Colorado Adventure

Photos and writeup by Trevor Freeman. January 2009.

In July of 2008, my dad announced that he was planning a road trip to Colorado and back. The idea was to visit Glenwood Springs and give his tired bones a soak in the natural hot springs for which the town is named. Knowing full well what a road trip with the old man would entail, I carefully weighed my options. Go along and take some pictures, or stay at home and do nothing? I chose Colorado.

His original plan was to rent a car for the trip, but he scrapped that idea to save money. We made the trip in my mom's Chevrolet Cavalier sedan instead. Although the car was in good shape, it wasn't as fun as a rental vehicle would have been. It was crowded with two people and too much luggage, but the car got us there and back safely. Our journey began on a Monday in July.

July 14, 2008 - Day One
Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park (212 mi)

Unlike most of our family road trips, this one got off to a pretty late start. Dad had a flat tire the previous day and needed a new one before we could leave. We finally got going about 9:30am with me behind the wheel. Just two hours later we were breathing in that clean mountain air as we stopped in Flagstaff for an oil change and grabbed lunch at Wendy's.

There wasn't time to hang around in Flagstaff because we wanted to get to the Grand Canyon as fast as possible. I was feeling good as we headed up US Route 89 to Cameron, AZ and took Arizona Route 64 to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I wasn't sure what to expect as we entered Grand Canyon National Park at about 2 o'clock. It had been a very long time since I had been to the Grand Canyon, and it was my first time driving there. The ranger gave us a map of the park and we stopped at the first overlook with great anticipation.

Overlooking the Grand Canyon The first of nine official Grand Canyon Viewpoints was called Desert View. Right away I noticed was how much cooler the temperature was at 7,000 feet elevation. Even in the middle of summer, the air temperature was very comfortable and there was a nice breeze. The sun felt very strong, so I stopped to apply plenty of sunscreen on my face and arms. We spent some time taking photos and checking out the Desert View Watchtower before moving on to the next viewpoint.

We decided to visit every other scenic viewpoint on the way in and visit the rest of them on the way out of the park the next morning. This turned out to be a great idea because we could skip the ones that were too busy during the afternoon and catch them first thing in the morning when they would be empty. Each viewpoint provided us with a fantastic new perspective of the Canyon, and there were countless great shots to be had. I was having fun shooting lots of pictures of the Canyon.

By 4 o'clock we had made our way to Grand Canyon Village where we checked into the Yavapai Lodge. Room #7121 was a small room with two beds, a bathroom, and a window. The sparsely decorated room and painted brick walls reminded me of those "luxury" federal prisons I've seen on television. Dad was furious that our room did not have an air conditioner, even though the temperature was a very comfortable 68°F.

The El Tovar Hotel After getting settled, we rode the free shuttle bus to the El Tovar Hotel where we walked around and admired the canyon some more. We had steaks for dinner and watched a storm roll in from the large windows of our restaurant. As the sun went down, a dense cloud of fog formed over the canyon and the North Rim disappeared from view. It began to rain as soon as we boarded the shuttle bus back to the hotel. There was a herd of elk visible from the bus and everyone went wild trying to see them.

The first day of our trip was pretty easy. There wasn't too much driving or walking and the worst I had to endure was dad's constant chattering all day long (which got old very fast). We got to bed early knowing that the next day would be much longer. We still had a lot of driving to do before we would get to Colorado.

July 15, 2008 - Day Two
Grand Canyon National Park to Ouray, Colorado (386 mi)

Morning came much too soon and I had not slept well. We ate a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes at the Yavapai Lodge cafeteria before heading out. After breakfast, I started to feel much better. We stopped at the rest of the scenic viewpoints which were spectacular in the early morning light. Dad was ecstatic with all of the ground squirrels at Grandview Point. He continued chattering away as he drove from the Grand Canyon to Kayenta, Arizona.

