Rocky Mountain High

Driving south from Rapid City, I decided to take the scenic route. A westerly horseshoe that would take me through two national parks. And what a decision that turned out to be!

Once again I’m cooing about the scenery. The first part of my drive, once I left the highway was a series of gentle bends winding their way up through Rocky peaks with sparse vegetation other than that running alongside the streams and rivers, all tunmbling over rocks like miniature rapids. The sun was shining brightly and there was hardly another car on the road. There were also, and this seems to be a feature of American National Parks, plenty of run off areas and areas for parking and camping. So I was not short of photo opportunities. Neither did I have to resort to my tactic of taking photos whilst driving.

This lovely meandering drive turned into a steeper drive requiring more concentration as I headed up into the mountains. The roads became much more winding. So much so that many of them pretty much turn back on themselves in an effort to make the way up the side. Deep banks of snow were either side of the road and there were occaisional trickles of water running from one side to the other. Some were water, some were ice. I could feel the steering momentarily lighten when it was ice. Coupled with an almost sheer drop and a view over the tops of huge pine trees made for exhilirating driving. There were occaisions where I actually said “fucking hell!” to myself, as it appeared I was driving straight for the barrier on the edge, only to find another steep turn upwards.

The snow on the surrounding peaks looked untouched, except for the trails of where a build up of snow had made it’s own way down the mountain. Sign by the road clearly stated that this was avalanche territory. So, naturally, like most people I had brought a load of fireworks with me to let off up there. Luckily, there are also signs stating “No Fireworks”.

Along with convenient places to stop, there are also conveniences at each stop. Almost at the top of one of the mountains, but not the highest by far, I needed the toilet. So, I stopped at the next place only to find that a snow drift was blocking the entrance. Luckily for me, and anybody else reading this, I only needed a pee. So, considering there was no one around for miles, I thought I’d just go behind a tree. I underestimated the deepness of the snow and found myself ankle deep in it. Not great when you’ve only got on a pair of converse trainers (I was wearing other clothes…I meant on my feet). The snow was the only cold that I could really feel. The air was clear and crisp, but there was no wind and the sun shone brightly. As I returned to my car, I was trying to be careful where I stood, so not to end up knee deep in snow, when I saw a footprint in the snow. It wasn’t bigfoot, but it was bloody big! I think it may have been a bear print. So that got me thinking about the whole strategy of “play dead when it’s a brown bear, but run when it’s a black bear” – or is it the other way round?. Which also served to remind me that on one of those survival shows (I mean a real one, not Bear Grylls pretending to eat gazelle poo when he’s actually tucking into a double-decker) it was also mentioned not to urinate, as that attracts bears. I swiftly forgot about caring about the depth of snow and made a hasty retreat to my car. The track may have been that of a moose, as it is moose country. I kept my eyes peeled for the rest of the journey, but didn’t see either a moose or a bear. I did see some huge birds of prey, a few rabbits or perhaps hares (they were pretty big) and a beaver (snigger!) – unfortunately it was dead, in the middle of the road.

Following my nowhere near death experience, I continued my drive. Leaving the mountain roads there was a period where there seemed to be a plateau of some sorts. There was a town on it and numerous ranches. Every place had at least one jetski (whatever the snow equivalent is) and i imagine it must get pretty cold and snowy up there during winter. It was beautiful though.

The air up on the peaks is quite thin and many people suffer altitude sickness apparently. I did feel it a bit, I think, but not enough to really bother me.

The descent was as thrilling, as it was no simple drive back down. Instead it took me over a series of mountains. There were more cars on the road this time and some areas had double lanes, so a wacky races style of driving became the norm…for others, I was happy crawling around. It seems strange to me that in America the speed limits are a bit random. On some of these mountain roads the speed limit was 65mph, yet on some of the flat highways it’s only 55mph.

Part of the road in the second national park on my drive was closed: a combination of snow and flood. I didn’t mind too much, as I had been driving for quite some time and so I headed to my hotel in Denver. It seems to me that the most striking thing about Denver is the backdrop of the mountains to the west. It’s quite a sight.

My arrival in Denver coincides with National Vegetarian week in the UK. In an act of support to my vegetarian friends, I am also going vegetarian for the week. Hopefully, the vegetarian options for people eating out in the UK will continue to improve. I think this would normally be almost impossible in America. Thankfully, Denver is full of healthy outdoors types, so there is a great organic supermarket just up from my hotel.

From what I have seen of the advertising in America, and there is a lot of it, if you are a recovering alcoholic and prescription drug addict who is vegetarian, you may as well emigrate, as the advertising is heavily weighted in these areas.

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