1st Aug, 2017
Research, research and more research. That’s what I did for months before this trip. Checking on points of interest and fun things to do. It never entered my head to look at what has turned out to be damned important; altitude. So, the plan was to hire a car in Denver then spend the next 3 weeks driving Wyoming and Colorado exploring the Rockies.
The first stop was Cheyenne, capital of Wyoming – only 56,000 people. The state is bigger than Victoria yet has only 185,000 people. Cheyenne Frontier Days is a 10 day festival dedicated to all things country and western. It was fabulous. Chuck wagon cook offs – this is a competition where people travel from near and far to vie for the honour and glory of best BBQ in the state. Bought a chicken sandwich big enough to feed a small village.
The rodeo attracts some of the best horsemanship I’ve ever seen. With riders named Blade Elliot, Tucker Zigg and Western Garrett, you pretty much have your career mapped out for you. There’s buck jumping, bull riding, steer wrestling, and even an event where you race your horse flat out whilst shooting at balloons; yes, there’s something for everyone. The top rider here has career earnings in excess of $4 million. He would need all of that just to repair his poor broken body. This is the home of testosterone, boots, jeans, and the biggest buckle wins (male and female).
This area is home to the northern Arapaho Indians. And they were calling themselves that, although I think the PC word is Native Americans. Their costumes are brilliant and vivid, all handmade with beads and feathers. I loved their music; rhythmic drum beats where the male dancers whirl and whoop themselves into a frenzy. I think dancing is innate in humans.
But now back to the altitude. After a few days in Cheyenne, we are both feeling very tired. Bone tired, aching legs, breathlessness, and a general feeling of ‘yep, we are getting old.’ It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to us that us “flat-landers” were suffering from altitude sickness. Bare in mind that Mt Kosciuszko is 7310 ft above sea level and Cheyenne is over 6000 ft above sea level. And some seriously weird stuff happens at this level – water boils at a lower temperature, so food takes longer to cook. And if you throw a ball, it will go further – true. And this is what I love about the rules of science, they don’t give a stuff what you believe in, belief has nothing to do with it. Like vaccinations and electricity; believing in it is irreverent – it just works.
So now we re-assess, and decide to head to Laramie. Hundreds of cairns (stone monuments) depicting where the likes of Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James passed through. This is the country of the cowboy movies of my youth. And it doesn’t take much imagination to see the Indians peeking over the brow of the mountain in the old Gunsmoke and Shane movies.
So we drive and drive, climbing, climbing into the Rockies in our trusty little 4 cylinder Impressa. The poor little car too is finding the altitude tough going. Using heaps of fuel and working like a sheep dog to climb the mountains. Look, I’ve tried to take photos on my phone camera, but it is pointless. Nothing shows the height and beauty of the Rockies. Snow capped peaks, yet the daytime temperature is over 80 degrees, the pristine Colorado river and the giant Spruce and Fir trees clinging on to the mountain sides like barnacles on a ship.
I suffer from acrophobia, big time, and like all phobias, I know it is completely irrational. I take refuge in the knowledge that any exercise done at this altitude will help me a hundred fold when I finally make it down to sea level.
We head for a little town called Granby, our gateway to the trail over the Rockies. Unbeknown to us, this little town is the hunters paradise and the accommodation reflects it. You’ve got your basic to your budget and everything is booked out, and not another town for miles. Finally, we find a rundown little motel, no aircon, no wifi, and big signs everywhere saying ‘no cleaning fish or skinning animals in your room.’ We comply. Only one problem, the Manager says, only got one room left, it’s our new bed and it’s a king size mattress so instead of $61 a night you gonna have to pay $63. Done. It was basic, but it was clean.
Hunters and fishermen by the hundreds. Big utes and even bigger guns. Based on a lottery system, they are allocated a certain amount of animals they can shoot. As a carnivore, I understand the shooting of elk, moose and deer for meat but the shooting of a bear seems to me as stupid. A trophy, much like the shooting of an elephant, surely?
We head for the trail drive through the Rocky Mountain National Park. We inch our way over the path driving no more than 15mph. The only thing between me and a plummet of 12,000 feet is my careful driver and some serious engineering. I am terrified and exhilarated and I will never do it again.
Ray got a nasty chest\sinus infection on the plane so went to the doctor in San Fransisco – $273 for the doctor and antibiotics. By the time we get to Glenwood Springs, his mouth looks like the bottom of a bird cage. Off to the docs again – another $155 for the doctor and $257 for the throat lozenges he needs. Does the USA have a health cover problem? People have been asking us about our health cover, most people comment that “oh, it’s socialised, like Canada”. No, we see it as a basic human right, like education.
And many people ask us what we think of their Dear Leader, and as a guest in their country we must be polite and respectful, although when pushed I answer that I can’t speak for all, but I think he’s a narcissistic buffoon. And most people agree.
So we relax in the piping hot thermal pools for a few days and feeling just fine we head for Canon City via Aspen. Now Aspen, as you will all know, is the ski playground of the rich and famous. Only spent a few hours there because it seemed to me that it was illegal to stay any longer if you had a wrinkle or were carry an extra few pounds. Never seen so many pretty people in such close quarters.
Canon City was fabulous, this is where Ray zip lined his way around the mountains whilst I sat under the cool of a tree like someone’s Nanna.
Okay, off to Santa Fe driving for another week or so.