USA 2011 – 4. Rocky Mountains NP, Colorado Springs and home

Part 4 , following Grand Tetons, Jackson and Lander.

All photos from this part of the4 holiday are in this album


Rocky Mountains National Park (wiki) is back down in Colorado, and looked like a good place for some walking.

Colorado Springs was chosen so we could drive Pike’s Peak, and have a few restful days before flying home.

Day 13 – Lander to Estes Park, Colorado

The Holiday Inn Expres in Lander had a good breakfast. This included biscuits and gravy, their special Hot Cinnamon Rolls (2 is one too many) and a pancake machine. You press a button, and a minute later two pancakes come out of a little conveyor belt to fall onto a plate. This is an excellent invention.

Breakfast buffet. Pancake machine 2nd from right

The drive to Estes Park was easy, with some nice scenery on the route.

We checked in to the Haber Motel (Tripadvisor), and had a very large and well-equipped room on the 2nd floor. It is conveninently located just off the main street of town (bit is quiet), within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants.

We quickly headed back out into Rocky M0untains National Park, stopping at a Ranger station on the way in. We asked a ranger about good hikes and when he asked what length of hike he seemed pleased that we answered 6 hours and a few thousand feet of elevation. He recommended the Flat Top Mountain hike (info here), so we decided to do that early the next day.

We had a short drive around the park, stopping at a few viewpoints before returning to Estes Park for dinner.

In Rocky Mountains National Park

We walked the few hundred metres to have dinner at Poppy’s (Tripadvisor), which was good. I chatted about the extensive list of beers with our server, Wes, who then brought out a few samples for me of the beers he liked best.

Day 14 – Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountains National Park

Up early, and at the trail head for 07:30. The trail starts at 9,475 feet, so doesn’t take long to go above our previous highest altitude (10,000 feet at Tioga Pass last year).

The trail started by skirting the edge of Bear Lake, before climbing upwards. Flattop Mountain may only be 4.4 miles each way, but it is nearly 3,000 feet of elevation, which is significant.

Trail mileage

The initial climb was very pretty, passing through lots of colourful Aspen.

Bear Lake

As we climbed, the vegetation changed, trees became shorter, and soon we left the treeline.

End of vegetation

We then found our first bits of snow on the trail. At the end of September, this was the first snow we had seen for a long time.


As we climbed higher, there was a small glacier, and a Marmot getting some sun.


Three deer came trotting past as we were very close to the top. Not sure why they were quite so high.

Deer heading down from the summit

2:45 after setting off we were at the summit, where the only hiker ahead of us took a photo. He then carried on towards the summit of a nearby peak.

At the summit

There were some fine views as we descended, and we saw quite a few Pika squeaking and running about.

Plenty of space

We were back at the trailhead arounf 12:50, and headed back to the Motel, and to “The Egg and I”  (Tripadvisor) for a very tasty and well-deserved brunch (photo 1, photo 2).

After a rest, we wandered through Estes Parl, which is a pleasant little town with a river running through the centre.

The river in Estes Park

We wandered down a bit further, and found a gold course inhabited by some Elk having a rest. After a relaxing afternoon, we went to Mama Rose’s (Tripadvisor) for dinner, which was fine.

Day 15 – Estes Park to Colorado Springs

To leave Estest Park, we went through Rocky Mountain National Park and followed  Trail Ridge Road. This route climbs to 12,183 feet, and crosses the continental divide (which we had crossed many times in Yellowstone).

But first, we had a very good breakfast at The Egg and I (photo 1, photo 2).

Trail Ridge road was a good drive with some more great views.

Trail Ridge Road
More snow
Pika with a mouthful of supplies

It was lots more fine roof-down motoring.

Roof down

We made a random stop at “Ian’s Mountain Bakery and Pizzeria” (Tripadvisor) in Granby for a very good and generous pulled pork sandwich.

