It’s almost impossible for me to pass on any opportunity to visit Colorado. I suppose that if I were wealthier I would have a home in that beautiful state and either stay permanently or travel there many times each year. So when we visited Santa Fe, New Mexico on our vacation it made perfect sense to add a few days on to our adventure and head north into the Rocky Mountains.
I get a thrill each time we drive through Raton Pass. It signals our official arrival into Colorado and my heart literally bursts with joy. We’ve made that journey so many times, and somehow it never gets old. So when we pulled our trailer along the route I fairly danced with joy at the prospect of seeing my beloved mountains at least one more time.
Just beyond the pass is Trinidad, Colorado, a small town that is home to a state park that where we often camped in a tent when our children were young. It was always just an overnight adventure where we dreamed of the real wonders that lie ahead. I laugh each time we pass through Trinidad because I recall a time from long ago when my brother Pat and his two sons accompanied us on a vacation to Colorado Springs. As usual we stopped at the park in Trinidad after a long day of driving. We found a great spot for pitching our tents and enjoyed Pat’s innovative camping style as he installed an incredibly long extension cord that he used to run a fan inside his tent. He laughingly suggested that he would be willing to make french fries in a Fry Daddy if we were so inclined. Of course he didn’t actually have a Fry Daddy with him, but once we thought about it, we decided it would not have been a bad idea.
On our recent trip we continued past Trinidad and headed toward Colorado Springs. Once we had set up our trailer in the campground we did a bit of exploring. We had visited the Air Force Academy multiple times and I would be the first to suggest a visit there to anyone who has never gone to the campus. The church in particular is a stunning work of architecture that should not be missed. Nonetheless, since our time was limited on this journey we chose to skip the Academy this time around. The same was true for a journey up Pike’s Peak because we were a bit turned off by the the rather expensive price tag of driving there. At fifteen dollars a person it somehow did not fill us with excitement given that we’ve made the trip many many times.
We might have gone to the Garden of the Gods. It is a rather remarkable site of unusual outcroppings of rock that attract climbers who perform the most amazing feats and seem to be suspended magically in the air. Instead we chose to travel to Cripple Creek, an old mining town in the mountains that in recent years has been transformed by casinos. We had not been there for decades, and our memory of the place was that of an almost ghostly town of tattered buildings that had once thrived during the gold rush days. Decades ago we had taken an old 1920s era road that cut through one way tunnels and was so narrow in places that only one car at a time could get by. It was quite an adventure leading that we found to be both beautiful and thrilling.
Now there is a major modern highway leading to the town that is nonetheless filled with lovely vistas and a kind of preview of the beauty of mountain life. We hardly noticed the time as we drove through canyons dotted with summer wildflowers and marveled at the sites that greeted us along each curve. We did not yet have our mountain legs or lungs so our ears did a great deal of popping and we felt a slight tinge of mountain sickness creeping into our heads. Nonetheless we were delighted at every single turn.
Cripple Creek has been spiffied up with newly painted and renovated buildings along with grand hotels and casinos that were not there when we visited for the first time so long ago, but the ruins of the old mines remain, telling a silent story of a time when folks dreamed of finding gold in the hills and earning a fortune. Now the adventure lies inside the casinos which we had no desire to visit. In fact we laughed that we’d sooner take a pick and shovel and walk among the mine trailings in search of a shiny rock of gold. I suspect that our odds of making it rich would be about the same as gambling with our money in a slot machine.
An active mining company remains in Cripple Creek and on the day we visited there was a great deal of activity on its premises. A little train takes visitors on tours and looks like it might be fun and informative but the day was late and we were ready to return to our trailer for a night’s rest in anticipation of our journey to Fort Collins where we planned to stay while we toured Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountains were calling us and we knew that we must go.