My home state is Maine and Allison, my best-friend-since-second-grade, lives in Colorado. The distance between us means we don’t get to see each other nearly enough. For vacation this year, my boyfriend, Dane, surprised me with a camping trip out West so that we could all spend time together. Allison’s not an outdoor enthusiast. She would be more likely to lounge in a hot tub or relax pool-side at a four star hotel, but she was willing to give camping a try if it meant spending time with me and getting a chance to meet Dane. It was also a good opportunity for us to spend time with her son, Jacob. We booked a camping spot in lovely Ouray, Colorado and we were on our way.
My extraordinary journey began with a comfortable stay at the Holiday Inn in South Portland, Maine. Parking fees at the airport are expensive, but Holiday Inn has a park and stay option. For twenty bucks we were able to leave our car for a week. Our home is a few hours away from the Portland airport, but we were able to catch an early flight by staying at the Holiday Inn the night before and taking their shuttle to the airport. The rooms were clean and comfortable and the staff was professional and friendly. The lobby was open and welcoming.
We arrived in Denver, met up with Allison, Jacob, and Allison’s boyfriend Bruce, and hit the road. Our first stop was beautiful Mount Evans. The road that winds up tp the top, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, is the highest paved road in North America. The views from the top are out of this world and there are mountain goats!
The Amphitheater Campground, located in a natural volcanic amphitheater high above the town of Ouray, was a great place to call home for the next few days as we explored the surrounding area.
We traveled the Million Dollar Highway as we branched out from our campground to explore. The Million Dollar Highway (supposedly gaining its name because there is a million dollars’ worth of gold ore in every mile of gravel used to build the road) is one of the coolest drives in the country! There are no guardrails on this twisty road that hugs the mountainside for 25 miles of jaw-dropping scenery.
The next day, we rented a jeep for some off-roading adventure. We took the rough back roads into Yankee Boy Basin and climbed Imogene Pass, also known as “the top of the world,” where the ranger’s log book is kept in a mailbox overlooking the mountains in the distance. At 13,000 feet, it may be the highest mailbox in the country!
Over the next few days, we got to hang out at the Animas Forks Ghost Town ...
(we were the only people there and you could actually go inside the buildings!)
hike to Hanging Lake...
and got to spend time enjoying the small surrounding Western towns.
I was thrilled to hear Jacob ask if we could take the trail that went straight up from our campsite into the mountains behind us ending at the Upper Cascade Falls and the Ouray Mine.
The trail was steep and long (about 3 miles one way) and I was impressed by Jacob’s stamina and his perseverance to “see what he could see.” Late that night, we had a real bear try to “see what he could see” right outside our tent. We woke up to a bear setting off our car alarm, heard him snuffling around a few feet from our heads, and then (after I hollered at him) listened to him ransack campsites below us that were foolish enough to leave their coolers out!
When we said our goodbyes and boarded the plane home, we were amazed at how much we had experienced. After a long day of traveling, we arrived back at Portland airport and were picked up promptly by the Holiday Inn Shuttle. The trip was amazing and I think even Allison will go camping again. I hope next month, when I travel to Alaska, I can see as many interesting things... and be just as successful in scaring away bears!
By: Aimee DeGroat