Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grand Junction to Denver

by James Walker

Day 4 - Friday, June 22nd, 2012

     At this point, we were flying by the seat of our pants and didn't know where exactly to go. We knew we had to get to Denver, but because we left Arches NP early, we had a little more time to mess around than we had anticipated. We decided to see Aspen and Vail, CO. They had been on our list early in the planning of the trip, but we cut out Aspen due to time constraints. But now we had time!

We left Grand Junction early and got back on I-70, crossing the Colorado River many times and following it through the Rocky Mountains. Something about the Colorado River is so exciting and we took lots of pictures from the car as we drove next to it. It's such a famous river, one that I had seen many times before down at the Hoover Dam and once from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. But here we were in Colorado, driving next to it as it winds its way through the mountains.

We continued to Aspen, turning south from Glenwood Springs. At some point on the drive that morning, we had decided to see the old ghost town of Ashcroft, about ten miles outside of Aspen. Erinn had never been to a ghost town before and I love seeing them, so we were both excited to check it out. We were using our phones to find cool places to go to and plugged an address for Ashcroft that we found online into the GPS. That, combined with the occasional goofiness of navigation systems, made us a little worried when we took a turn down a lonely road with no signs telling us whether or not Ashcroft was ahead.

(I really do like road signs.)

However, the drive was beautiful and our concern was drowned out by the green mountainsides, tall birch trees, and flowing creek beside the road. There were bicyclists everywhere! Some were riding faster than we were driving. Just as we were about to get really worried (is it really that hard to say "Ashcroft ahead!") we found a tiny, little shack that said Ashcroft on it. Hooray! We had found the Visitor's Center and inside was a girl manning her post inside this little room, selling trinkets and postcards. When we walked in I remember the wind rattling the tin roof and the girl said she liked my Doctor Who shirt. We paid her a few bucks for entrance into the ghost town and walked down a wood-lined path.

From the Visitor's Center, we couldn't see much of anything; trees block most of the town from view, but then we turned a corner and found ourselves walking down main street. It was such a beautiful area. The buildings were so small compared to today's houses, bars, and hotels. At this ghost town, there were only about ten buildings left, but it still gave us an idea of what life was like in this area. There was a store, a number of houses, a saloon, and at the end of the road there was a hotel, which was certainly the grandest of the remaining buildings. Each building had a marker with some information on it telling a story of the area. One of them mentioned that a common practice was to plant berry bushes next to the houses for people to eat. While many of the buildings had been demolished, you could still see many berry bushes scattered throughout the valley, indicating how many houses there used to be.

We followed the trail past the hotel and into a field of trees next to the creek. There were flowers and butterflies everywhere! We walked back through the town and back to the Visitor's Center where we bought a couple of postcards to add to our collection. We were about to make sandwiches when one of the park rangers, an older guy, came and talked to us about the place. He said they don't have running water or electricity so he usually takes a dip in the creek to wash off. I asked him if it was cold, but he said he used to live on one of the islands next to Seattle and he used to do the same thing there. Seemed a bit too cold for me, though!

We then drove to downtown Aspen. I have to be honest, my expectations for Aspen were a little skewed. Whenever I hear about Aspen, I immediately think of Dumb and Dumber and I picture Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels on a tiny moped, driving down a snowy road. Aspen, in real life, in the summer, is much more beautiful than I had imagined. We stopped at a park on Main St. called Paepcke Park and walked around, took a few pictures at the gazebo, and jumped back in the car in search of the downtown area. We probably should have stayed at that park, but there was a big sign that said "Parking for park users only" so we drove around in search of appropriate parking. But it did not exist. We found downtown, saw the gondolas that go up Aspen Mountain, drove around those buildings way too many times, and ended up at another park that also said "Don't Park Here", but we parked anyway. Don't tell anyone! We were both a bit worried and walked through the park hoping no one would get wise to our act and realize we weren't there for park use! "Oh, these tables are nice" we said to each other. "This park is very pretty" I said, just in case the trees were listening. We snuck out the back of the park and walked to downtown.

One of the things on my list was to ride a gondola up a mountain at some point on our trip and since we had made it all the way to Aspen, we decided to do it here. It was so much fun! I mean, it's really just a fancy ski lift, but to be able to ride it up the mountain and take in all the views was so cool. The gondola we were in had a radio that played some playlist with pretty good music or we could plug in our iPods or phones to listen to our own music. It was fun watching people as they came down the mountain in their gondolas. Most were couples, like us, but for whatever reason there was one lady who was juggling bowling pins on her way down. It was so unexpected! After that I remember holding my camera out, hoping I'd catch another strange gondola rider, but no luck. We continued on our ride. The elevation of the city is around 8,000 feet and we rode the gondola up to about 11,000 feet! At the top of the mountain there is a fancy-looking restaurant, some outdoorsy things for kids to do, and an amazing lookout point. We snapped some pictures and hopped back on the gondola to go down the mountain.

