Rocky Mountain High.

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye

Rocky mountain high… Colorado.
-Rocky Mountain High, John Denver

In May of 1805, American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered the Rocky Mountains for the first time. Despite being home to numerous Native American peoples for thousands of years, the mountain range remained largely unexplored by Europeans and Americans until President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition and directed them to map out the territory newly acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. It took the expedition over three months to cross this uncharted mountain range. Running for more than 3,000 miles, from Canada to New Mexico, the mountains are home to flora and fauna, countless animal species, and precious minerals. Beginning in the 1850s, deposits of  gold were found in the foothills of the mountains, driving the establishment of towns such as Denver and Boulder. These settlements which would eventually lead to the founding of the state of Colorado.

My wife and I flew to Denver to attend the wedding of our friends, and no sooner had we departed from the airplane then we were stunned by the gorgeous landscape that appeared before us. We quickly made plans to maximize our three days in Denver by exploring the landscapes of Colorado in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Before I begin the latest travelogue, however, I wanted to take a moment to share a shorter adventure from closer to home:

Breakfast in Asbury.

Blue and white surfboard standing up in small park with gray Honda Accord in background parked on street.
On a beautiful Saturday in late June, my wife and I recently took an impromptu drive to Asbury Park for breakfast. Who drives an hour for pancakes and eggs? We do!
Photo of pancakes, orange juice, and coffee on table.
Our breakfast destination was Toast, one of our new favorite spots in Asbury. My wife ordered an omelette, but I went all-in with the Firebird (gluten free) pancakes. What a great way to start the day!
Photo of casino with multicolored hanging string.
After breakfast, we took a walk along the boardwalk. One of the coolest things we saw was this art installation in the remains of the Asbury Park casino. Hanging from the ceiling were countless strings in the eight colors of the Pride flag, in honor of Pride month.
Photo of Asbury Park boardwalk and convention center.
“Our true enemy has yet to reveal himself.” Yes, every single time I visit Asbury Park, I make sure to pass by the filming location of a scene from The Sopranos. What can I say? I’m a fan.
Wall mural of seahorse in black and white.
Although I have documented Asbury Park’s murals in a previous post, some of the art changes every year. I enjoy seeing which old favorites have changed and which have stayed the same.
Photo of mural with woman facing camera, wearing shirt with image of another woman on it.
As always, the artwork continues to impress me.
Mural of octopus through hole in wall.
Some murals are even hidden! Looking through a hole in a wall, I spotted this mural hiding within the remains of the casino building.

And now, without further adieu… our newest adventure:

Destination: Colorado

Map of United States with red pin in location of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Over 1,700 miles from New Jersey, we arrived in Colorado after an early morning flight. It was my first time visiting the Centennial State.
Photo of white Nissan Rogue in parking spot.
Arriving at Denver International Airport the day after Independence Day, there were literally zero cars left in the National car rental lot except for this Nissan Rogue.  Needless to say, we had our choice of vehicle made for us! I’ll offer some thoughts on my experience with the 2019 Rogue a little later in this post.
Interior of Snooze AM restaurant, with patrons dining at tables and counter.
After waking at 4:00 am to catch our plane, and gobbling down a hurried breakfast at the airport, our first destination upon arriving in Denver was lunch! Snooze A.M., a breakfast and brunch eatery, was strongly recommended by friends, so we set our GPS and headed into Denver for a good meal!
Plate with egg whites, pulled pork, a salad, and corn tortillas.
Snooze was founded in Denver in 2006 by two brothers, and emphasizes meals made with local ingredients. My wife enjoyed egg whites and pulled pork with corn tortillas.
Three breakfast tacos with eggs, cheese, salsa, and hollandaise sauce.
I opted for Juan’s Breakfast Tacos – corn tortillas with scrambled eggs, shredded hash browns, green chili hollandaise sauce, and pico de gallo. How good was it? We ate at Snooze twice during our visit.
Interior of Rayback Collective with people eating and drinking at tables, and the bar in the background.
Friday night, we attended an evening party for guests of the wedding at the Rayback Collective in the city of Boulder. Located on the site of a former plumbing company, Rayback Collective is named after Marion Rayback, a World War II veteran and plumber who was also deeply involved in community service projects around the city. The building, Marion’s former warehouse, now houses a bar and lounge space, while outside is a stage, an event space, and its coolest feature…
Food trucks in food truck garden.
…a food truck garden! My wife tried the arepas from the Arepas Joint truck, while I had a pulled pork sandwich from Rollin’ Bones BBQ. This is such a cool venue! If you’re ever in the Boulder area, I’d highly recommend a visit (Rayback Collective even lists the food truck schedule each week on its website so you can plan ahead for deliciousness!).

The Little Nissan.

