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Day #18: Heading home…

I’m writing this at 31,000 feet en route to Tampa. Our travels from Denver have been uneventful since leaving the hotel at 5am. Indeed, I’d call the flights “pleasant” overall — both to and from Colorado. 

Although I think of this as a “two week vacation,” we’ve actually been traveling for 18 days. It feels like it. We’ve covered a lot of ground in those days: 3,978 miles, 11 states, and 7 national parks (but who’s counting?). 

We also completed our 157×50 project. 

Now what? I’m not entirely sure. I think we’re going to make a point of visiting every national park in the lower 48 (plus a few others). We’re probably also going to continue “collecting countries” as there are certainly places we’ve not yet gone that we’d like to go (and probably some places that we don’t want to go but will find ourselves in and enjoy even more). We’ll certainly return to some favorites… though that’s not exactly a small list for us to define. Maybe we’ll buy an RV and/or a boat and/or a vacation home (we’ve talked about all three but have never managed to pull the trigger yet on any of them). 

In any case, while this trip is ending and we’ve reached a milestone, the journey continues onward for as long, far, wide, and deep as we’re able to go.

Day #17: Rocky Mountain NP

This morning we drove up to Rocky Mountain NP, which is about 1.5 to 2 hours north of Denver. I was surprised by how pleasant the drive was in terms of traffic. The only logjam we hit was at the entrance to the park itself, though the roads and facilities inside the park were all fairly crowded. 

Once in the park, we took the road less taken–called the Old Fall River Road–up to the Alpine Visitor Center (which is the highest visitor center in the NP system at nearly 12,000 ft). It’s an unpaved one lane, one way road that was the first automobile path into the interior of the park. It’s a slow and spectacular, though slightly “ass puckering” at certain points, drive up the mountains. 

The view from the Alpine Visitor Center speaks for itself (this is the valley we drove up):


Here’s a view of the snow fields (which is still fairly deep) and tundra at this elevation:


The drive down via the Trail Ridge Road actually more spectacular with grand vistas and much wild life (especially elk) along the way. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of it on my mobile and only a few on my Nikon due to the amount of traffic on the road and in the turn offs. 

In the late afternoon on our way back from RMNP, we drove down to Boulder, which we’d hoped to walk around in. But, by the time we got there afternoon rains had arrived and disrupted our plans. It looked like a cool town with a small but vibrant downtown. We’ll have to check it out on another visit. 

We spent the night at a Marriott out near the airport and had dinner at Ted’s Montana, which isn’t great dining but is pretty good for a chain. 

Day #16: Denver, CO

This morning we headed out for breakfast and then on to the Denver Art Museum (DAM). We were impressed by the overall scale and scope of the collection. And, while Ponti’s North Building from 1971 feels a bit tired, I found looking at art in the DAM’s angular Hamilton Building rather interesting.

We especially enjoyed a show of all female abstract expressionist painters, many of whom struggled to be fully accepted or appreciated as artists equal to their male counterparts in the Ab Ex movement. Much of their work was simply sensational and a joy to view collectively. 

 

Here are a few favorites from the show…

Lee Krasner:


Sonia Gechtoff:


Mary Abbott:


In the afternoon, we relaxed a bit and spent a good deal of time book shopping, especially at Denver’s fabulous Tattered Cover Book Store. For dinner, we headed to Lucky Pie for some top quality, craft pizza and beer. 

This morning we drove up from Alamosa to Colorado Springs. In planning the route, I opted for the somewhat slowler yet more scenic journey on US Route 285 / US Route 24 through the mountains versus the flatter and faster I-25. The drive was pleasant, though I suspect it would have been more spectacular had it been less cloudy (we dodged rain all day).

We arrived at the Garden of the Gods around lunchtime for what will likely be our last picnic of the trip. After lunch, we hiked around the various rock formations and managed to avoid the rain. 


Another view:


Overall, I liked the park, but it would have been better on a clear day and earlier in the morning (due to lots of crowds and inadequate parking). 

In the mid-afternoon, we drove up to Denver in fairly heavy stop-and-go traffic. As when we arrived two weeks ago, Denver has really provided the only traffic jams of this trip. 

For dinner, we ate some pretty good BBQ at a place called Boney’s BBQ near our hotel. Emerson especially surprised us by ordering and eating the pulled pork, a first for her. 

We’re staying downtown at a Marriott for the next two nights before we transfer out to another hotel closer to the airport. Our plan is to visit some museums tomorrow and then maybe head up to Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday. 

Today, we left Santa Fe and headed north for the last leg of our journey. We drove along the fairly scenic, though not spectacular (when compared to other vistas that we e enjoyed on this trip, High Road to Taos. 


Arriving in Ranchos de Taos, we attempted to visit the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, but there was a funeral going on that we didn’t want to crash. So, we drove on to the Harwood Museum in Taos that was featuring a show about Mable Dodge Luhan, a patron of the arts predominately associated with Taos. 


Overall, we found her life and associations with artists to be more interesting than the art on display itself. Of course, neither Libby nor I are especially fond of the American modernist period. We did enjoy the Agnes Martin (one of our favorite artists and another painter based in Taos) works from their permanent collection on display:

I would have liked to explore Tao more, but we were afraid of getting rained out at Great Sand Dunes NP later in the day. So, we picked up lunch to eat on the road and headed north to Colorado with dark skies and rain in our rear view mirror. 

About two hours later, we arrived at GSDNP. From afar, I have to say that the dunes didn’t look that imposing:


But, as you get closer to them, you realize just how massive they are. Unlike other parks with designated trails, you can climb all over the sand dunes in whatever direction you wish. That said, they are quite the slog to climb given that you’re going uphill (a rise of nearly 700 ft), in sand (obviously) and at this altitude (from about 8,000 ft at the base of the dune). 

This photo gives a bit of perspective from one of the ridges. Note the people in the “valley” below us:


With the approaching rain and darking skies, we also cut our hike on the dunes short (a wise decision as the rain reached us just as we were driving a couple of miles south). 

Since it was only a little after 3pm, we would have ordinarily driven further in the day. However, I already had our hotel booked in nearby Alamosa and couldn’t cancel this late without a fee. So, we checked into the Fairfield Inn and opted to just relax this evening by catching an early movie (Finding Dory) at a tiny, old-school (for us) movie theater next to our hotel and then had dinner at the Chili’s nearby. I felt like an Almasoa local out for a big night on the town! :-)

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