DREAMSCAPES SPRING/SUMMER 2024
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THE GREAT COLORADO ROAD TRIP
 
(2024 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: DEBBIE OLSEN



As a teenager, I once asked for a rock ’n’ roll album for Christmas and received John Denver’s Greatest Hits instead. I didn’t try to hide my disappointment when I opened the well-intended gift. Since it was the only album I owned, I listened to the record often and I learned to love the music—though I never admitted it then. Recently, as my husband Greg and I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado, I found myself humming Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” the entire way. I finally understood why he sang so passionately about Colorado.

Colorado was made for road trips—remarkable landscapes filled with beauty and grandeur, quaint small towns, and cosmopolitan cities ripe with arts and culture. The Rocky Mountains took our breath away, but so did the Garden of the Gods, an awe-inspiring national landmark of striking sandstone formations near Colorado Springs. We loved driving through panoramic scenery, but we also enjoyed exploring the galleries and museums in Denver and stopping in communities so picturesque, they inspired parts of the Disneyland theme park.

Colorado’s Creative Capital

Denver is the capital of Colorado, the largest city in the state, and it’s also the best place to start a road trip. Nicknamed Mile High City, due to being exactly one mile above sea level, Denver is an artsy favourite with delectable restaurants and unique attractions.

We spent two days delving deep into Denver. We explored the city on a guided electric tuk-tuk tour with local operator, the Ultimate Urban Denver City Tour. Our guide/driver Erik drove to historic areas sharing stories of Denver’s storied past from the Pike’s Peak gold rush to the transformation from a sleepy backwater to a thriving metropolis due to the railroad.

One afternoon we explored Meow Wolf Denver, an interactive art show with 110 local Denver artists that combines sculpture, architecture, storytelling, music and video in a multiversal transit station. Visitors explore four imagined alien worlds like the neon metropolis called C Street and the enormous Kaleidogothic Cathedral, in the Ice Cities of Eemia, that is a mythical mind-bend.

At night, beneath a starry sky, we joined other concert goers for an R&B performance by emerging artist Mariah the Scientist at Red Rocks Amphitheater. She’s no John Denver, but she has a lovely voice and the acoustics and the setting made for an unforgettable evening. Featuring massive red sandstone monoliths, the amphitheatre is one of the most impressive natural outdoor concert venues in America and even though it’s a relatively small venue, A-lister performers like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, John Denver and U2 once graced its centre stage. Accommodations: Thompson Denver

Garden of the Gods

Just over an hour’s drive south of Denver, Garden of the Gods Park is a geological wonder that ended up being my husband’s favourite stop. Colourful eroded sandstone spires and massive monoliths that were sculpted by nature over millions of years are considered sacred by Native American people. Greg was enraptured by the geology and loved photographing these ancient formations along the trails that wind through the preserve. We pulled off the road intending to spend about an hour but instead spent three incredible hours.

Colorado Springs

Every road trip should have a big splurge and for us it was The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. First opened in 1918, The Broadmoor is a legendary destination resort that has hosted American presidents, athletes, movie stars, royalty and us. There’s a Wall of Fame near the bowling alley in The Broadmoor West building with pictures of some of the famous guests. We spent the better part of a day on the resort trying activities like golf, tennis, pickleball, swimming, and enjoying fine dining. Accommodations: The Broadmoor

Rocky Mountain National Park

We backtracked a bit to pass through Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenery is phenomenal and it felt like we were on top of the world driving along Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved highway in the United States reaching 3,713 metres above sea level at its highest point. We stopped for photos and hiked in the park. I couldn’t stop humming the entire way and thankfully, my husband didn’t complain.

Loveland

Finding unexpected gems is what I love most about road trips. The City of Loveland has four free outdoor sculpture parks where we experienced open-air artistry. The four-hectare Benson Sculpture Garden was our favourite with 178 magnificent sculptures by artists specializing in realism and abstract art. We visited every sculpture garden and even put a love lock on the love lock sculpture at the visitor’s centre. Accommodations: TownePlace Suites

Old Town Fort Collins

Our last stop was Fort Collins. We explored the historic district, which is arguably one of the prettiest streetscapes in America. Harper Goff, born in Fort Collins, worked with Walt Disney to create Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Several of the buildings in the theme park were modelled after buildings that still stand in Fort Collins. Our hotel offered guests free bike rentals, which we used cycling all over town. Accommodations: Armstrong Hotel

More Colorado

While our six-day road trip gave us a small taste of what Colorado has to offer, we definitely crave more. We’re planning a future visit to explore other spectacular spots like the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, the towering dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and the highest suspension bridge in America at Royal Gorge near Cañon City.

John Denver was right. The Colorado Rocky Mountain high is real and it’s addictive. One trip is not enough.

Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and a national bestselling author. Follow her at wanderwoman.ca

Insider Tip

For Rocky Mountain National Park visits during peak season (late May–October), a timed entry permit is required. Book about a month in advance at recreation.gov.

Dining Out

We enjoyed some fantastic meals on our Colorado road trip. Here are a few favourites.

Best Breakfast: Head to Snooze Union Station in Denver for breakfast burritos, avocado toast, pancakes, coffee and cocktails. In Loveland, don’t miss Doug’s Day Diner for biscuits and gravy or griddle biscuits and omelettes.

Best Lunch: Levin Deli, beside the Denver Art Gallery, is famous for its signature sandwiches and baked goods. In Old Town Fort Collins, Union Bar and Soda Fountain makes a good lunch or casual dinner stop with craft bevvies and comfort food.

Best Dinner: At the Thompson Denver the traditional French brasserie of Chez Maggy is where Michelin-starred chef Ludo Lefebvre uses local ingredients to create classic French cuisine. Don’t miss the ceviche trio at Summit, an American Brassiere at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. You’ll find a number of Peruvian specialties on the menu from Peruvian-raised Chef de Cuisine Rocio Neyra Palmer.

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