Summer started off with an amazing honeymoon road trip. Joe and I took about two weeks to travel and in just over 4,000 miles we rolled through 8 states! Here’s a recap of some of the incredible places we visited. Westward!
Day Day 1: Tuesday June 9
Since we live in Chicago, Iowa was the first state we drove through. We didn’t explore much there but we did make one stop in LeClaire to check out Antique Archeology, the home base and shop of the American Pickers. It was a silly thing to do, but we were just curious about it and stopped to take a look. Although we haven’t actually watched the show in years, there was a time that we enjoyed tuning into their picks. When we arrived to the quaint town it was immediately apparent that the shop was not the same place as is on the show. Oh well, that’s understandable. We didn’t stay long as a bus full of senior citizens pulled up and out they came with their cameras! Next stop was Omaha!
After a long drive across Iowa we stepped in to 100° sauna like weather in Omaha Nebraska. Quite a change from the 80° we had last experienced. It was our first time in Omaha and we were only staying for one night. We booked an Airbnb apartment in the Old Market district and it was just perfect for what we needed, a nice relaxing place to sleep. No pics, just a bite to eat and some rest before we hit the road again.
Day 2: Wednesday June 10
A long drive through Nebraska lead us to Colorado! We found out that we are in love with Colorado almost as soon as we arrived, I think you just know when you’re in a good place. We were lucky to stay with some of our favorite friends, Matt, Jane, and their dog Huck in Boulder. Our first night was spent catching up over dinner at Under The Sun and hanging out after a long ride.
Day 3: Thursday June 11
In the morning we drove to one of their favorite nearby hiking spots, Shanahan Ridge.
Being from the midwest, we don’t really get to experience the magic and beauty of mountains at all. So everywhere you look is something spectacular. In Chicago the bridges are the steepest hills we walk up, getting to hike through mountain trails was quite a treat for us! We just loved it.
I was very pleased that we were around at the same time the giant red wild poppies were in bloom. Aren’t poppies just gorgeous? They’re so delicate yet robust. There were so many other little flowers blooming along the trails too. I’ll post more about them soon! Check out these beauties for now…
Along our hike we spotted some deer hopping around. Very playful.
We reached our goal which was essentially running into a giant rock wall. It was a mountain, of course. It was quite a scene and destination.
In the afternoon we headed to Nederland and oh what a drive! Scenic winding mountain roads to the extreme! We ate lunch at Sundance Cafe which was a sweet little spot, the people were welcoming and the food was delicious. While it had a roadside diner type feel, the menu offerings were slightly more than what may be expected. I had a tofu ruben that hit the spot and I would love to go back! It was a delightful little mountain town with a few shops and restaurants. I was mainly interested in checking out the rock shop which had an assortment of beautiful specimens including a couple gigantic pieces of amethyst worth thousands. No pictures of the shop itself, but I will be doing a recap of my rock haul from the entire trip soon!
Day 4: Friday June 12
Joe and I spent the morning wandering around downtown Boulder. It was a nice stretch of shops and restaurants. A couple rock shops in the mix too! One of them was a sister shop of the one in Nederland, although I didn’t know it until I looked it up. I’m always on the look out for a good rock shop, they are far and few between near home, so it’s quite exciting to be surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and to stumble upon some great rock spots too. After awhile we met up with our pals for some lunch and made a quick stop at a special little shop before we went on another hike.
After lunch we picked up Huck and were on to our next trail at Chautagua Park. It was quite a popular spot, far more crowded than the previous hike. However the pictures I snapped would not indicate this.
I was lucky to have Huck to help pull me up some of the hills. He sure knows how to lead the pack. He kept us at a quick pace, whoever was with Huck was at least fifteen feet ahead. I’d love to channel some of that endless energy that dogs seem to own. He never seems to tire.
Once we got up the main trail, we were able to split off to a less traveled path. We definitely picked the right way as we stumble into a public art piece of rocks stacks. Apparently it was a controversial thing to do, by upsetting the natural landscape. But it was quite an interesting display that was decidedly left alone and barricaded off.
It was a beautiful day to enjoy the world. Being in the mountains makes everything seem so big and vast. You get to feel like you see it all from up there. In the city, sometimes you can’t even see the moon behind the building or the stars at all. Here you can see layers and layers of earth.
The rest of the evening was spent cooking and hanging out with our dear friends and hosts. I will share some of what we cooked up soon!
Day 5: Saturday June 13
Day five was our last full day in Colorado. We decided to spend it at the Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m happy we prioritized this, we don’t seem to get to Colorado very often, although, I hope that changes in the coming years. Since the park is so huge, there was no way we would be able to see it all in one day, so we focused on a few spots. First stop, Bear Lake.
