Sunday, August 2, 2009

On the Road Again

A couple of things I forgot to mention in my last post.

First, if you ever find yourself in Boulder, don't forget to stop by Rio Grande at 11th and Walnut (one block south of Pearl St.) for fabulous Mexican food and more importantly, for their killer margs. Their margaritas are so notoriously potent (and delicious), they told me they've established a 2 marg maximum for their patrons (maybe that was just for me). At any rate, well worth it after a day of wandering the mall.

Left: View from the Cabin, Evergreen. Right: Evergreen Lake

Also, thanks go out to my hosts in Evergreen, Colorado where your humble Booktraveler was lucky enough to be treated to a 4-day stay in a beautiful luxury hilltop "cabin" following the stay in Denver. Evergreen is just 40 minutes or so west of Denver, a beautiful mountain town nestled around a small municipal lake in the foothills. Its proximity to Denver makes it prime real estate, and staying there I can certainly see why. Lots of great little bars and eateries in the 3 block strip of "downtown", and a great place to visit for a walk or paddle around the lake and for easy access to I-70, Squaw Pass, Red Rocks and the rest of the Colorado Rockies.

Speaking of which, while meandering about the I-70 corridor, a fun afternoon was spent in the quaint, very high and very western hamlet of Georgetown, roughly 45 miles west of Denver. Like most of the towns along Clear Creek, Georgetown was a product of the mid-nineteenth century gold rush and looks it. Its quaint little main street is nicely refurbished with more than enough colorful shops and watering holes to make for a fun morning or afternoon.

Left: Historic Georgetown. Right: Georgetown Loop Train Trestle

There's a great ice cream shop at the far end of the 6th Street that's worth the trip, and I couldn't help but ride the famed and well-hyped "Georgetown Loop" historical train, which chugs back and forth between Georgetown and the even higher Silver Plume mining town to the west. The highlight of the trip is crossing the recently rebuilt and extremely high steel trestle as soon as you leave the station. The rest of the trip, although beautiful, is somewhat anti-climactic to say the least, unless your one of those people who goes around wearing a train engineer's hat.

And finally, special thanks go to out to my rafting guide Jake at Clear Creek Rafting in Idaho Springs. I'm alive. Also, thanks for the great tour, people of the Phoenix Mine in Idaho Springs. Too bad the gold didn't "pan out".

Left: Inside Phoenix Mine, Idaho Springs, CO. Right: Phoenix Mine Security Detail (yikes!)


Jumping off from Evergreen, it was great to be on the road again and headed for Wyoming, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. After dropping some fellow travelers off at the Denver International Airport (which is conveniently located out on the plains about halfway between Denver and New York City), I pointed my rented Mazda 5 north back through Boulder, then onward and upward toward Rocky Mountain National Park.

Although this is an extremely circuitous route, the Park is so incredibly breathtaking it would be unconscionable to miss it, particularly the trip over the famed Trail Ridge Road. This "Highest Highway in the World", which runs up and over the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet above sea level, is the most popular attraction in the park. Well worth the (deep breath) $20 entrance fee (hey, it's good for 7-days...although one does question what one's taxes are being paid for), it offers one-of-a-kind views of the park and surrounding peaks.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

The road into the park leads through the gateway town of Estes Park, home of the venerable and Beautiful Stanley Hotel. The park and hotel are situated in one of the most beautiful glacial valleys in the country, lorded over by the towering Longs Peak and Mount Meeker to the south. If you're looking for quaint mountain solitude however, the teaming hordes packed into the streets, shops and restaurants of Estes Park give this the Disneyland of the Rockies about as much solitude as the Boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey on a July weekend.

View from the Top, Trail Ridge Road

Nevertheless, once you pass through the town and enter the park, civilization instantly melts away as you are carried up into the clouds and across the loft peaks on Trail Ridge Road. While the road itself can be crowded in peak season, the overpowering beauty and sublime emptiness of the superb vistas along the way make for a breathtaking experience. An even more beautifully intimate experience awaits those who are able to get out of the car and walk a few hundred yards to the peaks and promontories abutting the road.

View from the Top, Trail Ridge Road

Passing over the top of the pass and into the tree-lined valleys below, there's beauty around every turn as you pass Grand Lake and and the even grander Lake Granby before meeting up with highway 40 in the town of Granby. One alarming note along the drive is the unbelievable devastation being caused by the small but destructive pine beetle, which has ravaged the pine forests, particularly on the western side of the divide. Pine trees across entire swaths of the mountain range are dead or dying due to this most recent infestation. It's incredible that something so small can reap this much devastation. Beware H1N1!

Continuing on a lighter note, the plan was to follow highway 40 into Steamboat Springs and visit a couple of very good independent new bookstores there. Once arriving in Steamboat however....there's something unsettling about a ski resort in summer(to me anyway)...I found I was ill prepared for the the crowds and clapboard condos. Combined with the late hour and distance yet to travel, the decision was made to continue on until night to lessen the burden the following day.

Stopped in the most assuredly non-touristy coal mining town of Craig, Colorado, for an inexpensive and delicious Mexican dinner (noticing a pattern here?) at El Ranchero Restaurante, before turning north off highway 40 to head up lonely highway 13 towards Wyoming in the waning light of evening. On the way out of Craig, a little gem of a bookstore was spotted nestled near the end of the shops along the main street. Unfortunately this adorable store with the slightly overreaching name of "Downtown Books" was closed due to the late hour. After taking a peak in the windows I was tempted to stay another day to peruse, but it was not to be. Maybe next time. Ah, so many bookstores, so little time.

Downtown Books, Craig, CO

Heading into the night, towering thunderheads fifty miles to the north lit up the deserted highway as flashes of multi-hued lightening coursed upward through their stormy heights. There was not another light in sight and the sparse few cars and trucks that passed the other way seemed like lonely beacons from a distant civilization. Night had set in. It was six hours to the Grand Tetons. I decided to go as long as I could before finding a cheap roadside hotel and calling it a night.

Next post: Bookish grand meanderings in the country's least populous state. Until then!


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