Tuesday, 23 July 2013

In the Wild West

My little cowboys
Hello from Denver, where I'm writing this from a gloomy motel room next to the station, where we have to be at 7AM tomorrow morning to catch the California Zephyr to San Francisco.

In the 10 days since we left Long Island, I've seen a totally different side of America; the Wild Wild West. We've spent time in the spectacular landscapes of the Rockies, hiking up to waterfalls and soaking in natural hot springs, taking cable cars to the tops of mountains and even riding down an alpine slide (a slide on which you sit on a tray and career down a mountain in a chute). We've seen the canyon country of northwestern Colorado and Utah, touched real dinosaur fossils, luxuriated in expensive Aspen and driven over high mountain passes to see ghost towns and ice grottoes.

Overlooking Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs, where we spent our first week in a ski apartment, is a charming little ski town, squarely geared towards the outdoors; rafting, tubing, and biking are among the popular activities and the Main Street is strewn with people carrying inflatable rubber rings and wearing wet clothing. It's so named for its hot springs and you can experience them in two entirely different ways. The "Old Town Hot Springs" has basically been made into a series of swimming pools, hot tubs and a mini water park with two long flume slides and a rock climbing wall.

The children loved this, but I was more taken with Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Outside of the town nestled in a hidden valley down a steep dirt road, this is a more natural environment, where you swim in muddy pools where the spring meets a stream, mingling hot and cold water to give you areas of wildly varying temperature. There were chipmunks everywhere, and the setting, amongst trees and the mountain, was stunning. After sunset, no children are admitted and clothing is optional - and although the signs say no alcohol, I've lived in the US long enough now to be certain that this will be squarely ignored. Although the kids declared the water too murky, I loved these pools and could have spent all day there.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

We did some hiking, although Littleboy 2 seemed to suffer a little from the altitude and had several moments of simply refusing to carry on. The Doctor therefore went off and hiked by himself a couple of times, including an early morning walk up the mountain on which he saw a black bear.

After Steamboat, we moved on to Dinosaur National Monument, on the Colorado/Utah borders. The landscape is straight out of a western, and so were some of the towns we passed through. In particular we loved the small but fascinating Museum of Northwestern Colorado at Craig, where the boys loved seeing real cowboy clothes and a gun collection belonging to an elderly guy who worked there (and regaled us with tales of how he carried a gun when he visited New York).

The Doctor has really got into the Wild West spirit

The Colorado side of the park is stunning - and amazingly empty. We soon realised the reason for this - we were completely in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town where you could stay the night or even get a meal is 40 miles away in Vernal, Utah. Dinosaur, on the Colorado side, was a real one-horse town where rusty Dinosaur statues stood next to closed-down motels and shacks, a relic of perhaps an era when tourism was busier there. On the Utah side, you can see dinosaur fossils embedded in rock at the Quarry where many of the dinosaur bones found in museums around the world were originally found. For the Littleboys, this was a real highlight.

Echo Park Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument Park

We finished our Colorado stretch with two nights in Aspen. I'd expected it to be jetset and posh, and it is, but in a charming, boutique type way. The little tree-lined streets, with fantastic restaurants and bars, low rise wooden architecture, and of course the amazing mountain setting make it a uniquely special place. String quartets played in the streets, while beautiful couples in designer dresses made their way to the Opera House. Our hotel, The Limelight, was one of the nicest I've ever stayed at. From the home made granola at breakfast, to the comfy beds and the pizza restaurant where you could roast marshmallows round a firepit, it was perfect for a family and not too jaw-droppingly expensive either.

Roasting marshmallows in Aspen

Colorado has really surpassed my expectations. It was hard leaving New York, but the trip so far has really taken my mind off the move. Tomorrow we go further west, to San Francisco. Although the question of whether the boys will survive a 36 hour train trip without going completely manic still lingers, we're all looking forward to crossing the American continent by rail. See you in California....


Expat mum said...

Isn't it fab? Obviously it's beautiful in the winter with the snow, but so gorgeous and literally breath-taking in the summer. The differences in the topography of the US always amazes me.

Home Office Mum said...

reminds me of when we drove across the southern states - so much to see. I wish I had planned better. The places you have been look amazing. Hope the rest of the trip goes well

Iota said...

Oh gosh, you're bringing back memories. I used to LOVE the hot springs in Colorado.

It's just occurred to me... what are you going to call your sons on the blog when they outgrow 'Littleboys'. Will they become Bigboy 1 and Bigboy 2?

Glad you're having such a nice time.

About Last Weekend said...

Wow - what a magical mystery tour, love hearing all about this, have really only been to Denver in the winter. And you're coming to San fran - or have you been through - bugger I missed you and now we're off to Santa Barb tomorrow. Wish I had known - we could have met up!