The Wild West

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I promise: This is the last out-of-state blog post I’ll be writing for a long time. My multi-state travels are over. I also promise promise promise that starting next week I’ll be doing more Iowa travel and stories.

On this last trip, I traveled with photographer Jim Heemstra to Colorado, Utah, Colorado again, and Wyoming. We put 3,500 miles on the ol’ rental car in nine days and ate our weight in great Mexican food.

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Colorado

We started out in Denver, but we really didn’t have much time for sight-seeing. We walked around in the downtown area and LoDo, both worthy destinations. The photo above is of the Big Blue Bear (“I See What You Mean” by Lawrence Argent), a 40-foot sculpture at the Colorado Convention Center.

Leaving Denver, we headed to Steamboat Springs for the night. The drive was eventful: Pouring rain, snow as we drove out of the Eisenhower Tunnel, two-lane mountain roads, more heavy rain, and dense fog over Rabbit Ears Pass. Oh, and we also saw a moose.

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By the time we got to Steamboat it was dark, still raining, and all we wanted to do was get something to eat and drink. The next morning we walked along the Rotary Park boardwalk through wetlands and fall-colored grasses (above). And then we headed to Utah.

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Utah

Our first stop in Utah was the awesome state sign. And then Dinosaur National Monument. (I’d link to the site, but the National Park Service website is currently not in operation.) Dinosaur’s an interesting place, with Badlands-like rock formations and a Quarry Visitor Center that showcases dinosaur fossils first found in 1909.

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From there we continued to Salt Lake City, listening to the soundtrack to the Broadway musical “Book of Mormon” all the way. Salt Lake City is built around the 35-acre Temple Square. The temple (below) reminded me a little bit of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. Downtown SLC seems nice, and the city is surrounded by mountains and ski resorts. We drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains, and it felt remote and almost Alaska-like.

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I liked Utah a lot, and the highlight was the area surrounding Moab. We arrived there late morning, just in time to order breakfast at a funky café called Peace Tree. I ate huevos rancheros and they knocked my socks off.

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We had a little time to kill before we had to work, so we drove into Arches National Park and spent a couple of hours there. After our meeting, we went back to see the park’s natural arches and other landforms in evening light. Arches is a real showplace, with its iconic Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Windows. I liked the area called Fiery Furnace (above).

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The next morning we did an early photo shoot in Dead Horse Point State Park (above). When we arrived, the sun was just breaking through, and the photo opportunities were endless. We were actually photographing a landscape photographer so he took us to the best vantage points with the best light. Dead Horse Point is famous, by the way, as the location for the last scene in the film Thelma & Louise.

Colorado again

From Moab, we drove back through Denver and up to Fort Collins. Our destination was actually Rocky Mountain National Park, and we went there the next day. However, the Colorado rain and subsequent flooding caused a number of roads to be closed. A drive that normally takes about an hour from Fort Collins took us three and a half, down through Denver and back up two-lane mountain roads to the park entrance near Estes Park.

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But what a beautiful drive! We had rain, mist, fall color, low-hanging clouds…it was great. We learned at the gate entrance that Trail Ridge Road was closed but we were able to go as far as Bear Lake. We visited the Lily Lake area (above) and Moraine Park. The fall color was unbelievable.

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When we got to Bear Lake, it was snowing! Not just a little bit – it was snowing hard as you can see in the photo above. It was sort of awesome. We took lots of pictures and met other people (most of them just as underdressed for the weather as I was) who were visiting the park from the Midwest.

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But the best part: We saw dozens of elk in the park in full “rut” (mating season). We heard (and saw) the bull elks bugling. Some of them put on quite a show for us. The males were bugling and strutting their stuff for the females everywhere we went.

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Afterward, we went into Estes Park and drank coffee and ate a big breakfast for lunch – before driving four hours back to Fort Collins because we hit Denver right at rush hour. A few days after we visited the park, it closed again because of the government shutdown. So between the floods and snow and stupidity, we were extremely lucky to be able to experience Rocky Mountain NP that day.

 

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Wyoming

IMG_9055Our last stop was Cheyenne, Wyo., with its huge Frontier Days rodeo festival (“The Daddy of ‘em All”) and outdoor western sculpture. We didn’t spend much time there because mostly we were working. And a week after we left, they were forecast to get eight inches of snow. So, again, our timing was impeccable.

And now I’m back home and happy to be back in Iowa for the foreseeable future.

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