As we headed down to Colorado Springs, there was a rock on the top of a hill that I thought looked very much like a castle. It turns out that it is above the town of “Castle Rock“…

"That looks like a castle"

We were soon at the Old Town Guesthouse (Tripadvisor) in Colorado Springs, our home for the last 3 nights of the holiday. We had the Oriental Poppy room, which was nicely decorated, and had a balcony with our own hot tub and views out to Pikes Peak.

We joined Don and other guests for the afternoon wine and nibbles in the lounge, which was very pleasant. We didn’t go out for dinner as we were quite full after our large lunch, so too the opportunity to get an early night.

Day 16 – Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods

A busy day, so another early start. We had an excellent breakfast before collecting a packed lunch from a bakery in town (pic) and setting out for Pikes Peak. At 14,115 feet this would set a new altitude record for us and, best of all, you can drive to the summit. The road to the top was a dirt road and has been used for a motorsport hillclimb for many years, but on our ascent the final sections were being  covered in asphalt which will change the character of the event.

We had a good roof-down drive to the summit in lovely weather conditions. It was quite cool at the top though. We had a good wander about looking at the cog railway, the shop and restaurant, the communications tower and the Army Research Centre. Some men were taking core samples to investigate replacing the existing building which has been there since 1969.

This has been refined to 14,115
More snow!
Cog Railway train ascending
Summit view

After an hour at the top I was starting to feel a few effects of the altitude, so decided it might be a good time to head down. We gave a couple of girls a lift part way down. They had hiked-up, and didn’t want to do all of the descent. I can’t blame them.

There were some nice views of the road winding its way up.

Pikes Peak road

On the way down there is a ranger station where they measure the temperature of the fron brake disks of descending cars. Given most cars in the US are automatics, a lot of people will drive down riding the brakes. This generates a lot of heat, and cause brake fade / failure which would be bad.

I had been descending carefully, sticking to the speed limit and using the gear lockdowns in the 6-speed box to control the speed as much as possible. When the ranger measured out brake temperatures the front disks were at 113 farenheit (45 celsius), and she commented that I must be a very good mountain driver. I was quite pleased with this.

Roof down - as always

Further down the descent we stopped at a little picnic area to eat our lunch, and then stopped again at a lake to admire the views.

Pleasant viewing

After leaving Pikes Peak we decided to detour through Manitou Springs. The streets were lined with people, sadly not to see us, but because the homecoming parade was about to start. We parked up just outside town and then walked in. There were many floats, convertible cars with couples in, fire engines covered in people, and a lot of candy being thrown to the spectators. We didn’t make much of an effort to collect candy, but ended up with a significant quantity.

On a fire engine
Plenty of people for the back of a pickup

I think there is some rivalry with another school which involves a green stallion defeating pirates. This was a common theme on a few floats.

Stallion defeats Pirate?

After the parade had finished, we had some very good icecreams and wandered through this interesting little town which has some quirky shops (e.g. one dedicated to rubber ducks) and an arcade of retro games.

We then headed across to the Garden of the Gods, starting at the end which had a big balancing rock, and noting the weather on Pikes Peak deteriorating.

No scale, but it is large
Doesn't look so nice now

After a quick visit to the shop and then the visitors centre, we walked around on the trials, admiring the ingteresting rock formations.

This one is called "Kissing Camels"
More rocks

With the weather looking like it would turn rainy, we headed back to Colorado Springs. After the drinks reception in the lounge, we had a good Greek meal at Jake and Telly’s (Tripadvisor) in the evening, which made a change from all the American food that we had been eating (as nice as Ribeye steaks are…).

Day 17 – Around Colorado Springs

This was the first day we were out of bed after 7am! Up at 7:15, and we had another fine breakfast before setting out for the day. This days sightseeing suggested to us that, at our pace, Colorado Springs was a two night town, not a three night town.

At our hosts suggestion we headed out to a nearby waterfall, driving along a dirt road for perhaps longer than I would have liked.

