Bella Ispirazione

1 week in Colorado (roadtrip from Houston)

It’s already July 2020 and we are still in lockdown due to the Covid-19, with cases increasing dramatically in Houston (where we live). I feel we are living in a movie, a very bad one. I also feel we were irresponsable in doing this trip, because it’s time to be at home, to take care of ourselves and to do the least we can do to stop this virus.

Nevertheless, in my defense, I was being pushed at work to take holidays, because no one has taken holidays since March, and we were also getting really anxious of being at home all these months. So, for the sake of our marriage, we looked for a place where we can drive to from Houston and that offers lots of outdoors activities. That’s how we decided last minute to take our car and drive to Colorado.

Check my previous post if you are interested about my experience traveling in US during Covid19.

This was our itineray:

Day 1: July 3rd
Houston – Clayton
Day 2: July 4th
Clayton – Colorado Springs
Day 3: July 5th
Colorado Springs – Denver/Golden
Day 4: July 6th
Rocky Mountains
Day 5: July 7th
Avon
Day 6: July 8th
Avon
Day 7: July 9th
Avon – Great Sand Dunes – Amarillo
Day 8: July 10th
Amarillo – Houston

Day 1: From Houston to Clayton

So we packed everything the day before and hit the road at 7:00am, with the idea of driving 6-7hours today because that’s usually our daily limit of driving.

To our surprise, we drove for around 10hours, even passed Amarillo Town. We only stopped twice, one for gas and one to eat at Whataburger.

We decided to stop around 6:00pm at Clayton (New Mexico). A little town that we didn’t actually visit since we went straight to our motel (Super 8) and had dinner in the taqueria next to it (Taqueria Dalhart 2), which was convenient, although the food was a little too greasy.

At 8:00pm we were sleeping like babies.

Day 2: From Clayton to Colorado Springs

Again, our plans changed a little bit because we woke up at 3:00am. So, at 4:00am we were on our way to visit the Garden of the Gods (free entry) in Colorado Springs. After all, it was great because we arrived at 8:00am, before it was too crowded.

We also had breakfast at Jive Lounge Cafe, 6 minutes driving from the gate of the Garden of the Gods.

Our idea in this garden was to bike the Jupiner loop, which is basically the loop you can do by car, but all one-way roads in the Park have paved biked lanes. The Garden Drive/Juniper Way loop is about 6 miles with quite a few hills, some as steep as a 15% grade, and the park is at 6400 feet elevation, so appropriate physical condition is necessary for riding standard pedal bike. We did just a little bit of it and then part of the foothill trail also with our bikes.

We then walked the gateway loop trail (about 3km) to have a nice view of the garden, although it was already crowded (10:00am).

At 11:00 we went to Manitou Cliff Dwellings. It was ok, maybe a little expensive for what it is (12$ per person). The self tour is very short, and the museum is not well organized. Very difficult to follow the story.

After the museum, it was close to midday and we were getting hungry. We wanted to eat at Pizzeria Rustica on Colorado Ave., that looks very authentic, but it was closed because it was 4th of July. Instead, we ate at Paravicini, a regular italian restaurant (sorry, but american way of cooking is not our favorite). The afternoon nap after the pasta we ate, together with the rain, was espectacular (we stayed at Mecca motel).
Mecca motel (94$ per night) is a common motel like the ones you can find almost everywhere in US. It was clean and the pool was appreciated.

We had an early dinner in Ihop, cause we were looking for something safe where you could have a simple omelette.

We ended up our day walking down Manitou avenue while having an ice cream.

Day 3: Colorado Springs and Denver/Golden

We had breakfast in the same place as yesterday, Jive Lounge, because bagles and croissants were really good. We then went up to Pikes Peak. I had no idea Pikes Peak race exist, it was cool to drive to the summit. The entrance is 15$ per adult, but the views make it worth it.

The whole roundtrip could take you around 2-3 hours, there is no gas station, you can do it biking (if you are an expert and in very good physical conditions), by car, or by shuttle. I saw also some tours that take you by car to the summit and then you go down in a rented mountain bike, that could have been cool too. Also, you get a map at the entrance and if you ask they tell you the different locations where you can do trails. Just be aware that it gets really cold.

From there we head to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, stopping in Morrison town to have lunch at Red Rock Grill. This amphitheater is a must if you go to Colorado! It’s beautiful how these coarse-grained conglomerate and sandstone beds (same we found in Garden of Gods) make up a natural, acoustically-pleasing amphitheater which has welcomed The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, among others.

In the afternoon, after our precious nap in our nicer hotel were we stayed 2 nights (Hampton Inn), we walked and drove around Denver downtown (museums, capitol, city park, etc.), and had arepas for dinner at Avanti F&B.

Day 4: Rocky Mountains 

In the morning, around 8:30, we went to Buffalo Bill Museum for the views (we didn’t visit the museum), then to the Lookout Mountain Preserve and Nature Center, that it was closed due to Covid, but it has a few short trails around that are worth doing.

