Monthly Archives: August 2012

No guardrails? No problem.

Waking up in the Rocky Mountains is unreal. The sounds of nature filled the air – birds chirping, trees rustling, iPhones ringing…

Ok so we set an alarm to get up early, but it was still pretty awesome getting out of the tent and being in the mountains. We chose to get up earlier than necessary because we had a short drive (well, 6.5 hours) and wanted to hike before we left. The campground provided some trails, so we took and map and went on our way.

All over the place were signs about bears and mountain lions and how to handle a situation where one of them attacks you. If a bear threatens an attack, you’re supposed to speak quietly and back away slowly, and if it attacks you’re supposed to fight back (according to the sign). As for mountain lions, you’re supposed to make yourself appear as large as possible while avoiding eye contact and also fight back if they attack. These are interesting tactics because if either of these animals were attacking me I would scream like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert and run like Justin Bieber if a tween were chasing me at a Justin Bieber concert.

Keeping those counterintuitive defense tactics in mind, we headed into the mountains. It was a beautiful hike, as the sun was rising while we trekked along. I could really tell how the difference in elevation made me more tired than normal – when we had long uphill stretches of trail, I felt like a fatty.

About halfway through or so we came to a clearing that gave us this gorgeous view of the Rockies:

We could see for miles and miles. It was very humbling.

But enough of that – we hiked back to the site, ate some breakfast, made our way down the winding road from hell and headed to Utah.

To get to Utah we took I-70, which quickly became my favorite highway in the country, or at least this part of the country. The views from the road were equally as beautiful as the sight over the Rockies. It winds directly through the Rockies, going in and out of tunnels and over bridges. A long stretch of the road follows along Clear Creek, which creates a gorge-canyon type formation through the mountains and makes you feel trapped yet awesome. If you ever get the chance, drive I-70 through Colorado.

As we made our way down the highway, we took a detour through Loveland Pass. This is a route that some trucks are required to take because they’re unable to go through the Eisenhower Tunnel with explosive material. I heard about the pass on TV when I was little and thought to myself “someday I’m going there.” Boom. Childhood dream fulfilled. Watch out, Mars.

The pass goes way up into the mountains and is the highest pass in the country to stay open year round. At its peak it reaches 11,990 ft and is where the Atlantic and Pacific continental divides meet. The drive up was terrifying – hairpin turns with no guardrails and sheer cliffs. After I was done scream-crying, we got out of the car only to realize that, in the middle of June, it was freezing. We donned our sweatshirts and climbed up a small trail to get a better view of the scenery:

See those clouds? We were getting a bit worried that it was going to start raining soon, and hard.

Instead, it snowed. In the middle of June, in Colorado, we got snowed on in our shorts and sweatshirts. Mind. Blown.

We headed back to the car to get out of the freezing cold, wind, and snow. As we left, we realized that there were people biking up the pass, which is several miles long. There’s also an 800 foot elevation change from its connecting road. I’ll stick to my motor vehicle that has heat.

After driving for some time, we lowered in elevation and it began to feel like summer again. Then we switched drivers and entered Utah where it REALLY felt like summer again. The scenery changed dramatically from only 2 hours earlier:

Talk about peaking early (pun intended). This drive went downhill, fast (pun intended).

In one day we avoided bears and mountain lions of the Rockies, went 12,000 ft up only to get snowed on, and drove through the blistering heat of the Utahan desert. The buttes (lol) entertained us until we finally got to Arches National Park in the great town of Moab, Utah.

 

 

“I guess there are others?”

Two Einstein’s bagels and a change of clothes later, we headed out to see what Boulder was all about. We had limited time here, as we were going to Denver and wanted to get there before the sun went down. We started at Pearl Street Mall, which is a big outdoor shopping area with tons of street performers. We walked up and down to get a feel for the place and count how many contortionists were out. Only one. But where they lacked in gross “body art” they made up for in free Haagen-Dazs samples.

