USA ProCycling Challenge in Colorado, nicknamed ‘America’s Race’, finished up after seven days of cycling races mostly in the high country from Aspen to Denver. The average elevation was something like 6,500 feet and some roads took the race to a higher level than any professional cycling race with Independence Pass at an elevation over 12,095 feet uphill from Aspen on Stage 2.

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Independence Pass is a road I traveled down into Aspen in July 2011. Kelley and I talked in the car about how this would be a great road for a professional cycling race while driving back to California during the Tour de France. Then we hit a couple miles of cliffside gravel-covered road and the slow speed and rocks bouncing off the car undercarriage kind of drove that thought away from my mind.

As it turned out the road was being repaved a month before the Tour of Colorado race did the same road descent from Independence Pass into Aspen that August 2011 in the same direction we had driven into Aspen from the high country Rockies.

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View from Independence Pass, Colorado 12,095 ft. (July 2011)

We spent the night in Aspen at the St. Regis on a free award night when rates were around $500 to $600. The hotel was even being remodeled and pricing at those rates.

I could not help but think that I had seen the most gorgeous view in Buena Vista on the far side of Independence Pass after an absolute torrent of hail, rain and road water in a summer deluge of black skies and fierce weather.

Driving into Buena Vista minutes after the July storm had passed by was a relief to find a town. There are not many. The 14ers of the Collegiate Peaks were still surrounded in dark skies. The view from near the Best Western Plus in Buena Vista, Colorado a small town of about 2,000 residents by the Arkansas River is one I remember. I think I would have preferred a hotel night with the view from the Best Western than our stay at the St. Regis Aspen.

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Buena Vista and Collegiate Peaks with several mountains over 14,000 feet.

The Arkansas River runs through the valley and water activities are the excitement of a July day when the skies aren’t weeping angrily.

I am talking it was a scary storm to drive through when I could not see out my windows as the rain hammered on the windshield and there was no place to pull over on tiny U.S. Route 24, a few miles before Buena Vista.

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Wild alpine flowers at Independence Pass.

Independence Pass was in the 50s and breezy in thin air. The storm had passed.

I experienced that once on a day in July 2011.

Colorado Tourism Commercial – Once.

 

This commercial played frequently during seven days of NBCSports coverage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last week. This moved me. Kelley, not so much. She still says she is not a mountain girl after another high elevation trip through Rocky Mountain National Park last month.

Links: USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Colorado Tourism Commercial: Once

Loyalty TravelerElk High in Rocky Mountain National Park (July 12, 2013)

St. Regis Aspen – Too Late to Cancel (July 25, 2011)

Kelley kept repeating that she really likes the design of the Aloft hotel brand. I kept reminding her that she had only been in one Aloft Hotel previously for 15 minutes at Denver Airport a few years back when we checked in, I photographed the room and we left for the airport to catch our flight. That hotel stay was on December 30 and made my 25th stay for SPG Platinum status.

Kelley was confusing Starwood’s Aloft brand with Starwood’s extended stay Element brand. Aloft standard rooms do not have a kitchen or couch.

Cookie cutter design is not necessarily a bad thing in hotel design.

My first Aloft hotel stay was nearly five years ago. I knew what to expect from the hotel when I walked into the lobby of the Aloft Broomfield Denver located in a mixed-use business park suburban residential area between Denver and Boulder and convenient for a stay after touring Rocky Mountain National Park. Aloft Broomfield is almost identical to the first Aloft where I stayed at Portland Airport, Oregon in 2008 and every other Aloft I have seen in the meantime.

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Aloft Broomfield, Colorado.

w xyz bar

The wxyz bar in the open space lobby is usually the focal point in the evening at an Aloft hotel. Aloft Broomfield at 10pm on a Thursday night was the most happening hotel bar I had seen in some time.

Read More…

Yesterday was the eighth day of my western states road trip. I had finally hit the wall after not getting more than six hours sleep any night and only about four hours sleep the previous two nights. I drove around the mountains  of the Beaver Creek/Vail area spending time in the 8,000 to 10,000+ elevation range. The sun is intense at that altitude.

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Photo from I-70. I will have to see if I can figure out these locations and actual mountains next week. This is a view from Georgetown before the Eisenhower Tunnel (11,158 ft.) some 50 miles outside of Denver. Read More…

Having been a school teacher for ten years I have a thing about being on time. This morning I woke up in the Comfort Inn Durango, Colorado. A nice hotel with a price under $80 after tax. And one stay away from 8,000 points with Choice Privileges stay two times promotion through May 15.

An email from Randy Petersen Thursday night reminded me the Boarding Area blogger conference started at 3pm Friday, May 10. I had it in my mind the conference opened at 7pm.

Colorado is one wide state and I still had over 300 miles of driving to get from Durango to Colorado Springs.

For the first day this week I woke up to clear skies all around. Colorado Highway 160 goes across Colorado to I-25, yet Google Maps indicated driving through New Mexico was the fastest route.

