Colorado including 4 weeks in Denver (26th February to 29th March 2010)

Our time spent in Colorado, in particular Denver, is a real highlight of the trip, mostly because we meet such nice people and the whole area is stunning. The drive in from New Mexico is sunny. The landscape ranges from high and snowy to lower and dry. We go through some amazing passes. It’s pretty quiet on the roads until we get nearer to Denver when we hit the usual mad rush hour traffic. We don’t see much of Colorado on the way from the interstate, though we can see the Rockies in the distance and they look fantastic.


Denver (Highlands area)

We base ourselves in a lovely little studio in an area on the outskirts of Denver called Highlands. The studio is attached to Kathy and Pat’s house in a nice residential area, with very friendly neighbours who make us feel at home. The local area is great. We find some nice little restaurants on Tennyson Street and a smashing irish pub where we get adopted as locals. Highlands is quite arty and once in a while there was an open evening in the studios. We’re walking distance to a laundrette, off licence, supermarket – all the essentials in life – and about 3 miles from central Denver. Most importantly we can get out on to the I70 within 5 minutes that heads up to the Loveland ski resort in 55 minutes.

The weather is generally dry and sunny though a couple of days we had amazing amounts of snow where we virtually had to dig ourselves out of the front door. We were very impressed with the local council workers who had the roads cleared and dry in just a few hours. Our little home from home was big enough to store all our stuff and to entertain Mum and John when they visit for Mum’s birthday. We both agree that Denver would be an easy place to live.

Patrick Carroll’s Irish bar - I have to give a special mention to this bar in Tennyson Street where we met some great people. Shelly, Mike and all the staff made us feel so welcome. St Patrick’s Night was hilarious when everyone made the effort to dress up, sing songs and generally drink til they dropped. We were given a couple of T-shirts when we left, and wear them with pride across America!


Loveland Ski Area

We get mixed reports about the best and cheapest place to ski near Denver. Most resorts are no longer selling season passes and since we are here a month we don’t want to be paying the $95 daily rate to ski places like Breckenridge. We opt for Loveland in the end. They are offering a reasonably priced weekday only pass and it’s only an hour from the studio, without having to go through the busy Eisenhower tunnel. The snow reports have been good too. We pick up a bargain season rental on skis and a snowboard, Rich gets a great deal on snowboard boots and we head up the hill.

The area suits us fine. There are 8 chair lifts and all levels of piste; wide open, through the pine trees, moguls etc. It’s very cold and sunny, but this means lovely powder snow and a chance for Rich to refine his snowboarding prowess. During the week the place is empty, a real pleasure after the chair lift queues of European resorts. There isn’t any accommodation at Loveland which means it is mostly skied by locals. We manage to get out most weekdays though it takes us a good few weeks to acclimatise to the altitude which is fierce at 12,000 feet. The top station has a wonderful view across the Continental Divide to the other Rockies ski resorts.


The Rockies

During Mum’s birthday trip we have a drive round some of the mountain area outside of Denver. It’s a beautiful day, so the scenery is breathtaking. We head to Idaho Springs, a gold rush and hot springs town, then go over the Bernhoudt Pass to the Winter Park ski area where we get a nice lunch at a diner. We continue our drive all the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park where the road runs out due to too much snow. It’s stunning up here, with huge vistas and frozen lakes. I would love to come back to this park in the summertime.

As we go back on the pass we hit the I70 and stop off at the Buffalo Herd Overlook and take some snaps of the bison herd.




Denver downtown

We didn’t spend a lot of time in central Denver but we did a little bit of sightseeing. The town is spotlessly clean with lots of smart new buildings and installation art in the streets. As with most American towns we’ve been to there is very little sign of graffiti.
Cherry Creek Mall is a fairly new shopping centre with some smart shops and very welcome discount for visitors! Mum and John have great success in here with clothes and shoes hunting.

We spend one day strolling down the 16th Street Mall. It’s a lovely day and warm enough just for T-shirts. The Mall is all pedestrianised and full of restaurants and bars. The famous Tattered Cover bookshop is here. We get all the way down to the State Capitol building and see the huge blue bear sculpture at the Convention centre.


Over the Continental Divide into Grand Junction

As we leave Denver it’s weird driving on past Loveland in to new territory. The road out of the Eisenhower tunnel is so steep downhill and we hit a blizzard, glad we didn’t have to do this every day. Across the Continental Divide and through the Rockies we pass ski resorts like Copper Mountain, Keystone and Vail. The drive is beautiful. At Glenwood Springs we pass the massive rockfall that shut the I70 earlier in March. The stones are the size of trucks. As we near Grand Junction we drop a little in elevation and it starts to warm up a bit. The foothills of the Rockies are weird, with strange rock formations. Grand Junction is a fairly large town, with a quaint, compact centre and sprawling highway development.


Colorado National Monument Park

We hadn’t really heard of this park before we got to the USA but it’s well worth a visit. It’s just outside of Grand Junction. It’s a nice warm day when we go, not too hot for walking. The park road is breathtaking with steep windy roads through canyons of deep coloured rocks. Lots of overlooks drop down to valley floors and weird shaped rock formations. We take the 1 mile nature trail near the visitor centre but don’t see a lot of wildlife apart from some birds.

We head back to the start of the road and walk the trail to Devil’s Kitchen, a strange enclosed area of rocks, up high, that’s a bit like an altar. We do some rock scrambling in there and take photos. The late afternoon light makes the rocks glow. There are lots of locals out enjoying the start of spring.