Aspen, Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef!
I took the scenic way to Aspen along highway 82 and went through the Independence path. The views were stunning on the road were stunning for a few reasons. First, there was evidence of avalanches (hundreds of knocked down trees on the mountains) all along the highway. Second, there was still snow along the roadside, and people were skiing at Independence Pass (a popular viewpoint at the top of the mountains). Lastly, some of those roads are terrifying to drive. Often time the road has no guardrails, so it is a sheer drop-off if you lose control of your car. Other times, the road narrows so much that 2 cars cannot pass each other... and this is on a major roadway!
I survived the highway and got into Apsen around noon. I wanted to hike right away, and did the Smuggle Trail which was known as one of the best trails for locals. On an average day, the hike would not have been terrible. However, I was not used to the new altitude, and I also was carrying a backpack full of my drone and photography supplies, so the hike was a lot harder than I ever expected. I did finally 'summit' and got some great video for the movie. I spent the rest of that first day relaxing at my hotel (I really needed a shower) and watched game 6 of the NFL final at a sports bar.
The next day's morning was filled with work (writing the last blog post) and laundry. That afternoon I had the opportunity to interview an executive at the Aspen Skiing Co about their business, which was incredibly informative. One of the most interesting things that came from the interview is that it can take 20+ years to launch a new mountain or execute on a master plan they have for the mountain, which is an unfathomable amount of time for 'product development' at the technology companies I usually speak to. However, it makes sense due to all of the regulations and permissions they need to secure with federal and local officials. I spent the remainder of the second day exploring downtown Aspen and met some wonderful people at a restaurant. I'm learning that life is better when you talk to strangers (except if you are a little kid) and plan to be as much of an extrovert on the rest of this trip (and maybe life) as possible. I also fell in love with the charm and cuteness of Aspen, but at an average house price of 4.6 million, I'm not sure how I could ever live there.
The next morning (Tues June 11) I left Aspen and actually got pulled over by the police for speeding. The police officer was very polite and let me off with a warning, which I was grateful for since a ticket would have been $167. My end point for the day was a campsite at Mesa Verde National Park, but I wanted to enjoy the ride, so I stopped in Telluride, another mountain town, on the way. Telluride is smaller than Aspen, but in a way much cuter because as you drive down the main street, you see the mountain in front of you. Since it is summer, the snow was melting off the mountain and coming down in a waterfall, and it was stunning. I stopped for lunch at the Brown Dog and watched the USA women's world cup team beat Thailand 13-0, which was incredible. After the game, I got back on the road and found my camping spot. It was still early in the day, and I didn't have tickets to explore the park yet, so I went to the local town of Cortez Colorado and visited the local brewery: Wild Edge Brewing Collective. There I met some of the local, one in particular, Carly who runs a local dispensary, was trying to convince me to move there claiming it is the best kept secret in Colorado. The town is a little small for my tastes, but Colorado is pretty amazing. Maybe I will check out Cortez again in the future and hopefully it has gotten a little bit bigger.
The next morning I got up early because I wanted to be one of the first people in line for tour tickets when the visitor center opens. Mesa Verde's claim to fame is ancient pueblo houses throughout the park, but most famously in the cliffs. To see these sights, you need to get tickets, and go on guided tours. The first tour I went on was Balcony House. This is a strenuous tour because you need to climb wooden ladders to get into the housing structure. Then to get out, you need to crawl through a hole in the cliff side no bigger than a oil barrel, and then need to climb more ladders to get out. I have a small fear of heights, and a little claustrophobic, so these parts of the tour were not my favorite, but overall the tour was amazing with regard to learning how the Pueblo people lived. I still cannot believe these families crawled through that small hole everyday to get in and out of their house. But the cliffs where their house was located had a source of water in the arid region, so it makes sense that they would want to live there. The second tour I went on was for Cliff Palace which is the most photographed part of the park. This small 'city' probably housed dozens of families and may have been a central hub of civilization for the region, but so much is unknown since the Pueblo people left the region around 1200 AD.
When my tours were done at Mesa Verde, I began the ride to Moab Utah which is the major town near Arches National Park as well as Canyonlands National Park. I dropped by my HipCamp for the evening to make sure I knew were I was, and after some help from a neighbor, found the spot to camp in at a horse ranch. I then went downtown Moab to explore, and stopped at the Moab brewery. I have come to realize that stopping at a local bar/brewery the night before I explore a park is an excellent way to know which hikes to do and which to avoid. For example, at Moab brewery I met a couple from Boston who had been mountain biking in the park for the last several days, and they gave me a lot of great advice on where to go in Arches the next day. That night, I was treated to an amazing sunset at the ranch, and got to say hello and pet the horses while they ate their dinner.
Arches is one of the more popular parks, so I woke up early, showered quickly, and made my way to the park. I decided to try a new tactic the couple from Boston told me, drive to the end of the park first and then work your way back to the entrance. That way you avoid a lot of crowds as they stop for the earlier things to see. So I went to the Devils Garden in the back and saw all of the major Arches (except private Arch) as well as the Dark Angle. On the hike I met a nice couple from Bend Oregon (who I would also run into the next day at Canyonlands). The devil's garden trail is a little rough, and it was noon when I got back to my car so the park was beginning to heat up. I decided I leave the park and avoid the heat in a restaurant for lunch, but stopped at Balanced Rock for pictures. That night I had dinner a local restaurant, and the bartender had lived in the area for a long time. I told them of my time at Arches, and they asked if I missed Delicate Arch. I told them I skipped it due to the heat, and they strongly encouraged me to go back the next day...