The countryside of Colorado was so gorgeous outside of Durango that I decided to stay on Highway 160 even if it meant an extra hour of driving. Starting at 7am, I figured seven hours of driving would get me to Colorado Springs at 2pm in time to check into Cheyenne Lodge Resort (complimentary of Randy Petersen for conference attendees) and make it in time for Randy’s opening session.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Utah has a beauty that not all people find appealing. I loved this quote I saw in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Escalante, Utah:

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“When one of us says, ‘Look, there is nothing out there,’ what we are really saying is ‘I cannot see.’ “ – Terry Tempest Williams

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Colorado River at Glen Canyon, Utah.

The stark beauty of Utah is not everybody’s definition of beauty in the way that the  lush Rocky Mountains of Colorado give broad inspiration.

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Pagosa Springs looks like a town that is booming in real estate ventures. The place has a resort feel. Being just an hour into my six or seven hour drive, I did not even stop to take pictures. Well, actually I tried to take a photo in Pagosa Springs only to realize I had left the memory card for my camera in the computer from last night’s photo dump.

I stopped for gas at the end of town in Pagosa Springs and retrieved my memory card and fueled up on gas so I could drive all the way to Colorado Springs. When I parked the car in front of the gas station store window to use the toilet I saw in the store window reflection my passenger side car headlight was out. Not only was I pressed for time to make it to the opening of the Boarding Area conference, BAcon, in Colorado Springs by 3pm, but now I had to figure out how I was going to get my headlamp bulb replaced over the weekend before heading back home to California on Sunday.

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Heading up to Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado (10,857 ft.) in the San Juan Mountains between Pagosa Springs and South Park, Colorado.

Climbing up Wolf Creek Pass with two lanes was not too bad, but coming down with a single lane and a big rig truck slowed me down. I guess the mountains are the time limiting factor that had Google Maps suggesting a faster route through New Mexico.

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Wolf Creek Pass (10,857 ft.) Colorado Highway 160.

Wolf Creek Pass was the only real climb of the 300 mile drive. If you have not driven the high plateau lands before, then you might be surprised to learn how far you can drive on relatively flat land in the high mountains. Highway 160 East is relatively flat for about 100 miles after coming down Wolf Creek Pass with speed limit at 65 much of the way and many drivers (not me  Smile) going faster.

Colorado Highway 160 is one of the most scenic drives I have taken in my trips across Colorado. Interstate 70 is the fast route through the Colorado Rockies. Highway 160 has the vantage point of seeing the Rockies from miles away and in better perspective than I-70.

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Rocky Mountains view from Alamosa.

In Alamosa I stopped again for a bathroom break. Coffee, juice and lots of water were taking its toll on my bladder. Then, pulling out of the McDonald’s parking lot, I noticed an auto parts store across the street. And across the street from the auto parts store was a car service shop.

Thirty minutes later I was back on the road with a working headlight thanks to the kindness of Town & Country Auto Mall in Alamosa. Big shout out to those guys.

While the young mechanic was fixing the headlight, he asked if I had been to Great Sand Dunes National Park. He commented that it might not be that interesting to me since I was from California and probably had already seen sand dunes.

In fact, I grew up in the sand dunes of Monterey Bay and spent many a day losing myself deep in the dunes when I was a teenager in the 1970s; before they built the Highway 1 freeway closer to the beach dunes in Marina and the remaining sand dunes were turned into California State Parks with restricted access to allow dune plant restoration.

With the car back in working order, I was ready to speed on to Colorado Springs. Turns out that I probably did not get delayed at all from the thirty minute auto service stop since right outside Alamosa there was a car rollover wreck just being cleared from the highway.

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About 15 miles east of Alamosa I saw the sign for Great Sand Dunes National Park as I whizzed by. There were no other cars on the road and my mind thought 16 miles is pretty close to reach the National Park entrance and this is a remote area that I may never pass by again. I made a u-turn and turned on road 150 for the National Park.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park – 16 miles.

A pullout right off Highway 160 had informational displays and I stopped to check them out and photograph the impressive mountain before me.

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Mount Blanca (14,365 ft.) is the fourth highest mountain in the Rockies and the 8th highest in the 48 states. What is particularly striking about this mountain is its prominence, rising 7,000 feet above the San Luis Valley.

Even more significant is the informational sign I stopped to read states this is one of four sacred mountains to the Navajo. ‘Sisnaajinii’ or White Shell Mountain is the eastern boundary or doorway into Navajo Land.

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Dinetah are the Navajo People and four sacred peaks mark their land. Wars between the Utes and Navajo forced the Navajo to more western lands.

Another sign tells the story of how the Colorado Utes lived in this area of the San Luis Valley when the first Spanish arrived in 1598 with horses. The Utes adapted to life with horses for hunting and warfare.

The Utes skill in combat kept permanent European settlement out of the San Luis Valley until 1851, just a few years after this valley became part of the United States in the land annexation following the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

On to Colorado Springs

Realizing that I would lose an hour by going all the way to the National Park and then have no time to hike and explore and still make the conference on time for the opening of BAcon forced me to get back in my car to drive the final 100 miles to Colorado Springs without visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Yet, I feel I learned so much about this sacred valley and mountain from reading two informational signs. My decision to make a u-turn on Highway 160 and take ten minutes to be educated about Mount Blanca and the San Luis Valley provided a worldly experience into American history and indigenous peoples’ culture.

