Tuesday, September 15, 2015

We Love You Rocky ... Mountains, That Is!

Sep 15, 2015

We had broken up the long slog from St. Louis to Colorado and the Rockies into two days and even then the driving was an all-day affair. There's a reason they call this the wide open spaces. Driving distances between points here are just longer because there's so much space in between. There's just no getting away from that. Google Maps told us that it's a fourteen hour ride between St. Louis and Loveland but the way we drive, I figured that meant more like 20 hours. Therefore, the stop in Ellis, Kansas (about 2/3's across that state) and then the next day up to Loveland, Colorado, a bit outside the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

We preferred Estes Park to Loveland but there were no affordable rooms to be had in that little resort town which was directly outside the eastern gate of Rocky Mountain National Park. As a result we were a little bit further away from the park entrance to the east in Loveland.

We had one of those memorable experiences that one enjoys so much when you think back on what makes a trip special. As we approached Denver, we stopped for gas in Watkins, a speck of a place that was more like a crossroads than a town. We were at the Tomahawk Auto And Truck Plaza, a rundown gas station with an attached Mexican take out joint and not much else. As I'm filling up I struck up a conversation with a local man who was filling his car. I tell him where we're headed and he gives me his advice. It was five o'clock and he tells me it will be a very unpleasant, not to mention long, ride getting around Denver to head up north to Loveland. Why don't I try his shortcut on some back roads.

"I work at the airport so I know these roads. You'll be stuck in rush hour traffic otherwise. Trust me." OK, I had no problem with that. I bring him my map but it's not detailed enough. Then another guy comes over with a Colorado atlas which has very detailed maps. "Here, try this one," he says. I didn't even realize he was listening but he was. So now the orginal guy and I go over the maps. The map lender is standing by waiting patiently for us to finish so he can have his maps back.

"Make a right at that road at the corner," he says pointing to a dusty crossroads a little bit away, "and then when you cross over that dried up creek, take your fisrt left. That'll turn into a dirt road for a while and then it'll be paved again."

Now I'm thinking should I really be doing this what with the dirt roads and all. But what the hell. It ended being a 20-mile detour but it worked out perfectly and almost not a car in sight for the time it took us to travel to the north side of Denver and rejoin the interstate. Thank you for the great shortcut and the great conversation and the memorable experience Mr., um, what's your name?....I never did find out. The gentleman worked at Denver International airport. And like he said, he really knows those roads around there.

One last thing: he spent a good 20 minutes going over the route until he was sure I understood it. I'd do the same thing in Brooklyn (and have, many times) for people who I thought needed help. That makes an impression on tourists and visitors. Yeah, just like the way this Denverite made a never-to-forget impression on me.

This is the shortcut on dirt roads and back roads that skirted the airport
and saved us the time, pain and misery of Denver's rush hour traffic.

Back to our trip: My old cross-the-street neighbor from childhood in Manhattan Beach, Howard Flug, lives in Boulder. Following our exploits, he emailed me: perhaps we could meet. So the next morning, before we set out for the park, Howard made a short drive up to Loveland and we enjoyed hanging out with him a while.

Stacey and Howard. We walked this promenade at
a lovely lake in Steamboat Springs.

The Blogster and Howard.

Nice to see our old neighbor and friend.
The Flug family lived across the street from the Weinsteins on
West End Avenue back in the fifties and onwards to the nineties!

I spent two summers with my brother at a summer camp in Colorado owned by my Uncle, Lee Herman. I was only 12 or so at the time but my memories of Colorado and the mountains are very sharp. The crispness of the air, the incredible blue skies and brilliant white clouds, the panorama that greeted my eyes - these all remained with me through the years. I had never returned until now. The camp was down near Colorado Springs. I have a cousin Eric, the grandson of my uncle who still lives there. I was sad that our route didn't take us down there for a reminisce with old Pike's Peak and a visit with my cousin. Since we were eventually headed to Washington state, we had to trend to the north and west and the Springs was just too far south. 

The Rockies didn't disappoint in rekindling my excitement about the West and its mountains. They are magnificent -- grand and massive!

Mountain Mama in the mountains.

Rocky Mountain high.

Stacey at a rest stop at the top of the pass.

Top of the world. What a view!

Road builders. What engineering marvels!
A volcanic field with rocks thrust up and scattered all about.

Glorious - Rocky Mountain National Park.

These birds were all over the rest stop at the top of the pass.
It was as if they were posing for people, maybe
in eschange for something to eat (which is prohibited).

The chipmunks too - very friendly and up close and
not the least bit afraid of us humans.

We rode through the park on twisting roads. I'm amazed at the numbers of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen thronging these parks and making good use of the various activities they offer. Hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, camping, communing with nature and its wild creatures -- it's all yours in the national parks. Like everything else in our society, the parks and their creation in the late 19th  early 20th centuries were the objects of intense struggles. On one side, those who saw them as areas of beauty that should belong in perpetuity to the American people - a public asset. On the other hand, the privatizers; they saw no need for publicly-owned assets and detested the idea of government protecting, preserving and offering these assets to the public who would call these treasures their own. This latter group still calls for privatizing public lands and for opening them up to the whims and desires of oil companies so they can enrich themselves with our public assets.

Bicyclists racing downhill in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We exited the park on the western side of the Rockies in Grand Lake and then drove through Granby and up to Steamboat Springs. It was now 7:30 pm and we had a hotel reservation in Dubois, Wyoming, near the Tetons. Here was another catastrophic misjudging of driving time and I have no idea how I figured this out. But Google Maps told me that it was still another six-and-a-half hours to reach Dubois. What??!! I couldn't drive even a minute longer. So we booked a room in Steamboat and lost the reservation (and the cost of it) up in Dubois. Tomorrow, instead of Dubois, we'd drive up to the Tetons and have lunch in Jackson,Wyoming and then continue up to our base to explore the granddaddy of the national parks, Yellowstone.

Stay tuned.

We've left Rocky Mountain National Park and continued on to
Granby, Colorado and then on to our resting spot for the evening,
Steamboat Springs. Stacey's cousin, Stephanie, lived in Granby
for many years so we took this picture for her.


  1. Tim, I, and three young kids drove west from Oklahoma for two weeks one summer around 1979. We experienced the same thing drive took way longer than the plan. Miles and miles of open spaces. We took the southern route going to Denver to an accounting meeting. At first the desert was awesome, then we're like where's a tree? It's interesting how at higher elevations you get forests and such. This a beautiful country. Enjoy Yellowstone. We took the kids on a stagecoach ride to a steak dinner prepared authentically. Have fun!

  2. Loved Colorado i was there as a child of about 12 , we stayed at a dude ranch at the Rocky Mountain foothills. I learned to split logs and ride horses. Wonderfull land!

  3. Those high country birds are Clark's Nutcrackers. We see them around Lake Louise all the time. Watch your snacks when they're around!

  4. How's Biggie doing? Please, more of Biggie.

  5. More fantastic places I have never seen. Thanks.