August 26-27, 2021
We got an early start the next morning because after 9:00 am a pass is required (none were available to us) to access the eastern end of the park, called Wild Basin, where we wanted to take a short hike to a waterfall. We made it to the entrance station just in time to get through and drove down a beautiful dirt road to a parking lot manned by two park volunteers. It was obvious the area was popular even though it was limited to those with permits or able to get to the entrance early.
The hike wound around boulders through a high alpine forest, following a stream until it came to a small gushing waterfall. The water was cold, likely having been snow not long before.
After the hike, we found a sunny picnic table along the rushing Hunters Creek and had a leisurely breakfast in the chilly morning air.
Today we’d be leaving Rocky Mountain National Park. The park awed us as few places have, with soaring mountains, challenging roads and lots of wildlife. Nearly everywhere we looked was exaggerated natural beauty and we were surprised at how uncrowded it was for a national park and how little trash we encountered.
We headed for Boulder, less than an hour away, where we’d be having dinner with my cousin. From the park to Boulder, we drove a seemingly endless descent from 9,000 feet to Boulder’s 5,300 feet. In less than an hour we were in Boulder where it was easily 30 degrees warmer. We checked into a hotel to clean up and do some laundry before heading downtown.
Susan hadn’t been to Boulder since the late-1970’s and I hadn’t been there since the ’90s, so we were both eager to explore downtown. Despite the passing of over 40 years, it wasn’t too different from what Susan remembered. We had about an hour until meeting my cousin and we spent it checking out the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall area.
There were mostly mid-scale shops, thankfully several rungs below Aspen. The many restaurants and cafes had set up outdoor dining and most tables were packed by evening. Boulder is a college town and had a youthful energy combined with outdoorsy vibe. It was not quite the hippie-oriented place Susan had experienced decades ago, but still was a cool place with obviously liberal values as evidenced by the many rainbow flags, BLM-friendly signs, and mask requirements.
Dinner at a place along Pearl was good and it was great to catch up with my cousin who I hadn’t seen in at least 25 years. Ironically, tomorrow we’d be visiting (and staying with) Susan’s cousin high in the mountains outside of Denver. Tonight at our hotel, we’d be upgraded to a huge king bed, much bigger than our four-foot-wide truck bed.
In the morning, we packed up the truck and left Boulder to meet an old friend of mine for an early lunch at (unknown to any of us) what was probably one of the worst restaurants in the Denver area. He had a new home, a new wife, two new jobs, and two newly adopted small children since we’d last seen him. Needless to say, there was a lot to catch up on while we left most of the inedible lunch on our plates.
After the visit, we headed into downtown Denver and stopped at the SoBo—South Broadway—Street area of Denver to check out the funky (and, sadly, overpriced antique stores). Unimpressed, we made our way out of downtown Denver. We both exhaled deeply as we headed back into nature and left the big city behind us.
Our next destination was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, where roadies were setting up a large concert in the unusual and beautiful amphitheater there. Unfortunately, because they were doing a sound check, we weren’t able to see the inside the amphitheater so instead we took a short hike in the park.
It was hot and there was no shade along the trail so we returned pretty quickly and ducked into the air conditioned trading post. As we wandered toward the back of the store we found ourselves in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Museum. Many of the bands who played Red Rocks were represented (Michael Jackson, U2, Joe Walsh, The Grateful Dead, to name just a few). We also learned that John Denver played “Rocky Mountain High” for the first time at the amphitheater and we watched a video of that performance that gave us goosebumps. Afterwards, we sat outside on a shady balcony overlooking the beautiful red boulders (it was 94 degrees) and took advantage of good internet to get caught up on things.
From there, we headed to Conifer, CO where Susan’s cousin and his wife live. Their home is perched high in the mountains southwest of Denver at almost 9,000 feet. After driving up the long twisty road, I had much respect for him, commuting daily into town. Once there, another of Susan’s cousins joined us and we enjoyed an amazing home-cooked dinner and great conversation while the two big golden retrievers watched over us. Before we left the next morning, we filled our water jug with the best tasting water yet, from their well.