Our next stop was the Dinosaur Ridge. We stopped first at the visitor center, where we were told that the two ways to visit the dinosaur tracks were either walking or with the shuttle bus (10$) that was leaving in 1.5 hours. It was very hot at that time, so we decided to drive to the entrance of the Dinosaur Track Site and then walk (10min walking on a paved hill) to see the tracks (for free). I think it was a good option.

With the temperature above 30 DegC, we needed some water to soak our heads in. That’s why Google pointed of to Bear Creek lake park (cold water, much appreciated after trying Texas’ lakes) where we stayed until midday that we went to eat in downtown Golden at Trailhead Taphouse & Kitchen.

Our next stop was the incredible Rocky Mountains. Now with the Covid, you have to book a 2 hours time window to enter the park. We paid 27$ for 1 vehicle, to enter the park between 3:00 and 5:00pm.

We arrived 10minutes before our window and they let us in.

We then continued driving to the Bear Lake where our trail to Emerald lake started.
What a trail!! It’s beyond beautiful. We did it in 2 hours (round trip) and the total distance, according to my watch, was 6.5km. The trail has steep sections, but being almost all paved, I consider it of moderate difficulty.

Also, as you can see in the map below, there are two lakes, Nymph and Dream lakes, on the way to Emerald lake, both of them are beautiful, so if you feel you can’t make to Emerald lake, cancelling the hike at any of those lakes is already worth it.
Our favorite was Dream lake.

Nymph Lake:

Dream Lake:

Emerald Lake:

I think it was also a good idea that we booked the park entrance at 3:00pm. Because even thought you have a 2 hours window to enter into the park, you can spend the whole day there, so unless you go very early (like 6:00am), I think it is less crowded in the afternoon. We were able to find a parking spot in the Bear Lake trailhead, which I heard is almost impossible in summer, and also helped us avoid the shuttle bus (more Covid?). Luckily, the trail has a lot of pines tree so we avoided the sun during most of the trail.

If you are confused on how to get to the starting point of the trail, just search for “bear lake trailhead” on google maps and follow the directions that will take you first to the entrance of the park, where you have to show your reservation, and then to the parking next to Bear lake. From there, you will have clear indications to the trail to Emerald lake, Bear lake, etc.

We were exhausted after this long day, so on our way back to Golden, we stopped at Pizzeria Locale (in Boulder town, so we had the chance to see this town) to have this amazing Neapolitan pizza and then went straight to our hotel (Hampton Inn) to shower and go to bed.

I’m so happy about this incredible day, I wouldn’t change anything. If only, I would add more days to spend in the Rocky Mountains to visit the Grand Lake and to do a couple of trails more (if you are interested in doing more trails, check the app AllTrails, it’s really cool).

Day 5: Avon

We left Golden around 10:30am, after enjoying our hotel and having a fatty breakfast at Ihop. Our next destination was Avon, a little town next to Vail where our friends were staying.

It took us around 1 hour and half, through highway 70 (scenic views), to get to our hotel (Christie Lodge) where we stayed two nights.The hotel was fine for the price we paid (287$, 2 nights) and also because it has a well equipped kitchen so we were able to avoid restaurants for a couple of nights.

After meeting our friends and checking in, we went for a walk around Nottingham lake which is 5min walking from our hotel. It was a nice easy walk.

For dinner, we cook some pasta and chicken for us and our friends. We needed this after being out of our house for a couple of days.
As usual, we went to bed early.

Day 6: Avon

We woke up very early, make a sandwich for breakfast and then went for ride around the lake with our bikes. Later on, we did Gore Valley trail, which is a very easy trail of 6.1km (3.8mi) and 60m (200ft) of elevation, with a river, and ends in a small lake, next to some of the beautiful houses of Vail. We even did a small picnic at the end of the trail and Francisco was brave enough to jump into the cold lake.

For dinner, we ordered some pizza and went to have a picnic by the lake where there was a local concert (free), but luckily everybody was following social distancing.

Day 7: Avon – Great Sand Dunes – Amarillo

Our original idea was to do the Hanging Lake trail today. We even bought the tickets (12$ per adult) online to do it at 9:30am, but I was sick (no Covid) and I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing this hard trail, so we had to cancel it last minute (I sell the tickets by posting a comment on AllTrails app) and instead, after having breakfast in our hotel, we went to the Great Sand Dunes through highway 24 (no reservation needed, 25$ per non-commercial vehicle and occupants ).  

I don’t want to sound arrogant, and I also liked the Dunes, but after spending days in the Sahara desert when I visited Algeria and because it was too hot (we arrived at midday), I wasn’t much impressed by these dunes. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to observe this geological/wind feature when you have the chance, anywhere in the world. One thing I did not have in Algeria, were the showers at the exit of the dunes to clean your feet, much appreciated.

For lunch we ate Mc Donalds in the highway and then order room service in our hotel (Hampton Inn East) in Amarillo.

Day 8: Amarillo – Houston

We didn’t get to visit Amarillo. We went straigth from our hotel in Amarillo to our house in Houston after 9 hours driving, stopping only at gas stations and Mc Donalds, again, for lunch.

Total Expenses

Category Per couple
Gas $142
Food $550
Hotels $798
Entrance $140
Parking $7
Rented Car $0
Total $1637

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