That evening I camped at Dead Horse State Park which is outside of the Canyonlands national park. As the sun was setting, there was a thunderstorm on the horizon, but it seemed to be moving at an angle away from me so I was not worried. However, at about midnight the winds began to go crazy and my tent felt like it was flying away. Of course, since my tent is attached to the roof of my car, I knew it would not fly away with me inside of it, but I began to worry a little bit. That is went I realized that I had left the rubber cover for the tent, and the rain cover, on the picnic table next to my car. I looked out the window, and both were off the table, which put me into a panic. Without the rubber cover, driving with the tent on top of the car would be unsafe... I had to find those things asap. I didn't even take the time to put on my clothes, I jumped out of the tent in my underwear (it was hot that night ok?) and ran around in the dark and high winds. I eventually found both the rubber cover and the rain cover, and got them into my car, but it was an adrenaline filled few minutes which I will probably remember the rest of my life.
The next day I drove to Canyonlands national park and visited several of the sites. Canyonslands is split into several sections, and I was visiting the northern section called 'Island in the Sky'. All of the hikes at Canyonlands are pretty easy compares to Arches, so it was a quick. Overall Canyonalnds is interesting, particularly upheaval dome which scientists are unsure of what caused it, but it is not as scenic as some other parks. The southern park of the park, the Needles, is said to be more scenic but it required a two hour ride in order to see since there is no road in the park connecting the northern and southern sections directly.
At this point, it was around noon and the recommendation to see Delicate Arch had been bothering me from the night before. I had the time to see it, but my concern was that it was already noon and it was going to keep getting hotter. I thought 'I may only be here once in my life, I need to see this thing if it is so important'. So I drove back to Arches, and did the 1.5 mile hike to Delicate Arch. The hike was pretty hard given the terrain and the heat (thankfully it stayed around 90, not terrible but not pleasant). The hike was worth it though, Delicate Arch is phenomenally beautiful and I am glad I went back to take pictures and video at it.
My next stop on my trip was Capitol Reef national park. I was staying at a HipCamp in the small town of Bicknell UT. The Hipcamp was hard to find due to slightly confusing directions, and I got there with no time to spare in terms of setting up my tent with the barest of sunlight left. The campsite was an old abandoned homestead which was actually a pretty cool place to be at. In the morning, I took video exploring the homestead before heading off to the park.
Capitol Reef national park has the red rock mountainsides of Arches, but it also has a lot of tree and plant life which gives an interesting red vs green dynamic to the scenery. I read in my national parks book the night before that Hickman Bridge was a good hike to do, so that was my first stop after filling up my water at the visitor's center. On the trail, I met Howard and Jorie, a couple from Chicago, also exploring the southwest and slowly making their way to Los Angeles to surprise their son. They were two of the most friendly people I have ever met, and we shared stories about our lives the entire way to the bridge/arch at the end of the trail as well as the way back. In the parking lot, we swapped contact information, and they told me they would send me a picture we took together. I finished Capitol Reef by driving along the scenic road, and began to feel a little tired. I had slept in my tent for four nights, and that night I had a hotel room book at an inn in Escalante Utah, and a shower was calling my name. I decided to leave the park without doing a second hike, and headed down to Escalante.
I got to the hotel a little early, but the manager was nice and let me get into my room an hour early. First thing I did was take a shower, followed by connecting to the Wifi to let my phone and GoPro start uploading video and pictures to the cloud. I had a pretty relaxing afternoon in the town, and had dinner at a local pub that opened at 5. That night I recieved an email from Howard with the picture of us together (below) and also telling me that there were in Escalante as well. They were going to Bryce National park the next day, which I was as well, and traded phone numbers. We decided to call each other when we both got to Bryce and see if we could meet up for dinner the next night.
As I write this, I am sitting at Escalante Outfitters eating a breakfast burrito and an iced coffee as I wait for my laundry to finish. Its Father's day today, which is fitting. I have thought a lot about my family on this trip, particularly my father. My father moved to the USA in his early thirties to take a new job in hopes of providing a better life for his family which at the time was only me and my mom. I cannot phantom the amount of courage it took to move to a new country in which English was your second language to take on a job in a completely unrelated industry to what he was doing in Sweden. I am 37, I am not sure I would have the courage to do that today (though this trip is breaking me out of my comfort zone more and more). My father has worked hard his entire career, and provided a lot for me, more than I will probably ever know. Because of his hard work, I went to Augustana College and left debt free, which put me in a financial position to go to an expensive graduate school for my masters, which then led me to get a doctoral degree. Because of my Ph.D., I am able to be a business professor at Augustana, which afford me the summers off to pursue a crazy road trip like this. So thank you dad, for all of the hard work you have done over the years. Thank you so much for all of the mornings you woke up ridiculously early to get in your car and drive from Chicago to Houston to meet with potential customers, as well as weekends spent in the office getting work done so you could provide for me, my sisters, and my mother.
The laundry is ready to be folded and packed away and I need to move onto my next stop: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. I have a lot of great things about these two places, so I am looking forward to them!