Next we ventured up Broadway, where we captured a fleeting glance of University of Colorado Boulder. Apparently, from what I read on Wikipedia (so it’s true), every year on 4/20 students gather somewhere on campus to smoke pot. Apparently the year before there were upwards of 15,000 people there and only 11 tickets given out. And approximately 36,000 “Number 2’s” sold at the local McDonald’s.

As we made our way up the hill, we stopped at Albums on the Hill, which is apparently pretty famous. There were more albums in this store than I’d seen anywhere else. The big, vinyl, vintage kind that hipsters and grandparents love. I wanted to buy a specific Bloc Party album to take with me. They told me they didn’t have it but it was available in-store on a cassette. Which is great because a cassette is slightly less useful than an album.

Following my disappointment we headed back down the hill to the car, but only after running into Colorado’s homeless, which we decided aren’t actually homeless but just high all the time and choosing to live outside. Which makes sense since Colorado is so warm all year round.

Off to Denver we went. It was only about a 30 minute drive, but we unfortunately had missed the last Coors Brewery tour of the day.  However, Justin and I (although way more so Justin) are huge fans of Chipotle. And any true Chipotle fan knows that the very first store opened in Denver. So naturally we made a stop for dinner:

HOW GOOD DOES IT LOOK?! Inside was so strange – there wasn’t a counter like at the Chipotle’s we know where you go down the line and tell them what you want. You order it all at once – standing still – and they make it. I asked the woman at the register if this was the first Chipotle ever (solely to amuse myself and Justin) and her response was “I guess there are others?” ARE YOU KIDDING HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THIS.

The burrito was excellent, as always, so we inhaled them. As we left we grabbed some napkins and water and punched the stupid woman behind the counter.

We stopped at State Capitol Builidng and got a picture at exactly one mile above sea level (queue douchey picture in 3, 2…)

To finish off the night, we headed to LoDo just north of Downtown. Apparently it used to be an area full of warehouses and buildings similar in nature, but has recently been renovated into a going out area with restaurants and bars. We stopped at Wynkoop Brewing Company, dubbed “Denver’s Oldest Brew Pub”, and had a beer before heading off to the campsite.

As we got in the car to head 30 minutes west of the city to our site, we assumed the day’s exploration was winding down. Little did we know there was one thing left.

The trip to the site. We were staying at a state park that was deeper in the Rockies than expected. To get there we drove up a road that had more curves than the past three Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions combined. Unlike SI Swimsuit Edition, though, it nearly made me puke. After what seemed like hours of driving up and up, round and round, we made it to the campsite in the depths of the Rockies.

It was a long day, and we had an early morning ahead of us.

In Lusk, even the ice is outdated.

Conveniently, to get to where we were heading next, we had to use the “scenic drive” through the Badlands in the morning. It was awesome. We saw a few antelope (judging from the picture in the brochure), more pointy hills, and – highlight of the drive – prairie dogs. Right beside the road. Who needs coffee when you’ve got prairie dogs?

Leaving the Badlands, we realized that Mt. Rushmore was only 20 minutes out of the way, so we decided to take a spontaneous detour to check it out. It’s never been something either of us were dying to see, but when it’s so close we felt obligated.

Suddenly South Dakota was becoming more and more beautiful as we approached the monument. Here’s a picture from just outside the parking structure:

I hate to be that guy but #NOFILTER

As we approached Mt. Rushmore, we were happily surprised to see how cool it really is. Seeing it in person is super interesting as long as you can avoid all the fat people and Asian picture takers that get in the way. There are a few trails provided, so we picked a short one to do quickly. It took us up close to the monument, so I took a picture to make sure George didn’t have any bats in the cave:

He didn’t.

I grabbed a pine cone and we went on our way. We then stumbled upon the Black Hills, which is a really cool forest that neither of us knew about. We were lucky that our route to Boulder/Denver took us right through it. It was gorgeous – if you’re ever in South Dakota you’ve got to make a stop there.

