If you can handle the hair-raising Rocky Mountain roads you’ll be rewarded with larger than life views of Colorado.
My journey to and through Colorado went nothing as planned, but after today I’ve come to believe that things are working out exactly as they are meant to, that someone or something beyond my tangible understanding is guiding me along this trip.
Before leaving Boston, I planned out various stops for the trip based on geography, pictures in tour books, and recommendations from others who had driven out west. I learned the hard way in Kentucky that just because you can draw a straight line between two places on a map doesn’t mean that you can drive that straight line from one point to the next. To get to Cumberland Falls Kentucky, I had to go north, then east, then south when the whole point of this trip has been to go west. After hours and hours of driving, I realized that there weren’t going to be highways that perfectly matched my planned route across the US and that it would be much more efficient to plan my route based on the highways.
Although I’ve really enjoyed my last few stops, they’ve just been a means of getting from Washington D.C. to Utah and all the other states I plan to visit out west. I planned to stop along the way to prevent myself from powering through, driving too much, and ending up missing out or, worse, being in an accident. The trip has worked out for the best so far, but last night as I was looking at my next destination in Colorado, chosen simply because it was in the center of the state, I realized that I’d be driving hours out of the way and if I just stayed on I-70 west I’d cover a lot more ground a lot faster, putting me even closer to the Arches National Park in Utah. I pulled up Google Maps and searched for places along I-70 and found Glenwood Springs in western Colorado. It promised a beautiful hiking trail to Hanging Lake and plenty of lodging by the highway.
I set out this morning knowing that I’d have hours of driving ahead of me and that some of the driving would be through the Rocky Mountains. I had been to Denver earlier this month and hated it, partly because of the nightmare plane ride and the altitude sickness I experienced after landing. If you’ve never experienced altitude sickness you are lucky. Altitude sickness is comparable to the feeling you have when you’ve had too much to drink, just before you’re about to vomit. It’s characterized by nausea, a pounding headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, cold sweating, blocked ears, and disrupted equilibrium. It’s one of the worst feelings and can take days to pass as your body acclimates to the altitude. I convinced myself that driving into the mountains would be a lot different than flying and assumed that the gradual incline would mean I wouldn’t get sick. You guessed it: I was wrong.
The sickness hit as suddenly as it did when exiting the plane and continued all 6,100 feet of the climb. It was amazing to me how in just a few short hours I could go from the plains of Kansas and eastern Colorado, to some of the highest mountains in the US. It was also amazing to me how we were able to build roads that wind up, down, and through the mountains. Passing though the tiny tunnels was by far the most terrifying. I alternated between gripping the steering wheel and staring at the road and cars ahead of me and wanting to look up at the beautiful view. The mountains changed in color from lush tree covered green, to arid red, to dusty orange. They were some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. It was one of the few times on this trip that I wished I had a co-pilot to take photos along the way. I did pass two scenic turn-offs, but was so intent on driving and worried that if I stopped and allowed myself to really feel the altitude sickness I wouldn’t want to keep going.
After peaking somewhere in Vail, I began the descent back down toward Glenwood Springs. In the distance I could make out a blue highway sign and thought I must be dreaming when I saw the Whole Foods logo beside the usual fast food options. Still feeling nauseous, I almost talked myself out of stopping for food, but something told me I should turn off and take a rest. While I was inside the store loading up on kale, spinach, and all the other fresh vegetables I’d been missing, a massive thunderstorm rolled through outside. I sat and ate my lunch from the safety of the store and watched the rain pour down into the parking lot. I was so thankful that I hadn’t been driving along the highway when it hit.
As I finished the last bites of my food, the rain stopped and the sun shined as if nothing had happened. I got back into my car and drove the remainder of the way to Glenwood Springs. I stopped first at the hostel I’d found online, but there was a sign in the window saying they were booked for the remainder of the summer. Driving away from the hostel and toward a motel down the road, I saw a sign for Doc Holliday’s grave site. My former husband had been obsessed with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp and I knew he would have loved to see the grave. I made a mental note of the location and decided I’d return if I had time.
Though I had been planning on a hike to Glenwood Springs all day, I didn’t want to press my luck with the dark clouds still looming overhead and browsed the motel lobby brochures for alternatives. I came across an ad for a free rock from a gemstone gift shop downtown. If you read my post about Kentucky you’ll understand why this was so exciting.
I followed the address on the card and no sooner had I pulled into a parking spot across the street, but the sky opened up and rain began pouring down as violently as before. I scurried across the street and into the shop. It was easy to lose time among the rows of rocks and stones while eavesdropping as the employees explained the healing powers and properties of the stones to other customers. By the time I’d made a few careful selections, the rain had stopped and the sun was once again shining.
I wandered out of the store and down the street. Although the clouds had left the sky, I’d given up on the hike for the day. I walked a few blocks and came across a farmer’s market in full swing with delicious local foods and handcrafted items for sale. I had been thinking earlier in the day about how much I missed shopping at the local farmer’s market back home. It was such a pleasant surprise to be able to walk around to the tents while enjoying a cup of fresh watermelon.
After the farmer’s market, I decided to return to Doc Holliday’s grave so that I could take pictures for my former spouse. The trail to the Linwood Cemetery turned out to be a half mile uphill hike with beautiful mountain views. The cemetery itself, punctuated by old and twisted trees and various tombstones, was beautiful in its own right.
It was still early when I reached the base of the Linwood trail and I saw signs for a river trail that I followed a little ways down the road. The trail turned out to be a wide cement walkway suitable for bikers, hikers, and dog-walkers that wraps around by the Colorado River.
Even though I didn’t make it to Hanging Lake, I was happy with the hike to and around the graveyard and down to the river. After the perfectly timed rainstorms and my allowing for a change in plans at several points throughout the day, I really do feel as if I’m being watched over and guided along the way. Who knows what continuing on the highway past Whole Foods, hiking to Hanging Lake, staying at the hostel, or going to the other park in central Colorado might have meant. What I do know is that things have had a way of working out during this trip and I’ll knock on wood with you in hopes that they continue on this way.
Glenwood Springs Short and Simple
Glenwood Springs is a small mountain town with specialty shops that appeal to the earth conscious, energy work healers of the world. If you know me you’ll know why I loved my short stay there. The town is also a major tourist attraction because it is home to the world’s largest natural hot springs. I experienced a hot springs for the first time in California and didn’t much care for the hot, sulfur-scented water. I know it’s supposed to be relaxing and healing, but I couldn’t stop focusing on the smell and the fact that my body wanted to float to the top of the tub. If you haven’t tried a hot springs and would like to, Glenwood Springs would be the place to stay since it offers beautiful mountain views, plenty of accommodations at a variety of prices, and local shopping and dining throughout the downtown area. If you’re driving in, brace yourself for the beauty and terror of the mountain roads.