Dinosaur Tracks near Kayenta, AZ I think he must have been determined to make the drive to Kayenta as excruciating as possible. He tuned in to a Navajo radio station for an extended period of time, though neither of us could understand it. He also stopped to see the famous "Dinosaur Tracks" on the way. A high school aged Navajo boy guided us around the strange landscape that looked like the surface of Mars. The kid pointed out large tracks preserved in the mud as well as fossils, shells and other evidence of prehistoric life.

Okay, so the dinosaur tracks were not as lame as I had expected. I was surprised by how informal everything was; there were no ropes or barriers to prevent us or anyone else from damaging the historic artifacts. Dad generously gave our guide $20 dollars and thanked him for showing us around. We stopped for gas in Kayenta and I took over behind the wheel.

As we entered Colorado, dad was becoming very critical of my driving. I tend to be very cautious, and he tends to have a lead foot. He complained that I wasn't going fast enough and was nagging me to pass a large truck on a two-lane road. Frustrated, I punched the gas pedal to the floor and blew by the truck at close to 100 mph. I could see his hands gripping the seat tightly as he told me to "Slow the hell down!" He didn't nag me to pass anyone else after that!

We didn't stop again until we pulled into Durango, Colorado. I spotted an awesome motel sign and pulled over to take a photo. Dad was not happy with this unscheduled stop and jumped behind the wheel in the blink of an eye. We got some snacks at a gas station and I noticed they stocked some food items we didn't have back home. I tried an orange creme soda that came in a glass bottle. It was good and had a nice smooth flavor.

Driving through Colorado Now Dad's driving was now beginning to get on my nerves. We drove through a construction zone where the pavement had been ripped up. We were driving over loose gravel and dad was following the car in front of us very closely. Rocks kept hitting our windshield and I had to yell at him to back off a little. I shouldn't have needed to tell him that, but it was clear he was just going to keep complaining about the rocks instead of being sensible. I didn't want to bring mom's car home with a cracked windshield.

The next town on the map was Silverton, Colorado. We had both been there on previous trips, but always via the narrow-gauge scenic railroad from Durango. This was our first time actually driving Durango to Silverton. The road between the two towns is known as the "Million Dollar Highway." With a name like that, I was hoping it would be a spectacular drive.

The winding, two-lane road started out by climbing a couple of mountain passes some ten and eleven thousand feet high. We drove over Coal Creek Pass (10,600 ft), Molas Pass (10,910 ft), and Red Mountain Pass (11,000 ft). The road leading up the mountain was dotted with dozens of ski resorts along the way. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous! The road was not too crowded and we had plenty of time to soak up all of the mountain vistas, which had some pretty interesting colors.

Looking down on Silverton, Colorado As we began our descent into Silverton, I noticed dad was using the brakes a lot. I suggested that he shift down to a lower gear so we wouldn't overheat the brakes as we came down the mountain. His response was something along the lines of "I know what I'm doing."

We made it to Silverton and stopped at a gas station to double check that the road we were on would take us to Ouray. I could smell the freaking brakes - they must have been completely faded. Dad mentioned the smell to the gas station attendant who told him to use lower gears! He had to hear it from a stranger instead of me before he would believe it.

Eventually, we made it to Ouray and found the Comfort Inn where we had reserved a room. Once we had carried our bags up to room #201, dad cranked up the air conditioner and we went to look for something to eat. We found a sports bar along the main road where we ordered a pizza and hot wings. The hot food improved my mood tremendously (and it was delicious, too!).

Back at the hotel, we went for a dip in the hot tub and chatted with a couple of middle-aged hikers who were visiting Colorado to hike "fourteeners," or mountains with summits above 14,000 feet elevation. It kind of made our trip to the hot springs seem silly. I tried to connect to the hotel's wireless network with my laptop but could not get it to work. I fell asleep with my clothes on because the room temperature was just above "sub-zero."

The Colorado Adventure story continues on the next page.