Road Trip Part 5 – Colorado to Home

Day 11: Frisco, CO to Estes Park, CO

We woke up in Frisco ready to cross the Continental Divide for the third (maybe fourth) time in the trip, but this one would be over Loveland Pass, where you can really tell that you’re in the Rockies.

Since we were in ski country, the family wanted to check out the resort town of Breckenridge which was a short drive away. I had spent a couple of nights in Breck over Spring Break, so it made me wish that Winter would go ahead and arrive a little bit sooner. Our travel plans were complicated by the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race, which started in Breckenridge later in the morning and actually closed the road we were planning to take out of town. The obvious solution was to sit and watch! Chris Froome, this year’s Tour de France champion, was in attendance along with many other stars.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge

I-70 though Colorado was amusing and windy (much prefer driving this when not snowy, thanks), but we detoured to Loveland Pass to take the obligatory Continental Divide photo and stretch our legs.

From the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass (just above Arapahoe Basin ski area)
From Loveland Pass

The rest of the day consisted of driving through old mining towns on the way to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. We headed into RMNP and drove up the Trail Ridge road in the evening. What we saw was another fantastic sunset in one of America’s national parks.

Elk Herd
From Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road leading off into the West
Sunset in RMNP

Day 12: Estes Park, CO to Sidney, NE

Sadly, weather conditions on Long’s Peak had claimed the life of a hiker earlier in the week, and with my ankle recently tweaked after a trail running mishap, I did not feel comfortable heading up there alone into icy conditions. The alternative was great though – a hike to Loch Vale with the brother and my dad. I was very aware that this would be my last western hike of the year before heading back to the midwest, so I wanted to take it all in without taking many photos. Here are a couple of highlights from the Loch.

Loch Vale
Loch Vale pano (click to expand)

And that was the end of my Western summer.

Since I was skipping Long’s Peak, we were done much earlier in the day than anticipated and decided to leave early in order to cut down on the driving over the next couple of days. We ended up staying in Sidney, NE. Not a lot to report on in Sidney; there are cheap hotels and Cabela’s store headquarters are located there.

Days 13-14 – Returning to MI and reflections on the trip

On the way home we followed I-80 almost the entire way, stopping overnight in Avoca, IA to visit family and finally reaching home on Day 14. Since there is nothing to really report on for this section of the trip, I figured I’d leave some thoughts from the trip:

Positives:
– Seeing 9 national parks and monuments including 2 of the “big three” – Yellowstone and Grand Canyon
– Devil’s Tower was a major surprise in a good way
– Every American needs to visit at least a few of these parks. Grand Canyon and Yellowstone in particular are real national treasures with no equal anywhere else in the world. Get out and see them!
– Driving across the country is a way to keep from being too out of touch with “flyover states”. By driving and stopping in little towns you get a sense of the direction of the economy. For instance, seeing the energy sector in Wyoming, and the agricultural economy of south central Utah.
– Spending that much time in a car with the family was a good bonding experience
– I’m very glad that my brother and I were 18 and 22 respectively before we did this. Kids would go absolutely nuts.
 
Do-overs:
– This trip was really a lot of driving. I am not sure that I would visit so many parks on one trip if I were to plan it over again. A northern loop with Glacier and Yellowstone might be good, with a southern loop based out of Vegas hitting the Southwestern parks.
– Doing the trip with the family limited some of the more extreme/strenuous hikes I could accomplish in each park. I need to revisit Yellowstone to head out into the (vast) back country instead of just scratching the surface.
 
Would like to return to:
– Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton
– Salt Lake City (in winter)
– Jackson, WY
 
Regret not hitting:
– Long’s Peak (this stings, it was going to be my first 14’er and I was very ready)
– Glacier NP (will get another time, wouldn’t have been practical for us)
– Great Basin
– Grand Canyon rim to rim trail
 
Could have lived without:
– So much driving
– Nebraska
– Most of South Dakota
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