This trip to road trip Colorado had been in the books for over a month.
I’ve always struggled differentiating the difference between pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and listening to my body’s needs. I injured my knee before leaving LA which put a damper on this trip. Originally this was supposed to be a backpacking/ camping Rocky Mountain National Park, and Sand boarding/ camping Great Sand Dunes National Park with all the exploration in between. I contemplated if I should even still go on this trip with the condition of my knee. But alas, I can’t turn down an adventure, so Colorado or bust.
The first day I road tripped up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and went to Strawberry Park Natural hot springs (about a 7 mile drive up a windy, bumpy, dirt road, from Steamboat). There is no cell phone service up there, and it’s cash ONLY, and $15 per person. I learned that at the pay station. Thankfully, the guys who run it were super chill. You can offer other goodies such as beer/ or weed and they will gladly cut you a deal.
Strawberry hot springs did not disappoint. There are 3 different beautiful pools, which were referred to as “papa, mama and baby porridge”(All are quite warm/hot). You are completely immersed in aspen trees up in the mountains and I lucked out to be here in the fall to witness the yellow, red, and orange autumn trees. After it gets dark, it’s clothing optional. But better than being nude in nature, you will be completely mesmerized taking in the Milky Way. I made friends with some beautiful humans who also had an affinity for talking about the universe, the depth of the the little balls of gas in the sky, while we are just a glimpse of light ourselves, and being surrounded by other naked free humans in a natural hot springs, coexisting as human soup under this masterpiece of galaxy. This place was magic.
Winona’s restaurant in Steamboat Springs is known for there Cinnabon’s, and I had to admit, they are top notch!
The following day I did Rocky Mountain National Park. I entered through the south east entrance and circled up.I wasn’t planning on doing any hiking, but I heard Emerald Lake was phenomenal and basic.
I did the hike up to Emerald lake because I was informed it was a class “easy” and handicap accessible. KNEEdless to say, it wasn’t. Unless Colorado has expert level handicappers.
You will pass 2 lakes on your way up to Emerald Lake: Nymph lake and Dream lake. I was particularly drawn into dream lake and had what I like to call a, “Mother Nature moment”. (I put two hands on my heart, close my eyes, and feel oddly more connected to my surroundings). There are several sets of stone/ wooden steps on your way up and loose gravel. Personally would class it a moderate hike. It’s 4 miles round trip, and where my knee killed after I finished, it’s captivating beauty made it worth it.
This hike was a challenge for me. I was out of breath with having to do so much compensation work on my right leg, and walking some parts like an infant. Sure, I was annoyed not having the same capability and energy I normally do on a hike, but I was just thankful to be immersed in new surroundings and pine trees. I had shooting pains in my knee after completing the hike (which took me about 4 hours), and I couldn’t wrap my head around if I was proud of myself for still conquering something I said I would, or if I was annoyed that I probably irritated my knee more than it was before.
Overall what I learned while nestled up in welcoming selfless tree roots, is that I sometimes need to be more forgiving and understanding of myself while my body is constantly changing. My ego has been in the way, to the point that I took off my brace for every picture I took. As if I didn’t want to believe I had any less capability than normal. It’s okay to slow down, it’s okay to tap out of things, and it’s okay to set healing time aside for our physical self to work on our mental self. (I’m mostly talking to myself, but also to anyone else who needs to hear this).
Since camping wasn’t on the radar, I stayed at a cozy little cabin in Estes Park.
(Side note- “Bird and Jim” in Estes Park had very yummy food, and I highly recommend it!)
Day 3 was a long day of driving to Southern Colorado. Still determined to do the sand dunes, there was a 6+ hour drive ahead of me. The drive was gorgeous. Drives through red rock canyons, yellow, orange and red tree covered hillsides, and passing through little towns. Most of the drive is through the desert, on a long straight road in a valley surrounded by mountains.
Great Sand Dunes National Park- Where I love the mountainous national parks an infinite amount, the desert set parks really captivate me. I love to see the creatures and plants that find that ecosystem habitable to strive in. I love that the days are grueling hot, and the nights are bitter cold with twinkling stars all around you.
