After a recent 2 week trip to Paris with my boyfriend, Alex, I was home-bound for San Diego, California. I love coming home to visit my mom, but I always seem to get a bit bored the minute my plane arrives in San Diego. I thought to change things up: I’ll take a train. Cross-country. And when my friend, Paige, mentioned a trip to Denver Colorado before I head back home, I immediately took that offer up! A 4 day trip adventuring snowy Colorado with my best friend? Yes, please!
A 2am wake-up call, a direct flight to beautiful Denver via Southwest (one my new favorite airlines – free checked baggage!) later, Paige and I drove into Boulder for our first adventure: hike Chautauqua. We got all of our winter gear on and hiked through the golden, meadows and along the icy dirt paths as the sun slowly drifted behind the “Fourteener” mountains.
While climbing up the icy, slick Baseline/Bluebell-Baird Trail, I, of course, slipped many times, despite wearing my grip-holding hiking books, and along one of the hills, I happened to take off my lens hood (something I hardly ever do) and my beautiful 28-70mm f/2.8 lens fell along with me on the top. My new-looking lens no longer looks in pristine condition – but it still works great! Carry on! We came across pine green forests, pine needle grounds and hundreds of pine cones – along with so many cute hiking doggies! I pretty much fell apart every time one happily came up to greet me.
Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs
Paige, her brother, and I drove out to Colorado Springs to take the famous cog rail up to the top of Pike’s Peak – a massive 14,115-foot “fourteener” along Pike National Forest. Unfortunately, the evening before Colorado was hit by a bad snowstorm, and with the current snow conditions, the cog train was not going all the way to the tippy top. But we got close! And that was quite worth it for me. The bright, red train is slow but slow enough to take in the scenery.
A chilly, crisp 2-hour hike later, and we made a stop along charming Pearl Street in Boulder. The main street is filled with an abundance of quaint, independent shops and boutiques. Some of our favorites were Boulder Book Store, and the many chocolate bakeries and pizza shops. *heart eyes* I also had a fondness for simply strolling along Pearl and taking in that crisp, Christmas weather with my friend as we talked and admired the delightful-ness of Boulder.
Garden of the Gods
Our next stop, Garden of the Gods park, was mesmerizing.
We pulled off the right of the road and inched our way closer and closer to the massive red and spellbinding orange boulders, before I ran out of the car with my camera and began shooting away. It’s a stunning setting to shoot, for you shutter bugs out there. Snowy, white walking paths extended in every direction with giant red rocks behind every time. The light was just turning to “golden hour,” and I totally lost myself in time when I discovered a group of deer exploring the fields. Time stands completely still when I am photographing animals in their natural habitat – I feel so honored and grateful to be amidst their peaceful presence. Observing them, photographing them, bringing awareness to these creatures behind my lens. A lifetime later, I finally snapped out of my heavenly “zone” and ran to catch up with my friend. Paige and I climbed the red rocks, snapped some photos, and chatted while watching the sun drift behind Pike’s Peak in the distance. A magical ending to an adventurous day for two explorers.
Exploring the Rocky Mountains
That night, the snow came in even harder than the previous day. With negative 2 degree weather and the vast majority of the roads being closed, we decided to stay indoors, put together a Christmas puzzle, and head out to the local independent movie theater, the 1930s-built “Mayan” to movie-hop. But the next day, we awoke bright and early to conquer our greatest mountain yet: the Rockies.
Paranoid and anxious the entire drive up, we slowly inched Paige’s car up the mountain, curving sharp corners and past the very few other brave souls who drove up along with us. The mountains were all painted stark white, the pine green from the plentiful trees being the only contrast. Our tires would slide, but Paige’s slow and careful driving along with her heavy-duty snow tires kept us safe. We drove on the only road that was available to us: Bear Lake. Throughout the drive, we often thought of turning around and going back – the roads were too dangerous and we had no interest in losing our lives to see a lake! But we managed to face the mountain, slowly moving on.
And we made it! When we got to the end of the road, we found dozens of families with their kids preparing to hike the snow with their fancy feet sleds and we couldn’t believe we wanted to turn around early – the views were stunning! We walked the short distance along the snow to the edge of the lake and marveled. That was the golden trophy for our courageous journey. And it was totally worth it.
Our 4 days in Colorado were magical, and it’s a trip I frequently reminisce on. Someday I hope to go back and visit my friend in her beautiful hometown when white-water rafting is in session: summer.
Taking Amtrak Across the United States
The next morning, Paige drove me to the train station in Denver and I hopped on an Amtrak train for 2 days. Next destination: Home. To reach San Diego, I had to take the Amtrak to Sacramento, switch to an hour ride bus, followed by a 6-hour train through California and finally a 3-hour bus to Oceanside, California.
Taking the train across the USA is long and tedious.
You must have plenty of patience. As opposed to the lightning fast European rail trains, the U.S. trains are slow, often making unexpected stops and waiting alongside the other tracks for hours at a time before they pick up again and start moving. If you plan on a 2 day train, always add an extra day or two. For me, the journey by train was worth it.
The majestic, up-close views traveling through the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada’s were worth the long days sitting in the lounge car.
If you’re patient and up for an adventure, I can’t recommend Amtrak travel enough.