View of road behind dashboard of Nissan Rogue.
When I was in Minneapolis last year, my wife and I had rented a 2017 Nissan Rogue, and it was a nice vehicle. This 2019 model, however, was one of the most disappointing cars I’ve driven in a while. The small 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, adequate at sea level, is absolutely powerless at Colorado’s higher altitude. It quickly earned a nickname: the Gutless Wonder (GW).
Dashboard and front seats of Nissan Rogue.
In terms of driving dynamics, the electric power steering didn’t feel particularly connected to the road. The automatic transmission was geared for fuel efficiency instead of performance, and the steering wheel controls were not intuitive. The climate control, at least, was relatively easy to figure out, and visibility was decent.
Rearview mirror of car, with yellow light flashing beside it. A truck is visible in the mirror.
The biggest aggravation was the overly-intrusive driver aids. If a car is in your blindspot, a light in the rearview mirror flashes and the car beeps (pictured). If there is any object even remotely behind you, the car beeps (despite the object being several car lengths away). If the back door is open, the car beeps. If the trunk is open, the car beeps. If the parking brake is on, the car beeps. I’m all for technology assisting a driver, but how much beeping does one person need?
Car dashboard with diagram of car with door open on display panel between odometer and speedometer.
The car is informing me that the door is open. And it is showing a yellow hazard triangle because the door is open. And it is beeping at me. And still beeping. All for an open door.
Rear seat of Nissan Rogue.
On the plus side, there is a fair amount of interior space. For someone who values gas mileage, storage space, and all-wheel drive, I could see the Rogue being a consideration. But given all the trade-offs, I’d be hesitant to spend my own money on this vehicle. Considering how much I enjoyed the 2017 Rogue, I’m hoping that Nissan will address some of these issues in the next version of this car.

A scenic drive.

