Learning to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road is a challenge in any car…let alone a rather large Chevy Traverse……it’s been nearly 3 weeks since I landed in the USA and I’ve done a bit of driving but nothing compared to the last 24 hours since I dropped Clyve off at Denver Airport to go back to Australia for a railway function with his son Friday night- he’ll only be gone for 2 and a half days but my status has jumped from ‘Navigator’ to ‘Pilot Alone in America’!!
I like the Estes Park area up in the mountains NW of Denver – we briefly snow chased up here last year when there was 10′ of snow at 10,000′, so I decided to explore this area more thoroughly this year even though there is very little snow. The road I choose from Denver goes north around the suburbs, avoiding the peak hour traffic chaos (not ready for that yet…) and after stopping for a great cappuccino in Longmont’s Starbucks, I turned towards the mountains, their craggy peaks and windy 30-40mph roads. The Traverse, for such a large vehicle actually handles the bends well and I enjoy driving it – the road is good. It’s only 20 miles of bendy road up to Estes Park…the real challenge is further on from here….after choosing a room at the Comfort Inn, I head down to find something to eat for lunch…settling on a bacon and American cheese croissant and a decent cappuccino from ‘Kind Coffee’. Very nice!! And being able to eat lunch sitting next to the river is a plus…but don’t try this in February!! Next is the road up to 10,000′ plus…I’m looking for wildlife and wildflowerrs on his trip – I’ve already explored the bookshops and been guilty of finding 2 weather books….so now it’s off into the wilds…although if anything like last year it’ll be the “not-so-wild” wilds…..the animals were either wandering around the cabins we stayed in (never seen Michael King move so fast off the deck out the front of the cabin next to the river as when I finally read the sign on the fridge that we’d all walked past that evening that said……”Black Bear Warning…DO NOT go outside after 8.30pm at night as there are a number of black bears who wander through the property” – I nearly got knocked over in Michael’s rush to get back inside!!!!)…….or they were lounging around on the side of the road and looking the car windows if you were parked there long enough…. Not much wildlife today other than a herd of tagged deer….and an idiot in a Toyota Cube that almost ended up being a square when he stopped on the bend in the middle of the road in front of a Silverado truck to photograph them…..
The hotel in Estes Park has a good view of the mountains surrounding the town, a very comfortable bed and a good shower, but the hall outside the room has the old but undeniable scent of a skunk who has found itself inside and very frightened (that’s a scent that you don’t ever !!!! forget, but Australian road kill is a strong contender for the title)……fortunately the rooms don’t smell. On Friday morning, the skies were crystal clear with a pleasant 62F and I drive south towards Boulder through the mountains… there are gullies of old snow still laying on the north side of deep valleys above 8’300′. This part of the mountains is full of retires and at least one small settlement of ‘alternatives’…I thought I’d stumbled upon an area where junk had been abandoned along the sides of the road until, upon closer inspection I realized that the rainbow painted roof of one house and the homemade generator outside another marked residences, but at first glance it was difficult to tell….. Nederland, just up from Denver, is a town with character…and characters. One of the gift shops has a gallery of paintings of naked women along with the pottery and sweatshirts they all carry, another has fossils and books. I’m sitting in the New Moon Bakery (which is busy for a Friday morning in a town in the middle of nowhere in the mountains)….Someone driving a dusty, musty green Subaru wagon suddenly starts blowing his horn…everyone’s attention gained…you see a young man brandishing a broad grin and a skateboard dancing back and forth across the road in front of him……the charade continues for a couple of minutes…then everyone goes back about their business. There’s a long-haired young man sitting outside in the sun with a cup of coffee and a journal that he is writing in..he’s been in twice since I’ve been here to get a refill and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to be anywhere else…our Chevy Traverse, parked just up the road from where I sit is doing its own version of attracting attention (as it does wherever we go)….so far it’s been circled by 3 people on separate occasions, with much scratching of heads and pointing, and it’s had its photo taken with someone standing next to it….. The young man climbs on his push bike and finally rides away with a takeaway coffee in one hand…..seems he’s a local. The pace of life in the town is steady but not rushed….the locals all come in here for their coffee for lunch…the Rolling Stones is playing on the radio….the wifi is working at about the same pace as the town…..it’s a pleasant change from the rush of Denver and the busy Interstates. After a lazy lunch sitting next to a rushing stream, it’s back into the car and down towards Denver……and drove through Boulder and Denver all by myself without getting lost once!!!…that’s a very satisfying way to end a couple of days exploring. Tomorrow I pick Clyve up from the airport and we hit the highways to the NE and back into the storm chasing life!!