As we drove through I couldn’t help not to take a picture of the most stereotypical road trip scene we’d encountered so far:

CHECK OUT THAT CAMPER. If that doesn’t scream road trip, I’m not sure what does. Except maybe sweaty, smelly people trapped in a car for 8 hours a day.

We crossed into Wyoming shortly after and things went downhill fast. First, there was no state sign for me to screw up a picture of. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing in Wyoming. At least in eastern Wyoming, where we were driving. It was completely desolate. The city of Pittsburgh has more residents than the entire state of Wyoming. The capital, Cheyenne, looked the same size as the suburb that I live in.

For entertainment on this drive we got to look at yellow-brown tall grass and a tree. Every now and then we’d pass a ranch sign. Best ranch name we spotted: Boner Ranch. Come on. Really? We did pass another car at one point. And we had a great lunch view:

We switched drivers (I was driving now) and continued south to Colorado. After looking at the above landscape for an hour or two, we started hitting towns. Towns that had 187 residents, one stoplight, and technology from the 1960s. We stopped to get gas in Lusk, Wyoming where I had to manually pump the gas into the car and watch the numbers roll on the meter. When I went in to pay, the attendent pulled out a pair of binoculars to read how much to charge me.

Meanwhile, Justin was walking down the block to get ice. Although I didn’t get to experience it first hand, he told me that when he entered the grocery store every single person stared at him. The entire time. I think that if we would have hung out in Lusk any longer the creatures from the Hills Have Eyes were going to make an appearance.

What seemed like 7 hours later we were still in Wyoming. Luckily Justin fell asleep so I could enjoy the scenery in peace. At which point tumbleweed drifted across the road in front of my car. Tumbleweed.

Finally we made it to Colorado and I got a GREAT picture of the state sign:

Ok, Justin took it. The key to getting a good picture of the state sign is by me not taking it.

Soon the Rockies were in sight. Then, finally, we made it to Boulder, Colorado.

Home, home on the ridiculously windy prairie.

Driving through the rolling hills and buttes (lol) of South Dakota was cool, but it paled in comparison to the jagged, rocky cliffs juxtaposed with lush, green prairies that went as far at the eye could see. We hadn’t even arrived at the entrance of the park and were already amazed. This was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

We’d arrived at the Badlands.

We stopped twice before even hitting the Visitor’s Center. The view was amazing. These formations were the strangest I’d ever seen. With various types of rock creating nifty designs, you could literally see back in time (stole that from the brochure). These mountains, or rock formations, or whatever you want to call them – pokey hills – I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this – went on forever. Here’s what I mean:

(That’s my finger up there.)

After getting past the visitor’s center and throwing hissy fits because we wanted to stay at different campsites, we figured it out, kissed and made up, found our site and set up our space station. We then realized we were pretty much in our neighbor’s campsite. I don’t know what exactly gave it away, maybe the fact that their tent (which was significantly less impressive that ours) was no less than five feet away. We got there first though so sorry, family of four, you get to listen to us giggle at our farts all night.

Next up – hiking. And lots of it. Being the young, strapping lads that we are, we took one of the hardest trials we could find (and that time allowed – it was getting to be evening) and set off. Going up a few hundred feet in elevation, we literally were scaling the cliffs at one point, we hiked and hiked until we went as high as we could. And it was worth it. Looking out over the top, we could see the South Dakotan prairie rolling beneath us, on and on. We could see bison (nope, just cows, we later found out) grazing in the distance. Behold:

Wow look at that

Like most awesome things like this, the pictures don’t do it justice. At all. I snatched a piece of rock for my things (you could literally just break it off the wall) and we hiked back down.

As night approached we went to our campsite to make food. Our neighbors let us borrow their equipment because ours wasn’t working. That’s what I love about camping – everyone looks out for each other. Even if one party intrudes on the other’s space and refuses to move.

