parents to a super cute corgi puppy! Congratulations Eden and Rob, your home glows with the warmth of your love and partnership. We only hope your most recent baseball game went a bit smoother than your first.
The next day found us clean and rested munching breakfast at Dot’s Diner, a cute cafe in the center of Boulder. First planning to hike the Flat Irons, dark clouds scared us away and we instead found ourselves sampling beers at a glossy wooden bar top. Avery has been a leader in craft beers for over 20 years and we certainly weren’t going to pass them up on our way though boulder. If you find yourself at Avery DO try their 24th anniversary IPA, DON’T sit on their patio where the stench of manure mulch makes you wonder whether the green lawn is really worth the trouble.
To find a good spot for the night we drove straight up 119 past Nederland and into the Arapaho National Forest. The dispersed camping in this area is so beautiful it’s difficult to find a spot that isn’t taken. Luckily we encountered yet another friendly traveler; Kevin, an adventurous soul with a gift for classical guitar, was traveling solo and offered to share his spot. He had hopped over from Nebraska to enjoy the mountains, a retreat he often takes from his flat home state (although he claims more hill country in Nebraska than you might think). We spent two nights with Kevin as an ominous fog engulfed the landscape. We briefly took the bikes down the road to explore the area but when ice started collecting in Erik’s beard we thought it might be best to huddle near the fire until the cloud we sat in decided to pass.
We finally did hike the Flat Irons and have the blisters to prove it. Climbing about 1600 feet of switchbacks to the tip of a trio of giant rock faces, we stood overlooking all of Boulder. Our lungs burning with the elevation, we hardly felt we had hiked a scant 8 miles round trip. Oshá felt her pride hit the rocks as a cheerful 4-5 year old boy came scampering past, hardly a hitch in his breath. The awesome views along the way are worth it, and the summit takes what little breath you have left straight from your lungs.
On our way to Rocky Mountain National Park we spent another two nights in the Arapaho National forest, this time near Allenspark, CO. It’s easy in this part of Colorado to get stuck in the forest, resisting the pull of civilization for as long as possible.
Rocky Mountain National Park seems to be the pride of Colorado. Crowds pile in all summer long to ogle at the snowy peaks and high alpine foliage. Although the drive along 34 boasts one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the United States, we didn’t feel it quite lived up to the hype. Already camping along the continental divide for a few days, the change in scenery was gradual enough we hardly noticed as we entered the park. We did spend a couple of days exploring and hiking the trails of Rocky Mountain; Elk constantly intruded our camp and Oshá struggled to identify the hundreds of plants unique to the climate and altitude. We enjoyed our stay in the park just about as much as the rest of the hiking and camping around the Rockies. Now we know, to experience the majesty of the Rockies we can skip the hubbub of the National Park in favor of less trafficked areas; If the bulk of the crowds want to consolidate themselves to one area, all the better for us!
We came off the West side of the park to hit some fantastic mountain biking trails near Breckenridge. You can normally take a bus straight from town to the top of Boreas Pass but the the bike rack was filled up before we got a chance to board. Fate was in our favor once again however and we got scooped up and driven to the top by a couple who spent half their year in…. Austin, TX! And would you believe that our instagram post from Boreas Pass was seen by yet another traveling couple, Patrick and Liz.
Patrick and Liz are also from Austin, although we met them way back in February while touring around New York City. Only a couple of hours from us, we decided to meet up in Buena Vista for the night. Liz and Patrick have one of the coolest rigs we have seen on the road; A rooftop tent pops out from their Tacoma truck decked out with solar power, a water pump and an abundance of gear to prepare them for any situation. Their two boxers, Perla and Meatball, made it quite the party. We had a lot of fun listening to their wild life stories about being landlords, buying cars, and growing up in a bus. For a firefighter and a teacher, they really know how to live. Just when we thought our time together had come to an end, we drove into town to discover a car show taking up the main drag. A good ol’ American tradition to celebrate independence weekend. Erik and Patrick gushed over the classic cars while Liz and Oshà found the nearest ice cream. It was great to get an extra afternoon of fun with such good people.
It seems everyone we encountered these last couple of weeks have been good to the core and we feel so lucky to have shared some of our travels with them.