Soon after, we got back in the car and continued our drive to Denver. We weren't too far past Glenwood Springs when we saw a sign that said "Hanging Lake Next Exit". Somewhere in the whirlwind of information I went through in preparing for this trip, I had come across a suggestion that Hanging Lake in Colorado was a cool place to see. So in that moment, not remembering anything about the trail, how long it was, or how high it goes, I said "Hey, Erinn. I hear this Hanging Lake place is a delight! Why don't we take a gander?" So we took the exit not knowing what was in store for us. We were both a bit worn out from the previous two days of hiking in the heat so neither of us wanted to hike very far, but for some reason I was sure the hike was short. We got to the visitor's center, but there didn't seem to be any information on how far the hike was so we still weren't sure, but kept on. We walked about a mile from there down a paved path to the point where the hike goes up into the mountains and we still weren't sure, but kept on. We started walking up into the mountains and still weren't sure, but there were so many kids and old people on the trail so we thought it must be a pretty short hike. But half an hour later we were still hiking upwards and were getting very tired and we were just about to give up when someone near us started talking about how much further it was to the lake. The trail follows a creek up the mountain and occasionally we crossed over a bridge. A lady nearby said that the lake is just past the seventh bridge and when we realized we had only crossed four bridges, we both knew it was time to turn around. Too much!

I think we were both pretty bummed. We had never turned around on a hike before, but we were just too tired and we hadn't planned on hiking that day and still had many miles to drive. Defeated, we walked down the mountain. We did see a snake on the path back to the car, though. Wooo!

Our next stop was Vail, CO, but it was a very quick stop. The city of Vail is right off the highway and, while it is beautiful because it's in the Rocky Mountains and there are trees everywhere, it's kind of a boring town. It's a ski resort town and we were there neither to ski nor to resort, so we didn't know what to do with ourselves. Erinn was driving and we ran into our constant enemy: parking. We somehow went down a tiny street that ended abruptly at a pedestrian walkway and we had to do a 50 point U-turn to get out. We kept getting frustrated trying to find someplace to park so we just left.

About an hour or so later we finally made it to Denver. It's such a big city with a lot of suburbs and other smaller towns all mixed in to the general area. Around 8 we made it to our hotel, had more trouble with parking, checked in, figured out where to park, and walked up to our room.

As Erinn puts it, our hotel was swanky. It's The Burnsley All-Suite Hotel and let me tell you, it is fancy. Looking at Hotels.com right now, it would be $209 if we were to stay this coming Friday night, but they were having a sale when we booked it, so we got it for less than half that. It's basically a large studio apartment being used as a hotel. For us, it was so much nicer than we expected and it was way bigger than anything we needed. The past two nights we had been sleeping in tents. We didn't even know what to do with a 600 sq. ft. apartment! But we loved it. It had a full bathroom, huge bed, dining area, small kitchen, and a balcony which looked out on downtown Denver. It was so cool! It was easily the nicest place we had ever stayed. We were super dorky and took lots of pictures and videos just so we could remember it.

We settled in and started thinking about what to do for dinner. Pizza! There's never a time when I don't want pizza and it's usually pretty easy to find a place that does gluten-free crust in a big city like Denver. It was getting pretty late, though, so we knew we had to hurry. We placed an order online asking for gluten free crust, but just as I was about to walk out the door to go pick it up, we got a phone call from the pizza place saying they had run out of their gluten-free crust.

At the end of such a long day and after getting excited for pizza, we were quite upset that we couldn't get it. The thing is, it's kind of tough to find a restaurant that serves food that doesn't have cheese or gluten in it and gluten-free, cheese-free pizza was our go-to order for restaurant food at this point. What was worse was that it was almost 10 o'clock and restaurants were closing up. Our options were getting slimmer by the minute. I thought we might be able to get something at Whole Foods, but they were closed too! The only thing that was open was a Safeway, but I was determined to have a tasty dinner. I got some chicken, corn tortillas, and salsa and we went back to the hotel and cooked up some tacos in our tiny kitchen. Thank goodness!

It was a very long day and we flopped down, watched Back to the Future, and fell asleep.

Our route:

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  1. this travelogue is great reading

    1. Thanks, Trafficman. I just enjoy looking back on my trips and this is a good way for me to remember what we've done. :)