My road trip through Colorado was remarkable for many reasons: I was traveling with my former high school crush turned quarantine boyfriend, I was seeing some of the most fantastic sights in the state of Colorado while meeting interesting characters along the way, and I was having my first adventure as a young adult, independent from my family, making decisions for myself, and taking on the feat of a truly unforgettable journey.
When I told my dad that my boyfriend and I were going to be on the road for two weeks with no real plan of where we were going, he was obviously sceptical. In fact, he point-blank told me I was being dumb and that it was a terrible idea. He said I didn’t have enough money (which turned out to be a valid concern) and I didn’t know what I was doing.
He was right about the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had never done a trip like this before. I had been on family trips, but on most of them I was dying to go off on my own. I had also gone to camp in Colorado as a kid, which was probably one of the biggest contributors to my independent nature and desire to travel. My boyfriend also had loads of camping and road tripping experience, and while I didn’t want him to have to fund the whole trip, he had enough backup to cover me in case of emergency until I got the chance to pay him back. So, while the trip may not have been planned out perfectly, I at least knew we had enough knowledge and supplies to afford a few mistakes.
My father’s fears reverberated with me though as we started the trip. It had me second guessing myself every time something small went wrong. Unfortunately, the first big disaster came literally the first day in Colorado.
We had driven into Trinidad from Texas the night before and stayed in a little hotel because it was pretty late. Trinidad is the first town when you enter into Colorado on Interstate 25 and has a really cool history. It was once a booming mining town, but after that industry fell people started to move out, and the city began to dwindle. Recently, it has seen a resurgence due to the proliferation of a new industry: Weed! It is basically the place people from New Mexico and Texas road trip to overnight to partake in legal marijuana.
The morning after we got there we walked around the downtown area for a little while, checking out the cool art galleries and antique shops, of course being COVID safe with masks and hand sanitizer. One of the shops was run by a sweet older woman named Marsha. She was so nice we felt we had to buy something from her, so we got some tea (which we have still yet to drink six months later).
Then we set out down Highway 12 which went back into the country and wilderness. We were on our way to the Spanish Peak State Wildlife Area, a place we knew about because my boyfriend had camped there a couple times before for free. Free camping was obviously the ideal lodging for our kind of road trip.
We get to the campsite, and it is gorgeous! Nestled in this valley with an incredible mountain view that I was so excited to wake up to the next morning. We got all set up, and then it started to rain. The wind was a bit too strong to stay in the tent, but thankfully there was a building on the site, which I’m assuming was there for events. It was locked, but the porch was covered enough. So there we sat, snuggled up under a porch watching our tent blowing in the wind. Obviously this was not ideal, but I was still of the mindset that it was simply a fun travel mishap I could tell people about. Why else do we travel but to have those kinds of stories?
But when the rain stopped, we realized we hadn’t checked the radar so we didn’t know if we should expect more bad weather. Instead of driving the forty minutes back to town where we would have service, we decided to go ask the park rangers who would surely have access to the radar. I was pretty proud of myself for this idea. It turned out to be our first big mistake.
We get down to the ranger’s station as this man is pulling up. He is wearing a Manchester United polo and driving with a Yorkie in his lap; needless to say, he did not look like a typical park ranger. He was also a complete jerk! He drove up beside us and rolled his window down, and I spoke with him in my most polite voice: “Hello, sir, we are camping at the Upper Oberosler tract and forgot to check the weather radar. Could you tell us if…” he then cuts me off to ask if we have a hunter and fisher’s license. We don’t; we tell him we were just camping, to which he responds, “Not without a hunting and fishing license you aren’t!”
We tell him my boyfriend has camped there before for free, but he keeps repeating himself that there is no free camping in Colorado. He was so abrasive and rude with the way he said it too! We of course listened to him and packed up our site. I was crushed that I wouldn’t be able to wake up to the view of that mountain. When we got back into Trinidad, we checked the website for the state wildlife area. Sure enough, they had passed a law on July 1, 2020 (ONE MONTH before we left for the trip) that confirmed what the ranger had told us.
This was the worst thing we could have learned. Our ability to get through the trip within our initial budget rested on the idea that we would be able to camp for free half the time. I was completely stressed and no longer optimistic at this point. My father’s words were ringing in my head, and I was so disappointed that he had been right about this trip being a terrible idea and us not being able to pull it off. But guess what happened next…
We found an app called Hipcamp that helped us find cheap camping, and we came up with a new plan for the budget that we stuck to (for the most part!). We stayed in Colorado for two whole weeks and went to 14 cities and towns total. We did so many things from hiking everywhere, to horseback riding in Estes Park, to exploring Denver on electric scooters, to sand sledding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We had an awesome trip!
No, it wasn’t perfect, and no, we weren’t completely prepared for all of it. I was stressed out a lot, and there were some days where nothing went as we intended it to. But I am grateful for the bad days just as I am for the good ones. Because of those days, we went home with not just amazing memories, but important lessons! That was the point: to create our own experiences and learn from our own mistakes! We now know a lot more about what a long-term road trip entails, and we have already used that knowledge on other trips. I am so happy we went on our Colorado road trip! And I am so happy we did it our way!
The Travel Story Society would like to thank Tori for writing this very cool story about the state of Colorado that not many people have travelled. As I was reading this story I had to check out flights to Denver, not the cheapest from here in the UK. You can follow Tori on Instagram @tori_travel_tales. She keeps her followers posted on her latest travel adventures and also shares stories from her extensive travel journal so check that out.