Those of you who were patient enough to wade through my tedious recollections in the previous post would have ascertained that after 9 days in the wildest depths of Yellowstone, we were itching for a taste of civilization. Specifically – showers. As far as we could recall, it had been 10 days since we had last cleansed ourselves (aside from a couple of quick dips in frigid lakes and rivers, which don’t really count), and our pits smelled as if it had been twice that long. Even your true-blue, full-blown dreadlocked hippie would have had their untamed nose hairs singed by our pungent aromas.
Get the idea? Well, in order to gain access to a little piece of humanity, we had to first drive through the outer fringes of wilderness which surround Yellowstone in every direction. Our route was somewhat pre-determined by the fact that we had made loose plans to meet up with friends in Denver, Colorado, in a week’s time, so we were headed southeast. First stop: the Grand Tetons! (pronounced “Gran Ted’n” in the local dialect).
Despite our assumed de-sensitivity to “wilderness”, the Grand Teton mountain range was actually super cool, made even cooler by the ever-present smoke being generated by numerous midsummer forest fires. This smoke semi-obscured the mountains but left just enough of their silhouette to create an awesome mystical outline of these rugged (aka grand) giants, and we were suitably bedazzled.
Bedazzlement aside, darkness was falling rapidly and we had nary a place to stay. The local, rather excessively-priced (over $70 USD/night!) RV park was chocka block, so we mosied on over to the nearby Colter Bay Campground. Being rather late, the campground was by this point unmanned, so we spent a free night in one of the many vacant camping spots then guiltily shot the hell out of there first thing in the morning. Our route eventually took us out of Grand Teton and into the Shoshone National Forest, which would have made for a very scenic drive indeed, if not for the fact that we were driving the crappiest RV known to man. Eventually, we found ourselves sitting astride yet another continental divide location (by this time we had come to loathe these so-called “divides”) and discovered that we had somehow reached new heights in the RV – 9584 feet! Impressed but also semi-delirious from the noxious gases that had been spilling into the cabin from all the hill-climbing, we continued along the Wind River valley towards our date with civilization – the “going places” town of Lander, Wyoming.
Lander wasn’t a bad spot – freakishly hot, but not bad. The RV park we stayed at was even better, boasting excellent showers in which we whiled away the hours, full hookups, and access to other RV god-sends such as dish washing facilities, wi-fi, and dump stations. We spent a couple of days in Lander, just unwinding, and on the second day went for an awesome hike up in Sinks Canyon State Park. Here, we followed a very scenic trail up to the Popo Agie falls (pronunciation is up for debate), and were rewarded with a very enjoyable but slightly unsafe swim in one of the many pools below the falls. This, as it happened, marked a very important date – our 6 year anniversary! And a very fitting walk it was indeed to mark such an auspicious occasion.
Continuing on towards Denver, we spent the next night in the Laramie Walmart parking lot. Nothing really to report here, other than being roasted alive in our hotbox of an RV. While we didn’t spend too much time in Laramie, it seemed like quite a nice little university city. (Liivi adds that they have an awesome herbal shop “The Herb House” where they make their own tinctures from scratch, and also a nice health food store around the corner)
Following Laramie, we made the short drive to Vedauwoo Campground and Recreation Area, technically part of the Medicine Bow National Forest. I had scoped this location out on freecamping.net, one of my best pals by this point in the trip, and was informed that if one continued along the gravel road past the payable campsites, one came to a series of “dispersed”, free campsites. I did so, and lo and behold there they were! Luckily, we didn’t break too many pots, pans and dishes bumping along the atrociously rutted gravel road to get there. Well worth it, though – the place was awesome! Our chosen spot was directly in the shadow of Turtle Rock, complete with firepit and stream gurgling merrily away nearby. Why would you ever want to stay at a crappy paid campsite?
After an enjoyable evening and many rock-scaling expeditions, we continued on through the shimmering heat to Denver. This was a long, slow, fume-filled leg of the trip, largely because much of it was via the highway, and the RV doesn’t like highways. Trying to push the thing over 40mph/65kph makes it throw a tantrum every single time, and these highways had a speed limit of 75 mph (approx 120 kph) – something which the RV could never even dream of achieving, but which I had to try and come close to in order to avoid getting a ticket for driving too slow (now THAT would be an embarrassing moment) or getting rear-ended by some disbelieving normal-car driver.
In any event, we limped into Denver, were thrown about by the cavernous potholes and mountainous bumps riddling those roads, and finally met up with Maiki, Ezra and Juhan Darnell, our hosts for the next few days. Maiki had told us to come on over to their friends place, who were having a few casuals and a bit of a fry-up. Chris and Hope very kindly took us under their wing, fed us, gave us a tour of their abode, and introduced us to their resident horse, who turned out to be very good at picking locks with his mouth. Keep in mind that we were smack bang in the middle of the city, but some grandfathered zoning law allowed people in that particular neighbourhood to have mini-ranches right on their back doorstep. Pretty hilarious.
After an enjoyable evening with Maiki and Ezra’s crew, we spent the next few days hanging out with the Darnells and hopefully not getting too much on their nerves. Notable outings included:
– Driving to Red Rocks Park and walking up to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, one of the cooler music venues we’ve visited and one which has its fair share of history
– doing a walking tour of downtown (somewhat ridiculously referred to as “LoDo” – Lower Downtown – by its denizens) with Maiki and Juhan, checking out some cool music festivals, visiting a rather excellent cidery (Stem), and enjoying a meal on the rooftop of Linger, a mortuary turned restaurant.
– Heading to Fort Collins via the town of Boulder to meet up with Maiki’s dad Andres, who has a good quasi-brewery scene going on in his living room and who took us to a cool micro-brewery (Odells) down the road. We enjoyed many good eatings and even more good drinkings in Fort Collins, to the accompaniment of subsequent ill-health the next morning.
Denver had a good vibe, somehow nicely combining a laid-back hipsterish mentality with a flourishing commercial scene. This was certainly helped along by the fact that the state of Colorado has recently legalized cannabis for recreational purposes. A tip of the hat to you, Colorado! We would have liked to have stayed longer to enjoy the many delights that Denver had to offer, but alas the road was calling. We said our goodbyes to the Darnells and headed west, towards Utah.
This marked a dark time for the RV, in which it was forced to climb over vast mountain ranges (and yes, you guessed it – fricken continental divides!) in order to push across the border into Utah. Needless to say, we took a very long time to make the ascent, pissed a lot of people off in the process, and probably smelled like the inside of a petrol barrel by the end of it. It was a pretty stunning drive though, with the majesty of the mountains all around and clear mountain rivers running alongside for much of the way, and we even set a new elevation record for the RV – 11,013 feet! That’s 3,350 metres above sea level, almost as high as New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook. Imagining the Hunk o Junk sitting on top of Mt Cook’s summit makes for an amusing mind fart indeed.
Whilst up in the Rockies once more, we paid a very interesting visit to a (legal) marijuana store called High Country Healing, near the resort town of Keystone (there – I’ve mentioned Keystone, now I can end the post knowing that I’ve closed the title loop). This was quite a surreal experience, flashing our passports to the stereotypical stoner guy at the front desk, being ushered in to “the room” festooned with yet more stereotypical stoner helper dudes, and buying a selection of recreational cannabis products. The range of weed types was extensive, with correspondingly amusing names, but we settled for “Grape Ape” and “Skywalker”. Walking out with brown paper bags filled with green goodies, we couldn’t help but feel a little bit seedy despite the legality of the situation.