This was a great spot to stop even though it was a bit crowded, on a Saturday in June. It was a small lake about 1/2 mile around, with nice path to walk. There were plenty of viewing and sitting points throughout the trail.
Although we were there in the middle of June, there was still snow! It had snowed up in the mountains a couple weeks back, the higher you go the cooler it gets and stays. You can see the snow above along the path, and below tucked underneath the pine trees.
Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great scenic stop with a short walk around the whole lake. It is at an elevation of 9,450 feet, pretty high, but we could only go up from here! When in the Rocky Mountains…
There is so much to do and see in Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove around quite a bit and enjoyed all of the changing views. Pine Trees galore and sights of beautiful Aspen tree forests. Such beauty everywhere.
We were on our way up and up and up to to the Forest Canyon Overlook, where we ultimately reached 11,716 feet in elevation! As we were going up the walls of snow along the road were impressive, it must have been over 8 feet at times.
The higher you go the colder it gets, we watched our thermometer drop 30° in 20 minutes. On the drive up to the tundra, I found out for the second time, that driving on mountain cliff edges creates severe panic in me, specifically being on the outer edge with no barrier. Whoa, totally freaks me out.
I am not afraid of heights, I am however apparently terrified of driving/falling off the edge of a cliff while in a car. More specifically, what if another car swings around the corner and knocks us off, or one wheel slips and we take a dive? It’s a physical reaction that is not comforted by the decrease in oxygen as we kept going up the mountain road. It is said that lack of oxygen naturally promotes anxiety and panic in many people. I’m that person, the fear I felt on this drive was a little surprising to me, but once I got out of the car I was golden! It was all worth it and I was in love. No more fear.
By the time we got up to our destination, The Forest Canyon Overlook, it was 50° and we were lucky to have brought some extra layers on the 80° day below. Winds can reach up to 100 mph up there!
This spot is a tundra protection zone due to the harsh living conditions. It’s below 0° for about five months of the year, and at 11,716 feet above sea level the oxygen level is low. If definitely feels different up there, kind of like you’re on another planet. The air is clean, cool, and crisp. It was harder to breathe with the lack of oxygen and the the 360° of breathtaking views. But it felt invigorating to take a deep breath and just look around. Breathe. Feel alive.
We were above the tree line, where trees could no longer thrive. Tundra is a Russian word for “land of no trees.” Check out the distinct line where trees simply stop growing. It was really spectacular to see. Look how high we were! I’ve never been higher than this!
While we we’re in the tundra and past the tree line, there was still a lot of life up there. These areas are protected from plant trampling tourists. It can take centuries for plant communities to mature and thrive up there and decades for them to recover from millions of people flocking to experience this amazing place. These are fragile eco-systems that must be protected. Here are a couple of the flowers we spotted low to the ground.
Aside from little flowers, grass, and moss, there was also wildlife. Across the road we spotted 3 elk chilling up in the rocks. It was a serene scene to see as an intense storm was brewing.
On the other side of the road we spotted a couple of marmots hanging out on a cliff’s edge. Not a bad spot to spend your day, marmots. Not bad at all.
After soaking up all the tundra we could, it was time to head out. There was a definite storm heading our way. It was about the perfect time to grab a bite in Estes Park and check out that rock shop I spied on the way there.
So, Red Rose Rock Shop. Yeah! I’m totally thrilled to have spotted this gem. I think I may be able to call this one my Favorite rock shop of all! Details to come in my trip’s rock haul post. The moment we pulled into the parking lot, the storm began. It was like the sky opened up just in time for us to be trapped in my heaven. I’m like a kid in a candy shop, except I don’t like candy, the rocks are my treat! It was an impressive storm, the river along side the shop appeared to be raging. Matt and Joe did not rush me while in the shop, I think they even enjoyed checking this place out. They also had display area called Dicks’s Rock Museum to to view, a lot to look at. I can’t wait to visit again. I would have bought so many more pounds of rocks from the outdoor section had it not been storming so hard. I think I got enough for now.
After we left the shop we headed through Estes Park, a tourist town bustling with presumably out of towners. We visited a couple of the local shops, but we were mainly interested in food. We found a Mexican restaurant tucked away in the upper level of a building. It was the perfect choice. Delicious food and a surprisingly well crafted margarita. We generally assume that we’ll get mediocre food and drink while in tourist areas, but not in Colorado.
Day 6: Sunday June 14
Sunday, day 6, it was time to say goodbye to Colorado, and head west to Utah. We had an amazing time hanging out with some of our favorite friends in a city that melted our hearts. Meet me over at Part 2 as we continue west to Salt Lake City!