Classic Colorado: Denver, Rocky Mountains, Hot Springs and a Rodeo


It was another very hot day. After our whitewater adventures we would do a lot of driving today. We however started on foot, exploring Colorado’s capital, Denver. Our first stop was Tattered Cover Book Store, a book shop unique in several ways. The store, first of all, offers both new and used books right next to each other on its shelves. As we found many bargains, we quickly realised that we should be careful not to buy too many, as our budget airline would not allow us to bring them home. Furthermore, a selection of books are accompanied by handwritten notes of the shop’s staff describing how they experienced reading the specific books, giving the whole scene a very personal touch. Knowing that later today we would follow into Stephen King’s footsteps, I bought a beautiful hardback copy of The Stand.

Satisfied with our books, we sat down in a grill place at Larimer Street, one of Denver’s central avenues. Sarah (burger) and I (meatloaf) both ordered bison, something we had not had before, and we both loved it. With filled tummies we fled through the heat, to our car’s AC.

During my road trip a few weeks ago I’d passed Germantown, German Village, Florence, Lebanon, Amsterdam, Bethlehem, Athens, Cambridge, Dublin, Warsaw, Ghent, and Paris. It sounds like a global road trip, yet I passed them all in less than a week – in the U.S. Of course, the names of cities and towns like these can be explained by considering their settlers. People came from afar, leaving everything behind, and in their new homeland they named their settlements honouring their roots. Today we would add a nice town to this list: Nederland (Colorado). From Nederland, we would follow the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, a highway with matchless views of the Continental Divide and its timbered approaches, swirling around abandoned former gold mining towns.

We followed it all the way to Estes Park, where we would dine at the Stanley Hotel and spend the night at a local motel. Earlier this day we came through Boulder. I insisted on driving through it as I had recently read Stephen King’s masterpiece The Stand, in which the town figures as the birthplace of a new democracy in a post-apocalyptic America. We wanted to visit the Stanley Hotel as it had been the inspiration behind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It was only when I walked up the steps to the hotel that I remembered that the film was based on the book of the same name, also by Stephen King – we were really following his footsteps today!

The views of the surrounding mountains and the valley were amazing, and the hotel’s inside woodwork gave it an air of mystery and class. The Whiskey bar was even better – a shiver went up my spine spotting the Redrum Red Ale. The dinner was great as well – I went for my second meatloaf of the day, that I washed down with some Aspen white Whiskey. Sarah and I took our drinks to the porch of the hotel to see a gorgeous sunset closing our day.

The next day, we met some delay as we decided to get the windshield fixed. A small rock whipped up by a passing truck had cracked it, a very common thing to happen in Colorado. We would spend the rest of the day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We first hiked up to and around Bear Lake. From there, we hiked up to Alberta Falls, and back down.

Earlier that day I was somewhat nervous as it would theoretically be possible to run into a black bear or a mountain lion. Sarah had told me that the odds of such an encounter were minimal, but nevertheless I wasn’t entirely at ease, having grown up in a country with such an extreme population density that the scariest creature in the wild is your neighbours’ puppy. Hiking in the serene environment of the park, feelings of anxiety quickly faded away. Later on, they were replaced and overwhelmed by feelings of annoyance. Teenagers that clearly had no interest in being there made so much noise that the likelihood of seeing any wildlife was reduced to zero. Idiots.

We spent the rest of the day driving through the park, occasionally stopping whenever we saw something interesting. We saw marmots, deer, elk, moose, and even a fox. We fell silent driving the Trail Ridge Road. We drove on the tops of snow-capped mountains. I couldn’t believe it – there it was, a perfectly maintained two-lane highway through the highest parts of the Rocky Mountains. It is just sensational to drive up a mountain, entering the alpine tundra, and see the grounds fall away when you round the top. We stopped at some of the big pullouts to shoot pictures. We had lunch at the Alpine Visitor Center at a staggering 3.6 kilometer altitude, after which we continued our drive to Steamboat Springs.

After having spent the night in a tiny hotel room in the town’s main street, we headed out to one of the town’s famous natural hot springs. These natural hot water sources are used to heat a series of pools. Having done a lot of hiking the day before we felt good to relax here.

At night, we visited the famous Steamboat Springs rodeo show, a spectacle older than a century. Earlier today locals had told us about their tradition – they were clearly very proud of it. During the steer wrestling part, horse riders tried to jump off their horse and toss a steer onto its back as quick as they could. Watching a barrel racing competition (a race around 3 barrels), we could not understand how a 5-year-old girl seemed to have complete control over a full-grown horse.

The funniest events were the calf (for kids aged 6 to 12) and ram (for kid 5 years and younger) scramble. In both events kids try to chase the animal and grab the ribbon off its tail. Laughter of hundreds of spectators rolled off the stands as the little kids toddled through the arena.

The most famous and dangerous events were, of course, the bull and bronc riding, where riders try to ride a bucking bull or horse for 8 seconds. The audience held their breath every time a bull or horse was set free. My 2 real heroes of the night were 2 huge horses. Each time after a bull or bronc riding run ended, their riders would catch the bull or horse with lassos, reel it in, and bring it back to the stable. But imagine the trust these horses must have in their riders, as they are sent towards a raging 2.000 pound bull.

The most impressive moment for me took place after the whole show. I walked over to the enclosure in which the bulls and horses were kept. I found myself standing near a movable metal fence, quite by myself. Unlike the locals I had never been so close to these powerful animals before. At one point, a group of bulls, snorting with aggression in their confined spaces, dashed right at me. As there were no lights I only saw them coming a few seconds before they would crash into the fence – my heart skipped a few beats while I sprang back!

After another night in Steamboat Springs, the travel back to Washington, D.C., turned out to be rather miserable as all the transportation companies seemed to fail us:

  1. First, the rental car agency (Hertz, boo!) tried to rip us off claiming that we had driven through a hail storm, as (according to them) evidenced by dents on the roof. Well, we certainly didn’t drive through any such storm. There is no way we would have been able to spot these so-called dents when we picked up the car, so for all we known they were there before we started driving it.
  2. Later on, we were delayed by over an hour as thunderstorms beat down on Reagan National Airport, preventing the pilot from putting down the plane. Frontier Airlines then failed us as, after more than an hour of waiting near the baggage belts, they told us they had lost my luggage.
  3. Finally, the metro didn’t run in our direction. We decided to take a taxi, but as the weather conditions had caused quite the chaos at the airport a line with hundreds of passengers had formed waiting for a taxi. It was only because of Sarah’s decisiveness that we got home around midnight.

All in all, Sarah and I LOVED Colorado. We were extremely impressed by its natural beauty and by the fitness of its outdoor-activities-loving citizens. If Colorado would have jobs for us, we would gladly move there!

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