The Road to the Rockies

June 22, 2004 - Finished July 7, 2004

I started writing this piece just after I returned from Denver several weeks ago. But somehow, graduation parties, work on the house and another trip on out to Arizona got in the way of writing this piece. And now another trip postpones the description of the two day hikes that follow.

The purpose of this trip, as with most of the ones I have taken over the years, was a mixture of business and pleasure. One of the companies that I work with had a day and a half seminar in Denver that started with a mixer and then dinner on Thursday evening.

I almost was late to the dinner, because the airline had overbooked and I made a quick attempt to jump on a free ticket. I called my son who had just dropped me off at the airport and asked him just how far away he was. Evidently the security lines had been long enough, as he was almost home. He balked at the thought of driving back to pick me up, and then making another return trip later in the afternoon.

"Neve rmind." I told the gate agent, "I'll just head on off to Denver on this flight."

Earlier in the month my eye caught the title of a book on the shelves in the local grocery store. Called America's Most Scenic Drives, it included photos of the American Top 40, as selected by the editors of LIFE. I paged through the book and looked to see just how many of the Top 40 I had driven. I returned the book to the shelf and thought to myself that it might make a great project, riding all of the top 40 on a motorcycle.

After I had arranged this particular trip, I returned to the store and bought the book, because I knew that 2 of the drives were in Colorado, and one was fairly close to Denver.

To hike or ride, what a question.

The closest road to Denver is called the Trail Ridge Road and it cuts across the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. I researched getting a Harley for this particular ride, but I could not find a place that either had a bike for the weekend in question, or was open late enough on Sunday to return the bike after a full day of riding.

Since the forecast was for cool mountain weather, I decided to rent a convertible and made arrangements to pick it up in downtown Denver, just after the meeting was scheduled to end on Friday afternoon.

However, since I was going to be arriving in the early afternoon on Thursday, I promised my daughter that I would try and get in some "brownie points" shots for her. You see her summer job is with a major advertising agency and they were trying to decide on a location for their next series of car ads. Denver was high on the list and I said that I would look around and try and capture some of the flavor of the city.

I also said that I would take a few shots of the car along the Trail Ridge Road so that they might see what was available in the countryside just outside of Denver.

I walked around downtown Denver for a couple of hours on Thursday, and then again on Friday for at least another hour.

Of all the photos that I took I ended up liking this sunset image the most. It was shot from the 4th floor pool deck of the hotel.

I picked up my convertible, a low slung Mitsubishi spydr, just after 4pm on Friday. After picking up the car I pulled over on a side street, and figured out how to get the top down. It was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon and I was living large as I headed on up into the foothills, just west of Denver.

I'm not exactly sure why these thoughts come to me, but I remember thinking, "The last time I rented a convertible it was in Florida and someone ran into me when I was stopped at a traffic light. I wonder if someone will run into me this time as well.

I was headed west toward a small town named Golden, because I had found a site that listed another scenic drive that they called "Peak to Peak." The route is a 2 lane highway that runs north from Golden 55 miles until it reaches Estes Park.

Just after I exited the freeway I pulled around into an office complex that had a great overlook to the town of Denver. As I pulled out into the local traffic I decided that I really needed to stop and buy a good map of Colorado. The highway that I was looking for was not on my Avis map, and unfortunately, I had not printed out a good set of maps for myself.

And that's where it happened, right there in the parking lot of the Loaf 'N Jug, my brand new, convertible was backed into as I was pulling into a parking spot. It seems that one of the drivers that was in line for gas had decided that he should jump into a line at one of the other pumps, and smack, he backed right into my rental.

The car was drivable, the damage was light, and I, having been a veteran of now 8 car wrecks (none of which were my fault), simply sighed and called Avis to report the damage. I took a couple of photos of the scene, exchanged information with the other driver, bought my map and then drove on down to the local police station to file a report.

So you say, what's the problem?

Well, look below.

After driving about an hour or so the air temp finally dropped so much that even with the heater on I was cold so I pulled on over and put the top up.

Mountain light can be tough to photograph at times, especially when there is a strong contrast between the light and deep shadows. There is software out there that will allow you to expose for the light, and then expose for the shadows and then blend the image together, but it requires a tripod that I did not bring along on this trip.

Just a few minutes after taking this photo I stopped for the evening "Elk Run."

And just before I pulled into Estes Park I stopped at Lily Lake to capture the setting sun.

Just before the stores closed in town I was able to purchase a guidebook to the park. I shared it with a great Italian meal at the Dunraven Inn Restaurant (highly recommended) and after dinner retreated to my cabin on the river.

There is very little in life that can top all of that.