The hardest decisions we have EVER made are when we are choosing a travel destination. We do argue from time to time as Nikita would rather spend a few days at the beach while I (Lyndee) would prefer to backpack in the wilderness. We've learned to meet in the middle when deciding what's the best option for our next adventure. Our latest journey was to southwestern Colorado y'all...and it was an absolute blast!
Planning for the Journey Ahead:
We love to plan our short vacations this way! Having only one goal in mind allows us to keep the rest of our options open and just experience the the trip. During this trip we were specifically going to the Thirsty 13 Half Marathon because my sister was going to run her first marathon. After the race would be the San Juan Brewfest so of course Nikita and I were going to tag along!
When the idea of this trip was first developing, we thought we'd go further southwest to the Grand Canyon or to Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam. We were dreaming too big - there wasn't enough time to see all of that and the sights in between! And we definitely didn't have enough money to go that far, but we made the best of the time we had off.
Our actual destination was southwestern Colorado, but we took a diagonal path across the state. If you are traveling from the DIA (Denver International Airport you could follow a similar path.
On the Road:
The road into town winds through a narrow pass which is gorgeous! The sandstone cliffs were surrounding the town - we even saw some paragliders jump off of one! This was just the start to our trip and we were beyond excited.
We had decided to rent a KOA cabin because my sister was planning on running 13 miles y'all! She was going to need a more comfortable spot to rest after her race than sleeping in a tent. The KOA was just outside of town so we did have to drive ourselves, but waiting for an Uber or Lift was always an option. The campground had a great view of the San Juan valley where we overlooked the city so I guess it was worth the 189 bucks we spent reserving it!
After we had gotten our lodging situated and we cleared out the car, we went downtown to get acquainted with where we would be drinking lots of alcohol. The town was very clean and had a lively historic downtown district. One down side to Durango was the merchandise was more expensive than we could afford, but we eventually found some souvenirs we were willing to pay for at the multiple trading companies the town has. We met some locals who shop at these stores regularly and said they have the best deals and the comfiest clothes. The local information center even told us of the local farmer's market happening the day of the race which we did have the opportunity to go to - it was so much fun!
Durango to Telluride:
Durango was a great home to us for two days - we are ready to go back! But we had to get moving early the next morning because you know we were going to take the scenic route.
When we had visited the Durango information center we asked for a map of Mesa Verde National Park (it was a 30 minute drive to the park on Hwy 160 West) and the woman at the counter said "And by the way, tomorrow is a free day at the National Park." We HAD to go!
Once you enter the park, you can take a break from the road at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center. Here you will be able to get maps to guide yourself around or for suggestions on tours to walk inside some of the largest Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings. We three did not want to purchase a tour ticket this time and we had read about the least popular side of the park - Wetherill Mesa.
The road to either side of the park takes about 30-45 minutes. There were hiking trails to dwellings and overlooks at various locations in these beautiful mesas around Wetherill - and this was the less visited side of the park y'all! And when we arrived at the dwellings the brochures we had grabbed at the entrance came in handy because they pointed out important features. If you are going to visit Mesa Verde we don't want to ruin the tour for you, but we did spend more time than expected exploring. We arrived at the entrance to the park around 8 am and finally got back on the highway to Telluride, CO.
After our AMAZING time in the southern corner we turned north onto Hwy 125 out of Cortez, CO. This was a gorgeous drive and along the road are marked pull-offs to stop at the most scenic canyon overlooks. There are some twists and turns through the San Juan Mountain Range, but it overall wasn't a frightening drive.
Along the way we kept seeing signs for the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument so, naturally we got curious and stopped at the visitor center to get some more information. This was a really neat visitor center - there was a great museum with artifacts dating hundreds of thousands of years back and we had the chance to look at it all! We highly recommend it as a stop along your route and we didn't even get to the actual canyon region with other cliff dwellings and such.
The town of Telluride literally sits in a box canyon surrounded by ancient volcanoes which now look to us like snow-capped mountains and there is only one road in and out of town. My sister and I learned about Colorado geography in great detail because it is our home state. We had always heard and read about Telluride with pictures showing passengers boarding a train, eager to mine for treasures hidden in the San Juan Mountains, with the send off "To Hell You Ride" posted on the side of the car.
Next, we walked around downtown and popped into the information center to ask a local for campsites in or outside of town. Once again, we were given great advice! The woman showed us one option in town ($33/night) and one option outside of town (FREE!). Trying to get home with money still in our banking accounts, we chose the free campsite - Mary E. Campground. Check out this free online campsite locator that we used to pin point it. Ok...now this campsite was very nice, but we have a bad memory of it because of one person who we were sharing the campground with that night.
A river ran next to some other campers sites so we wanted to go closer. We just sat and talked,watching the sunset and then headed back in a slightly different direction where we came about 100 feet from another site. One of the campers who established his tent here for the night was rummaging around in his supplies and we shouted over to him "Hello!", "Hi there!", etc. Well he thought we were too close and yelled at us to get out of his camp. We immediately responded "Sorry, about that" and continued to our spot...but he was looking for a fight. For some reason he started yelling about us being drunk and stupid (but using different words). We ignored the complete stranger and went to our campsite, trying to figure out what exactly had just happened.
Telluride to Grand Junction:
We didn't have many more points of interest to see on the way back home because we never planned that far ahead! As we looked at the map we noticed the Black Canyon of the Gunnison north entrance was near by the road we would be taking. Why not hit another National Park?
It turns out that we went to the most scenic part of the park going through the north entrance. AND admission into the park is good for five days y'all! We had no idea! You must visit this park and stop along the road at scenic overlooks like The Chasm and The Painted Wall View at least. We didn't make time for this outdoor haven (which by the way it is also a dark sky park meaning the stargazing is excellent) so learn from our experience and understand that you will want to spend all five days here!
The sad part of this trip was that we couldn't keep touring and discovering the corner of the state - we had to get back home so we spent two hours at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The next stop was going to be Grand Junction, CO.
Nikita travels the interstates because of his job and he told my sister and I that we needed to stop in Grand Junction to eat lunch at a specific Nepalese restaurant. It was called Namaste Nepal Restaurant, right off of Hwy 50. The food was extremely tasty! While in town, we found a Cabela's so my sister could fish on the river which I-70 parallels on the way back to Denver.
Going Home Sweet Home:
There are various points along I-70 that we could have stopped at...but not knowing the anything about the area, you guessed it, we got lost. Eventually we stopped in the town of Silt, CO and went into the Chamber of Commerce which we happened to have passed. The ladies working that day told us we were one more turn from the fishing spot!
Not only could we fish on the river but we could swim in it too (at this time of year the river was low so be careful when traveling in the spring months when the water runs high). While my sister fished, Nikita and I put on our swimsuits. The water was a good temperature especially while the summer sun was beating down on us. We can't tell you what the fishing spot was called because we were so lost!
My sister never did catch a fish, but we needed to head back out on the road. We still had four and a half hours to get back to Grover, CO. It was a very scenic trip back to Denver, through twists and turns of river cutting through mesas and ski towns at the bases of towering mountain peaks. Before reaching Denver it was already sun down so we had to be extra careful of animals crossing the road. Luckily we never saw any deer, moose, elk, bear or cougar during our vacation through the Rocky Mountains and we made it home safe late that night.
As we came into Denver, we realized rush hour had been long over so we stuck to the highways closer to the Colorado capital which did get us home slightly earlier. It was a lot to fit into four days, but it was extremely fun and eye-opening.
Just a couple of travel bums living life to the fullest. Join us on our adventures from coast to coast, from country to country, and everything in between!