My knee was still in a rough spot, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a sand boarding run on the sand dunes. I was careful, and it was spectacular.
I loved everything about this park. The absurdities on your way to it, such as my forever favorite find… The alien UFO watch tower. Two days previous I was talking about aliens and where else to have encounters other than Area 51. I came across a forum of 17 of the most likely places to cross aliens on Earth. Number 16 was The UFO watchtower in Colorado. Surprisingly I didn’t look into it any further. No joke, on my last day there, in the middle of the desert, I saw on the side of the road, the UFO watch tower! I SCREAMED “ALIENS!” I spent about a half hour exploring the outrageousness of this area and remained in complete awe of the chances of randomly finding this.
The Colorado gators rescue: quite literally the most random place in the middle of no where. There are spray painted signs on plywood on your way in that say “Gaters” and direct you to where “parkin” is. PSA- the smell there is not for the faint hearted. Children 6-15 are $10 to enter, and adults, 16-64 are $20 a person. The first room you will enter is mostly snakes. I personally, having a MAJOR phobia of snakes, believe there should be a disclosure to a ROOM OF SNAKES. I can’t tell you much about it because I made my way through that part of the tour quickly. At the beginning of the tour, you get to hold a baby Alligator. I pissed myself during this. Baby or not, this thing is big and you can still see it’s sharp teeth hanging out. You’re instructed to “give it a good tug” if it gets squeamish. I stood as still as I could the whole time I held that dinosaur! After holding him, I was handed a “certificate of bravery” but only after he had the alligator bite down on it for the signature of authenticity. So yes, there is a bite mark through my certificate. You are given a bucket of gator food at the beginning and get to toss it over the fence to the gators. I believe there were well over 100 of them there. My personal favorites were the random emus thrown into the mix though. The whole place was one of the more outrageous activities I’ve partook in. But definitely worth a visit, and worth the story to say you did it.
I stayed in a town about a hour from the sand dunes called Crestone. It’s a little town that sits at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range, and is full of several spiritual centers. I stayed in an Airbnb called “The Mothership dome of Crestopolis”, and it was exactly what you’re envisioning. A place of spiritual enlightenment and cleansing energy. You could so clearly see all the stars in the sky, 3 other planets and the Milky Way was breathtaking. This was without question my favorite area of Colorado. I loved all the randomness. There was a surprise around every corner.
I went for coffee at a cute, hippy coffee shop in Crestone called the Cloud Station. There was a man selling hand made gem wrapped necklaces. I fell in love with this little town so much that I couldn’t walk away without taking a little piece with me.
My last day I ventured up to Zapata Falls. It’s right outside the town of Alamosa and is quite the trek to get there. You’re on a windy, BUMPY, dirt road for a few miles before reaching the parking lot. Even in a 4×4 Jeep, there was still lost traction. This road is no joke.
Once you reach the parking lot, you’ll take the trail to the right of the bathrooms up about a half mile. It’s loose gravel most of the way up, so shoes with good traction or hiking poles aren’t the worst idea.
In hindsight, I wish I would have brought water shoes. Once you reach the creek, you will have to wade through it in order to see the falls. I went barefoot. The rocks are slippery and sharp, and the water comes up to mid calve. I had no feeling whatsoever in my feet by the time I reached the falls. But boy is it worth it. (Still, bring water shoes because worth it or not, it’s a little miserable without shoes).
You are immersed in walls of rock with a 30 foot water fall to greet you at the end. I would have admired it all day if my feet hadn’t hated me. This little hidden gem is quite stunning, and worth the adventure to witness yourself!
Although I was hobbling a lot of the way from knee pain, and was pretty bummed out I had to cut some plans out of this adventure, overall I really loved all that I got to explore and see. I can’t wait to come back and explore more of Colorado. If I could leave you with one thing, visit in the Fall. You will not regret it.
Happy Wandering! ✨