August. Is there a better to visit counties in Colorado that might be virtually inaccessible during the winter months? I knew eventually I’d need to get to places like Breckenridge, Leadville, and Cripple Creek, all located 9,000 ft (~2,750 m) or more above sea level. No way I’m going to those places in February.
The trip began with an uneventful flight on Frontier. Not my favorite airline, but with a round-trip, non-stop ticket between CMH and DEN clocking in right about $200, I could afford to fly out for a weekend drive through the mountains. The flight landed early and within 45 minutes, I was on my way to the Denver Marriott Westminster. There are plenty of Marriott properties in the Denver area, but I chose this one due to a combination of location and price. I wanted somewhere toward the west side of the city, and finding a full-service location with a AAA rate of $99.90 made this a good fit. Typical Marriott property. Good lounge, decent restaurant, and comfortable room made for a nice stay.
With my first county stop roughly an hour into the Rockies, I hit the road before dawn Saturday morning. The drive to Central City along US 6, also known as Clear Creek Canyon Road, meanders through Clear Creek Canyon (hence the name of the road) as it climbs almost 3,000 feet from the city of Golden on the outskirts of Denver. The two-lane, back-country highway, which hugs steep canyon walls on one side and Clear Creek on the other, is punctuated periodically with short tunnels. Even in the predawn twilight, I could tell the scenery was fantastic. As the sun rose, I was able to discern the shapes of scrubby trips clinging desperately to the mountainside above. I’ll bet the view from the top of the canyon was phenomenal. While flipping stations on the rental car’s satellite radio, I stumbled upon Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way. How’s that for an appropriate song for crossing the continental divide?
Covering the northwest part of the state meant vising places like Steamboat Springs, Craig, and Meeker. Steamboat Springs was nice, although a bit too crowded with tourists for my taste. It did make for a good lunch stop at the Backcountry Deli. The day ended in Grand Junction at the Springhill Suites and a local craft beer (Palisade Laid Back Blonde Ale) at the hotel bar.
Of course no trip to Colorado is complete without pictures of the landscape. Here’s one just outside of Grand Junction near the entrance to the Colorado National Monument.
Sunday began early with a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Aspen. I arrived around 7:30 (yes, that means I left Grand Junction at 5am). The city was pretty quiet on a Sunday morning, as one would expect. From there, I had a bit of backtracking to visit Glenwood Springs and Eagle, before heading higher into the mountains. Again flipping radio stations, I found Swingtime in the Rockies by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, another good addition to the playlist for this trip. I made a quick stop between Glenwood Springs and Eagle to take a photo of the Colorado River. If you’ve never driven along I-70 in this part of the state, you’re missing out on the beauty of Glenwood Canyon. The California Zephyr (Amtrak train) also traverses this canyon on its route between Denver and Grand Junction. If you look closely, you can see the railroad track running between the rock face and the large green bush by the waterline (look for a dark, horizontal line near the bottom left corner of the picture).
By late morning, I had reached Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States. At 10,152 ft (3,094 m), Leadville sits just shy of 2 miles above sea level. Even in summer, nighttime temperatures routinely drop down near freezing. Thankfully when I reached the city, it was already up to the mid-50s. From Leadville it was on to Breckenridge, Fairplay, and Cripple Creek. All I needed was for the song Up on Cripple Creek by the Band to come on the radio. Alas, no such luck.
How about a couple more pictures from the road?
From Cripple Creek it was out of the mountains by way of Colorado Springs and on to the Denver Moxy for the night. I’m not sure I completely understand the Moxy brand. It was described to me at check-in as a European-style hotel. I guess that sounds better than “small rooms with few amenities.” The staff were nice and the bar was acceptable. I even received the free signature cocktail, a cherry limeade rum concoction. Not bad. I’m pretty sure the “free” drink comes standard for everyone. I can’t think of any other reason I was one of 4 bar patrons trying the same beverage.
Perhaps the reason I don’t relate to the Moxy brand is that the target demographic is Millennials. I can see how Marriott is trying to give the place a hip, trendy vibe. It just didn’t click with me. Even so, I got a great night sleep before heading back to DEN for my morning flight home.
Over the course of the weekend. I visited 15 counties and drove 1,202 miles. The highest point on the trip was Loveland Pass at 11,990 ft (3,655 m). I lost count of how many times I crossed the continental divide (8, I think) as I made my way through the counties in northwestern part of the state. Here are the before an after maps from the trip. Looks like I’ll be making at least two more trips to Colorado to complete the state.
Up next is one of my biggest trips of the year. I’ll be making my first visit to Alaska. Alaska is a bit of a strange state when it comes to counties (Alaska calls them boroughs), so I anticipate putting up a short blog post before the end of August explaining the challenges facing me when deciding how to visit the borough seats in the Last Frontier.