My company has an office in Broomfield, Colorado, halfway between Denver and Boulder, and that gets me out there a few times a year. Last November my son Andrew had both vacation time and a birthday coming up so he joined me on a trip and we stayed the weekend. What a glorious place that state is! Here is a quick tour of what we did over the weekend.
Unless you look directly east, you can’t escape seeing the mountains. Living in the Washington, DC area, to get a view from your office of one of the monuments you’d have to be a vice president and not even all of them have great views. In our Broomfield office ordinary everyday people sit at their cubes looking out on spectacular mountain views! Hell, the copy machine has a spectacular mountain view!
An hour’s drive will get you to parks and mountains above 10,000 feet but right in Boulder is a Boulder Mountain Park called Flagstaff Mountain. At just under 7,000 feet it’s taller than any mountains in the east but out here it’s a bunny slope! It has lots of trails, wildlife, and great views all the way to Denver.
On the day we visited, we hiked a couple trails that led us to views in various directions. To the west was a sea of endless peaks, colors, and textures. I looked out and wondered how settlers thought they could ever cross this range. From this view it would have seemed impossible. To the east we discovered a charming outdoor amphitheater that overlooked Boulder and in the distance, Denver. I later learned that a colleague in my office had been married in this amphitheater.
On our way out of the park we were driving down a very curvy mountain road and had to stop for a line–literally single file–of a dozen wild turkeys crossing the road. They weren’t in much of a rush either considering it was November!
I had heard from a few people that a nearby town called Nederland was worth the visit. It was worth the visit just for the route we took. The Boulder Canyon connects the two towns and for about 25 miles we drove through steep cliff walls on both sides climbing about 2000 feet in elevation in the process. “Ned” as they call it, is a laid back town at 8,200′, set between a lake-sized reservoir and a ski area. It’s a bit of an old hippy town with some quirky and charming lore. For instance there is the “Frozen Dead Guy“. This is a famous deceased resident in Nederland whose annual dry ice packing became a winter carnival of sorts. The “Cryonic Mardi Gras” features coffin ice races, polar plunging, and frozen salmon tossing!
Another typical spot is the Carousel of Happiness. 36 hand-carved colorful animals ride this restored carousel in its own building, complete with upstairs observation deck. While we visited, it was packed with young children begging to go around again.
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
From Ned we headed to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. To get there we took a road called the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. This was basically a long ridge line that took us up another 2000′ in elevation. The route is dotted with interesting sites like old gold mines, ghost towns, and overwhelming natural beauty.
At one point we rounded a corner and suddenly Long’s Peak came into view. Long’s Peak is a “fourteener”, which is to say it rises over 14,000 feet above sea level. In Colorado that’s not particularly impressive since there are 52 others with that distinction. It is, however, the only fourteener in Rocky Mtn National Park and stands so prominently alone that the view is quite striking. For me, this mountain came alive when I read Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundreth Meridian. This book is a literary masterpiece, a vivid history of the American west, a biography of John Wesley Powell, surveyor of much of the west. In the book Stegner writes of Powell’s ascent of Long’s Peak. This would be challenging for anyone but Powell had only one arm. Suddenly, years after reading that memorable scene, here I was looking up at that very peak.
As we continued we came upon Lily Lake. This gorgeous little tarn is surrounded by hiking trails and leads to some large mountains. It is just one of many beautiful spots along the route.
Estes Park, CO is a quaint summer resort town and headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps the most famous landmark there is the Stanley Hotel. Built by the owner of the Stanley Steamer company, this upscale turn-of-the-century hotel once hosted novelist Stephen King and became the setting for his book, The Shining.
While Denver and Boulder have great views of the mountains, Estes Park is in them! I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures! We stopped at a casual little drive-in called Baba’s Burgers and ate these phenomenal elk burgers! I would recommend it to all meat-eaters!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a vast wilderness among towering mountains. On our very brief trip through we saw one spectacular vista after another. We saw pristine lakes, broad open meadows, and rugged mountain terrain. We didn’t even scratch the surface on our brief afternoon visit but what we saw was stunning.
At one point I noticed a lot of cars ahead and people were out of their cars taking pictures. As we pulled up, there, in the field, were 6 elk, lying on the ground as casual as cows on a farm. They had magnificent racks of antlers and were huge beasts!
Boulder’s Pearl St. Pedestrian Mall
The Pearl St Pedestrian Mall is one of those vibrant downtown areas that every town would like. Tons of foot traffic, restaurants, shopping, street performers, and always, an inspiring backdrop of 14,000 foot mountains! Many of Boulder’s best restaurants and brewpubs are right on Pearl St.–and Boulder has some excellent brewpubs!
I can’t write about a tourist’s visit to Colorado without touching on legalized marijuana. My friends who live there get annoyed when they travel because once people hear they’re from Colorado it’s all anyone wants to talk about. I will say that it is weird to see something that has been illegal all my life (and still is in most of the country) be perfectly ok here! When we checked into our hotel we were told that it is a non-smoking hotel so if we wanted to smoke weed we would have to go to the edge of the parking lot!
My company is a Federal contractor and marijuana use–even in Colorado–will still jeopardize a security clearance; so, partaking was not an acceptable option for me. That didn’t mean I couldn’t at least visit one of the many dispensaries. After all, it’s no different than wandering into a jewlery store! Again, it was really weird to have something that has always been illegal suddenly be sold as if it were wine, being paired with a good meal.
The “budtenders” ask what customers are shopping for, whether pain relief, treatment of illness, or just recreational use. Then they recommend something from the numerous strains, just like wine pairing! Once customers choose their strain, they then choose the delivery system. One can always buy just buds to bring home and smoke, but they can also buy vape pens, edibles, skin patches, and more! It was all very civilized and friendly and honestly made me wonder what the big deal was!
While it is still illegal to smoke weed in public, we did frequently walk by small groups of people and get a strong whiff of the ganja. The thing is, nobody really seemed to care. It’s possible that restaurants are not quite as boisterous and noisy when everyone is stoned, and I did hear some legitimate complaints about wanting young children to be a little more shielded; but, overall, it seems to be a pretty smooth transition after a year.
One evening Andrew indulged me and we went to a little bar I had heard about in Denver called Sancho’s Broken Arrow. This humble bar is dedicated to the Grateful Dead and the walls, furniture, and bar top were all adorned with Dead memorabilia. The same owner has a nearby music venue that we went to as well. That is called Quixote’s True Blue. (someone has a Cervantes thing!)
Standing outside Quixote’s, was a small crowd openly smoking weed as if it were office worker’s on a smoke break in the designated smokers’ spot!
The weather is quite variable in Colorado. Always dry, the temperature can swing a lot from day to night and a November day with sun and temps in the 70’s is no protection from a blizzard the next day. We were visited by both, gorgeous days of hiking with temps in the mid to high 70’s; and, on the day we were to leave, a blizzard!
This was one long weekend in this amazing state and there was so much more to see that we did not get to. Fortunately I will be back. It was a great father and son bonding trip and a really memorable way for Andrew to celebrate his 24th birthday.