Map of Flatirons Vista scenic drive.
On Saturday morning, with several hours free before the wedding, my wife and I decided to take a drive around Boulder and explore a little bit of our temporary surroundings. We found a suggested scenic route on the Boulder website.
View of mountains in distance along I-36 in Boulder.
With the mountains of Colorado beckoning, we set off to explore a little of this gorgeous state.
View of mountains through car windshield, with cup of coffee in foreground on dashboard.
I don’t know about you, but this is a pretty nice view to have while you’re sipping your morning coffee…
View of Rocky Mountains in the distance beyond the foothills.
A sign along Route 36 directed us to a “scenic view.” We took the exit… and yes, the sign was correct.
Small flower in front of wooden fence, with mountains in distance.
Sometimes, however, the best view is right in front of you.
Panorama of foothills of Rocky mountains, with clouds in the sky and a grassy prairie in the foreground.
One of the suggested stops was to stop at the Flatirons Vista Trailhead. Although we weren’t prepared for serious hiking, we did venture a bit down the trail and were rewarded with an amazing view of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Trees and grassland in foreground, and foothills in background beneath a cloudy sky.
Before we had left for our trip, we had identified several options for how to spend our Sunday morning. By the end of our Saturday drive, however, we felt the Rocky Mountains calling. And so, on our drive back to our hotel we made plans to tour Rocky Mountain National Park.
View of Rocky Mountains, with trees and grassland in foreground.
And on a gorgeous Saturday night, we attended a wonderful wedding… at 8,500 feet above sea level! Built on 200 acres, Colorado Mountain Ranch in the town of Gold Hills, was a terrific wedding venue, and its historic lodge, which is over one hundred years old, was a memorable location.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Map of the Denver area, with red pin in the location of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Waking up before 5:00 am on Sunday, we quickly got ready and set off for our destination: the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sunrise over Colorado landscape.
One of the benefits of waking so early… pulling over to the side of the road to witness an amazing sunrise.
Road, with mountains in distance.
Rocky Mountain State Park is approximately an hour northwest of Boulder. As we got closer, the mountains began to loom in the distance, beckoning us onward.
Entrance road to the park, with a large sign in foreground that says ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK ESTABLISHED IN 1915.
We got to the park a little after 7:00 am with practically no one else in sight. When we arrived in Denver on Friday, a segment on the evening news had detailed the long lines and crowded conditions in the park. Fortunately, arriving so early in the day, we had the park virtually to ourselves for the first several hours.
Horseshoe park, with mountains in distance, and a meadow in the foreground.
Our first stop was Horseshoe Park. This valley was once covered by a 500-foot tall glacier. The lakes in the meadow were formed by enormous chunks of ice that melted away beginning 15,000 years ago.
View of mountains, with pine branches framing the view.
Trail Ridge Road crosses the park from east to west. It is open seasonally, after all the snow has melted. As we ventured up the road further into the mountains, we were overwhelmed by the number of amazing views before us.
Panorama of forest and mountains.
The park is divided into three zones: montane (below 9,000 feet), subalpine (9,000-11,000 feet), and alpine (11,400+ feet above sea level). Your climb to the clouds begins in the montane zone.
Waterfall between trees.
Snow fell late this year – over a foot fell in a storm in mid-June! Numerous waterfalls cascaded down the mountainside from melting snow high above.
Mountains in distance with rocky ground below. A sign has a boot print with a line through it, and says STAY ON TRAIL.
As you venture up the mountain, you enter the Tundra Protection Zone. This is a zone where winds can gust to over a hundred miles per hour and temperatures stay below freezing for almost half of the year. The delicate grasses and plants that grow here cling to life, and can be easily destroyed by careless visitors. Numerous signs remind guests to stay on the trails.
Yellow bellied marmot on rocky ground, with mountains in distance.
Here we had our first up-close experience with the native wildlife – the yellow bellied marmot. These little guys make their homes above 6,500 feet, and spend much of their time foraging for food, as their hibernation season lasts for eight months, beginning in September.
Marmot, looking straight into camera, on a series of rocks.
After spending several minutes with them, it quickly became obvious that these little guys have personality! My wife captured this great shot.
Elk, running down mountainside.
Our gaze quickly shifted to these elk running down the side of a mountain.
Elk, standing on rocky outcropping.
Busy eating, this elk paid us no attention as we ventured near for a photo.
Herd of elk grazing on plain on mountainside.
As we navigated the curvy mountain road, we came to a clearing with dozens of elk grazing and resting. While I drove, my wife snapped photo after photo of these stately animals.
Panorama of rocky mountainside covered in snow.
Lava Cliffs Overlook, covered in snow, looked like a scene from another planet, something from a science-fiction movie.
Red sign with white lettering that reads AVALANCHE AREA KEEP OFF
A real concern with this much snow on steep mountainsides.
Road in mountains with wooden poles on either side of road.
As we ventured further up Trail Ridge Road, we ascended a series of winding roads. No shoulders and no guardrails… Beyond the wooden poles on the left side of the road is nothing but air and the ground far, far below.
Road with sign that says ALPINE VISITOR CENTER TRAIL RIDGE STORE ELEVATION 11,796
Our next stop was at the top of the mountains in the Alpine Visitor Center.
Meadow covered in snow, with tree-lined mountainside behind.
We stopped in the visitor center to do some souvenir shopping. The rear of the visitor center looks out onto Fall River Valley. One of the rangers we spoke with was leaving Rocky Mountain Park the following week to start a position with the US Fish and Wildlife Service… in Cape May, New Jersey! He asked for things to do and places to eat while he lives there, and we were happy to provide him with some ideas!
View of Alpine Ridge Trail, with two people in foreground about to ascend steps.
Across the parking lot from the visitor center is the Alpine Ridge Trail. This short, half-mile hike takes you to the top of the mountain – a 209-foot elevation gain. Given the thin air at this altitude, the trail has earned the nickname “Huffer’s Hill.”
Grass and flowers on side of hill of Trail Ridge Road.
Despite the altitude and harsh conditions, life, such as these wildflowers, finds a way to survive.
Wooden sign that says ELEVATION 12,005 FEET ABOVE SES LEVEL, with mountains in background.
Huffing and puffing our way to the top, we made the summit- 12,005 feet above sea level. In comparison, the summit of Mt. Washington, which I visited in September of 2017, is 6,288 feet above sea level.
Panorama of mountains, with a blue sky.
Needless to say, the view from the top was simply spectacular.
Downward view of steps for Alpine Ridge Trail.
Miss a step, and it’s a long way back down! This shot was taken about halfway down the trail.
View of cars parked in stone-walled pullout.
As we began our drive back down the mountain, we stopped for some photos at a pullout, one of the stone-walled parking lots on the side of the road. Trail Ridge Road has several of these pullouts which offer scenic views of the surrounding areas. Getting to the park so early in the morning was definitely the right call – by the time we were heading out, the roads and parking lots were filling with visitors.
View of mountains with blue sky and clouds.
It’s hard to express in words the sense of awe you feel standing amid the Rocky Mountains. I will let the next few photos speak for themselves.

View of mountains in distance, with tree-lined hills and meadows in foreground.

View of mountains, with snow-covered hillsides in foreground.

Snow-covered mountains beneath a blue sky.

