This is not the view you want to see when you’ve been on pins and needles waiting to see REAL mountains for the first time in two years. Wet, rainy, and unbelievably cloudy was what Denver had in store for Melissa and I as we landed on the saturated tarmac.
We planned this trip back in November for Melissa’s birthday. She’d never been this far west before and when we found $50 plane tickets, it was a no brainer that this was how we would celebrate. I talked it up big time how the mountains greet you on the way into Denver International. Yet, all we could see was white fog the entire flight. It was the most underwhelming way to start a hyped up mountain vacation. We prayed that the weather would clear and in the morning we would wake up to the snowy peaks greeting us in the distance.
We grudgingly stared down the sky as we took the airport bus to the car rental terminals. Unsure of what the weather would be like for the entirety of our trip, we traded up our standard rental car for something more adventurous. There was no hesitation when they offered us a pristine Toyota Highlander. Luxurious, yet rugged. It checked all the boxes.
Day two did not bring the sunshine, and mountains we had hoped for. It was almost impossible for us to turn our sour moods around. Driving from Longmont (where we were were crashing with friends) into Denver, we screamed at the sky and hurled insults about Colorado in the key of “THIS LOOKS LIKE HOUSTON”, “I DON’T EVEN THINK WE ARE IN THE RIGHT STATE”. (We both have an unhealthy dislike for the not so great state of Texas).
As I mentioned in the last post, I am a planner, and a trip not going to plan is extremely stressful for me. I had spent so much time planning different places, parks, and activities for this weekend and almost all of them were getting postponed, cancelled, or switched around. I don’t know why I ever expect that a plan will be executed properly. No matter how meticulous I am, nature doesn’t really care about my agenda. It does what it wants. End of story. It’s us human’s job to make the best of it and not be a sourpuss the entire time.
Breakfast helped. And a trip to REI really helped. You just can’t be upset in that place. We stopped at Patagonia, Topo Designs, and had breakfast at a place where the biscuits were as big as my face. Next, we trekked through the Denver Art Museum. It happened to be a day with free admission so we actually lucked out! Art museums have a knack for improving any rainy, dreary day. When we stepped out of exhibits, we had a brighter attitude that matched the sunshine peeking out of the rain clouds. Maybe this place wasn’t as lousy (worthless, useless, trashy……….) as Texas.
Rocky Mountain National park greeted us with the sunshine we had wished for. We packed up, grabbed two pairs of snowshoes from a friend (we owe you, Ben!) and headed up to Bear Lake.
Neither of us had snow-shoed before, but I think we did pretty well. Except I totally fell within the first ten minutes on the trail. It wasn’t that it was very difficult, I just tried to take a stupid photo with me kicking my leg in the air like an idiot. It resulted in my tumbling over the side of the trail and landing in a snow pile. Got a great photo though.
I dusted myself off and we marched on to what we thought was Emerald lake. We misread the trails (I’m great at that) and ended up going to a much less trafficked, Bierstadt Lake. No complaints here. We reached a pristine blue lake surrounded by snowcapped peaks, and we had it completely to ourselves. We hung out with the mountain ducks and took a well-deserved break, basking in the views.
We stayed up there until clouds started rolling in and the skies began spitting snow on our wind chapped faces. Pizza and warm drinks were waiting for us at the end of the trail. But RMNP wasn’t done blessing us yet.
Melissa and I were on cloud nine as we descended from the Bear Lake trail head towards the park’s exit. Spirits could not have been higher, or so we thought. We casually remarked, “the only thing that could make this day any better, would be seeing an elk”. Not even thirty minutes down the road and entire herd of majestic elk began crossing in front of our Highlander.
I almost cried. Maybe I did. It was all a blur. These gorgeous animals with their cute little heart shaped butts, hung out where we had stopped our car and we both hopped out to take a better look. I could barely take photos I was so overjoyed. I just wanted to take it all in. The herd finally decided to move on to another area of the park, and we moved on to pizza. What a day.
Originally I planned to visit Colorado Springs during this trip, but since the weather didn’t cooperate for the first day and a half, we cut that from our itinerary and penciled in Boulder instead. First up was a morning in Red Rocks. I felt like a part of the landscape with how well my hair blended into the desert color palette. We hiked around a few trails near the visitor center and started of more of a major hike before deciding that we were too hungry and slightly dehydrated to continue. Saving energy for a better view later in the day seemed wise.
We refueled in downtown Boulder, made a return at the local REI, and then headed to a local favorite, The Flat Irons. This hike was not a joke. It was a struggle fest. We had been sleeping at elevation for two nights and we’d been trying to drink as much water as possible, but let’s face it. That Colorado air is thin for “at sea level” dwellers like us. We kept saying, “It has to be the elevation. We aren’t this weak!” as we coughed, heaved, and sputtered up the trail.
The trail was only about three miles long but it was steep and rocky ascent up 1500 feet with less than ideal oxygen levels. Readers are probably scoffing at us for thinking this hike was hard (and believe me, we felt ridiculous as trail runners blew past us as we heaved), but give us a break. Kentucky and Tennessee are vastly different from arid Colorado.
Anyway, we continued up, spirits still high even with our ridiculous struggling. We met a nice guy on the trail who warned us a rattle snake was just spotted in front of us. Thankfully we didn’t run into any slithery friends, and instead we got to pet that guys adorable pup.
Scrambling up the last hundred feet was a blast. We perched on top of the jagged landscape and ate some cliff bars to ease our stomachs. There was a fair amount of hikers at the top so we all took turns grabbing photos of the view. A girl offered to take a photo of both Melissa and I and we got to talking and even ended up hiking down the trail together. Brenn happened to be visiting from Philly and was hiking on a broken foot. She made us feel like weaklings with all our limbs intact, struggling up the hill. She was a firecracker and it was great to meet and photograph her. Trail people are always the best people.
We weren’t ready to call it a quits yet. Coffee was in order, and then we drove around trying to find another small hike to end the day. We found a beautiful inner city park and strolled around until day light started to fade.
Our time in Colorado was finally at an end. The trip didn’t pan out like I’d painstakingly planned, but all the experiences we had were priceless. Don’t let unforeseen circumstances and uncooperative weather steal your joy. Nine times out of ten things will work out and leave you with better memories that you could have hoped.
P.S. I vlogged the whole trip if you'd like to see more of what we saw!