2022, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Colorado Day 2: Saturday May 28, 2022 – Estes Park to Fort Collins

We woke up earlier than we would have liked, having forgotten to book a new entry at Rocky Mountain National Park. I checked and saw there was still time at 1PM only.

One of the hikes we looked at was not in RMNP but had quite a strenuous rise over a short distance. I was game but we were feeling the altitude for a bit. So I kept looking for others. In the meantime, we went for breakfast.

Estes Park

Estes Park is pretty easy to get around once you orient yourself, but it’s a mountain town with some hills so there are some roads that go weird places and sometimes where you want to be is up a bit, on a different road, even though it’s in sight, so you need to drive around to get there.

We found a diner in a mini mall and had an excellent breakfast. The best part about it was that it wasn’t as insanely heavy as most US diner breakfasts. We both love a US diner breakfast, but it was refreshing to get the flavour without the feeling of eating too much.

We noticed there were sidewalks everywhere.

Hermit Park

We decided to check out a trail called the Kruger Rock trail. We headed out of town on what I thought was the road to Fort Collins and realized there were no more gas stations. (The roads in the Rockies don’t tend to have gas stations on them when you’re not in a town.) We needed some more water due to the weather so we turned around, and not for the last time.

Once we got our water, we headed back out to Hermit Park Open Space. (Seriously, that’s the name of the park.) It snuck up really quickly and we pulled into what looked like a private property. It turns out it is a County Park, something I’m not sure I’ve visited before. The reason it looks private is that it used to be a Hewlett Packard retreat.

We went to attempt to pay at the machine and my credit card troubles began. (That’s not true, they began at the brewery the night before, but I paid with cash. I couldn’t here.) But while I was struggling to pay we noticed that the Kruger Rock Trail was not open all the way to the top. So we began to wonder what we should do. And then we realized Jenn didn’t have her credit card.

So we came up with a plan: we would drive back down into Estes Park (less than 10 minutes away) and try the Mexican restaurant to see if they had it. And then we’d come back and hike as much of the Kruger Rock Trail as we could. And so we did. And that’s where this view comes from:

Road into Estes Park

We had already noticed the traffic coming in as we left town. But it had intensified. We forgot it was Memorial Day Weekend, which helped explain why the hotels were so damn expensive. (We had switched to this weekend because Canadian flights for Victoria Day had been way more expensive.) It seems people were coming up for Saturday and just flooding Estes Park. It was a slow drive into town and there was just no parking anywhere. Fortunately, there were loading zones we could stop in.

Jenn tried to get into the Mexican Restaurant but they were not open and nobody would come to the door or answer the phone. So no luck.

So we did a big loop on some side streets and headed back to Hermit Park. Admission is $10, which is fine given the number of trails.

The drive up from the entrance to the trailhead was something: tons of switchbacks and a speed limit that varied from 10 to 15 MPH. Fortunately, most of the way up, it’s an exceptionally wide road and it’s a pretty easy and pretty drive.

The trailhead is located in a meadow. We decided to hike as far as we could go and see what we could see. Then, we would see if there was something else we could do.

Turns out, it was worth it:

Me, on the way up to Kruger Rock, above Estes Park

It was a pretty easy hike for the view. The only time I can think of when I got more of a view for so little effort without the involvement of an aerial tram or chairlift was in Montenegro.

When we got back to the parking lot we decided to do another hike within the park, given that it was still the morning and our drive to Fort Collins.

So we headed further up the meadow and walked a longer but less scenic trail along the side of the mountain above the meadow. There were some views but nothing as spectacular as above.

Me above the mountain meadow

Big Thompson Canyon

At this point, we realized we were not on the road to Fort Collins, we were on the road to Boulder. And the Mexican restaurant would be open. So we decided to head back into town for a third time, to see if we could get Jenn’s credit card and find our way to the proper road to Fort Collins. (Driving towards Boulder likely would have added a significant amount of time to our drive, though the drive was not long to begin with.)

We got down into Estes and there was even more traffic. Jenn actually got out of the car a block before I pulled into the loading area because we were moving so slowly. This place is popular on the weekend in the summer.

Anyway, Jenn got her credit card back and we found ourselves on the road to Fort Collins. We had no idea what we were in for.

Big Thompson River Canyon

As you know, I have driven some pretty hairy roads in my life. This was far from the worst. But it was one of the twistiest for the longest amount of time that I have ever driven on. The road was in excellent shape and the traffic was all going the other way, but it still required constant attention. For most of it, we were in an extremely deep canyon, one that was quite narrow. Weirdly, there are tons of houses along this very narrow canyon, some of which are not on the water side of the road. We had a hard time imagining people living here and that was before we knew there have been at least two disastrous floods in this canyon in the last hundred years. Anyway, if you go to Estes Park, you have to drive this road. (I’d recommend driving out on this road.) It’s incredible.

Right after we exited the canyon we saw these stunning ridges, a number of which were red. (I guess these are made of the same kind of rocks as Red Rocks.) Unfortunately we couldn’t get pictures of those ridges. So here’s a picture of a ridge in the area:

Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, Colorado

Fort Collins

Then we took the scenic route to Fort Collins, driving through the fields with the foothills on our left and alternating developments and farmer’s fields on the right. Loveland is the 14th largest city in Colorad, which we didn’t realize, and extended further than we thought. (We never actually got very far into it.) Then there was a break and we found our way into the suburbs of Fort Collins, the fourth largest city in Colorado.

Fort Collins is a college town, despite its size, and we found our way into the area around Colorado State and eventually found one of the service streets for CSU. We found some BBQ in a large convenience store and decided to eat there. It was pretty tasty.

By that time we could check in to our…I guess Air B&B-type place. It felt like an apartment without a kitchen, basically. (Though it did have a fridge and Keurig.) It was just north of the university and just outside of the proper downtown (though it would take us a long time to realize how close).

If you don’t know, Fort Collins is one of the beer destinations in the United States. We decided to choose Funkwerks instead of Jessup in terms of which brewery to head to. Both were recommended as places we could find our preferred styles of beer.

But we couldn’t get a cab. So we decided to walk and we ended up walking across Fort Collins, essentially from just west of downtown to just about the eastern reaches of the city. It started out as a pleasant walk on a very broad street, and it turned into a highway with no sidewalks. Fortunately, it was one of those highways with sideroads so we were able to walk on them. As we walked up to the brewery I’m pretty sure everyone on the patio was watching us, wondering why anyone would walk. (The US loves its breweries and bars located where you cannot easily walk to or from.)

We were quite happy with Funkwerks – a couple of the beers were absolutely excellent and overall they were pretty interesting. Their Bourbon BA Quad is worthy of Boulevard.

After we finished our beer we took a cab downtown and walked down the main drag. It was like being in a different city. We’d walked through a residential area, with some fairly grand houses to start, and then a commercial/industrial area to get to the brewery. But downtown Fort Collins is quite nice and just packed with restaurants and bars. I don’t know why you’d come to Fort Collins if you don’t like beer or you don’t attend CSU but the main street has a lot of stuff.

We wandered for a while, debating on what to eat, and then we saw a burger place. We decided to eat there and were very happy. I had the best IPA I had on the trip there too.

After dinner, we walked home. We briefly went into Target and then we went for frozen custard only to discover that it had closed earlier than it was supposed to. Night 2 of not finding ice cream after 8PM. (On Memorial Day weekend!)

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