White Nissan Rogue SUV parked in front of mountains.
Despite my harsh criticism earlier, by the end of the trip I had finally started to warm up toward our little Gutless Wonder. Surprisingly, its otherwise forgettable transmission allows for pretty responsive manual shifting, enabling me to use proper engine braking to descend the mountain. Numerous drivers ahead of us rode their brakes for most of the descent, but the Nissan did a nice job safely coasting downhill. No cooked brakes here! Well done, little Rogue.
Purple flowers in front of public park. A blue sky and mountains are in the background.
After leaving the park, we stopped in the nearby town of Estes Park. Founded in 1859 as a ranching town, Estes Park is now a major tourist destination for those heading toward Rocky Mountain State Park.
Small metal statues in alley with yellow building in background.
From the small shops and restaurants to the mountains looming in the background, Estes Park reminded me of Lake Placid. This shop, specializing in lawn art, was rather unique.
Exterior of the Stanley Hotel.
“Some places are like people: some shine, and some don’t.” – Dick Hallorann. Our lunch destination was at the Stanley Hotel. Why here? Because after staying at this hotel one night in 1974, horror author Stephen King was inspired to write one of his most famous novels: The Shining.
Stanley Steamer car in lobby of hotel.
The hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley in 1909. Freelan created the Stanley Steamer steam-powered cars. He built the 142-room hotel as a resort for the wealthy after moving to Colorado to heal from a tuberculosis infection. An original Stanley Steamer is in the hotel lobby.
Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned in front of menu for Cascades Restaurant and Bar. The hotel bar is in the background.
“What will you be drinking, sir?” -Lloyd, The Shining. Despite my interest in the hotel arising from a horror novel, we visited for a much happier reason: lunch!! Cascades Restaurant and Lounge at the Stanley Hotel is a restaurant and steakhouse that emphasizes local ingredients and sustainability.
Metal bowl with chilled shrimp on ice, with aioli sauce in white bowl in middle of dish.
“How’d you like some ice cream, Doc?” -Dick Hallorann, The Shining. Our meal began with an appetizer of chilled peel-and-eat shrimp with a lemon aioli.
New York Strip Steak with french fries, ketchup, and greens.
My wife ordered the New York Strip Steak…
Trout and vegetables on white plate.
…while I went with the blackened Colorado trout with sea island red pea succotash, chive buerre blank, and a pea puree. How was the meal? Absolutely delicious!
Replica of New York Times with front-page stating MEN WALK ON MOON, hanging on wall in frame. The restaurant bar is in background.
Perhaps a little less grim than The Shining… another film is connected to the Stanley Hotel – Dumb and Dumber was filmed here! In one scene, Jim Carrey’s character walked past this framed newspaper article and exclaimed “We landed on the moon!”

One Last Stop: Pearl Street in Boulder.

Tree-lined Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado.
On Monday morning, with several hours before our flight back to New Jersey, we stopped by the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado. A pedestrian-only section of the city, the Pearl Street Mall is filled with numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, and coffee houses.
Wall mural of bubbles blowing from right to left. Leftmost bubble says PEARL STREET.
As we walked around, we discovered several murals and statues hidden throughout the four-block mall. This was my favorite.
Latte with heart-shaped milk design on top.
We stopped at Ozo Coffee Company for a little shot of caffeine before getting back on the road. Ozo uses glyphs (such as the one pictured on the cup) inspired by the Mayan writing system to specifically label each type of coffee’s regional origin, specific country, type of processing, taste, and the elevation where the beans were grown. So cool!
View of traffic through windshield of car.
And once again, we had returned home. No more mountains, no more scenic views… but still, it felt good to get back to New Jersey.

On the plane ride back to New Jersey, my wife and I began discussing where Rocky Mountain National Park ranked in the list of road trips we have taken. The answer, unsurprisingly, is right at the top as one of the best. Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (weather permitting). Admission is charged either per person (for hikers and cyclists) or per vehicle if you’re taking a car or truck through the park. A one-day vehicle price is $25, a one-day single person pass (hiker or cyclist) is $15, although longer duration passes are available.

At this point of the blog, I would usually say something like, “If you’re in Colorado, make sure you stop by Rocky Mountain National Park.” Except that’s incorrect. If you have not yet been to Rocky Mountain National Park, make plans to visit. Make it the reason to go to Colorado, instead of something to do once you’re already there. This magnificent national treasure should be the purpose of a trip.

Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.

 

2 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain High.

  1. What an action-packed Rocky Mountain adventure. Loved it all. This made me miss Colorado – it’s been a year already since our 2018 National Acura Legend Meet was held just south of Denver in Colorado Springs area. Glad you got to do some mountain drives and sightseeing. I need to make it to the Stanley Hotel. I saw The Shining for the first time last year. And I didn’t realize it was also featured in Dumb & Dumber – one of my absolute favorite movies. Send me some of those Juan’s Breakfast Tacos right away, please. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was my first time visiting the Rocky Mountains, and seeing them in person was amazing! I knew about the Stanley Hotel’s connection to The Shining, but I had no idea about Dumb and Dumber, which was very cool. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Like

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