Four Wheels Spinning – Stories from the States #6: Rocky Mountain High – Colorado, USA

Rocky Mountain High
October 2, 2001

There weren’t many options for lodging during the first few weeks of our trip. Tennessee, Missouri, and Kansas don’t exactly cater to young budget travelers. We chose to stay in cheap motels most nights, with the idea that we would soon be out West with more options for inexpensive travel. Unfortunately, bad hotel rooms and greasy food can really put a dent in your budget. With our wallets starting to thin, we headed into Colorado hoping that camp sites and hostels would put a stop to the leak in our savings accounts.

We arrived in Colorado Springs and discovered the KOA campground we had chosen for the night was really a dirt parking lot a few yards from an 8 lane freeway. Setting up our tent in a construction zone just to save $20 didn’t strike either of us as a terrific bargain. There are no hostels in town so we stayed in a Howard Johnsons off the highway. That turned out to be alright since I got my car serviced at the Chrysler dealership next door.

Very scenic, as you can imagine.

In Estes Park we made a beeline to a highly recommended hostel. When we arrived we found the hostel was no longer in business. We tried to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park. The campgrounds close in Mid-September. We were two weeks too late for camping in Colorado, even though it was 90 degrees during the day. So we stayed at the Lazy-T motel, which was our only option – every other hotel was booked with would-be campers and hostellers.

We went to Fort Collins to visit my aunt and uncle (and hopefully score a free night’s sleep) and found them in the process of moving. The two of them were already crashing in their new house and the lawn just wasn’t big enough for our tent. So we stayed at the El Palomino Hotel, a $50 per night dive where the guests/residents drink Natural Ice beer at 10am while they fire up the grill.

It wasn’t until we reached Glenwood Springs that we finally got a night in a hostel and that’s because we only went to Glenwood Springs because they had a hostel that was open. At the hostel we met a girl from Liverpool who was on a tighter budget than us and found her own solution to the lack of budget accommodations in Colorado Springs. She stayed at a Red Cross shelter for ten free nights, scoring two free meals every day, and one free counseling session. She said the homeless people who were also staying there (The Red Cross isn’t for backpackers?) were very nice.

What Colorado was missing in open campgrounds and hostels it made up for in great scenery and good food. I’m quite sure you could hike a different mountain every weekend and drink yourself silly in a different brewery every day. However, sampling a pint of every Colorado-brewed beer isn’t the best way to stay on a budget. Then again even the cheap stuff costs. Brian was shocked to discover that you cannot, despite what the TV ads would lead you to believe, pluck a six-pack of Coors or Budweiser out of any ice-cold Colorado river. We finished up our week in Colorado having gone way over budget and feeling like there was hex on our heads preventing us from saving money. Rocky Mountain high – not just the mountains, it’s the prices.

Colorado Info

Pike's Peak

Brian and I at the top of Pike’s Peak

Colorado Springs is the home of Pike’s Peak, one of many Colorado mountains that reaches over 14,000 feet. You can take the railway, drive your car, or hike or bike your way to the top where you can take in the view that inspired the words for the song America the Beautiful. Nearby is Garden of the Gods which, despite its over-hyped visitors center, is a beautiful mile-long walk through red rock formations. For dining in town check out the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. Not only do they have great entrees and good beer but they whip up the best bread pudding on this planet.

Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and offers a ton of budget motels and restaurants just a couple of miles from the entrance to the park. Stop in at the Estes Park Visitors center for free photocopies of day hike routes and maps.

Glenwood Springs is the home of Doc Holliday’s grave, the Glenwood Caverns and the Glenwood Hot Springs. The Glenwood Springs hostel is in the center of town and judging by the crew of semi-permanent guests that populated the hostel it’s a comfortable place to stay. Hostel guests receive discounts at the Hot Springs and at the small, but great, family-run movie theater next door.

Glenwood Springs is less than an hour from Aspen so it’s a budget option for those who can’t afford Aspen’s pricey lodging but still want to ski in the area.