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Mt. Blanca, San Luis Valley, Colorado seen from Highway 160 east of Fort Garland.

I arrived at the hotel at 1:30pm, checked in, cleaned out five days of car trash I’d accumulated over 1,600 miles of driving and made the opening session at 3pm.

Last weekend I stayed at the Keystone Resort in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Travel Blog Exchange 2012 TBEX conference brought me to Keystone and in some ways showed the very best the resort had to offer, although the conference schedule was so packed that an extra day or two just to chill around the high elevation grounds of Keystone Resort would have been a pleasurable extension of my weekend getaway. Read More…

Keystone Resort hosted the Travel Blog Exchange conference TBEX12 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains about 90 miles west of Denver. This is a high altitude resort at about 9,300 ft. in elevation for the lodging area and over 11,000 ft. for the ski area reached by enclosed gondola lifts.

This is my third summer traveling from my sea level home in Monterey, California to the Rocky Mountain resort towns of Vail-Beaver Creek, Aspen and now Keystone. It can’t be overstated that a significant portion of visitors will feel the effects of the low-oxygen, high-altitude air. My recommendation is to try and stay for at least 5 to 7 days if you plan to visit the high mountains since you may find yourself without the energy to do much for the first two or three days of your stay.

Keystone Resort is an actual village consisting of about a dozen lodging buildings spread across a mile long stretch of valley on both sides of Highway 6. A shuttle transports guests and visitors from the Lodge to Conference Center and other Keystone Village locations. Read More…

The TBEX 2012 Conference for new media travel writers kicked off June 15 at 8:15am with a Beer Road Rally for about 25 conference attendees. The event route was unknown to the individuals in the four beer vans with up to 7 members per team.

Destination #1 – Denver Zoo

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Silverback Pale Ale – Wynkoop Brewery, Denver, Colorado Read More…

Travel Blog Exchange 2012 is June 15-17 at Keystone Resort, Colorado. I am scheduled for several days of microbrewery events like a pub crawl tonight, Wynkoop Brewery Thursday night and Beer Rally to Keystone all day Friday prior to the launch of TBEX12 where we will then be drinking at 9,280 ft. in elevation.

Hopefully my blog posts will get written and maintain some coherency this next week. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Denver, Colorado, travel bloggers, altitude adjustment, and beers. Lots of beers. Read More…

Here are photos from Independence Pass Highway 82, Colorado about 20 miles from Aspen. We drove Highway 285 across the Rockies rather than I-70 traveling from Denver. This route is much prettier for mountain scenery in my opinion. The worst section of road is from Independence Pass to Aspen where the road was gravel for several miles and quite narrow.

Independence Pass, Colorado on Highway 82 at 12,095 ft. is second highest paved road mountain pass in Colorado.

There are several hundred yards of paved paths at Independence Pass and a bathroom structure. Walking around the paths offers vantage points for taking photos of the numerous 13,000 and 14,000+ ft. peaks.

Independence Pass looking east with view of Highway 82 switchback road.

Poor Kelley stayed in the car feeling the effects of altitude sickness. I know how bad that can make you feel. Fortunately I didn’t suffer from altitude this summer like I did last summer when we stayed in Beaver Creek near Vail at 8,500 feet. The high altitude mountains invigorated me this trip.

Independence Pass, Colorado looking direction of Highway 82 that runs through valley below.

I read that this spot has one of the best views for seeing multiple high Rocky Mountain peaks. The wildflowers are intense colors at these elevations in the alpine tundra climate.

Independence Pass alpine flowers.

The weather in the Colorado Rockies  has been stormy for over a week. We hit one section Tuesday afternoon on Highway 285 when driving the flat high plains road just west of Jefferson where a menacing dark cloud opened up and suddenly dumped rain so hard that I couldn’t see anything when driving 60 mph. Nobody was behind me and I could slow down to about 20mph. No place to pull off the road and the water puddled so quickly I was hydroplaning. Fortunately I drove out of the rainstorm within one minute.

Aspen airport received over 1 inch of rain in 30 minutes on Monday evening. The Rio Grande paved bike trail from  Aspen to Glenwood Springs had several mudslides and one section was buried in up to 3 feet of mud.

Highway 82 over Independence Pass is definitely a road to be driven in good weather. My luck was good and the weather was pleasant at the pass with temperature around 60 degrees. What a relief after 100 degrees for the weekend in Denver!

Independence Pass southwest view

The directions listed on these pictures are my best guess based on the direction of the sun in late afternoon. The mountain views are spectacular from this vantage point. The road between the Pass and Aspen is the worst part of the drive with several miles of narrow gravel road. I’m glad I was going downhill. Remarkably though, my car had the highest gas mileage ever on this drive.

My car likes the thin air and high altitude driving better than my wife.

Independence Pass Colorado wikipedia

Independence-Pass.com

Denver to Aspen via Highway 285 to Highway 24 to Highway 82 - Google Maps

Brokeass Mountain Road Trip, July 2011

Monterey, California – Denver, Colorado

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