Solo Road Trip: Part I – Introduction and Colorado

I had always wanted to road trip out west. As early as high school I had planned road trips, the original taking I-70 West to San Francisco, then Route 1 down the California coast to LA then Route 66 back to St. Louis before returning home. Even had the stops I wanted to make and sights I wanted to see, but it never happened. I couldn’t find people to go with and at that age I wasn’t ready to go it alone.

Originally I was going to go over the summer with someone I was dating, but we had difficulty finding time that worked with her busy schedule. Late summer we decided to split up, but I decided I wasn’t going to let that keep me from taking the trip I had been dreaming about. On October 15th, 2016 I left Centralia, IL for Colorado Springs in my Jeep. Thirteen hours and nearly 900 miles later I arrived in Colorado Springs. I was exhausted but wanted to experiment with taking some night photos at Garden of the Gods before heading to bed. I had purchased my first DSLR camera in the weeks leading up to this trip as I knew I wanted to come away with the trip with some amazing photos, if nothing else. My mistake was that I didn’t practice taking night photos before hand, so the photos that night didn’t turn out so well. (I may give some tips on landscape and night photography in a later post). After an hour two wandering around in the dark taking photos I retired for the night.

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Now because I was going at this alone, I decided to see just how inexpensive I could make the trip. I had no one else to worry about, so I was able to do whatever I felt comfortable with (I’ll be writing a more in-depth post on specific costs from my trip).  That being said, I spent my first night sleeping in the back of my Jeep in a Walmart parking lot among other travelers in RV’s and campers. At an elevation of over 6,000’ above sea level and it being mid-October, the night wasn’t warm. It likely stayed in the mid to upper 40’s. I was not so prepared for the cold nights ahead as I only had two blankets that I really only used for if I was lounging around the house. They weren’t meant to keep you warm overnight in sub-60 weather. I wish I had had the foresight to take a photo of my sleeping arrangements so I could insert it here, but I’ll do my best to explain it. The back seats were folded into the floor, the front passenger seat was as far to the front as possible. I had a full size futon mattress stuffed in the back to sleep on. Also in the back were my camera/stand, large suitcase, 24 pack of bottled water, and snacks. At 6’3”, I had to lay diagonally to fit somewhat comfortably. Anyway, back to the trip.

Day 2:

My first (and only) full day in Colorado Springs. I woke up and had a quick breakfast (granola bars, how exciting) in the Jeep, then I was off to Pike’s Peak. The base of Pike’s Peak, where you enter the National Forest is a short drive from Colorado Springs. I purchased my National Park annual pass (about $75) because I knew I would be hitting several parks in the coming days so it was a good investment. The man at the booth informed me that there were high winds that day, with sustained winds of 70mph at the peak so visitors were limited to the 11,000’ mark of the 14,400’ mountain. Even from that point the views were amazing. My favorite part of the park was from the Crystal Creek Reservoir looking back towards the peak.

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My next stop in Colorado Springs was Garden of the Gods. Having visited the night before I was already a little familiar with the park. I parked at the visitor center and made the walk over to the park. There are miles of trails around Garden of the Gods split into several different trails. I chose the longest, my thinking being that it would provide the greatest experience of the park and because it went along the outside it would provide the best opportunities for photos. The rock formations there were like nothing I had ever seen. The photos don’t do it just, as they usually don’t. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny October day, I was comfortable in a short sleeve t-shirt and jeans. After a couple hours wandering Garden of the Gods I took off for dinner at a local restaurant. My last stop was Red Rock Canyon Open Space. It was a beautiful place for a walk and it was amazing seeing Garden of the Gods from the distance, but after visiting Pike’s Peak and Garden of the Gods earlier in the day, it was a little underwhelming.

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Garden of the Gods

As it got dark I left Colorado Springs for my next stop, Moab, UT. Moab was a 422 mile, 6.5 hour drive so I ended up stopping for the night in Grand Junction, CO the halfway point to Moab, UT. Again I would spend the night in my Jeep, but this time at a truck stop. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous sleeping at a truck stop for the first time. The next morning I got up, showered at the truck stop, and grabbed a muffin. Then I was off to Utah!

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Next Post: Solo Road Trip: Part II – Moab, Utah

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