Up on Cripple Creek, Blue Bears and Steam Punks: Colo(u)rado, Part 1

One thing I hadn’t realised about Colourado (I prefer the British spelling) is that, geographically, it’s two main things: one half is the Rocky Mountains, the other is flat-as-we’ve-already-used-my-flat-ass-as-a-comparison. And the dividing line is pretty stark. From what I can tell, the majority of the urban sprawl is in a north-south line which divides them.

Colorado

Coming down from Wyoming, the first major point of interest is the Rocky Mountain National Park. I ramble up a hill and within about 100 yards I’m puffing and wheezing. I haven’t been eating that many McDonalds, surely I can’t be that unfit? Does US customs add 50lbs? An embarrassing amount of time later I realise the obvious explanation: that I’m significantly higher than I was the last time I did a bit of physical exercise. The air up here is a bit thinner. Probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t done something stupid like immediately run up a hill.

Rocky Mountain Nat'l ParkFortunately that’s the only dumb thing I’ve done. It’s not like I’ve come to hike in a remote place, where no-one knows I’m going, while being poorly-equipped on a day with very changeable weather. I mean look at that path above, it’s perfect. Nothing could change.

Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park Arse.

Rocky Mountain Nat'l ParkI continue manfully on little bit, intending to visit Ypsilon Lake, which by all accounts looks quite pretty. But even I, with my addled, oxygen-starved, Pringles-encrusted brain think that maybe it’s getting a bit ridiculous, so I turn back.

Rocky RoadIt clears up about a mile away while I stop to grab a coffee in nearby Estes Park. Colourado, during the last election, became one of the first states to legalise marijuana, with officials insisting that it would not have a detrimental effect to the lives of its citizens. Its effects would be hardly noticeable in fact. “How are you?” I asked the barista. “Fantastic!” she replied, completely off her tits.

One thing I’ve noticed, particularly over these last states is that while there are plenty of roads, plenty of cars and plenty of driving, it’s all pretty perfunctory and utilitarian. There are very few roads that require some proper driving. Or simply oddities that require a bit more attention.

Irish Roads What would you even do? This is just a normal day in Ireland.

Colourado, to my great delight, actually has some very fun roads. Nice twisty roads clinging to the side of hills, plunging down into valleys and through woods. They are terrific good fun. Unfortunately they’re also clogged with eijits. Of particular annoyance was a small van, who insisted on going about 15-20mph slower than the speed limit and refused to use any of the pull-off sections, no matter how many cars were queuing up behind him. Yes it’s been five months, but it still bugs me damn it.

I decide to pull off the road to give him time to get ahead, but more importantly because I’ve seen something that deserves investigation. It’s one of the hard, bitter truths that every child learns: your heroes are just people, Star Trek first contact won’t happen for another 50 years and some mysteries are better left unsolved:

Mystery MachineThat’s another childhood memory tarnished. I blame Scrappy. The worst part is this creep-mobile was parked directly outside a school, making the old man underneath the mask even scarier than the ghost.

I make my way to Denver, the Mile High City and, in light of the pot legalisation, I’d make a remark on that if only every single news service ever hadn’t already done it. It’s easy to feel, without ingesting anything, that you’re out of it in Denver. As I walk down a perfectly plain street, I start to hear what I can only describe as a steam engine train going through a river. I’m not going mad, I’m experiencing the art of the Soundwalk: a series of grates set into Curtis Street that play a variety of noises, from cows mooing, to tap dancing and who knows what. I’m not entirely sure what mine was meant to be, but it did make me want to march a collection of stoners over them to see the reactions. To be honest, this city seems perfect for a sober drug trip, as a couple of streets away you’ll run into this guy:

Big Blue BearYou don’t have to fear for your safety, Bertie reassures me that he’s a friendly fella. And even if he wasn’t, a short distance away is this giant sleeping cowboy who’ll protect you:

Sleeping CowboyThe scale of things in the Mile High City is getting a bit much for me, so I take a break to the outskirts to visit Red Rocks, an amphitheatre built into, er, some red rocks.

Red Rocks Click to embiggen.

It’s amassed a fantastic catalogue of bands and singers over the years, including the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, U2, Buddy Guy, Carole King and, inevitably:

HipstersHipsters.

I’m leaving Denver now, but to continue a musical theme. I’m working my way south, heading towards Cripple Creek. Listening to The Band’s Up On Cripple Creek as a youth, it had never occurred to me to ask if it was an actual place. The route I take to get there takes me further toward the Rockies and some of the best roads and landscape I’ve seen so far. Also this guy:

Metal Accordion Guy No explanation.

I find myself making slow progress, as I keep pulling off the road to take pictures of this beautiful place. It’s a crisp, clear day, with bright blue skies and rivers still mostly frozen.

Colorado HorsesIt’s hard not to stop when every road gives you vistas like this:

Plains and MountainsFortunately, in spite of my wandering camera, I get to Cripple Creek in plenty of time. Not only is it a place, but it looks like this:

Cripple CreekAnd is throwing an ice-carving festival, as one does.

Ice Carving in Cripple CreekThere’s no sign of Bessie, but there is a sign that catches my eye: a few miles away, in the town of Victor, they’re holding a three-day steampunk festival. This is a small, old gold mining town, with a population of about 400, in a not heavily thorough-fared part of the state, yet people have come from far afield, in full steampunk regalia to… punk, steamily.

Steam Punk WaresThere’s a costume ball, a steampunk band, a murder mystery, arts and crafts and this guy:

Metal BikerNo relation to Accordion Man

I still have a lot to see and do in Colourado, but the sun is setting, so part two of this fantastic state will wait until next time.

Rocky Mountain Sunset

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