Not asphalt

On arrival at Helen Hunt Falls, we followed the Silver Cascade trail (1/3 miles, 200 feet elevation), which was a nice route and had some good views.

We drove into the main town of Colorado Springs and visited the museum (Tripadvisor). It was was quite interesting, covered the history of the rown, and was a good way to spend an hour or two.

Colorado Springs Museum

We had a quick lunch at a nearby “Jimmy Johns“, and then headed off to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum (Tripadvisor). This was something of a dissapointment. The cliff dwellings were slightly interesting, but everying had been restored so it had a very new feel to it. The gift shop complex seemed a lot larger than the set of cliff dwellings.

View from a Cliff Dwelling
Cliff Dwelling

We didn’t stay for very long, and returned to the Garden of the Gods gift shop where Naomi bought a rather large cuddly black bear to take home.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. We made further use of our balcony hot tub, and found the big games / pool / darts area (and conference room) in the basement of the guest house, which is also where the owners store the flags they hang outside to show the nationality of the guests they have staying (a British flag had been flown outside for our stay).

After another drinks reception we walked into town for Ethiopian Food at Uchena (Tripadvisor). This was a really good meal. Eating the injera and meat dishes with our hands was fun, the food was really tasty, and the owner of the restaurant was very friendly (and insisted she had seen Naomi before…).

 Day 18– The start of the journey home

Another late start (7:15am), and another very good breakfast, before the left the comfortable Old Town Guesthouse and made our way back up to Denver for our flight home.

Since we had plenty of spare time, we stopped in a a big shopping mall where I bought a present for a friend back home, and then had a good lunch at a Saltgrass Steakhouse (Tripadvisor). We returned our Mustang to Thifty at Denver airport, and were sad to see it go.

Goodbye Mustang

In the 18 days we had the car I had jet washed it twice, so it was quite clean when we returned it. That must be unusual after a 2808 mile hire…

Since we didn’t have that much to do on the drive back we checked in very early, and then spend a lot of time waiting, but could use free wi-fi to chat to people back home, and we had dinner at a Panda Express.

Our transport home

The return flight was fine. I never sleep as much as I would like on these flights, but it was comfortable and there was enough food to keep me going.

 Day 19– Home

On arrival in Heathrow we were quickly through immigration, and didn’t have to wait long for the shuttle bus to Purple Parking where we collected our car and drove home.

At home I was able to unpack my bottle of ‘Pikes Peak Air’ and compare it to a bottle of local air.

Pikes Peak Air (left 2 bottles), local air (right bottle)

Post-Holiday Notes

Going back into work the next day was hard, but we like to maximise the use of our leave.

Nearly a month after returning, I noticed an enexpectedly large charge from Thrifty. I had expected some charge after taking out breakdown cover, but this was a lot more money.

It took a few phone calls before they bothered to e-mail be a copy of the invoice for the extra charges. Apparently we had dropped the car off at 8am a day late, so had a lot of charges at the full premium price for the car and all the insurances.

According to the invoice, we had also driven 17 miles in the 19 days they thought we had the car and returned it with a full tank of gas (we had returned it nearly empty as we had pre-paid for fuel).

I was quite annoyed with this. We had the printout given to us by a member of Thrifty staff when he scanned our car and acknowledged its receipt. Even an e-mailed scan of this wasn’t enough for the person at Thirfty US, and when I said I was back in the UK at the time they said the car was returned asked for a copy of my boardinf card – which I scanned and e-mailed.

Each communication with him had a 5 day delay. I would reply within the hour, and then wait 5 days for the reply. I was also in comunication with Thirty Worldwide – through whom the car was booked, and my credit card company ready to challenge the charges.

Only a few days before I was going to take more formal action, Thrifty refunded the charges. Given the computerised system, this should never have happened and their response was unacceptably slow.

However, it was a good car 🙂