Music: Rocky Mountain High by John Denver
Here we are at last, the place that we’ve been dreading the entire trip – The Rocky Mountains. It’s not that we weren’t excited to visit. It’s just that the Rockies are so, well, mountainous, and hauling a 29 foot trailer is excitement enough without the steep grades.
When we left Utah, we knew we’d be crossing over the Continental Divide to get to our next stop in Central City (about 45 minutes outside of Denver). We had about five hours of driving to go from our relatively low elevation of 4,500 up to the Eisenhower tunnel at 11,000 feet. What we hoped was that over those five hours we’d be taken on a slow and gentle rise through the mountains until ultimately we got to the top and could say, “Oh, are we here already? Yawn.”
No such luck. The Rockies, instead, like to make an entrance. Four and a half hours of fairly flat and easy road and then – whoa, up up up –35 in a 65 MPH zone with flashers on. We’d get to 8,500 feet. “Hooray, only 2,500 more to go!” Then down we’d go into a valley – 75 in a 55 MPH zone; engine revving high in second gear. Any ground gained, lost again.
This happened a few times until we were finally to the piece of steep road that would take us to the top – the highest elevation on the entire US highway system – 11,000 feet. We started at 65 MPH and as we went up slowed to 45, then 35, then 30, then 25, then 20. We went from manual drive, to second gear, and then to first. We sat forward in our seats, as if to ease the load and push us forward. We patted and stroked the dashboard and said gently, “You can do it, you can do it – just a little further.”
It took some time, but we made our way slowly and steadily to the top. Finally, when we entered the tunnel, we let out a sigh of relief knowing it would be all downhill from there…until…
The road up to our campground is less of a road and more of an RVer test of skill and endurance. Think you’ve been through a lot driving the Rockies? Well, try this one! The campground can be easily seen from the highway. In fact, it’s right next to and level with the highway. One truckload of gravel and removal of a railing and it would be a straight shot in. However, the good folks at Central City must have figured out that if you drove straight into camp you might miss out on driving through town, where there are no less than 21 casinos in its two-mile radius. We’re not even making that up.
Central City is not an RV type of town, though. The casinos are small. The streets are smaller. They are narrow, steep and winding; an RV driver’s nightmare. For sure these roads were once cow paths, paved over to look legitimate. So why put an RVer through this? We’re thinking some must give up, park along the highway and just stay at a casino. There is no other excuse for this mess.
So, after driving past the campground and seeing it (almost within touching distance) from the highway, it’s another mile downhill to Central City where, yes, you can see there are casinos, but the thought doesn’t register because instead you focus on the tight hairpin turns and steepest-grade-you’ve-ever-dared-to-take-your-RV-on that lies ahead. Aptly named, Oh My God Road is the way up to camp. So we took it, and there was certainly much, “holy…” and “oh my god…” along the way. We’re not sure about the drive back down. We might just leave our RV here. We see quite a few already that appear to have been abandoned.
We did, of course, drive down without the trailer. A day trip to Denver gave us a chance to get our pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) fix, and we found we’d picked a perfect day to be downtown since we got to take advantage of an art festival and the Denver Day of Rock, both happening on the 16th street pedestrian mall.
On a different day we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t get to see the entire park due to the amount of snow still on the roads. They had 247% of average snowfall this year! Also, the weather wasn’t great that day. It snowed off and on, and the mountains were fairly obscured with clouds, so unfortunately we didn’t feel we got to see it at its very best. Still, what we could see was beautiful and the wildlife was amazing! But we’ll let the pictures tell that tale…