Only a type-A millennial could plan an adventure road trip across Colorado with her mom and infant daughter—and make it all work.
It would be wishful thinking to say everything went according to plan. In fact, few things ever do. You see, nearly any time a new idea for some grand adventure takes seed inside my mind, I’ve learned to accept the inevitable fact that it’s almost certain to have some unexpected hiccups. I own this. It’s my character flaw. I’m a dreamer, a wanderer and a chaser of all things seemingly unattainable. Despite all this, I still called up my mother with a plan: a road trip idea that I knew she couldn’t refuse.
Late May marked my seventh month postpartum with my second child—a rather perfect time, in my opinion, to take a girls’ trip to explore a few new locations and some other tried and true sites around Colorado and the southwest. It would be springtime in the Rockies, the desert cactus flowers would be blooming, and snow would be far behind us.
First things first—I pulled out my phone and began our trip checklist, because, one, I’m a millennial and, two, I’m a total type-A list maker.
It was only January and I already had a long list of “to-dos” and “to-sees,” including stops across the Rocky Mountains and points west into red rock desert. As the long winter slogged on, I started thinking about how we could make these plans reality.
As spring arrived, we refined our list enough to reach itinerary status. It included breweries, campsites, hikes and life-list destinations across Colorado, eastern Utah and northern New Mexico. Think classic Colorado stops like Hanging Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Rio Grande, plus lesser-known but equally awe-inspiring sites like Bandelier National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients, and hidden trails and forgotten backroads of the San Juans. This road trip was going to be unlike anything we’d experienced.
With a route mapped out, I booked my mother Marla’s flight months in advance to ensure enough time to make all the magic happen, while also making sure to keep it somewhat flexible to accommodate her almost certain wild hair that would arise. She planned to come out for 10 days across the Memorial Day weekend and we vowed to pack in as many miles, breweries, smiles and wild places as possible.
A couple weeks before our departure date, we had an adventure van picked out (thanks to Go RVing), the food and beverage provisions sorted, and the camping, hiking and other gear accounted for and staged. Little did we know then that winter wasn’t ready to give up its hold on Colorado. Fortunately, we were not going to be discouraged that easily.
After looking at the weather report and gut-checking ourselves, we changed course. Marla hopped an early flight, only to be weather-delayed (and actually arrive after her original flight got in) and we had to face reality. Snow was falling and winter was making itself cozy…again. Our original route west from Denver was temporarily closed due to a multi-car pileup. Rock slides were wreaking havoc on I-70 and critical roadways between Durango and Ouray, and another system carrying yet another foot or more of snow was forecasted for the following week.
My mother is East Coast born and bred, and while she has certainly held her own for the past 60+ years in just about any situation (military wife, mother of three rambunctious kids, world traveler, etc.), one thing she is not willing to do is sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures in blowing snow. I don’t necessarily blame her. She would proudly tell you she’s a fair-weather camper, and with my 7-month-old daughter along for the ride, I suppose I was okay with it this assesment.
As I gassed up just outside the Denver city limits en route to pick up Marla, visions of camping along the Yampa at Dinosaur National Park, eating BBQ at our favorite joint in Steamboat Springs (Double Z), and soaking up the hot desert sun with a cold beer in my hand were quickly fading thanks to the snowflakes gathering around me. I pulled my puffy down jacket over my head before stepping out of my trusty Subaru and braved spring in the Rockies. This trip would be different alright: Winter in May became our reality for the next 10 days.
When Marla finally joined me and Abbey, it didn’t take long to determine our first stop. Routing west through Golden, we shared a few hugs and high fives with our buddies at Mountainsmith, grabbed some beers and barbecue in town and headed up to some high-country hot springs above the San Luis Valley.
The hot springs did the trick. If there’s one way I’d suggest starting off a haphazard, piecemealed, whirlwind road trip after all your original plans crumbled away with the rockslides and avalanches along your intended route, it is to soak. More specifically:pack the cooler, grab a blanket and soak at Valley View Hot Springs. Watching the storms build to the west as we sat together under cloud streaked skies in a mineral-rich geothermal pool was the perfect way to embrace the weather we were no longer able to run from.
Over the next three days, the winds calmed, the skies cleared and we found opportunity to continue embracing the water—this time, the Rio Grande and Arkansas River. While Marla floated for the first time in her life, Abbey and I enjoyed some fly fishing. I’ve been hooked on chasing Rio Grande trout for years, but watching Abbey’s eyes grow wide as I waded into the Rio Grand with her in a front pack and hearing her squeals of excitement when a fish was on— those moments are hard to beat.
Also over the holiday weekend, our trio explored Buena Vista. Years ago, Colorado’s festival scene became an unexpected favorite, since so many of them are dog and family-friendly, including BV’s Paddlefest. We connected with new friends, enjoyed some cold beers, and danced the day away.
Mid-way through our journey, things started getting blurry. (I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep due to a certain baby girl or the whirlwind of 1,100 miles in five days, but I was ready to lay low for a night.) If I’d have calculated the original route correctly, we should have been somewhere wild in the northwest corner of the state, lazily lounging river-side or hiking. Instead, we were still in the San Luis Valley and I was calling my friend Kate to see if Alice was available for us.
Alice isn’t just anyone. She’s a 1987 32-foot Airstream Excella perfectly placed on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Durango, where the sunsets are as delicious as your iced beverage. Our friends manage this AirBnB and luck was finally on our side. Their original guests had to bail early. We were in.
Our last night on the road we sipping drinks, shared stories, and indulged in the space we were so lucky to call “camp” for the night. It was no tent in the desert, but it sure did hit the spot for all of us. And wouldn’t you know it, by morning, we woke up to a few more inches of snow before blue skies and sunshine settled in for our time at Four Corners National Monument and while eating lunch at Animas Brewing Company.
Road trips can be a heck of a thing. The routes you travel can lure once-lost memories out of the depths of your mind. The smell and the views surrounding you can make curiosity pull you deeper and further into the adventure that awaits. Of course, while they may foster excitement and produce awe-inspiring moments and opportunities for self-reflection, they may also bring the mind-boggling, potentially stress-inducing uncertainty when things don’t go quite as planned. No matter the weather or series of unexpected events, we took this one as it came and embraced the cards we were dealt, for better or for worse.
In the end, as we drank our beers along the Continental Divide (our final stop on this leg of the journey), we held no grudges nor scowled at the once again falling snow. Instead, we toasted to the unexpected and celebrated that we were lucky enough to experience it—three generations, rolling full-throttle into whatever came next.