During the last week of May 2008, I drove around Colorado to take in and photograph the beauty of the state with mountains that inspired the unofficial American anthem. It was a feast for the senses as I saw hundreds of mountain peaks, canyons, ravines and gorges. I heard the roar of rivers churning with angry waters and the sounds of birds, as well as the sound of silence. I felt extreme heat and freezing winds. Yet at other times, I smelled the scent of millions of pine trees. I covered the state using steep, winding and sometimes heart-pounding roads. I became stranded. I was astounded, amazed and educated. I was reminded of times long gone and that natural american resources are to be protected for generations yet to come.
Flying into Denver from NYC, I rented a Jeep and started my quest to drive and see as much of Colorado that I could. By the end of the week, I included a detour to Utah and had driven 1744 miles while snapping 1190 photographs. It was an amazing week, starting with Pikes Peak, then Mesa Verde and into the deserts of Utah. Crisscrossing nearly two-thirds of Colorado via the American Byways, I avoided interstate highways when possible.
Over the first three days, I drove nearly 500 miles, from Denver to the Rocky Mountains to Colorado Springs and to Pike’s Peak. Since the adventure of driving is not knowing where I’m going and letting the road lead, I didn’t map out my route from the Denver Airport and ended up losing most of Saturday driving in a circle. My intention was to drive north and loop around and go into Rocky Mountain National Park.
I ended up getting “trapped” on a state highway toll road that started out in a northernly direction but ending up going south and then west. To make matters worse, the toll road charged $2.00 every few miles along the length and 75 cents for each exit. None of the exits had attended toll booths and only accepted exact change and Colorado’s version of EZ Pass. I only had a debit card and a few bills.
The $2.00 booths were attended and accepted my bills, but since I did not know that the following exits needed exact change, I did not ask for the bills to be broken. I ended up driving miles out of my way before finding an attended toll exit.
I eventually got off and picked up a coffee and a map and charted my course to the park and proceeded to take I-25 North. To my amazement, the entrance took me back on to the tolled state road. Approaching the entrance, I saw the familiar exact change sign. I wondered if the change from my coffee would be enough to get me through, but since it was a Starbucks I came up short. Luckily, I found the remaining coins scattered in the car. I entered the “freeway” and drove to the I-25 exit and paid $2.00 one last time at the exit. I then drove north to Estes Park and decided to stay the night and start my adventure through the Rocky Mountains in the morning.