Colors of Colorado 

To be honest, we did not have Colorado on our radar at all. For us it was just the quickest way to get to Utah from South Dakota. The only place that we had planned to visit was the Rocky Mountain National Park. But we were in for a big surprise as somehow we managed to be there at the best time of the year…

It all started off a bit stressful. It was the beginning of October and the USA was heading straight for a ‘federal government shutdown’. The National Parks are managed by the federal government and in case of a shutdown they would not be able to pay the park staff. During the ‘Trump shutdown’, the parks stayed open but without any staff/rangers. This resulted in a lot of damage to some parks (garbage but also vandalism). President Biden announced that his administration would close the parks in case of a shutdown.

We were still a long way from the park and had planned to take a couple of days to get there. But after the announcement that the park could close, we decided to put the pedal to the metal and drive straight to Colorado. Normally we try to avoid visiting the parks during the weekend as things get very busy. But because of the deadline we had no choice and arrived in one of the busiest weekends of the year. Still not sure whether we would still be able to get in the park the next days, we decided to skip the hikes on the east side and go straight for the main attraction: the ‘trail ridge road’.

It wasn’t until the day before the announced closing of the park that the government shutdown was averted. By that time, we were already driving up the trail ridge road. This ‘scenic road’ starts in lush forests full of elk and keeps climbing to 3713 meters until there is only barren tundra and a couple of marmots. After the pass the road drops back to the forests in a valley where the mighty Colorado river is just a small creek. 

On the way down, we also drove through some patches of very nice fall colored aspen trees. And the deeper we drove into Colorado the more fall colors started to appear and it became really spectacular. When we looked it up, it turned out that the region in Colorado that we were driving through, is famous for its fall foliage AND without being aware we had arrived at ‘the peak’ (the brightest colors just before they start to fall).

Most of Colorado is on a high plateau so by beginning of October fall is really there. A cold front that had just passed, had painted the mountains with the first snow, which made all the colors even more spectacular.

Instead of driving straight to Utah on the main highway, we decided to roam around Colorado for a bit more and enjoy the fall colours and gorgeous weather. We drove the ‘Top of the Rockies’ scenic byway. First stop was Leadville an old mining town that has recently been restored into hip and cosy ‘outdoor’ town. From there we continued towards ‘independence pass’ with a stop at twin lakes where we hiked to a long abandoned but recently restored 18th  century summer retreat of the rich and famous.

At this altitude (we were now constantly above 2000m), the nights got very chilly so we were all sleeping in our sleeping bags again. But during the days the sun was very strong and it was very nice. We even were able to do one more ‘high alpine trail’ (remember we thought our hike in Grand Teton was going to be the last mountain hike of the year) to the ‘lost man lake’. All of it above 3000 m and partly in the snow.

On the way down, we drove through Aspen, THE ski resort of the rich and famous in the USA. But for now, without the snow, it was just another mountain town. From talking to some local fellow campers, we learned that by the second half of October (about two weeks later) the whole region was going to be covered in snow (very hard to imagine as we were still walking around in t shirts and shorts now). With an annual average of 300 sunny days/year that makes for some very nice skiing and winter sport conditions. We noted it down as ‘a place to come back’.

Next to the great outdoors, Colorado is also famous for the many hot springs. Unfortunately most of these places are very expensive! But after some researching, we found out that there are also some free ‘natural’ springs that can be found. For most of them a serious hike or some off-roading is needed but we also read about a place right in a river next to a major road that happened to be on our way… We pulled up at an anonymous dirt gravel parking lot and sure enough when we looked over the edge there were several small pools made out of rocks with just a couple of people there. The hot springs were really amazing with an optional ice bath in the cold river for those who wanted.

The next couple of days we camped in the golden forests, drove more scenic roads, visited an apple harvest festival and ended up in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. From there we continued a bit further South to check out the Million Dollar Highway. Here the whole color game went to the ‘next level’ because now there was not only the golden leaves, white mountains but now (as we got closer to Utah) the earth also started to turn red.

As a cold front (with quite some rain and snow) was rolling into Colorado, we decided it was time to finally make our way to the deserts of Utah.

Colorado was definitely the biggest surprise for us on this trip so far! We had zero expectations but it was so nice!

Next up: Utah a place for which we have huge expectations, let’s see if it can live up to them…

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4 thoughts on “Colors of Colorado 

  1. try to live in the colours you have in your head and in your heart…
    quote van een goede vriend-kunstenaar…..yes!

  2. try to live in tje colours you have in your head and in your heart…
    quote van goede vriend-kunstenaar….yes!

  3. Glad you didn’t miss out on Colorado. If you’re not from the States, it can get lost amongst the more famous national parks states. Rocky Mountain high!

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