Our two week road trip through New Mexico and Colorado had to begin with a long drive. After spending the better part of a day behind the wheel, we found ourselves in Santa Fe. After attempting to get some camping recommendations in town we decided to use freecampsites.net. The site was our main source of located free camping throughout the two weeks. The first campsite we found was occupied but since we were committed we continued down the road till we located a spot. After a solid our on dirt we found a quiet location. We quickly set up the tent and I strapped on my running shoes. A long drive and no pre-run was a bad idea.
After a quick morning run and breakfast we packed up and headed back to Santa Fe. We headed up to the Santa Fe ski resort where we had found some free camping and trails. After setting up our camp, we headed out on a 12 mile day hike to Spirit Lake. We were there enjoying some lunch when we had our first wildlife sighting. A bear was walking the perimeter of the lake and headed over to our side. Unfortunately we lost sight of it when it got near our side so I couldn't get any close shots. Sara was pleased.
After two morning runs we headed back to town in search of Wi-fi. In an attempt to locate a shop that was open we ended up stumbling upon Travel Bug. A small coffee shop and map/travel center. Free wi-fi, walls of maps, smoothies, and advice; what more could we ask for? After indulging in a smoothie and buying six maps for the New Mexico and Colorado area we hit the road. This place not only had maps for the US but all over the world. It is by far the best collection of maps I have ever seen outside of a library.
After wet wipes bath we hit the road with our eyes on Taos. After arriving there we resupplied and began the drive up to the Taos Ski area. Once again freecamsites.net came through and we found ourselves a odd but perfect campsite.
The following morning we headed out on the Williams Lake Trail and later continued on to the Wheeler Peak summit trail. After a solid hike we made it to the summit and bagged New Mexico's tallest peak. At just over 13,000ft it was a warm up for Colorado.
After bagging the peak and packing up camp we headed down the road. Along the way we made a pitstop at the creek that followed the road. It was perfect place to catch up on some laundry and bath ourselves. The snowmelt fed creek was freezing but in the name of hygiene we toughed it out.
Down the road we continued till we finally crossed the Colorado border. Whoot whoot! Once in the state we pointed the Subaru towards Alamosa. Not exactly as well known as Vail or Denver but the area is home to the largest sand dunes in the US. You read that right. Sand dunes. In the middle of Colorado. The dunes were impressive, but because we neglected to locate a free campsite we ended up spending the night in the National Park campground. Big mistake. The fee wasn't bad, but the neighbors were terrible. Music blasting, a girl practicing her violin and kamikaze mosquitos. The combination of everything convinced us that we needed to do a night hike in the sand dunes. If you are ever in the area I would highly recommend night hiking or acquiring a backpacking permit to spend the night out there. It was a very unique environment to hike and run in. Unfortunately the mosquitos were so unbearable that we hurried out of the park the following morning.
After making a fast exit we were on the road again, this time heading to Aspen. Along the way we made a detour to checkout the iconic endurance town of Leadville. Can't miss it if you are a runner. The drive between Leadville and Aspen was amazing. The views were breathtaking. Unfortunately we found out that driving through Aspen is not the same.
In an attempt to find free camping near Aspen we ended up having to crisscross through town three times. After this we decided that the best plan of attack was to continue down the road. We set our sites on making it close to Vail. Because it was already so late we opted to stay at a free camp site along the Colorado river. Or as we began to refer to it, as poop camp. Apparently even if there is a pit toilet provided, it doesn't ensure that people are willing to use it.
After doing some laundry and packing up we hit the road for the short drive to Vail. Luckily we were able to locate a hike in town. Little did we know it would be one of the hardest hikes we did along the trip. With a few steep sections, one of which involved 1,100ft of gain in a mile; we made it to the alpine lake. After our day hike we found ourselves back on the road and headed towards Steamboat Springs.
We rolled into Steamboat Springs a little later then anticipated. We decided to acquire a hotel room for the evening. Unfortunately that was harder then finding a free campsite. After some unsuccessful attempts Sara splurged and got us a more expensive room. We managed to secure a room at the Legacy Vacation Club- Hiiltop. Little did we know it was way above our hotel requirements. A kitchen, two bathrooms, living room, dining area, multiple closets (including walkins), and just total amazingness after spending five nights on the ground. We were so reluctant to leave that we opted to stay until the last possible moment before checkout.
After living it up we headed downtown to be tourist in Steamboat Springs. We made our way to all the gear shops and got some excellent advice from the Big Agnes employees on where to camp that night.
After a morning to yet another mountain lake we packed up our belongs and hit the road. Backtracking back through Steamboat Springs we headed towards Rocky Mountain National Park. Halfway there we decided to find a campsite. As we headed down the dirt road to our campsite we realized we had 'made a huge mistake'. We thought we were headed for the mountains, but instead we were headed for a few small fishing lakes. It looked like we were camping in Arizona. The real mistake was discovered at dusk when we were swarmed by mosquitos. Thousands of them covered the screen tent (forgot to mention we broke down and bought this in Steamboat Springs). They were so bad we had to develop a plan to get from the screen tent to the tent without be carried away. We managed to make it to the tent but still had 20 minutes of killing to do inside the tent.
We finally made it to Rocky Mountain National Park and headed straight for the backcountry office. The ranger there was helpful in finding us a great two day backcountry trip into a part of the park that wasn't overrun with tourist. Ironically this meant we had to backtrack an hour back the way we came to get to our trailhead. We also didn't realize that RMNP requires hard sided bear canisters so our URsack wasn't applicable; and we had to buy a hard sided one. Come on NPS get with the program!
After making the hike in to our camp we did a short hike to Mirror Lake. The landscape was beautiful and we spend some time exploring the area. Unfortunately the mosquitos were out in full force again and it made for a short evening. In the morning we did a long day hike from camp and then returned for lunch. We were not looking forward to the mosquitos so we opted to cut out early and head for the car.
After the hike out we were able to secure a campsite at a state run campground just a few minutes down the road. There were minimal mosquitos and nearly no one else there.
After leaving the park we headed towards the running mecca of Boulder. Unfortunately Boulder is too proud of their hotels so we opted to stop in a outskirt town of Longmont. As we descended in this town it felt like we had been transplanted in the midwest. Prairies, rolling hills and no mountains to the East. Turn around and you see the Rockies. A very strange landscape. We stayed in a cheap motel for the evening and quickly left in the morning for Boulder. We made appearances at all the outdoor shops and had a killer vegan lunch at a place called Native Foods. After lunch we headed for the mountains one last time.
A short drive outside of Boulder we were climbing up the road through the tiny town of Nederland. Very quaint. At the end of a long dirt road we made it to our campsite and the Fourth of July trailhead. We spend two nights there where I was able to get in some amazing runs to the Continental Divide. We managed to squeeze in some day hikes before headed back down through Boulder.
On our final day in Colorado we found it only fitting that we do some running in Boulder. We managed to run some of the trails around the Flatirons, as well as to the top of the trail. It was a excellent way to end our trip in Colorado and mentally prepare ourselves for the long drive home.