We made grilled cheeses and heated up pre-cooked chicken from WalMart. For those of you rushing out to buy pre-cooked chicken from WalMart thinking that it’s a good idea because if it thaws out for too long it’s not a big deal (because that was my reasoning) – just risk the food poisoning. I’m 94% certain what we ate took a good 4 years from our lives. Two months later and I still think I’m still pooping it out.

As we moaned in pain from the food we ate we watched the beautiful sunset behind the rock formations/bathroom:

Into the chateau we went, ready for bed after a long day and an early wake up call. But mother nature is a bitch. The Badlands, as it turns out, is named so (at least partially so) because of it’s ridiculous extremes in weather. The wide, flat prairie that we slept in was like sleeping on the wing of a 747 during flight. It blew so hard that the tent nearly collapsed. It continuously bent in so far that throughout the entire night it hit parts of our bodies and woke us up. It really made me appreciate the struggle the three little pigs went through.

There was one saving grace – the night sky. The Badlands are known to have one of the clearest skies in the country, as there is virtually no light pollution (except that lovely bathroom) and we didn’t have many clouds. Looking up at the sky was insane – never had I seen so many stars. We could see everything, even planets. It seemed to make the wind more bearable. Then our feet got smacked again.

At the crack of dawn we were packed up and ready to go. Little did we know the fun in South Dakota wasn’t ending just yet.

(Fun fact about the Badlands: They were created by sediment and then erosion over time. The area that is the Midwest, especially the Dakotas, used to be covered by an enormous sea that built up the sediment. When the sea dried up, the Badlands were created through various types of wind and water erosion and, because it’s made of hard and soft rock, is constantly being washed away and built up again. That’s what makes them look the way they do. Bad news though, the Badlands could be gone relatively soon (in the geological sense) if the erosion keeps up. So you better go see them.)

No Faces Small Places

Until driving through, I never realized that the farther west you go the bigger the states get. I looked at the directions when we left our campsite in Nebraska to see that South Dakota was only one state to the north. It was supposed to take 7.5 hours. I was baffled.

But man those states are big. This drive was one of my favorites because we were only on a major interstate for the last hour or two. The rest of the drive were less traveled roads that wound through the fields and hills. Which was hell for cell phone reception.

Nebraska is the first state we were in that listed the population of each town under its name on the signs. We didn’t see a town larger than 1,000 people until about 3 hours into the drive. Every few miles there was a small cluster of buildings around an intersection of two paved roads (I specify because most crossroads were dirt) that Nebraska calls a “town”. I’d call them a village. Or a hamlet. Semantics. Anyway these hamlets dotted the massive expanses of fields of corn and occasional beans. The solution to overpopulation is Nebraska.

At lunch we had to fight for a parking spot:

If you closed your eyes the wind going through the corn stalks sounded like the ocean. Only when you open your mouth in the ocean it doesn’t get filled with bugs and the smell of cow manure.

Driving into South Dakota was one of the happiest moments of the trip because I got a GREAT picture of the state sign:

(If you can’t read that, yes, South Dakota’s motto is “Great Faces Great Places”)

And I got a redo for messing up in Nebraska (yes we turned around whatever)

(Oh thank you Nebraska for creating the most relevant day of the year.)

But I was mostly happy for the sole reason that there was no corn in sight. Three days of our yellow kernely companions were behind us and we crossed into the high plains of western South Dakota. I don’t know if it was due to the fact that the corn was gone or elevation was making me loopy, but I thought South Dakota was awesome. The western half of the state is made up of grasslands and buttes (which I pronounce “butts” because it’s hilarious that they’d name a landform that) which makes for really interesting scenery.

It seemed like we were always climbing in elevation as we drove, and the wind was nuts. It felt entirely different than anywhere I’d been before. Very vast, very open. The largest city in SD has just over 150,000 people. One town we drove through had 87. Confirmed: overpopulation is a government conspiracy.

Another South Dakota treasure – we got on the interstate and, what do you know, the speed limit is 75. Never in my life had I driven on a highway with that high of a speed limit. Go go speed racer.

The Badlands were fast approaching as we went 473 mph in my Honda Accord.