Of Sheep and Serendipity

  • Day Five of our Wild West Road Trip

Lots of driving defined day five of our vacation. We initially thought when we were planning our vacation that we would head onward to Yellowstone after our time in South Dakota but that would have involved more time than we had and a lot of driving for the day, and stopping for the night in a different hotel each evening. So our plan evolved into driving down to Colorado – over 6 hours without the detour we took – to stay for another few days. One look at our luggage cart shows you why loading and unloading in a different hotel every night would not be fun for anyone!

We took a rather circuitous route from South Dakota to Colorado. We wanted to see Devil’s Tower so we left out of Deadwood and drove up the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. There is much more to explore on that particular drive but we wanted to make sure to see a couple of waterfalls – Roughlock Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Trever has much better pictures of Roughlock Falls and I plan to share his pics in a post after the trip (he went further down the path than I did, I only captured the top part).

After stopping for breakfast, we drove into Wyoming and to Devil’s Tower Monument. This massive rock measures 827 feet from foot to base and was the first United States National Monument, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It is easy to see why Native Americans consider this landform sacred and why others seem to think it is even otherwordly. Due to time constraints, we didn’t actually drive into the park itself and after taking pictures, we set out southward toward Colorado.

Confession – I don’t have a great deal of observations to share about the ride down through Wyoming because I slept through most of it! We did stop for a brief time at the Union Pacific Railroad Depot in Cheyenne, Wyoming so that Trever could get his train fix. At the entrance to the depot, there was a statue which I photographed and upon reading about it, learned it was created by Veryl Goodnight and named “A New Beginning,” – celebrating women of the West and the fact that Wyoming was the first territory to give women the right to vote.

According to Google maps, it was a little over a two hour drive from Cheyenne to Idaho Springs, a small town in Colorado where we had reservations for the second leg of our trip. When we began following the directions from the map, I didn’t consider the fact that we would be driving through Denver. At rush hour. Through construction. After stops and starts and much delay, we finally arrived in Idaho Springs at around 6:30 p.m.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I research accommodations thoroughly before going on a trip. If it doesn’t make at least the “8” “very good” level of reviews on hotel.com, I don’t even consider a stay. We didn’t have an exact itinerary in mind for our time in Colorado…we just knew we wanted to ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad and there were several small towns to choose from in the general vicinity. I had found a highly rated hotel that was advertised “on a creek” in Idaho Springs that would give us a good base of operations for our time there. Or so I thought.

Driving into town, we found the hotel we booked was right off the highway and picturesquely located behind a Conoco station. It looked very busy, with what appeared to be a group of students that were hikers milling about. The building looked rather old and nondescript. I went to check in and just didn’t get a good “vibe” from either the property or the clerk. But, like I said, I am known for being picky about where I stay so I thought i was just being paranoid. I went ahead and paid for the room in full and went back to the parking area.

We always request a room on the upper level of a property and had been given a ground floor room but it did have a small balcony with a view of the creek, as well as a barren mountainside with mine tailings. The room itself was acceptable, except for a musty odor, but oddly, the sliding back door was ajar. As I walked back outside, I heard another guest from the group of hikers telling everyone to be sure and lock up because their room had been broken into and her her roommates credit card was missing.

Panic ensued! I had just paid for three nights of lodging in full and knew we didn’t have any recourse to cancel; we would be out at least one night’s cost. At this point, thunder started rumbling and it began raining. After a few moments, I went over to talk with the other guest who said that her friend had found her card so she must have just missplaced it but her back door too had been open when they went in. Long story short, I don’t know what happened with them, why our door was open (maybe to air out the room?) or if there was any need for concern. But we just didn’t get a good feeling about the hotel or the area so Trever went back to the hotel office and after much ado, got a refund on our room and we left.

I had extensively researched this area when I was making our plans so I knew what was in the general vicinity. It was raining and getting late, so we went to a Subway and ate sandwiches in the vehicle while we planned our next move. We decided on a hotel that had come up in my Georgetown search and was only about 30 miles away.

The actual location of the Vintage Hotel was Winter Park, Colorado, which I assumed to be a ski resort area. When I plugged the address into the maps app, I noticed a few “squiggly lines” for the roads. I took that to mean this road was probably a bit curvy – the time estimate was around 48 minutes. But apparently, and as my mother informed me later, squiggly lines mean mountains. Really tall mountains. Mountains with notable amounts of snow remaining.

By this point, the rain had subsided and we were all laughing about our misadventure. As we wound our way up the mountain, we saw them. The animals we had been looking for for several days. Several bighorn sheep, just standing on the side of the road. It was, Trever would say, serendipity.

As we continued to climb up the winding road, our views became more and more amazing. We saw patches of snow that became more numerous the higher the elevation but not until we reached the top did we realize we actually were on the Continental Divide and at an elevation of over 11,000 feet. We all oohed and aahed at the majestic snow capped mountains that stood against the darkening evening sky. And soon shivered with cold as we stopped for a few pictures the in the thirty degree air before the slight descent to Winter Park and to our hotel.

We arrived at the Vintage Hotel and straggled in to get a room. Since it was not only off-season, but also rather early in the summer, we were able to get a tower suite with a fireplace for the price of a hotel room. Trever was very excited about the fireplace but we quickly realized that although it was cold out, it wasn’t cold enough for a fire! The hotel, as with many places in this area of the country, did not have air conditioning so we went from comfortable to too hot really quickly.

As is said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I am a planner; I research the details to death before we go anywhere so I can plan what I think will be a “perfect” vacation. All my meticulous planning can’t always prevent mishaps from happening or things not going exactly to plan. But sometimes, the things that happen as the result of what seems to be a mishap can lead to serendipitous events. Up to and including bighorn sheep.

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