Trip to Colorado was cool in the fun sense, not weather

Late last month, the family loaded up the truckster and headed for the hills. As we so often do, we traveled west to Colorado and what we assumed would be a cool 10 days in the mountains.

As it turned out, our trip was certainly “cool” in the fun and interesting sense, but it was not so “cool” in terms of the actual temperature. The temperature hit the mid-90s more than once, despite the elevation.

Our plan was to join my sister’s family for a few days at the YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park. Then, we were to meet the rest of my brothers, their families and my parents on the other side of the Continental Divide at Grand Lake.

But, before we headed up to the higher elevations, we made an overnight stop in Boulder. We figured that would give us a good jump on our plans for the higher elevations. We hadn’t figured on our adventures starting that evening, however.

Our drive up to Denver took place without incident. The biggest question we faced was whether my 18-year-old son would arise in time so we could hit the road from Hillsboro at 6 a.m.

I don’t know what it is about my needing to leave so early. In these days of 70-mph-plus highways, one can motor to the Mile-High City in under nine hours. But, just like washing the car before I leave gives me the impression I will get better gas mileage, leaving early the day of a vacation trip is somehow equated with a successful journey.

Son Jordan had announced he would be ready to go whenever we wanted to leave. He would just stay up all night. I was skeptical. He had tried the same strategy the year before and had fallen asleep about the time I was getting out of bed.

This year, however, thanks to a late World Cup match, he was still awake when I arose. He had showered and was ready for the long sleep to Denver. I have to admit, it was a good strategy-for him. With two other adults in the car, he would likely not be called upon to drive.

But, I digress. Boulder, just a short drive northwest of Denver, is quite a town. On the fringes, it looks like any other front-range village.

After a short rest in the motel room, my family members were eager to get out and explore. Of course, they had been napping for the last 500 miles while I drove.

We had a few hours before supper, so my wife was looking through the phone book and lobby literature for an interesting place to eat. She came across a couple of restaurants in an area called the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrians-only area near the University of Colorado campus. We decided to go for it, despite the 95-degree heat outside.

Now, understand that I have spent lots of time in Manitou Springs, one of the last hippy hangouts in America, and my wife and I visited San Francisco two years ago. So, I kind of know what constitutes weirdness.

At the Pearl Street Mall, however, new standards were set for me in terms of bizarre human behavior. I have never seen such a collection of unique individuals in one small space.

As businessmen in suits strolled by, firmly attached at the ear to their cell phones, street musicians played guitars and drums. Apparently, this park provided their principle income.

On one corner sat a man, a woman, a small child and a sign that read: “Formula costs $13 a can. Please help.” I felt like saying, “‘Help wanted’ signs are everywhere. Please apply.” But, of course I didn’t say anything to her or her family.

I didn’t really have the right to judge anybody. But I sensed some of the people in that mall had made choices that had a direct effect on their current status.

In the local newspaper I read that a 1990s survey had pointed out that more than 50 percent of the Boulder population had used cocaine at one time or another, even though this was a community that prided itself on its health and fitness.

Just a short distance from our motel, we found a walking and biking trail in what was called a Boulder Open Space. I enjoyed an opportunity to join the locals on that path the next morning. It was a nice little run, and the people I encountered, whether on bikes or foot, were friendly and courteous.

The Boulder residents we met at the mall were not hostile, either. They were just different, and they made me a bit uncomfortable. And, that’s certainly not always a bad thing.

From the former home of Mork and Mindy, we headed up the road to Estes. We passed through the hamlet of Lyons, famous for its slabs of flagstone. They were stacked up along the highway in beautiful columns. We would have loved to buy some, but we had no idea how we would transport it home.

Our stay in Estes Park was fun. We came face to face with a couple of large elk (or wapiti, if you prefer) downtown. I later read that the town and its outlying areas are home to several thousand wapiti, more than live in adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park. The elk herds are becoming quite a nuisance, especially in the winter when they come down from the high mountain meadows in search of food.

Our principal activity for the week was hiking. We started off at the Wild Basin trailhead on the eastern edge of the park. That little walk covered about six miles. We were plenty hot, hungry and dusty after that trek. We also took long hikes in the Grand Lake area later.

What made this year unusual was the fact that we never encountered any rain on any of our walks. A hiker can expect to get rained on by late morning in a typical day in a typical Colorado summer. The year-long drought has made this summer anything but typical, however. There was no snow last winter and no significant rain this spring. Lakes are dry and streams that are usually roaring in June could only manage a whimper.

How dry was it? For those who are still planning to travel to the Rocky Mountain State, don’t plan on building a campfire or even a charcoal fire, unless recent showers have put a dent in the dryness. Most open flames, including smoking materials, have been banned in many areas.

Some of the mountain vistas were partially obscured by haze and smoke, and I could occasionally smell a hint of it on the air, but I wouldn’t cancel my plans if I were you (and I wish I were-I’d go back in a minute).

The wildfire situation is under control, and due to all the adverse publicity the blazes caused, there is more elbow room this year. Many of the campgrounds we visited were nearly empty. I received an e-mail recently from the YMCA where we stayed, encouraging visitors. It pointed out that only about 250,000 acres of forest had been scorched. Compare that with the 66 million acres of forest in Colorado. There are still plenty of trees to go around.

We wrapped up our trip with an overnight stay in Denver. Despite my apprehension concerning downtown driving, my family talked me into venturing into the 16th Street area of the Mile High City.

Once we were safely parked, I was glad they had suggested the stop. We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, and, at Jordan’s request, we visited the large Virgin Records store next door.

The 16th Street area has become a pedestrian mall of sorts with only bus and emergency vehicle traffic allowed. It has a festive atmosphere with cart vendors and souvenir shops lining the street. Every few feet a street entertainer is begging for change. But, I really enjoyed walking down the sidewalk and felt quite safe and comfortable surrounded by hoards of fellow tourists.

All in all, our trip to Colorado provided some quality family time. Despite the warmer-than-usual weather and a bit of smoggy smoke, judging from the size of the credit-card bills, our vacation was a huge success.

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